A Totally Serious Post on an Important Topic

Ask me what I did today. Go ahead – do it. I will tell you eventually, but first you need the back story . . .

I have lived in Austria for about 35 years now, speaking more German than English on the average day. And yet, I have never lost my American accent. When meeting someone for the first time, it usually only takes a sentence or two before they ask me where I come from. So I have had A LOT of conversations about cultural differences between these two countries. And when I say “a lot”, I mean a gazillion.

It has made me somewhat of an expert on Austrian/American conversational relations. When I was teaching, I sometimes did cultural lessons on the topic and developed a list of “Things You Should NOT Say to Americans” when meeting for the first time. For example, the Austrian might want to know how the American came to be in Austria at all – what brought them to this country. The question usually comes out jarringly direct as:

“Why are you here??”

Another point was that when an American says “Hi. How are you?” it is not a question. (Neither is “How do you do”, by the way.) Under no circumstances do they really want to know how you are – so don’t tell them.

The absolute Number One on this list was this:

“If an American has been in this country for more than 15 minutes, assume that, yes, they DO know what an “Oachkatzlschwoaf” is.”

It is dialect for “squirrel’s tail” and Austrians, for some reason, seem very proud of this word. I’ve been asked literally hundreds of times if I know what it means. What makes it doubly annoying is that I never once heard an Austrian actually use the word in normal conversation: “Oh look at that oachkatzl! What a bushy schwoaf he has!” If that happened, I think it would go a long way in making this all less irritating.

So, go ahead and ask me what I did today, because  I worked on my latest crocheting project – a squirrel for my sister-in-law.

I made the schwoaf.

oachkatzlschwoaf

Bonnie and Heather. In Rehab.

Since the last post, my vacation in Milwaukee ended and I went home. A week later my sister flew to Austria to accompany me for the first half of my three weeks in an oncological rehabilitation center – a place we affectionately refer to as “the Gulag” and where we have continued to have profound conversations that set off eruptions of giggles for two hours afterwards. (I say two hours, but I just had another one while writing this and it has been two days.) Anyway, here’s the latest one.

So, we are sitting on a bench in front of the center looking up at it, when Bonnie asks:

“What do you suppose the meaning of that logo is?”

“Pff. I don’t know. Maybe ‘Make a wish’?”

“Or maybe ‘He loves me’.

“Or . . . ‘You’ve got a one in eight chance.’

Bonnie and Heather. Reunited.

I just finished the online check-in for my trip to the States. Not the flight over, but the flight home already. It was the first time I even took my laptop out of its case, so I am really glad I lugged the heavy thing all the way across the Atlantic.

A lot of the things we had tentatively planned never got done. I didn’t have a cheeseburger or go to the Streets of Old Milwaukee at the public museum. I didn’t do a lot of shopping or go to the beach. I didn’t restart and begin catching up on my blog.

What I did do was a lot walking with the sister having meaningful conversations such as this:

Her: “I’m glad I have a strong name – did you know Dad wanted to name me “Bonnie”?”

Me: “And Mom wanted to name me Heather!”

Her: “Thought experiment: do you think we would have grown up to be different people if we had had those names?”

Me: “I don’t know. We’d probably be having a different conversation right now. I’d be telling you how I suspected my husband of having an affair with his secretary.”

Her: “And I’d be telling you how much I loved that last romance novel you gave me.”

As usual, we both laughed much too long after this little nugget. It was such a treat to spend three weeks with the person who laughs at all my jokes and knows me best. The perfect therapy.

I will probably be filling out the story of this American vacation in upcoming posts, but for now I am only including the single most important part of the past three weeks:

bonnie and heather

Letter to 2020

Based on all the videos and memes being bounced around the internet, all the cards and Christmas letters and text messages I have gotten, there seems to be an absolutely universal agreement that the year 2020 was the worst. thing. ever. and can only be despised. “Good Riddance!” is attitude of the whole world. I was on that wavelength, too, beginning my own Christmas New Year`s letter with a note to 2020 that no one will miss it (except maybe that one guy, whom no one will miss either).

But then something happened.

On the very last day of the year, December 31st, 2020, I got some very good news. I’m talking life-changing news. Suddenly, my heart began to soften. I started feeling sorry for the year. I mean, Coronavirus is not 2020’s fault! The pwesident was not 2020’s fault – in fact it was the year we got rid of him! It was time break with the herd and find something nice to say. I added an epilogue to my letter:

 Dear 2020,

As much as you sucked, you WERE a year of spectacular sunsets. I still won’t miss you, but I am thankful that you – in contrast to that other guy – clearly know how to make a beautiful exit.

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Pride Goeth

It was a Saturday three weeks ago, when I finally reserved the whole afternoon to start catching up on blog reading. I started, of course, with Ly and was horrified to discover that I had to scroll all the way back to early September to find where I had left off. (Yes, I am a terrible friend.) I spent an enjoyable few hours until being interrupted by a press conference. All schools were closing till the second week of December. I switched immediately into work mode and basically stayed there till . . . well . . . till yesterday. My cushy, reduced-to-two-days work week, now extended to seven days. For non-educators out there, I can tell you that distance-teaching is about three times as time intensive. It is also relentless and exhausting.

So, everyone was happy to hear that the schools were reopening next week. To celebrate our final online English lesson, I made a special quiz game for my class that they seemed to really enjoy. After gathering on the learning platform, all the kids turned on the “Chat” function. I asked a question and they all typed in their answers as quickly as they could. I awarded points to the first three correct ones. Minor spelling mistakes were allowed.

For the final question in the quiz, I decided to ask something really simple. I said, “Question Number 20. Ready? What is today’s date?”  The answers started rolling in:

After the first 10 or so tries, the shock and horror began bubbling up inside of me. I started giving them little tips about ordinal numbers and capitalization. They kept trying.

At this point I was holding my head in my hands. Tiny whimpering noises were escaping from me. Finally, one girl wrote an answer that I could technically accept. I ended the response period and typed in a few possible correct variations. Two more guesses straggled in as I was doing so.

After 39 years of teaching English, my memory houses a fairly large collection of meaningful moments, nice memories, special experiences, highlights . . .

December 3rd, 2020 will not be one of them.

Confessions of an Incompetent IT Administrator

It is Friday the 13th the 2nd in the 2020. Somehow, I don’t think those numbers can possibly portend anything good. The first lockdown in this country began on a Friday the 13th in March – a date I will never forget – and lasted into May. Summer was pretty chill but in Fall, signs started popping up that the predicted second wave was coming. After foolishly bragging just two weeks ago on this blog that I was in the only green spot on Austria’s Covid Map, things here immediately exploded, and we are now considered a hotspot. I fully expect that a new lockdown will be decided on today, Friday, November 13th, and that it may very well include the country-wide switch to distance learning for all age groups.

Good thing our Hummingbird School has a crack IT team (me) and a nearly functioning virtual learning platform almost set up with nearly all the kids now registered on it and a teaching team who have agreed to find time to learn how to use it – eventually.

I had been banging on this particular drum – our school’s need to have a functioning learning platform ready in case of closure – since the very beginning of the year. Being generally considered the most computer-savvy member of the team (which, believe me, says nothing good about our collective skills), I suddenly found myself in the unofficial/official role of “IT Designee”. I sighed for a week and then got down to work.

The team agreed to using the free platform provided by the Ministry of Education and the core set of teachers all registered. I learned my way around the program and then wrote up simple step-by-step instructions for the parents to register their kids (a ten-minute activity) and presented it to them at our kick-off weekend. I impressed upon them our need for their cooperation. From the serious nodding in the audience, I figured we would have all the kids signed up by early October.

Here’s what I know now that I didn’t realize then:

  1. Most parents don’t read their emails.
  2. Many parents who read their emails don’t understand them.
  3. When parents don’t read or understand an email, they simply delete or forget about it.
  4. Of those who actually reacted to the emails, many had difficulty following simple instructions.
  5. Of those who succeeded in signing their kids up, a significant percentage could not log in again later because:
    • they couldn’t find the website again
    • they had registered themselves instead of their kids
    • they typed in the wrong username
    • they forgot their password

The upshot of my experiences over the past three months as IT Administrator is that I am having serious doubts about the . . . “thoughtfulness” . . . of mankind in general. I continually regather my patience as I individually talk someone through the process, explain to them where their problem lies, or send out the fifth or sixth reminder to someone. I sigh a lot.

In hindsight, I think it would have saved me a lot of time and nerves if I had just registered and signed in all 38 kids myself (although, I am not sure if this would have been possible, technically speaking.) Whatever.

It’s now Saturday the 14th and a press conference is scheduled for 5:00 pm, when government officials will announce yesterday’s decisions. Serious media outlets have already reported that all schools will be closing, but other in-the-know people say it is not true. In any case, that gives me about 9 more hours to get the last two stragglers on board before we (potentially) launch. I should probably drop the patient approach and try some good old-fashioned harassing.

Sigh.

Ugly Chicken Update

As readers will know, I wrote a while back about my slightly deformed and unfeathered chick, Quasi the Second. At the time, I showed the pictures to expert chicken keepers, among whom the general consensus was that this bird would not be long for this world.

But she kept bopping along despite being ostracized and banned from the henhouse. Despite almost drowning in the duck pond. Despite the massive second wave of red fowl mites that had the husband cleaning out the henhouse in a Hazmat suit wielding a blowtorch.

Take a look at her now:

Okay, so not exactly a beautiful swan, but also no longer the world’s ugliest chicken. And more importantly, still hanging in there.

Speaking of loners and survivors, check out the latest “New infections in the past 14 days” map of Austria.

See the little green speck in the bottom right corner of the country? The only district in the entire country with no new infections? That’s where we are.

Our ears are filled with the crashing sounds of second waves all around us, but, apparently, we’re still hanging in there.

Ten Ten Twenty Twenty

 

I like today’s date. I like the sound and the numerical symmetry of it. Seems like a day to do something with. Something memorable. Maybe start something new or end something that has gotten old. Or both.

To get some inspiration, I turned to the Google and quickly arrived at the NationalDayCalendar.com website. Here’s what I found:

Apparently, angel food cake, handbags and costume-swapping all have their own holidays. I wasn’t aware of that, maybe because none of these things particularly interest me. I also don’t decorate cakes, play chess or ride motorcycles. All that leaves is yarn and mental health, but, fortunately, there is currently no crisis in my life for me to crochet my way through.

I would like to know, though, why there is a coffee stain on the calendar. And why is it circling the 11th instead of the 10th? And why do the week rows on this calendar start on Tuesdays and end on Mondays? These are mysteries I would like to get to the bottom of.

Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

 

The Last Times Begin

 

On Monday I woke up and officially began the last week of my summer vacation. More shockingly, I began the final week of my last ever summer vacation! Next time this year, my 39-year teaching career will most likely be over. And if you don’t have work, you don’t have vacation, right?  Weird thought.

Of course, I should add here that I am notoriously bad at making predictions, so when I say that I am beginning the last year of my teaching career, you could be forgiven for a tiny bit of skepticism. I am, after all, the person who spent the better part of 2016 telling everyone “there is no Math” that would get Twump to an election victory. I also wrote in early July this year that I had an expanse of lethargic nothingness ahead of me, but now, in retrospect, the summer was full, and it sped by. I had my last week of my cure in Salzburg, followed by an even better cure week at my aunt and uncle’s in Tyrol, followed by a week of golf lessons (the  muscle aches from which I am still feeling!) followed by a week of relaxing and hiking in Carinthia. Here is a random sampling of impressions from those days:

Other activities during my final summer vacation included a lot of home projects (most of which came down to “putting shit away”). I did a six-hour braiding session with younger daughter and attended a performance or two of the older one. I supervised the building of blacksmith shop in my yard. I befriended a barking rat (my name for Chihuahuas). I ate two family-sized bags of Cheetos and then briefly considered immigrating to Australia when I read that the Dominos there is giving out free pizzas to women named “Karen”. I monitored the DNC and the RNP (“P” stands for “Pukefest”). I read two and half books and made two and half new friends. I requested my absentee ballot. I did lots of laundry and no ironing. My dog and I together lost 8 pounds.

 

It’s now Friday, which means I am officially into my last summer vacation weekend before work starts up again on Monday. From here on in, it’s going to be a long string of last times: My last preparation week, getting my last work schedule, my last first day of school, going on my last team-building excursion with the kids, making my last attendance/homework lists and year plans for my four English groups, attending my last “Start Weekend” with all the parents, designing my last chores wheel for my class . . . . And that is all in the coming two weeks. Assuming I resist getting talked into extending my stint, by the end of the year, this list of last times is going to be really long.

And then I will be done. For good.

I predict.