And God Saw That It Was Not Good.

(Summer Vacation – Day Five)

I did something today that I haven’t done in ages. I opened up a bible and read a bit. Full disclosure: the morning had started badly, slowly got worse, and by early evening, I was having trouble writing the day’s post. I did not turn to the bible for comfort, but out of a weird sort of curiosity: when God was creating the world, how did His fifth day go?

Here is the King James Version of Genesis 1: 20-21:

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Oh, the irony! This is how my day went:

In the morning I went to feed the animals and found my German Reich’s chicken looking decidedly . . . un-imperialistic. He seemed an unmoving creature that hath little life.

In the afternoon, I began my house project (“clean porches”) by bringing some pans into the kitchen that my husband had used in a barbecuing competition a few weeks back. As I pried them apart, I discovered a colony of maggots living between them. I scalded them to death and washed them down the drain. The waters sent them forth abundantly.

Later in the day, I buried another fowl.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Forgive me for skipping out on the blog reading today.

Advertisements

Day Ten Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety-three

Actually it is only Day Number 3 of my

Summer Vacation Plan

which went something like this:

Up at 5:30 am, coffee and some news watching. Answered emails. Went back to bed and slept for two wonderful hours. Then it was laundry, some general administrative work stuff, and more laundry. Then laundry, some house cleaning and laundry. Some dog walking and some more laundry. Cooked dinner, transferred the young chickens from the duck stall to the chicken stall. Scattered a trail of feed for the dumb ducks to lure them into their now empty house. If they opt to stay outside again, that is their choice. Now I am going to do one more load of laundry and then continue catching up on blog friends . . .

It is also Day Number 10,593 of my married life*. 29 years ago today I got married to a man who is currently on a 10-day fishing trip in Sweden.** Even so, roses mysteriously appeared this morning. They were in my favorite Christmas present from said man this year – a very silly vase which I just love. Yes, that is a picture of me holding my favorite chicken, Winnie. Ly took it.

 

* That is 29 x 365 + 7 (leap year days) + 1 (today).
**  They say “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will get a whole weekend to yourself.” In my case, it is a bit longer. But then, it is probably better that he is NOT here while I am executing The Plan . . .

Grape Silver Candle

It is officially summer vacation. In fact, it is . . .

Summer Vacation – Day One

. . . and I am NOT (!) on the couch with the pukey bowl, a glass of water, aspirin and the remote control, suffering through a post-traumatic system collapse. No, instead I am feeling energetic. I have done some laundry and took care of our animals and chauffeured my daughter and talked to my sister for an hour and a half on the phone, and had coffee with a great friend and honed my plan for the summer and am now writing the Post of the Day . . .

Wait! Back up a sec! What was that about honing a plan?

Oh yes. I have a one. And it is deceptively simple.

I took a piece of paper and drew three vertical lines. In Column One I listed the few work-related things I still have to finish up. Column Two is a list of household projects I have been wanting to get to. Column Three is a list of healthy activities – anything from “bike ride” to “eat a vegetable”. Column Four is a list of my favorite blog people whom I want to catch up with.

Here’s the plan: between now and the arrival of my sister two weeks from now, I will cross off at least one thing from each column every day.

And then I will post about some part of it. Whatever inspires me.

Today, the work thing (Column One) was deleting emails. It may not sound like much, but when you have allowed your Inbox to grow to 2000 mails with 600+ of them still marked “Unread” – it is something of task. The house project (C2) was the first three of what will likely be about 16 loads of laundry. In Column Four, I did not start with my first/ur- blog friend, Ly (she will be tomorrow), but with Quirkyone – because I learned what mistakes to avoid when devising a plan from her hysterically over-ambitious New Year’s Resolutions. That leaves Column Three. What I did today for my mental health was call my sister. What I did for my physical health was taking my Black Cohosh tablet.

Black Cohosh. Aka “snakeroot”. Aka “bugbane”. Genus “actaea racemose” or “cumicifuga racemose”. In German, called both “Wanzenkraut” or “Traubensilberkerze” which, translated literally, is grape silver candle.

Now I am emphatically not advising anyone to take it, but I will tell you that after five years of hot flashes and bizarre anxieties and, lately, insomnia, I finally decided a few months ago that “powering through” menopause was not a good plan. Being a hater of pharmaceuticals, I started trying all sorts of natural remedies. This bugbane, this snakeroot, this “Traubensilberkerze” was the first thing that has worked. It might just be a post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc thing (meaning: the symptoms were about to go away anyway – the timing was merely coincidental), but if it is . . . I don’t care.

I feel better.

So on this Day One of summer vacation, I say thanks to Grape Silver Candle and Quirkyone and Whirlpool and Thunderbird.

See y’all tomorrow.

 

Resurfacing

 

It seems I have chosen Mother’s Day (or Mother’s Day has chosen for me) to be the day I return to blogging. It is kind of fitting – because it is mostly due to my mom and my mother-in-law that my life energy is coming back after a long period of hibernation and lethargy. Firstly, Mom and I exchanged old-fashioned email letters this week and caught up, making me suddenly acutely aware of how much I have missed communicating with her. It energized me just seeing her name in my Inbox. Thanks, Mom.

Then my mother-in-law invited all her kids plus spouses to the opera in Vienna on Friday, inspiring my husband to turn the occasion into a longer weekend stay. Despite one spell of bad luck (a crazy accident that will be covered in an upcoming blog post) it did me a world of good to leave the home village. Once again I became acutely aware of just how long it has been since my last getaway. Sometimes you simply have to put physical distance – kilometers or miles – between yourself and your daily worries and ruts in order to clear your head. That is what our two days in Vienna did for me. Thanks, Omili.

 

A few hours after getting home, I went to mini-seminar on wild herbs that my next-door neighbor had organized. A specialist walked with us around our neighboring field – the same route I take with my dog every day – pointing out various wild plants and flowers. She told us their medicinal powers, which parts were useful or edible (root, leaf, or blossom), and how to prepare foods or tea or creams with them. We gathered some, went back to the house and chopped them up. We mixed them into sheep’s cream cheese and yogurt. We spread it on fresh-baked bread. It was delicious.

That was yesterday. Today I wrote down all the (German) names of the plants that I could remember. Then I grabbed a basket and my dog to take my usual walk – but this time I noticed all the different wild plants I passed. I collected some again, repeating all the names I could remember. When I got home I laid them out on paper to create photographic cheat sheets in case I forgot any of it. And then it struck me . . . I could only translate two (!) of these 15 or 20 words into English. If I had been asked to name any of these plants two days ago, all of them would have been called either “weed” or “wildflower” –  i.e. one of the only two words in my English vocabulary for small green stuff that grows in fields.

I went to my laptop and fired up the google. I started typing these German names into the translator. “Yarrow”? What is that? I had never heard that word before! And if I had had to guess, I would have said it was a part of a boat. “Ribwort”? “Plantain”? I would not have recognized these as members of the English language. “Sorrel”? Isn’t that a breed of horse? “Avens”? I think that is a Norse goddess. “Ash weed”? “Vetch”? “Campanula”? Not a single bell was rung in my head by any of these words. And the final insult? – the one plant I thought I could name – the stinging thistle – turned out to be a “nettle”.

Now, I have never claimed to be Nature Girl, but this all struck me as fairly bizarre and pathetic.  Ostensibly, I have been passing these plants twice a day for thirty years without them ever having caught my attention or interest. Coincidentally, I have been powering through menopausal maladies for half a decade while about 5 different plants growing between my front door and my mailbox have been known to help ease these discomforts . . . How did all this knowledge escape me? How is it that I had almost no words to name the things I see around me every day?

Yarrow, ribwort, plantain, sorrel, avens, ash weed, vetch, campanula, nettle, thistle.

 

I assume I will continue to walk my dog around the cornfield at least once a day – this is one of my routines that I would never consider a “rut”. But from now on, I also assume I will not be plodding along obliviously, with my sights turned inward, circling around obsessively in the dark recesses of my brain. No, I will be looking at what is outside and around me, identifying green things and appreciating their existence. And I know they exist because I now have names for them.  The path of my daily dog walk has been resurfaced.

I think I’ve been resurfaced too.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Omili.

Schwarzfahren

 

Riding home on the train yesterday, I had a new experience. It was the first time – I think in my whole life (!) – that I rode a train without a ticket. It wasn’t really my fault – neither the machine at the station nor in the train worked, so I had to wait till the fifth stop and its longer stay to get out and buy a ticket. That meant that for those five stops both on the way to the city and the way home again, I was . . . just a . . . hobo hopping trains. Riding the rails. Boxcar Betty. Queen of the Road. A tramp . . .

German speakers call this “Schwarzfahren”. Literally translated, that would be “black riding”. You can find signs in every train car, streetcar or bus warning against it. The most recent campaign imitates warning labels on cigarette packs, listing all the negative health benefits of “Schwarzfahren” – it leads to mood swings and muscle tension, high blood pressure and headaches:

I confess I didn’t suffer any of these consequences, which probably says something less than admirable about me. What is worse, though, is that my daughter accompanied me on my second crime spree. (She has her piano lessons in the city at the same time as my course and we take the train home together.) We met up at the station after our respective gigs and headed toward the train. As we were boarding, an elderly man asked us if we, too, were going to the town in Hungary that was the train’s final destination. I figured he was worried about being on the right one. We all got on, the man turned left, my daughter and I turned right and we took our usual seats.

A few minutes later, the elderly man popped up again. “We seem to be the only people on this train!” he said and then took a seat across the aisle from us. I assured him that we were very early boarders and that more would be coming.

This man was in his 70s I guess and he seemed friendly enough. He took my assurances as an invitation to chat, so in the next 10 minutes we learned all about him. He had been at an art exhibition, but had to leave early to catch this train. It was the last one that would still allow him to catch his connecting train home. He lived in Hungary part time and otherwise in Vienna – where he had many Nigerian friends.  His nationality was Austrian.

He paused while trying to figure out how to formulate his question.

We let him know that I was American and that my daughter had dual citizenship – Austrian American.

“Oh!” he said, clearly surprised. Then followed that up with “That Donald Trump . . . he’s a crazy guy, isn’t he?”

We rolled our eyes and I said “No. No no. We are not going to talk about that man.” And we all sort of half-smiled. There was a short silence as the man looked at my daughter.

He mentioned his Nigerian friends for a second time and was clearly trying to find out the – let’s say “ancestry” – of my brown-skinned daughter. One of us put him out of his misery and said “Ethiopian.”

“I had an Ethiopian girlfriend!” he blurted out excitedly. “For about three years. She was married off very young to a man that her father chose. That’s what those people do. She wanted to stay with me, but eventually she had to go back to her husband.”

I mentioned that Ethiopian customs differed a lot all over the country and then asked a few polite questions to figure out what kind of character we were dealing with here. The “romance” had happened years earlier when he was 57 and she was 25.  And, yes, he had wanted to marry her.

There was a lull in the conversation. He watched my daughter dig around in her backpack for her headphones. He started talking again:

“I saw a documentary once on Ethiopian TV about a young girl who left her family and went to work in a shoe factory. She lived in a tiny, dirty little house and earned just enough to feed herself. I thought, if I knew who she was, I would go save her. She could come live with me. Do some housework. Have a better life. . .”

My daughter piped up: “You know it often seems to us like all poorer people are miserable. But a lot of them know very little about how we live. They don’t have much, but neither do their friends and neighbors. They can still be happy. They don’t want to be saved.”

“Well,” replied the man, “I guess there wouldn’t be enough room here for all of them anyway.”

My daughter and I exchanged glances and then both chose that moment to insert our headphones and start the music (or in my case, podcast). I sat there marveling at my daughter’s grace and composure. She managed to stick up for herself and others confidently without being rude or provoking. She had shut the man down and was now shutting him out.

A new understanding rushed over me of how . . .  simply being in this world must feel to her at times. And then I thought of all those signs again, warning that “Schwarzfahren” can lead to headaches and high blood pressure and mood swings. It occurred to me that the word could also be translated as “Riding While Black” . . .  and the signs would still be true.

A Bit Fitter Fitbitter

So . . .  I got my Year Four of blogging off to a bang-up start. Turns out the first post of this year sort of just erupted out of me. And, as with most unpleasant things these past two years, I blame it on the pwesident.
But never fear! Things are looking up! The first post has been redacted and I am calling a Mulligan. A “Do-Over!!” Here, now, is the first true post of the year:

 

A Bit Fitter Fitbitter

It has been 10 days since my blog’s third birthday and 15 since I vaguely formulated a few resolutions for 2018 that I really had no intention of keeping. So . . . no new leaf has been turned, but, thanks to a Christmas present, there is ever so slight a chance that somewhat healthier living is in my future.

For years, my physical exercise consisted almost exclusively of housework and dog walking. Occasionally, I would concoct some plan to start a fitness regimen, but most of those never really got off the ground. My state of health remained curiously good – with one recurring exception.

Every other year, in the dead of winter, I contract some bizarre malady. Two years ago it was that sudden bursitis in my shoulder that gave me a whole week off from work, not to mention my first experiences with physical therapy (See: “Miss Peevish and the Bruiser”). If I remember right, that was the same year I intended to take up ballet, after joining my sister in her half hour daily routine during our summer visit. One of the first things I did on returning home was to go out and buy appropriate home-ballet attire and some mats. The clothes have since disappeared and the mats spent well over a year in a corner of my library – still sealed in their packaging. But I digress.

Four years ago in the dead of winter, I started getting red itchy bumps or patches on my fingers – usually in the evenings. The red blotches would move from digit to digit and then eventually, all of my fingers swelled up and started aching. I started worrying about arthritis or rheumatism. Four medical examinations later, including one internist and the top guru dermatologist in the province, I found out that I had . . . (drum roll) . . . dry skin. Hand cream solved the problem I think that was the same year I got my e-bike which I have only rarely ridden.

About two years before that, once again in the dead of winter, my right foot swelled up (on the inner side, by the lower big toe joint.) It really hurt badly and I could barely walk. The doctor declared that it was “Gicht”, which, on returning home,  I immediately looked up in my German-English dictionary.  “That can’t be!!” I thought. The only occurrences of “gout” I had ever heard of had all happened in 18th and 19th century novels – and those characters were all old, rich, fat and male. Of those four adjectives, only one came close to describing me – and I am not talking about “fat”. If you do the math, that was around my 50th birthday and also the one and only time in the past three decades I ever considered jogging. My husband made a 6 week plan for me. I got through “Week One, Day One”.

By now a few things should be clear. I am not a jock. (For those of you not familiar with 1970s teenage slang, that means: “I’m not athletic.”) And if the health patterns of the past years hold true, I can expect some gruesome affliction in my immediate future, seeing as how the dead of winter is approaching. I would really like to nip whatever it is going to be in the bud.

When I asked for a Fitbit for Christmas, it was NOT yet another fitness pipedream; it was mostly due to curiosity:  I wanted to know what distance I traverse in a normal morning at school.  I am basically in constant motion from 7 am to 1 pm – walking from room to room, going up and down stairs, doing deskside deep knee bends to help a kid with a question, bending over and touching the floor to pick up dropped papers or pencils, stretching my arms way up to write at the top of the blackboard . . . It can be a physical job, teaching. And sure enough, a morning of work at school and two dog walks gets me quite far along the path toward my supposed daily goal of 10,000 steps. But not all the way . . .

I have to admit, that this dumb rubber wristband has had an effect on me. A few days ago, I asked my husband to print out another jogging plan. I also finally unpacked the ballet mats, hung up the ballet routine, and did it.

Today I took the long dog walk route – not just around the cornfield but through the woods and past the spa. I haven’t done that in 15 years. And just as I was coming out of the woods in the final stretch toward home, I checked the boss:

 

 

I admit, I am feeling pretty good about myself. With a bit of determination, I should be able to wear my favorite jeans again soon.  And, fingers crossed, I won’t be writing anytime soon about my consumption or dropsy.