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

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.

 

Call Me Franz

 

(Kur Report – Part 10 + “The End”)

 

My third week at the health resort went by so fast that I couldn’t really keep up with these reports. I left yesterday with quite different feelings than after my first two weeks. But let’s start with what was similar.

In my free time, I repeated some of the activities from my earlier visit – except this time it was summer, so the views were quite altered. First, I walked along the river to the Soldiers’ Cemetery again. With the gravestones no longer nearly buried in snow, the feeling was less poignant. On the other hand, I was struck by the dates on so many of them which I could now read – April or May 1945 – in other words, the very bitter end of the war here in Austria. I might do some research on that mystery . . .

 

My second re-visit was to the waterfall that runs straight through the town, basically slicing it into two halves. This time there was a lot more of it. I also discovered a little secret door into the rockface next to the rushing water. Another mystery to solve:

My other re-visits were to the various therapy stations. I found myself back in the Radon bath rooms and the mud pack rooms, but, alas, there were no reunions with Ötzi, Spandex Butt, or Lederhosen Butt. There was one Goretex Upper Thigh, but that was about it. While revisiting the swimming pool, there were no meetings at all – I had the whole place to myself.

 

The biggest change came in the fitness center room. As I inserted my chip card into the first machine, I was surprised at the weight level it instructed me to set – it was about three stages higher than what I had been doing the first time around. I strained and huffed and puffed through the first few machines, not really considering that something might be off. The computer told me what to do and I just assumed it had its reasons. By Machine 6, I started to feel some guilt about being in such bad condition. At Machine 9, when I almost pulled my shoulder out of the socket (twice!), I finally realized something couldn’t be right. I called the trainer over and told her I thought the settings were all too high. She took my card and put it in the central computer. She then came back and asked if I might have switched with another patient, because this card was registered to Mr. Franz Habenmuskel (or something like that). Of course, by then it was too late to undo the damage.

On my second trip to fitness room, my card had stopped working all together and couldn’t be reprogrammed. So, I just did the machines on their default program – settings suitable for the average 30-year-old man. I cheated a lot when it came to setting the weights.

Of course, I paid for these mistakes in stiffness and aching muscles which are still around now two days after my departure. Last time I came home feeling stronger, pain-free, motivated and almost like a different person. That’s sort of true again, except for the “stronger, pain-free, and motivated” parts. This time, I came home feeling like Franz.

 

 

The Masque of the Orange Death

(Kur Report – Part 8)

 

My brother’s nickname for Austria is “Clean World”. It’s his way of contrasting what he hears from me about the Covid and political situations here to what he is experiencing in the States. Well, if my home is in Clean World, where I am right now is . . . I don’t know . . . Prospero’s Castle?

As announced in my last posts, I left for my third cure week at the health resort on Wednesday at the crack of dawn. After about 4 hours of travel, I arrived, got my room key and was instructed to isolate there. Twenty minutes later, someone from the Red Cross came to my room and stuck a Q-Tip up my nose. An hour after that, someone bought me a plate of food. Five hours after that, my phone rang. My test was negative. I could leave my room. My cure week had begun.

This place is almost hermetically sealed. Everyone here has been tested, some of them more than once (if they are employees or patients who come from hotspot areas). No one else is allowed in and we have strict rules to follow if we go out. We get our temperatures checked daily before lunch. We have to wear masks outside of our rooms and sanitize our hands when entering and leaving any of the seven therapy areas. Everything imaginable is being done to keep the plague out of this place.

So, I guess it is no wonder that Edgar Allen Poe and his “Masque of the Red Death” keeps infiltrating my thoughts. What are we, if not a bunch of oblivious and merry guests concentrating only on having a pleasant time while a sickness rages outside our doors? Like the rest of the guests here, I considered tuning out the world for a week. But, unfortunately, the CNN breaking news on my TV and my list of political podcasts keep me informed about events outside, and I can’t seem to let them go. Twump’s clearly deteriorating mental state and increasingly demented actions have enabled him to sneak into this Castle of Clean World like an uninvited guest to wreak the same mental havoc here. But, of course, only for me. The rest of the people around me seem to be quite happy and fully enjoying the temporary good life.

I had free time yesterday and spent it in my room watching part of John Lewis’s funeral, including Obama’s powerful eulogy which really moved me. Afterwards, on the way down to the café terrace, I was deeply into thoughts about all the things he had said. Slowly, they got drowned out by the conversation of a group at a nearby table. It was the shallow talk of virtual strangers socializing out of necessity – complaints about the Covid restrictions and tips on how to get around them, a lengthy discussion about whether or not Hansi Hinterseer (an Austrian skier-turned-B-Grade-folk-singer) was gay, a mock feud between an Upper and a Lower Austrian, a debate about which receptionist is the rudest . . . It all struck me as so banal and meaningless. John Lewis is dead! Americans are dying and our democracy is on life support!! The “leader” is insane!

Which brings me back to Poe and another one of his stories. I remember some college professor telling us how Sigmund Freud was a Poe fan and that especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” was inspirational to him. It helped him to develop the theory of the subconscious. The upper floors house conscious, rational minds dealing – however feebly – with the world as it is. The crazy is buried in the basement – a place full of fear, obsession, and the irrationality of animalistic drives. Depending on how you see it, the protagonist either descends into madness or the crazy he tries to keep down resurfaces to destroy him. The whole house collapses in on itself.

Twump dwells in the basement of his mind. Years ago, I decided that he wakes up each morning with one thought in his head: “What dickish thing can I do today?” That has remained true up to and including today. It will be true tomorrow. It will be true on November 4th and on January 20th.

But! she says, with a budding, ever-so-slight sense of hope and change, Americans do seem to be waking up. Where locked doors fail to keep the orange menace from crashing the party and bringing the house down, the locked hands of various resisters just might: young BLM protesters shielded by a wall of moms, protected by leaf-blower dads, guarded by vets. Backing them up are the whistle-blowers, the Bulwark and Lincoln Project, the Squad, the leakers, the media monitors, the experts, the front-line doctors and nurses, the podcasters, the artists, the postal workers, the vote protectors, the voters . . .

Together they may finally pull off the orange one’s masque, revealing for once and for all that underneath, there is absolutely nothing.

 

Things Change

 

There have been some developments in the things I related in previous posts, so I want to update them in a somewhat rambling and random way, starting with:

Remasking

After a lot of speculation and delays, the government here has gone ahead and reinstated the national mask wearing order for stores, banks and post offices. Despite the starting date being set for today (Friday), many people began earlier – as in right away after the announcement, including us. Two days ago, we spent almost 3 hours in IKEA getting our daughters furnishings for their apartment. It was the longest time I have ever spent in a mask. I found it surprisingly suffocating. Then it occurred to me that long before Covid, just being in an IKEA with its massive crowds always made me feel that way, mask or no mask. Anyway, we don’t know the true reason behind or the end date of the current policy, but the general opinion among friends is that the government decided it was necessary to remind the population about how we should be behaving. With things opening up, we had gotten too relaxed about social distancing, etc.

 

Cure Continuation – With Conditions!

Speaking of opening up, the health center I went to for my cure can now start taking patients again. I just got the dates for my third cure week which was cancelled during the lockdown – it begins next Wednesday already. When the confirmation came, there were three extra forms attached about all the Covid restrictions and regulations. I had to sign them (i.e. basically swear to follow the rules) and send them back. I have to arrive there by 10:00 am on the first day in a mask, get a Covid test, and then self-isolate in my room for the rest of the day till the results come in (usually early evening the same day, they say). Masks are to be worn indoors at all times. I am not allowed to go to any other restaurants or cafes in the town. I can’t socialize with anyone who does not live in my household – so that means everyone – and I can’t have visitors. The list of rules goes on and on . . .

It is hard to imagine that this week will be as therapeutic as the first two were. On the other hand, I have been saying that I don’t know a single person who has been tested and now, in just five more days, I will know one person. (I hope they aren’t still sticking swabs way up noses.) I imagine y’all will be hearing my thoughts as I sit in my room alone waiting for the results. It’s a good thing, too, that this will not be the only travels of the summer.

 

Staycation

The onset of summer vacation was delayed this year as the first week included three somewhat obligatory social gatherings with my coworkers during which all the tensions and melodrama and plot twists of the school year were rehashed ad nauseum. So, instead of the usual end-of-the-year, 1-day system crash (traditionally spent on the couch in the company of a box of aspirin, a pukey bowl and the remote control), I went through a prolonged sort of joyless malaise with no travel plans and no energy to come up with ideas about how to fill the seven weeks stretching out ahead of me. I finally booted myself out of it a few days ago, starting with a call to the health center to schedule my cure week. That quickly led to plans to follow it with a visit to my aunt and uncle in Tyrol. After that, there will only be a week at home before taking off for our annual hiking trip in Carinthia. Then there will be just one more week at home before . . . no . . . it can’t be . . . don’t want to even think about it . . . Something seems wrong about the math here. Within a day, the summer went from being a long empty expanse to being all filled up with plans. I’m confused.

 

Clutter Box

I guess it is a good thing I didn’t plan any major projects for the summer. Instead, I dove into one of those little things that has been on the back of my mind for months. Everywhere you look in my house – on every shelf or piece of furniture or windowsill or counter space – there is . . . stuff. A small proportion of the . . . stuff . . . is actually put there for decoration. The vast majority, however, is supposed to be somewhere else, but just got left there by someone in this household. Every so often, I go on a decluttering rampage and begin sweeping all these surfaces clean, sorting all the stuff, returning some of it to where it belongs, throwing some of it away and finding new places to store the rest.

When I am done, there is always about a handful of undefinable things left over. I can’t throw them away. They look like they could be part of something, but who knows what? I imagine some future time when the husband asks me “Have you seen the gizmo for my gadget? It’s a small curvy piece of black plastic with some holes in it and a doohickey on it?” And I, having tossed it out, would have to avoid eye contact while saying, “I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about! Never in my life have a seen anything remotely like what you are describing!”

So, instead, I throw these thingamajigs in the “Clutter Box”, just in case. I tell myself that one day I will make a piece of modern sculpture out of it all. I will title the finished product “Bob” (and then keep it in a plastic box in the basement storage room).

 

While doing the above, I also managed to somehow declutter my mind. I got rid of or stored away all the little pieces left there by other people during this crazy year. I cleared a path out of malaise and into the enjoyment of summer.

 

Hope for the Future

Not only is the future looking brighter now, it is looking brighter orange! On a whim, I checked my junk food website and was delighted to see my favorite thing in the world is back in stock and ready to be delivered. I pounced. With any luck, they will arrive before I leave for my cure. In the case that all the Covid regulations ruin the week, it would be nice to have a back-up therapy at hand.

 

 

Aaaahh, Silence. (Sigh.)

 

Saturday was the first day of Easter vacation, and the school having been closed for three weeks already, I wasn’t expecting it to feel any different. But then something miraculous happened. My cell phone went quiet. Instead of the now usual 150 emails/text messages/calls per day, there were only 2 or 3 of each. By mid-morning I was inspecting my cell to make sure it was still working. Soon thereafter, I realized that this was the way things would normally be during a vacation. The silence became energizing. It occurred to me I could finally get started on one of my Corona Break projects and I went right out and picked the biggest one.

I’d been wanting to deep clean and reorganize the kitchen for months. With so much time on my hands, I could set about it in a slow, methodical and scientific way. I would start by making a survey of the contents of all the cabinets and rank them according to the frequency with which I used them. I would then score the various cabinets based on certain criteria (visibility of contents, easily reached, requires bending over or crouching, requires stretching or standing on a chair). I would then use these results to re-allocate the contents to the most appropriate and efficient storage space.

Of course, certain contents barely register on the frequency of use scale, and these would be moved out of the kitchen entirely to one of three alternate storage sites – in order of their distance from the kitchen (from closest to farthest) these were: the hall cabinet, the basement storeroom, or the garbage cans. I would use mathematical calculations and expiration dates to determine which alternate location was best suited for each item, with the kitchen-to-storage-space distance standing in inverse proportion to its chances of being needed.

The one hitch to this plan was the state of the basement storeroom which could only be described as a disaster zone. It would have to be ordered and cleaned first. And to make room for more kitchen stuff, some of its contents would have to be moved to the shelves in the even filthier heating oil tank room. To make these decisions I would have to consider such factors as material, sensitivity to humidity and frigid temperatures, flammability, and value. (That last one was added because this room represents the easiest way to break into our locked house. We haven’t done anything about it because my husband forgets his keys a lot.) While deciding, I would also have to take into consideration all the crap that we had “temporarily” stowed in the wine cellar and the basement hallway nine months ago . . .

So, this was going to be a huge project. I figured it would take me about a week to accomplish.

Here was the state of things by the end of Day One:

 

 

Loose Ends

(Kur Report – Part Seven)

 

One of my goals in these cure reports is to give especially my American friends and readers a sense of what Austria’s health care system offers to it citizens. I have found discussions about health care (and the horrors of socialized medicine) in the States mind-boggling. I can’t help feeling that if Americans knew better, they would demand better. Much better.

So, in that spirit, I want to give a full picture of what these two weeks included. (Keep in mind, that there will be one more week in April. I am only at the 2/3rds mark.) I left off at the end of Week One. Here is Week Two.

 

Day 8 (Monday): This was an easy day with only three sessions. After another round of individual physical therapy, I found myself back in the mud pack station. Luckily, I was in a different compartment and didn’t have to stare at Lederhosen and Spandex Butts. This time it was Ski Pants Knees and Climber Calves, (both with just the tiniest bit of butt).

In the afternoon there was more spinal gymnastics and I was done for the day by 2:00 pm. In the evening I signed up for an extra yoga class – which was a great workout – very little lying around, breathing and listening to the choir of gurgling stomachs while trying desperately to relax.

 

Day 9: The morning included more electro-therapy on my shoulders, a Radon bath and then a talk on mental health which dealt mostly with stress. The last one was slightly irritating because the loudest and most confidant participants kept trying to shift the conversation toward whatever their own particular problems were. I spent most of the time wondering if there were really such a thing as “positive stress”.

After lunch and another session of endurance training, I took another walk to Böckstein with a friend and this time we went to the soldier’s cemetery there. For such a small place, there were so many gravestones of young men, all dying around 1943 or 1944, i.e. at the very end of that senseless war. Cemeteries can be very poignant places.

 

Day 10 included endurance training, an ultrasound treatment, and spinal gymnastics, to which I added an evening course in Feldenkrais. This was the first day I felt tired – sort of a low point. In the evening I shared a glass of wine with my walking friend, who left the following day.

 

Day 11: My schedule was filled from 8:00 am to 16:30 pm to make up for all the free time I had had on previous days. I had my second doctor’s check-up, grew another 0.3 cm, did underwater gymnastics, and partook in some excruciating relaxation therapy (“Close your eyes. Feel your left big toe  . . . . . . . now move to your second toe . . . . . . .” It took us a half hour to think through only the left leg. Longest hour of my life.) After that was an Exercise Motivation lecture followed by an hour of Nordic Walking. I went into that last one with a prejudiced mind but ended up having fun. In the evening, I finally finished my “Kur Report – Part Six” which was three days in the making.

 

Day 12 started somewhat brutally with weight training and endurance training all before 9:00 am. Then came a quick Radon bath and I was done before noon. Good thing, too, because I then hopped on a train to Bischofshofen to meet my bff, Ly. We mostly walked around for three hours and ended up seeing ALL the sights that town has to offer.

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And that brings me to today. Day 13. An hour of weight and endurance training in the morning and a quick electro-therapy . . . and . . . that was it!

Soon I will be packing and checking out. Returning cards and keys and towels, etc. Maybe a last walk through the village. A selfie with my table-mates. I can’t leave until tomorrow for technical, insurance-related reasons – I am officially on sick leave and legally required to stay here till I’m not.

So, I’m done. For now, anyway. As an extra souvenir (along with my little pink pig), I bought a badge for my hiking stick. Normally you have to climb up mountainsides and reach lodges to earn them, but there are exceptions – like the Vienna badge my sister-in-law bought me after I rode the Riesenrad (giant ferris wheel) in a state of terror. That was a sort of big deal for me. I may not have vanquished a mountain while I was here, but I do feel a sense of achievement. In terms of my state of health, these two weeks have been an upward climb to a nicer place with a better view.

 

 

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.

 

Early Bird Special

I went out for dinner with two dear school friends last night and it was the fastest five hours of my life. They had arranged to go to a popular place that takes no reservations so we had to get there by 4:00 pm. As our plans were shaping up in a series of ping ponging WhatsApp messages, all sorts of idioms and cultural references to (mean and skimpy) old ladies popped up that were unfamiliar to me and needed explanation – finally prompting one of my friends to write “You have been gone too long.”

So, Blue Hair picked me up and we drove to the restaurant where Weenius would meet us. We all arrived within a minute of one another, but curiously, two of us spent the first half hour at a table with an empty seat while the third spent it on a bench across from the hostess station three feet away. We needed our cell phones to finally find one another. Another round of allusions to our aging processes ensued.

But at the same time, the rejuvenating magic of old friends started working. Conversation flowed fast and furiously, simply picking up where it left off last time. There was no feeling of “having been gone too long” – in fact, no time had passed at all it seemed. Giggling erupted and years started peeling off. Who is getting old? Not us! We are as immature as we ever were! And blessedly so.

The place was filling up and our consciences told us that we really should be leaving to free up the table for all the waiting customers. So we got our doggie bags and spent ten more minutes figuring out what 94 divided by 3 equals. Then we stiffed the waitress and left. Blue Hair drove off the curb with a clunk as we left the parking lot.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like . . .

“American trends take about ten years to come to us.”

I heard that statement dozens of times when I first came to Austria. And it struck me as true. It was 1984, but the younger people were still walking around in hippie garb and attitude. Stores were quaint in their lack of variety or marketing pizzazz. No one celebrated Halloween and Christmas was surprisingly uneventful. Trees were not put up till the 24th, they were only lit up once using real candles, and they were gone before New Year’s Eve. No one put up strings of electric lights outside their homes. I’m not even sure they were available in stores. There were Christmas markets, but they were cozy affairs centered more on mulled wine than on trinket or handicraft shopping.

Things have changed.

I noticed this year that when the Halloween merch was removed from stores in early November, it was immediately replaced with chocolate St. Nicks and reindeers and Santas and angels. Then one neighbor after another strung up lights until we were the only house left without them. Santas appeared on rooftops and life-sized crèches populated front yards. Mailboxes were stuffed full with letters from charities.

Clearly, American trends had come to Austria, but I didn’t realize just how fully until I went to City Hall Christmas market on my evening in Vienna.

This was a level of kitsch that even Americans would have trouble matching. Austria had not only caught up, it had surpassed us! This could not stand!

Fast forward to yesterday as I walked the daily route to this Milwaukee neighborhood’s central shopping street. Along the way is a huge house that has been under the process of gorgeous (and expensive!) renovations for the past 10 or so years, yet still seemed uninhabited. I noticed a huge Christmas tree in the front window and, it being only December 12th, I wondered at the owners’ Yuletide enthusiasm. Then I proceeded to walk past the side of the house and noticed a second tree in the next room:

In the third room there was yet another tree:

And in the fourth . . .

And, yes, there was a fifth . . .

Part of me was fascinated and plagued by the question “Who ARE these people?!” But another part was delighted. Take THAT Austria! When it comes to Kitschmas, we are still Number One!