Mushroom Crowd

 

It’s become something of a tradition that we and seven other families spend a few days in mountain cabins in a place called Klippitztörl. A little googlie told me that name comes from the Slovenian word hlipica which means ʺwindy areaˮ and the Austrian word Törl which is ʺa steep rocky narrowing of valleys and pass routes across a range of mountainsˮ. You’d think that what would most excite the crowd would be the beautiful landscapes or the exhilaration of reaching rocky peaks after a long hike, but it quickly became clear that it was something else. My first clue was that everyone seemed to be hoping for rain. My second clue was how my fellow wanderers kept their eyes peeled on the ground around their feet or to the left and right of the paths. It was fungus they were after.

On Day One, I only halfheartedly joined in the fungus hunt, occasionally glancing here or there, hoping one would jump out in front of me. After two hours of hiking, here was my paltry contribution. Three tiny chanterelles:

Day Two went much better. Not only did I nab a porcini, but it was probably the biggest one found yet. And it is not like my husband helped me. Like by saying ʺC., come here . . . you might want to look over in that direction . . . no, a bit to your left . . . no, your other left . . . maybe look by the tree there . . . now right by your foot . . . watch out! Don’t step on it! . . . Yeaayy!!! Now that’s a nice mushroom! Good job!ˮ No, it was not like that at all. But he did let me in on an old fisherman’s trick when we took the picture. He told me to hold the mushroom way out in front of me and that would make it look bigger. See for yourself.

On our way home from our hike on Day Three – part of which I spent at a lodge reading while the others went all the way up to the top – we took one of the husband’s infamous ʺshortcutsˮ. After wandering around for an extra hour trying to find our way back to the original route, we chanced upon the chanterelle homeworld. It became hard NOT to find one. Believe me, I tried.

 

As you might guess, the grand finale / evening meal of our last day was a gorgeous mushroom goulash. Cooking was a group effort directed by my husband with his famous recipe.  Here it is, step by step, just in case anyone out there wants to try this. As they say in Austria – Mahlzeit!

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Spillover

 

One of the destinations of the daily 10,000 step walks my sister and I take is Atwater Park in Shorewood, where one of my favorite pieces of public art sits waiting for us. It is called “Spillover II” by a Catalan artist named Jaume Plensa (thank you, google). Take a look for yourself.

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The artist explained his use of letters by saying we use language to commune with nature and the world, or something like that, which is very nice, but I have my own ideas. I see a guy who consists of a jumble of amorphous, incomplete thoughts swirling around inside and outside of him. As he stares at the water, concerns begin to drain away, slowly emptying his faceless, everyman head. The way he sits, hugging his legs, makes him slightly vulnerable, but the upright head puts him squarely in the world. It fascinates me to think how different the impression would be if that head were bowed, making him looked scared or fetal-like. As is, he’s got more communing to do and he’s going to stick around for a while.

I get the impression he is fairly universally loved by the local people, but, of course, it wouldn’t be art if there were no controversy. Some tourist inspected him, “discovered” the secret message “dead jew” among his ostensibly random letters, and then blogged about it. Scandalous! Outrage! To jump to the end of the story, the artist graciously offered to alter his piece, exchanging a letter or two, so that it could no longer be “misinterpreted”. (Correcting my misinterpretation would probably require more major changes, so I hope Jaume never gets wind of this post . . . )

 

While on the subject of public art, I’ll add another fairly recent addition to Milwaukee’s collection – one that clearly falls at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum.

Meet the (monstrous) “Bronze Fonz”:

 

 

 

 

I think I’ll skip the interpretation of this one and move right to the scandal. Some art director complained and said he would move his gallery if the Fonz went up near it. When that made the news, the phone calls started coming. The art director then recorded some of these messages – which he called “death threats” – and put them on a website. (http://www.hotcakesgallery.com/milwaukee-bronze-fonzie/) Three of them come from 1) a homophobe who somehow sees the statue critique as an insult to the Green Bay Packers, 2) a Canadian who is now seriously considering not coming to Milwaukee, and 3) the Fonz himself (sort of). At first I was a little wary about clicking on “Listen”, but then – as I should have guessed, this being Wisconsin – they were pretty tame. (What does it mean to “end like Dahmer”?) Still, it is beyond my comprehension how some people have the inclination, energy or time to be leaving insulting messages on a stranger’s voicemail. Henry Winkler would not approve.

The end of this sad story of schlemiels (“Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”) is that some musicians remixed the messages and set them to catchy beats. They made me laugh, but now I have this silly and bizarre song stuck in my head. “Gay boy. Dahmer gay boy. Gay boy. Go away . . .”

I think I need to go back to Atwater and look out over the lake for a while.

 

Dejuvenating

Since the husband couldn’t come along on our trip to Milwaukee this year, it was up to me to get the bikes in working order for my daughters and me to use. I hauled them up from my sister’s Silence of the Lambs basement, removed the cobwebs and set to work. Tires were pumped up, brakes were checked, rust was WD40’d, chains were oiled, seats were adjusted, gears were tested. We were good to go.

Of course, one of these three bikes was my now 42 year old Takara ten-speed which I have affectionately named “The Rejuvenator”. And once again, he lived up to his name. When I got on him and started pedaling, the old magic of muscle memory kicked in immediately. He was perfection. This was how a bike was supposed to feel! I sped off into traffic like any 15 year old would, exhilarated by my newfound mobility, leaving my fifty-seven year old achy, gouty and bursitis-prone self behind in the dust.

Common sense says that a person can’t truly love an inanimate object, but I beg to differ.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering how long this magic can last. How long can those bald and ever so slightly flatulent tires hold out? His brake lines are also creaking more, the joints of his gear levers are stiffer and he is getting crankier when I shift. His handlebar tape is sagging and decomposing. His age is showing.

And what about me?  A week from now, I will take him back down to the basement before leaving to go home. At our next reunion, I will be 59 and probably as good as retired. Will I still tear around town on him when I am 61? 63? 65? Will the day come when I have to give up riding ten-speeds altogether? How will this end?

I almost hope he goes before my ability to ride him does. That a tire bursts and is too expensive to replace. Or that a part rusts through that is no longer produced. That when our relationship ends, it will not be me abandoning him. It will be his last full measure of devotion.

 

Batshit Crazy

Greetings from an Oasis of Sanity!  Also known as my sister’s house. This year I flew to the States ahead of my husband and daughters so that I could spend more time with my American family. I told people that I was going earlier so that my sister could give me some intensive therapy – a small joke, but like most humor, there was a bit of truth in there. As I wrote to her before I came: “I’m doing fine and so are (nuclear family members), but it seems to me everyone else in the world is batshit crazy”. She wrote back “I feel the same way.” (By the way, “batshit crazy” is not a term I would normally use, but I have a theory about why those words popped out of my mouth . . . )

It is Day Five in the Oasis now and healing processes are well underway. It turned out that for every story I told her from the last year – work conflicts, personal crises, relationship catastrophes, etc., she had a similar story from her experience or her various circles to relate. It seemed like an abnormally large number of our people were struggling with some serious problem. We kept wondering if something was generally wrong with the world.

And of course we laid a lot of the blame on the orange Occupant and the universal malaise in the country, thanks to his incessant trolling. We wondered when he would finally hit rock bottom; we considered the possibility that there is no bottom. We differed a bit in our theories on “what is wrong with him?!” and whether or not he is getting worse. Call me naïve, but I remain hopeful. I believe the arc of his mental decline is long, but it bends towards hospice.

These discussions happened during meals and long walks, on drives and on the porch, over coffee and while crocheting my newest project. Stitch by stitch, the world came to seem more manageable. My sister watched the progress as the form took shape, as it became an animal and then a metaphor. She asked me (in a sort of hopeful voice) what I was going to do with it when I was done.

As soon as the last loose thread was weaved in, I gave it to her for keeps:

 

Gerontogynophobia

 

It’s official. In the Best Vacations competition, Easter beats Christmas hands down. The weather is warm, the sun sets at 8:00 pm, there is no present-procurement stress, and no one asks if you want to go skiing. The supply of chocolate in the house grows dramatically, while the surplus of eggs in the fridge gets reduced. This last point is particularly fortunate, now that we are getting up to seven (!) a day (she says proudly).

Despite a long mental list of Easter vacation projects, including catching up some more with blog friends and long overdue house improvements, I — somewhat inexplicably — spent the first two days crocheting this giraffe. It is my very first stuffed animal:

This was all before Notre Dame started burning, before an overnight trip to Vienna with my two daughters, and before the Mueller Report landed with a thud, kicking off the collective hyperventilation of America’s journalists and pundits. No, for those two days, I happily binge-watched silly Sci Fi series and counted stitches. My greatest concern was what to do with the giraffe once I had finished. Gingerbread Man to the rescue! Since he is my only other crocheted stuffed animal thing, I introduced the two and they became immediate bff’s.

Speaking of new friends, I have one too. And it is none other than Mean Neighbor Lady! For more than two decades I suffered her Daily Disapproval Tours and disparaging comments about my (lack of) gardening skills.  Hundreds of times, when my Nice Neighbor Lady (NNL) and I walked our dogs past her house, I stood back silently while those two had a friendly chat or MNL gifted her a plant from her garden. All I ever got was half-nod and a grunt. MNL became a constant source of bemusement between NNL and me.

But then things changed. The thaw began with Dog Four and was helped along by the chickens. MNL and I began to have very short talks about various plants and I sometimes saw her bringing kitchen scraps to our goats. About two weeks ago, on my dog walk, I heard someone calling my name. I turned around and it was her. Up to that point, I wasn’t aware that she even knew my name.

I retraced my steps back to her. She wanted to know if it was true that the noise her grandson made when he rode his moped around the cornfields bothered . . . . . . my husband. I assured her that he had never complained. She replied, “That’s what I thought.” Then she offered me a plant from her garden. A week later she complemented my new flowerbed. On my next dog walk with NNL, she got the icy grunt and I got the friendly hello.

“I guess I’M her favorite now!” I crowed as we walked on.

 

I have no illusions that this new friendship will endure. One escaped goat munching on her flowers would surely be enough to end it. And then there is my well established fear of little old white-haired ladies, especially those with scowly faces.

I checked the official list of phobias to see if I could find my particular condition, but the closest things I found were a general fear of women and the fear of growing old. This made me realize something. Maybe it wasn’t the scowling little old ladies I feared; maybe what I really feared was becoming one of them myself. Which brings me back full circle to my giraffe.

Crocheting stuffed animals is something grandmas do!

In fact, my own grandma must have been almost exactly my age now when she made the Gingerbread Man. I did the math.  And in the ensuing years she proceeded to shrink as her hair turned white.

But then again . . . I came to think of her as one of the most beautiful people I knew – ever more so the older she got. She was still able to live on her own at the age of 90. She loved to dance. And she never scowled.

 

Halftime Report

Never fear, Ladies. This post has nothing to do with the Super bowl. To be honest, the only things I know about it are that Maroon Five was boring and everyone hates a guy called Tom Brady. I couldn’t tell you what teams played, but I saw Tom Brady on Colbert doing Hamlet’s soliloquy and thought he was charmingly awful.

 

The reason that “halftime” is in the title is because I just had a week off for semester break. It was a welcome relief after what has been a somewhat crappy school year so far (only with the adults, not with the kids). I know I have been declaring my love for my job forever, but this year started off badly with a bunch of conflicts I barely understood. And from there it got worse, culminating in yet another somehow obligatory group therapy session. The moderator lost control of the discussion, so we all ended up suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous accusations. Afterwards, I found myself pondering “To quit or not to quit?  That is the question.” Of course the problem, at its core, was not life or death. It was just about money. And all arguments about money suck by definition.

I didn’t want to spend my whole break brooding about work, so on the first day, I invited my two female coworkers over for coffee and a long chat. We all converged on the realization that we three were married to working men and financially secure, whereas our other two colleagues were single earners with housewives and families to support. The whole situation was not an existential one for us. Although we agreed that everyone is responsible for their own life decisions, this new insight gave us three a patience with their behavior and the situation as a whole. The talk did me a world of good and allowed me to put all work-related questions out of my mind for the interim.

Let the vacation begin!

As tradition dictates, we headed to my husband’s aunt and uncle in Tyrol for some skiing (them) and dog walking (me). A five hour drive westward took us from relative spring into the deepest winter. Ten straight days of snowfall in previous weeks meant white walls were lining all the streets and walking paths  – some of them up to five feet tall or more. The snow returned while we were there, giving us all another excuse for taking it easy (as if we needed one). While my husband took the kids skiing and sledding, I took long dog walks with my aunt and cousin and . . . that’s about it. Otherwise it was just reading and Sudoku and Level 8 and podcasts and wonderful meals cooked by Austria’s greatest chef.

My one excursion was to the big flea market where, last year, I found my old dial-up phone (which works!) and which I absolutely adore. This year the pickings were slimmer. There was a nice set of hand-carved wooden crèche figures, but with the baby Jesus missing. I already bought one of those this year. Later, I did find a cool vintage children’s sewing machine – but then the seller not only wanted too much for it, but he was also fairly unfriendly about it. He had turned his back on me to talk to another potential customer, but I remained standing there, mulling over whether to make a counter offer or not. While waiting for him to finish his conversation, I picked up a wooden box from his table and opened it. Inside were a bunch of big carved wooden objects. It slowly dawned on me that they were penises. I quickly shut the box, dropped it back on the table and moved on.

So . . . no new mini-sewing machine.

After four gloriously relaxing days, we hugged our goodbyes and thank yous, and piled into the car to head back east- and homeward. A five-hour drive later, we landed back in spring. Temperatures in the low 50s quickly lured us out into the garden to do post-winter clean-up. One of my projects was reopening bathing season for our ducks.

 

And speaking of clean-ups, I came home to discover my chicken on the wrong side of the front stoop, my glass jars in the wrong formation on the kitchen counter, and all the bottles of cleaning supplies empty. There was a message from Vera that she needed more. I went out and replenished the whole stock. Here they are:

Notice the hostage-picture-style of this photograph with the newspaper in front to prove the date. You are all my witnesses. The next time Vera comes (and has gone), I’m going to line up all these bottles again and compare them to this picture. If it turns out that they are all half empty, I’m gonna . . .  I’m gonna . . . seriously think about saying something to her! But then again . . . I think her husband is unemployed and she is working two or three jobs just to get by. So I’ll probably stay silent. Just like I did at work when it started up again.

Conscience does make cowards of us all.

Westeros

 

(Ireland 2018 – Part 2)

 

Despite having devoured the first 3 books in the series, I cannot really be considered a true “Game of Thrones” fan. Reading to the end of the fourth book ended up feeling like work. I only managed it because of my neurotic need to finish any book I start. The fact is, I never really got over the Red Wedding chapter in Book 3 and I resent that sadist, R.R. Martin, to this day for putting me through it. When it comes to the TV series, I stopped watching somewhere in the first season. I just couldn’t stomach the (seemingly gratuitous) violence and cruelty.

So it wasn’t “The Game of Thrones” that led me to Northern Ireland, but once there, it was hard to escape the connection. There were all sorts of GoT packages on offer; whole sections of Tourist Information offices were devoted to it. Special maps were made, showing all the locations where scenes from the series had been filmed, like this one (notice all the film camera symbols):

Not surprisingly, a lot of the sites that we had chosen out of old guide books (that predated the show) overlapped with those on the GoT tours. And when they did, we slogged through these sites in a massive convoy of people.

At the Giant’s Causeway it seemed there wouldn’t be enough rocks to hold them all.

At the famous Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, there weren’t enough hours in the day to let all the people who wanted to cross over.

And at the Dark Hedges (Westeros’s “King’s Road”), well, we could hardly see the trees for the forest of tourists passing under them.

 

 

And now I have to confess to being a bit hyperbolic in what I wrote above. I still enjoyed all of the sites despite the many other tourists. They were cool and beautiful and worth visiting. Then again, when I look back at the trip as a whole, my absolute favorite moments were ones when we were almost alone in some gorgeous location – and that cannot be a coincidence.

First we got to the Mussenden Temple and the mansion ruins in Downhill Demesne before the ticket office opened and could explore the places almost completely on our own.

 

This was one of my favorite moments from the whole trip. Me and the sis being in the moment:

 

It was only after I got home from the trip that I started researching the connections between “Game of Thrones” and Ireland. It took me all of two minutes to find an article showing that the fictional country of Westeros is actually upside-down Ireland with some extras:

 

I suppose this all won’t be news to most GoT fans, but I thought it was incredibly neat. The article went on to say:

“Speaking at Comic Con two years ago, Martin revealed that not only was Co. Kerry perfectly redrawn, but the Fingers at the Vale of Arryn were, in fact, the Dingle Peninsula, and several other major Irish cities share their locations with famous Westeros landmarks: King’s Landing as Galway, Donegal Bay as the Sea of Dorne, Belfast as Old Town and Dublin as Casterly Rock . . . . With thanks to the success of the show, many fans are now traveling to the Northern Irish sets to see the amazing locations for themselves, resulting in the Dark Hedges in Co. Antrim, used as the King’s Road in the show, becoming one of the most photographed tourist attractions in the world.”

Source:  https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/entertainment/rr-martin-reveals-game-of-thrones-westeros-is-an-upside-down-ireland

 Despite the crowds, I think it is great thing that the popularity of GoT has been a boon for northern Irish tourism. For me, the opposite has occurred. While googling “ireland locations game thrones”, I ended up watching a whole bunch of YouTube videos – scenes from the series with backdrops I recognized. I really enjoyed them. I just might start watching the show again . . . . .