Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lip service...

Last night, while being entertained by our "friend" Adam, the inept bartender, Bill and I struck up a conversation with a soldier.  Actually, he struck up a conversation with us.  One of the TVs on the wall at Chili's Too was showing a classic music video from 1983, Herbie Hancock's "Rockit".

The soldier who chatted with us was our age and had about 24 years of service.  He and Bill discussed the prospect of retirement.  The soldier came off as very articulate and confident.  He'd spent much of his time in Europe and is looking at staying after he leaves the military.  I was very intrigued by the guy, who mentioned he'd just about had his fill working for Uncle Sam.

Bill noticed the soldier was wearing a medical patch, so he asked the guy if he was assigned to Landstuhl, which is the medical command in Europe.  Turns out he was, but not as a practitioner.  Our new acquaintance rather boldly confessed that he'd come to Germany from another overseas location.  He was in the "Warrior Transition Unit" because in a moment of desperation, he had attempted suicide.  Someone in his chain of command decided that he was a danger to himself, even though actual medical professionals had supposedly cleared him for duty.

Our new acquaintance explained that deployments to two war zones and two failed marriages had temporarily left him feeling like he had no other options other than suicide.  Having experienced crippling depression and anxiety myself and having done battle with military folks covering their asses, I empathized with the guy.  This man told us rather emphatically that he'd basically been treated like someone his command just wanted to get rid of. His own opinions about his situation didn't seem to matter much.  No one seemed interested in helping him; they just seemed to want him taken off their hands and out of their realm of responsibility.

The military's official policy about servicemembers who are battling depression, anxiety, or any other type of mental health issue is that they must seek "help" for it.  They say seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it's a sign of strength.  However, those who seek help often end up with career troubles.  God forbid, if someone is driven to a suicide attempt, they might as well kiss respectability goodbye. Seems to me that being threatened with restraints, sedation, and an "escort" to Germany if one is not willing to go "voluntarily" is not the best way to help someone overcome depression and suicidal ideation.

Bill and I were both impressed by our acquaintance, who seemed remarkably "together", under the circumstances.  He was bright, friendly, and obviously interested in moving past his unfortunate incident.  In fact, he told us that as a soldier who had been suicidal, he has a unique perspective and ability to empathize that might help other soldiers in similar situations.  Do you think anyone in the Army has recognized this?  Nope.  Not so far.

Seems to me that even if this guy had done what the military says he should have done and immediately sought help for his suicidal ideation before he made an attempt, he would have ended up in the same place he is now.  What a waste.  It's a shame that DoD pays lip service to helping people who are overwhelmed by events in life.  I have felt suicidal before...  I know it's not a feeling that can be willed away by most people.

It was very interesting talking to this man.  I hope things get better for him and he ends up in a situation that shows him more compassion soon.  I also hope the military rethinks its policies regarding servicemembers who struggle with mental illnesses or mental health issues.  Seems to me, more people need to be using their brains and common sense rather than resting on rigid policies.  Those policies sure didn't help the guy at Fort Hood who went on a shooting rampage after his deployment.  Obviously, they aren't working all that well.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Gwyneth Paltrow steps in shit...

We're still in Landstuhl this morning.  Bill hopes to get out of Europe today, but the prospects are looking pretty dim.  We may be stuck for another day or two.  I'm kind of ready to go home, not because I love Texas, but because I miss my dogs, my computer, and clean laundry.  We had a pretty amazing day yesterday, having gone to Bacharach, a very cool little town on the Rhein.  I can hardly wait to write the post about it on my travel blog.  I have pics and video!

Last night, I shared on Facebook a letter a Green Beret wrote to Gwyneth Paltrow and her comparison of online bullying to war.  She basically said that mean spirited tweets change her the way people change when they go to war.  A Green Beret took her to task, reminding her of what he's seen in theater.  It was a rather snarky, disrespectful letter written in a way typical of a military badass.  A lot of people liked it.

One friend claimed that the Green Beret was "bullying" Gwyneth and accused people of not reading what she wrote.  I will admit that I didn't read her comments until later.  Having done so, I don't totally disagree with Paltrow's observations about how online bullying can hurt.  I do, however, think she was wrong to even try to compare that experience to war in any way.  Even if what she wrote was somewhat true, people would ridicule her for that comparison of online insults and emotional abuse to the horror of watching someone being shot, maimed, or stepping on an IED.  They don't compare.  Not saying online bullying can't lead to violence and despair or even PTSD-- just saying it's very different.

I doubt Gwyneth Paltrow has spent much, if any, time with someone who has gone to war, or the people who have to deal with war veterans if and when they come home.  Her comments signify a lack of perspective that upset and offended a lot of people, and rightfully so.  That being said, the Green Beret does come off somewhat as a macho blowhard... Perhaps you could even call him a bully.  But somehow, I doubt anyone in Gwyneth's household will suffer nightmares in the aftermath.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Now back in Germany...

Here in Landstuhl, there are Americans aplenty.  We had a very long travel day from Nice that involved a flight to Vienna, then on to Frankfurt, where we took a series of train rides that left me pretty frazzled and cranky.

Things got off to a crappy start when I ran across a nasty posting involving the term "dependapotamus", which is an insulting slang expression used to describe certain military spouses (wives, really) who are entitled, uneducated, and constantly pregnant.  Oh, and most of the time, they're fat, too.  Sadly, a lot of the people using that term seem to be affiliated with the military.

There is a Facebook group devoted to that expression and someone ripped off a bikini photo of the woman who runs the "Fort Riley Secret Confessions" page.  The lady who runs that page is zaftig, but she had on a fairly cute bikini that covered everything except maybe two inches of skin around her middle.  So naturally, some of the shitty people who run the dependapotamus page were writing nasty things about her... One guy even wrote that "fat chicks aren't real people".

So that got me to wondering how these people got to be so callous and mean spirited.  I was talking to Bill about it on the flight to Frankfurt.  I think the guy in front of us heard and seemed to delightedly tell the two blonde women he was with.  They reminded me of an ABBA revival.

Then we got on a packed train to Mannheim.  There were no seats, so Bill and I stood between cars.  My mood was darkening by the second, so Bill went to get me some food and a beer.  I was less hungry than tired, but he hates it when I'm cranky.  He came back with currywurst, which was covered in a sauce.

I said, "I don't think I can eat this right now."  And honestly, I was a bit annoyed, though I appreciated the kind gesture.

The train lurched and Bill had taken one of my bags.  He almost knocked a guy over and I also almost fell while holding the hot container of currywurst.  An observant and kind German lady saved the currywurst before I spilled it. I said thanks in a way that sounded flatter than I intended it to.

We got off that train and ate the currywurst.  Then we got on another crowded train to Kaiserslautern. A third train took us to Landstuhl, where we were confronted by Americans just back from Paris.  They had a bunch of small kids who were as fussy and noisy as I was.

The hotel we're in is very traditionally German, so the guy who let us in lit out quickly after we got here, leaving us with no Internet...

Just as well, I guess.  The Internet was kind of what started my mood in the first place.  We hope to fly back home tomorrow or Saturday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A review of Marion Jones' On The Right Track...

There's more to the title of Jones's book, but I'm writing this on an iPad and don't feel like flipping back and forth to type the rest of it.  For those who don't know, Marion Jones was a very successful Olympic athlete at the Sydney Games in summer 2000.  She won five gold medals and was, for several years, a darling of  American sports fans.  While I remembered her name, I wasn't particularly a fan of hers.  I bought her book because I saw her on Dr. Phil.

Jones was on the good TV shrink's show because she spent six months at Carswell Correctional Center in Fort Worth, Texas after she admitted to using performance enhancing drugs (The Clear) at the Games and was involved in check fraud.  She went to prison on March 7, 2008 and stayed until September 5, 2008.  Jones left behind her husband and two young sons for her brief but miserable stay in federal prison.  After she was released, she recovered from the scandal through faith in God and support from her family.  She later gave birth to a daughter and played basketball for the WNBA.

While Jones's book isn't the best written thing I've read recently, it is basically well-written and serves as a good cautionary tale against lying, using drugs (though she claims she didn't know she was taking them-- supposedly her coach gave them to her under the guise of "supplements"), and getting involved with the wrong people.

Jones apparently had an absentee father.  Her mother remarried a man named Ira Toler, who served as a surrogate to her, but he died when she was still young.  Jones was devastated.  If anything, her book shows how important fathers are to their kids.  While she didn't really have a connection to her bio dad, she did attend his funeral and dealt with the muddle of emotions from that.  Other people described her father as a wonderful man, but she never had the chance to find out for herself.  I suspect that made her angry...  She was rightfully angry that he wasn't there for her when she was growing up.  But I wonder if she tried to know him once she was an adult. I'm guessing she didn't.  There's a reason why other people loved him.  I don't know for certain, but I get the sense that maybe the child Jones was is yet another victim of adults being selfish and stupid.

Jones writes of the terrible conditions she and other women faced in prison.  She explains that a lot of women are there on long sentences for minor crimes.  They don't get proper medical care and are forced to be "slaves".  Jones had the dubious privilege of traveling on a "con air" flight.  Apparently, it was really not fun.  She also spent some time in "the hole".

This book is short but basically interesting.  I was glad to see that Jones was able to bounce back.  She is now an activist for prison reform.  While I don't favor coddling prisoners, I do think that some sentences are ridiculously long, especially in the case of certain non violent crimes.  I do also think that prisoners should get basically decent medical care if they need it.  But then, a lot of Americans who aren't in prison don't get decent medical care.

I'd recommend the book.

Monday, May 26, 2014

What a day...

We traveled from Nimes to Nice.  Nice just had the annual Cannes film festival going on, so it's busy...  Maybe even busier than usual.  I have booked us a 2 star hotel room for two nights.  Wednesday, we're flying back to Germany.  We were going to use the trains, but we've had trouble using American credit cards at the train stations in France and we're running out of cash.  Germany seems to be slightly more user friendly for Americans.  Plus, we need to be near a military air base.  I was thinking we might try Aviano in Italy, but we don't know what the schedule is,  Ramstein is more predictable.  I love traveling and the stories I get to tell after I go places, but I'm nervous about the future, miss my dogs, and need to do laundry.  All this credit card use makes me nervous, too.

So, our travels today were pretty harrowing.  The train from Nimes to Marseille was packed...  But it was even more packed when we got on a train bound for Toulon.  That damn train was so full of people that the journey was cancelled.  A nice French lady was kind enough to explain what was going on, since we hadn't a clue.  They had to add more cars and it backed up the schedule.  In a way, it was good...  a lot of people on the train badly needed a shower.  We ended up taking a direct train to Nice that ran two hours later.  It, too, was packed.

We spent the two hours before the train ride eating at McDonald's and drinking beer.  We drank the beer at a little sandwich place, where we were entertained by four very loud black folks who appeared to be somewhat recently extracted from somewhere in Africa.  They seemed like nice people and were having a great time being very loud and laughing a lot as they drank wine and coffee.  I enjoyed them, even if I didn't understand the context of their conversation.

Then, when we got on the train, we were joined by an Australian lady and her young kids.  She had apparently befriended a French woman with a little kid.  At first, we thought they were together.  Maybe they were, sort of... I got the idea that they met in France, though, for the first time.

Anyway, the lady kind of talked to us, then left her little daughter sitting with us, while she moved to another seat with her still breast feeding daughter.  Mom was feeding the girl under her shirt-- only reason I knew she was breast feeding.  Bill was very kind to her and great with the girl sitting with us.  He is a natural father.  I, on the other hand, was ready to get off the train at the end...  I think some people were under the impression that the little girl was ours.  She was mostly well behaved, but was yelling and flipping over the seats toward the end of the journey.  Her toddler aged sister was squealing and crying, as was the little boy belonging to the French lady.  People were giving us dirty looks.  I think the lady talked to us, trusted us, and totally hoped we'd babysit for her.  Naturally, Bill did.

We're in another cheap hotel.  I'm tired and have an upset stomach.  The weather is nice in Nice, though.  I think it'll make for a good French finale.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Is refinement really a good thing...

While Bill and I are traveling, the subject of refinement has come up.  When I think of refinement, I think of something polished.  You might say refinement takes the edges off something rough or sharp.  It makes something easier to swallow.  It also has a tendency to take away the heart and soul until there's nothing left but softness and blandness...

I'm not very refined.  I don't always act like a lady.  I swear a lot, talk too much and too loudly, and I speak my mind.  I sometimes piss off other people by being raw and outspoken.  But I still have heart, soul, and essence.  So maybe a lack of refinement isn't always such a bad thing.

My friend Audra has three beautiful and very French kids.  I noticed her oldest child, a beautiful young girl on the brink of womanhood.  She was remarkably well-behaved, under the circumstances. I talked Audra's ears off last night and her daughter, not quite young enough to play with her brothers, but not quite old enough to hang with the adults, must have felt like a third wheel.

I'll try to be more refined today when we get together again.  But it's very exciting to see an old friend from Virginia here in France.  

Kicking ass and taking names in Nimes...

So Bill and I arrived in Nimes yesterday and met my old friend Audra from high school and college.  We had a wonderful evening and it was such a treat to get to talk to someone with whom I have a shared history.

Nimes is a neat city.  We happened to get here in time or a farmer's market.  As we walked out of the train station, I smelled the familiar aromas of hay, straw, and manure.  I had to walk around and look at all the animals.  Then we went to a bar, where we enjoyed a couple of beers before Audra picked us up.  I got to meet her three very French kids, her boyfriend, his parents, and another guy... Along with Audra's son's friends.  It was impressive to hear Audra so fluent in French.  I have to admit being a little jealous of her facility with the language...  It obviously comes with total immersion within a culture.

We have a week left and I'm trying not to freak out about money and pending unemployment... It's hard, though.  I did book us a very cute hotel that is quite cheap.  That helps!  I now feel a rant coming on.

Friday, May 23, 2014

There are shit stains in my underwear...

No... Not fresh ones.  Honestly, I'm writing somewhat metaphorically...  What I mean is that I have things about me I'm not proud of.  I am not perfect.  I'm flawed and I'm at a point in my life at which I don't want to hide my flaws anymore.  I am what I am.

Tonight, after walking for hours around Lyon, eating lunch in yet another Irish pub, and being yelled at by some crazy street person who was upset because I took a picture of the outside of a church, I realize that people notice me and perhaps think negatively.  Hell, while we were in Domino's buying pizza in Lyon of all places, some woman was giving me the stink eye.  I'm not sure why.  I was a little tipsy, having spent some time in the Irish pub next door.  They had their rambunctious son with them and he was running around... Mom had on short shorts that said LA girls team, black toenail polish, and plastic shoes.  Yet I'm just standing there waiting for a pizza and somehow I'm the distasteful one.  Maybe I am distasteful.

We should have gone to a better restaurant.  But it was getting late; we were tired and tipsy, and Domino's is good drunk food... It's also cheap.  I don't think I've had a Domino's pizza since college.  It was as mediocre as I remembered it to be.  It's a travesty to eat Domino's pizza in one of the world's best food cities.  We'll do better henceforth.

We're going to Nimes tomorrow.  Will meet a woman I haven't seen since college.  I knew her best when we were in high school, though.  Our dads are both veterans, singers, and alcoholics.  Fortunately, we have more in common than that.  Her son is turning 11 tomorrow.  Should be fun helping them celebrate.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sperm donors...

Just so you know from the get go, I'm a bit lit right now.  Bill and I just spent three hours in an Irish bar in France that plays 80s music and serves Belgian beer.  We went there because we were hungry and stayed because of the music and excellent suds.

So now I'm "coming down" a bit... And I want to address the subject of "sperm donors".  It bothers me a bit when someone refers to a "deadbeat" as a sperm donor.   Hear me out because I think I make sense.

The traditional sperm donor is not necessarily a bad person.  He provides sperm to a bank so that a woman can get pregnant.  She pays for the sperm.  In return, he gets neither rights nor responsibilities to any child that is born after she uses the sperm.  I presume that any woman who uses a sperm donor does so because she wants to.  I would guess she's even glad for the opportunity.  I mean, she gets to pick the man providing the sperm and everything...  and if she loves a child who results from sperm donation, I'm guessing she doesn't begrudge the biological father of her child.  Indeed, the guy did a great thing for her and gave life to someone who otherwise would have never existed.  She has no ties to him, or at least she shouldn't expect any.  She just has a baby whom she presumably loves and wants.

Now... I see in a lot of online rants about irresponsible biological fathers that some people claim they are merely "sperm donors" and I have to point out that that's not quite accurate.  Remember, women who consult sperm donors do so by choice.  They pay for a donor's sperm and can even pick out the guy whose sperm they receive.  It's a SERVICE.

Women who make babies with irresponsible guys who don't take care of their kids don't pay for the experience of receiving sperm.  They and their children pay later.  Maybe she thought he'd want to settle down and raise a family.  But then it turns out he doesn't.  

I would submit that if you are a mom and love your child... and you didn't pay a sperm donor for the privilege of having that child... maybe you shouldn't refer to your kid's dad as a "sperm donor".  When it comes down to it, a sperm donor provides a valuable service for which he gets paid.  A guy who knocks up a woman and leaves her financially high and dry doesn't, generally speaking.  He's much less respectable.  However, even if he is less respectable, if you love your child, he still gave you a gift.  That's the way I think of Bill's abusive ex wife. I don't like or respect her, but she gave me a wonderful gift when she dumped Bill-- even though she probably refers to him as a sperm donor (and he actually didn't leave her financially high and dry).

In any case, if you love your kids, it makes sense to honor the fathers who try harder to do right by them, rather than lament the absence of the irresponsible ones who come in and out of their lives.  And for heaven's sake, don't debase actual sperm donors by calling deadbeat dads "sperm donors".  They aren't the same thing.

Going to Lyon today for two nights...

Had a heck of a time booking a hotel, since I don't know Lyon or where the best places in the city are.  We finally settled on a reasonably priced Best Western that other people described as somewhat conveniently located.  If we'd rented a car, I'd be alright with a place on the outskirts... But we stayed in a hotel on the outskirts in Dijon.  It was an adorable hotel, but we walked about three miles to the center.  I needed the exercise, but it wore me out.  I'd like to be a little closer.

Last night, I gave one of my trademark dirty looks to a woman and her daughter.  They were in a family of four, sitting near us at a restaurant.  They were whispering, giggling, and looking at us.  I don't know what was so funny, but they seemed pretty rude.  So I shot them the stink eye and they soon beat a hasty retreat.  I guess if my instincts were wrong, they wouldn't have noticed.

We are enjoying France, but I am trying to not spend too much... It's hard not to.  Dijon smells wonderful.  I wish we could stay another night.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Entitled brats...

Okay, so I may catch some flak for the title of this post, but here goes anyway...  Last night, a Facebook friend posted a photo from the Web site Humans of New York.  It was a picture of a pretty teenaged girl and there was a caption that explained that the girl's father had been in prison for eight years.  When he got out of prison, he spent some time with his family, then got a girlfriend on whom he spent his money.

The girl explained that her father badmouthed her mother, who didn't have much money because she was a single mom.  She asked her dad if he would help pay for a class trip to Spain.  He agreed, so the girl's grandmother charged the trip on her credit card.  Dad was supposed to repay Grandma, but then he and his daughter got into an argument.  He reneged on his promise to pay for the trip, then told her he was going to use the money he would have spent on the trip on things for himself.  Then he planned to post pictures of his new stuff on Instagram.  She took a photo of his text, posted it on Instagram, then publicly called him a "deadbeat dad".  He retaliated by reporting her, so she reported it with a hash tag referring to him as a "pussy".

The comments on this post were, not surprisingly, overwhelmingly in support of the girl.  I don't blame her for being upset that he went back on his promise to her.  However, I'm not sure what she did was much better.  First off, no one is entitled to a trip to Spain. If Dad was in prison for eight years, it would surprise me that he'd have the money for such a trip in the first place.  My parents are still married and I guarantee that they'd have made me earn the money to go to Spain if my class had gone there instead of the Virginia State Penitentiary.  Perhaps that's what this young lady should have done.  She's smart enough... Or maybe she posted about this to get sympathy donations to her cause...

Secondly, I don't understand why people begrudge men for spending money on girlfriends or subsequent wives.  If he has kids, obviously he has an obligation to support them financially.  However, I never hear anyone begrudging a woman for dating or remarrying after a divorce.  If a man does it, people often act like he's a total slimeball and the woman he's with is a gold digging hussy.  Perhaps Dad really is a slimeball and his girlfriend is a hussy, but it saddens me that people jump to that conclusion automatically without knowing the people involved.

Finally, it doesn't sound like this guy was a high quality specimen for a dad.  Since Mom made at least one baby with him, the kid's circumstances are at least partially her fault.  I think people should be much more careful about mixing DNA and making babies.  That goes for males and females.  Yet read the comments people left and it's assumed that Mom must be "amazing".  If she were really that amazing, she would have chosen a better father (or co-parent) for her daughter.  People are quick to dismiss this girl's dad as a "sperm donor".  If he's a sperm donor, then no one should be expecting anything of him.  That's the nature of being a sperm donor.  Obviously, the guy has been considered a  "dad" at some point, so he's not really a sperm donor.  He sounds like he's just a jerk. He's not likely to change, though, so this girl would be better off looking to others for support, sad as it is.

It's not that I don't empathize with this young lady. It's tough having an irresponsible parent.  However, I do think she's smart enough to know that her dad isn't a stand up guy.  It would probably behoove her to take steps toward self-reliance because it sounds like her dad will do nothing but disappoint her in the long run.  Of course, I write this not knowing the dad's side of the story, either.  For all we know, this girl could have made up the whole thing.  It's likely she didn't, but one can't be sure when reading a short, one-sided anecdote.  God knows, people have made faulty assumptions about Bill and me after reading one or two posts on this blog.  The point is, it's easy to judge when you don't have the whole story.

I also think it's sad that so many people were ready to eviscerate this girl's father for not paying for the trip to Spain.  If she was even considering a trip abroad, her financial straits must not be that bad.  Lots of people are worried about paying rent or feeding themselves.  And I write this from Europe, knowing that soon Bill and I could be in that very same boat.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dijon tomorrow...

I'm stopping there because I love the mustard, but I hear it's beautiful.  We didn't end up touring any champagne caves today, but we did enjoy the region a bit...

Then at dinner, I wondered if the Americans who came into the restaurant after us might be swingers...  More on that when I'm at my computer.  Long story.

I dozed off on the train back to Reims after  quick visit to Epernay.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Now in Reims, France...

It won the coin toss over the Rhein.  We've been wanting to come to Champagne country for ages.  Today has been very much fun.  I look forward to the story I will post on my travel blog.

Now we're drinking my favorite Champagne, available in several sizes, at our cheap motel...  Only in France!

I said I'd confine my travel posts to my travel blog, so...

Here's a very quick rant.  This morning, a cousin of mine posted an adorable family picture.  In the picture, which included his wife and kids, his seven year old daughter is clearly enjoying the spotlight.  She has her arms outstretched and a huge smile on her face.  She looks like a star.  Two more cousins, who are actually the girl's grandmother and great aunt, posted how "proud" they are of this seven year old's decision to "follow Jesus".

Don't get me wrong.  I have nothing against baptisms.  But I wonder, really, how much input this child had in the decision to "follow Jesus".  I mean, she's seven years old, for heaven's sake.  What does she know about it?  And if she had said "no" to the baptism, what would have been the end result?  Would they have given her more time to think about it?  What if she never decided to be baptized? What if she'd told my cousin and his wife that she didn't believe in God, or heaven forbid, decided she'd rather be Catholic?  She wouldn't have done that, of course.  She probably knows nothing about Catholicism.  But that's precisely my point.  She probably knows little about being a Protestant, either.

It bothers me that my family members are projecting religious decisions on this girl and acting as if they were all her idea.  The reality is, she had nothing to do with deciding to follow Jesus.  That decision came from her parents and other adult relatives and, to a much lesser extent, her community.  She could turn out to be as religious as they are when she grows up.  But it's equally possible she'll decide that religion isn't all that important.

I understand how important religion is to some people... however, many religions advocate against dishonesty.  Saying that a seven year old "decided" to follow Jesus of her own accord and knows exactly what that decision means is, in my opinion, a big lie.

My cousins obviously posted this on Facebook hoping for positive comments from friends and family members.  I won't bother to point out what I know to be true, because contrary to popular belief, I'm not that rude and disrespectful.  If I were a churchgoing type, though, I might say that this is a rather prideful display... Since I'm not, I'll just say that I hope my cousins will be gentle and understanding if this cute young lady changes her mind someday.

I think France may be on the agenda today, but we might stay in Germany so I can eat more brotchen and drink more beer.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In Germany now...

Exhausted.  We're spending the first night at Landsthul.  After a decent meal and rest, we can determine what's next.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

And we're off...

I may or may not be blogging much during this trip because I'll have my iPad, but I will try to update occasionally if I can.  If you want to keep up with where we are, see my travel blog.  That's where I'll be posting the whole story and pictures.

I had really hoped to go to Mildenhall, but it doesn't look like that's in the cards this time.  We'll get there eventually, though.  I think Bill just wants to make sure we get to Europe again and since we're kind of doing this to celebrate his retirement, I'll defer to him!

Of course, there is also a flight going from New Jersey to Hawaii tomorrow… it's not beyond the realm of possibility that we could go there, too.  But I think given what we're going to go through to get to BWI today, we'll probably just party in Baltimore if we end up too late to catch tonight's plane.

I don't think we'll have any problem getting a seat.  Bill is still on active duty and signed up weeks ago, so he'll have a pretty high priority.  Hopefully, we won't have a delay like we did last time… of course, I ended up talking to a very entertaining TSA guy when that happened!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Plane tickets purchased for BWI...

Tomorrow at around noon, Bill and will board a plane to Atlanta.  After a couple of hours in Atlanta, we will move on to Baltimore, where we hope to catch Saturday night's Patriot Express flight to Germany.  From Germany, we will probably try to go to France, but that plan could easily change.  We'll mess around in Europe for a couple of weeks, then come home.

I dread the flights tomorrow, because I have a feeling we're going to be on very full planes.  I don't think Bill and I will even get to sit next to each other.  I wish we could just fast forward through the flights.  There's also a chance that we might end up delayed, which could make us miss the Germany flight.  If that happens, we can either hang out in Baltimore or we can go to another passenger terminal.  BWI happens to be the most convenient portal out of the United States and the most economical to get to.

Our spare fridge is on the fritz, so we're having a repair guy come fix it.  Figures this would happen now, but I guess it's better than it happening while we're gone or once we're poor.  I finally used Angie's List for the first time today in order to find the repair guy.

The roof got fixed yesterday.  I can honestly say, once we move out of this house, it will be in better shape than it was when we moved in.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The passing of an online friend...

Back in January of this year, Bill and I went to Portugal and Spain courtesy of a Space A "military hop".  While we were on our trip, I happened to read an essay by my online friend, T. Patrick Killough, who lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina.  The essay was about how Patrick had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia that, if left untreated, would kill him in weeks.  If treated, he would have a few months.

I was very sad to read about the leukemia, but heartened to read all the comments from other people from Epinions who got to know him the same way I did.  He was a very delightful man who read and reviewed fascinating books and, if he particularly liked something another person wrote, would email the review to his many friends.  He'd always send a copy of the email to the reviewer, along with his friendly comments.  I was a lucky recipient of several kind emails from Patrick.  I was always impressed by how interested he was in getting to know the people whose reviews he enjoyed.  

I remember the very first email I ever got from Patrick.  I had reviewed the movie The Singing Revolution, which was about how Estonians banded together with music to break away from communism.  Patrick sent me an email to tell me how much he liked my review and that he'd watched it himself and recommended the film and my review to others.

At the time of Patrick's first email to me, Bill and I had just moved to North Carolina, which is where Patrick and his wife, Mary, lived, we corresponded a bit about our move to the "Tarheel State".  I told him how much I enjoyed the area where he lived, near Asheville.  Bill and I celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary there.  I remembered singing at a wedding in Asheville years before and how pretty it was.  I knew Bill would love it and he did-- we both did.    

I read on Facebook that Patrick passed on yesterday.  I got the news right after Bill and I enjoyed a sumptuous French meal at our favorite San Antonio restaurant.  I had decided I wanted to go out yesterday afternoon because I was bored and wanted to have a good time.  Also, we're planning another trip to Europe in the coming days and I wanted to get in the mood.  Given that I first read about Patrick's declining health when we were in Europe in January, it almost seems a little surreal that we're about to go back abroad just after his death.  Maybe we'll get to Ireland this time.

Patrick was very proud of his Celtic heritage, which Bill and I share (Bill moreso than me).  There's a chance we will end up in Ireland on this trip, though we could also go to France.  The beauty of a Space A trip is that you don't really know where you'll end up until you get there.  I think reading about either place in an Epinions review would interest Patrick.  I wouldn't be surprised if we went somewhere cool and I wrote about it and he'd send one of his emails…

Now, when I think of beautiful Asheville, I will also remember a beautiful spirit who lived near there.  Rest in peace, aohcapablanca… Godspeed.  I will miss you, even though I never had the pleasure of meeting you in person.

A view from the Grove Park Inn in Asheville…

These are the first comments I ever got from Patrick.  They were based on my review of The Singing Revolution.

Re: I made wide distribution re the DVD and YOUR review
by knotheadusc
That is very strange. I did get your email and responded to it. I have had several people tell me that my Yahoo emails aren't working.

You can email me at I guess it's time to change my Epinions address so peoples' emails will quit bouncing. Jul 18, 2011
4:57 pm PDT

I made wide distribution re the DVD and YOUR review
by aohcapablanca
Dear Jenny,

I don't review movies. Too many dimensions for me to do justice to. But I appreciate good reviews by people more talented than I. Thanks for yours!

I made a huge (for me) circulation to people in several continents re the DVD and your review.

I added your epinions-listed email address

to that circular,

but your copy bounced back.

So far my mailing has inspired three great responses: one from a distinguished musicologist. I would like to share them with you. Tell me how, please, at


Patrick K/AOHCAPABLANCA Jul 18, 2011
6:11 am PDT

Re: A splendid film. Thanks for putting me on to it.
by knotheadusc
I'm so glad you had a chance to watch this film and you enjoyed it as much as I did! Sharing great movies among friends is one of the many wonderful things about Epinions.

I hope to read your review of The Singing Revolution soon! I'm sure with your experiences in Europe, it will be most enlightening.

All the best,
Jenny Jul 17, 2011
7:05 pm PDT

A splendid film. Thanks for putting me on to it.
by aohcapablanca
Dear Knotheadusc,

I read your review a couple of weeks back but forgot to rate it.

This evening my wife and I saw this film, thanks to your outstanding review, and I came to your site to make this comment. Saw I had forgotten to rate. I must be getting old.

I was on loan from my employer the US Department of State to the Commander in Chief of US Air Forces in Europe (CINCUSAFE), Ramstein, Germany, 1988 -90 as the Political Advisor (POLAD) to three successive CINCS. Events in Estonia were coming to a head at that time and a bit later.

The film THE SINGING REVOLUTION carefully highlights the role of music in holding the Estonians together for over a century. It also stresses politics, though playing down religion in that Lutheran country as little more than hidden celebrations of Christmas in homes and mention of God in patriotic songs.

A great story. It needs to be told to wider groups.

Again, thanks for your review!



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

No leaks today… and parents who abduct their kids

I didn't find any other leaks, though I noticed one little warped area in the master bedroom closet, but it looks like it might have been there awhile.  The property manager minion came over yesterday and took photos of everything, I'm guessing to send to the landlord so he can determine if he wants to cancel our lease.  I don't really care if he does, obviously.  I want to move.  Of course, we could always end up moving to a worse house.  Then I could bitch even more!

Last night, I started pricing flights to any of the military installations where we could hitch a ride out of here.  So far, it looks like we're best off going to Baltimore or Philadelphia.  Baltimore is cheapest, but it means flying on the big Patriot Express flight to Germany.  I'd really rather go on a military cargo plane.  If we go to Philly, we have to rent a car and drive to McGuire AFB in New Jersey.  McGuire may have a more interesting range of flights and we'd likely get a military plane.  I'll probably blog more about this on my travel blog.  If we manage to get out of here, there will be blogging aplenty on that blog and a bit less on this one!

I'm watching Dr. Phil as usual this morning.  There's a young woman on whose mother abducted her for two years and made her change her name.  The mother alleged that her daughter's father had molested her and she took off with her to "save" her.  Of course, dad was never prosecuted and daughter is justifiably royally pissed off at her mother.  No one wants to grow up thinking they were molested by a parent, especially if it never really happened and was just done so mom can punish someone for a breakup.

I do have empathy for the mom, having watched Bill's kids disown him.  It's hurtful when your child wants nothing to do with you.  Of course, Bill's kids are still under the impression that he abused and abandoned them.  He didn't.  And if they did any research, they'd find out he's a fine, upstanding, excellent member of society.  Their mother never pursued any kind of legal retribution against him.  He has no criminal record of any kind.

If a child is really being molested by a parent, then of course something needs to be done.  But it needs to be done legally and there needs to be documentation of said abuse.  Parents have no right to just accuse an ex of child molestation and then take off with their kid.  

Back in the 80s, there was a very famous case involving a mother who was a plastic surgeon in Washington, DC and her ex husband, an oral surgeon.  These two-- Elizabeth Morgan and Eric Foretich-- had a daughter named Hilary.  Morgan was Foretich's third wife.  He'd had another daughter named Heather with his second wife.  Heather was born in 1980, while Hilary was born in 1982.  Morgan had divorced Foretich before their daughter was born and later accused him to molesting Hilary.  Apparently, Foretich's second wife also claimed that Foretich had molested their daughter, Heather.  I recall this case being especially big news where I grew up, since I seem to remember Eric Foretich had ties to the Newport News area.    

Elizabeth Morgan eventually took off with Hilary.  They went to New Zealand, where Hilary lived with her maternal grandparents.  Elizabeth Morgan changed her daughter's name to Ellen Morgan-- and she is now known as Elena Mitrano.  Throughout Hilary's/Elena's childhood, Elizabeth Morgan battled Eric Foretich in court.  It was never actually proven that Foretich had molested his daughter and he vehemently denied doing so.  Nevertheless, Morgan kept him from his daughter and even spent two years in jail in contempt of court because she refused to reveal the whereabouts of the girl.  Elizabeth Morgan was eventually freed due to an act of Congress and even had a law named after her.  The law was eventually overturned, but it was too late for Eric Foretich.  By then, Hilary had become someone else… she had no desire to see her father, having not seen him since she was five years old.  Foretich had spent much time and money trying to salvage his relationship with his daughter, all for naught.  I have to wonder how his oral surgery career went after all this, too.

When this case was going on in the 80s, I remember having a lot of sympathy for Elizabeth Morgan and her daughter.  Now that I'm older and have seen my share of crazy, I think what she did was reprehensible.  I am also a fan of people not reproducing until they are very sure they know the person with whom they are sharing DNA.  Even having said that, I know it doesn't always work out that way.  Sometimes you end up with someone you think you know and don't…  and sometimes accidents just plain happen.  Nevertheless, it looks doubtful to me that Eric Foretich is actually guilty of what he was accused of doing.  Yes, he was accused by two different women, but it's not implausible that he got involved with women who teamed up to screw him over.  A lot of people involved with someone with a high conflict personality end up getting involved with another person with a high conflict personality.  Of course, it could also be true that Foretich was guilty-- but that was never proven.  Besides, if it were the mothers who were being accused of abuse, more people would probably want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  A lot of people seem to take a softer stance when it's a woman who does wrong.          

What worries me about parents who take off with their children is that they end up perpetuating craziness.  While there are obviously parents out there who think their ex might truly be dangerous, there are others who make false accusations.  False accusations from someone who is very convincing can be very damaging.  I am all for protecting children, but we can't just deny people their civil rights just because of a serious accusation that is never proven to be true.

Even as I write all of this, I do feel empathy for parents who honestly believe their spouse might have abused their child.  I do understand the impulse to run away and try to "save" the child from abuse.  But I also believe that to do it right, both parents' legal rights must be respected.  And ideally, prospective parents will think before they procreate.

ETA: I discovered last night that Eric Foretich's parents actually lived in my hometown.  No wonder it was such big news!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ask Amy's awesome advice...

Today, the woman who does the STFU Parents blog posted this photo of an Ask Amy advice column. The column has but one letter in the photo posted, but it's a real doozy.  A rather self-centered woman writes that she has an annual shopping trip with sisters, cousins, and a cousin's in law.  The ladies are all churchgoing, stay at home moms.  They have money and time to blow on a weekend shopping for their kids, enjoying lunches and dinners, and just plain having a good time.

The letter writer continues that she has another sister named Wendy who doesn't get invited.  The letter writer explains that Wendy is a working single mom and lacks the time and money for the gathering.  She doesn't "fit in" with the group and therefore isn't welcome.  Our advice seeking harpy wants to know what she should do to get Wendy to take the group's rejection less personally.  She writes that Wendy was so upset that she was in tears and it's put a damper on other family activities.

Amy fires back with an awesome response that resonated with a lot of people on my Facebook today.  Several have shared it and even more have commented, including one guy who is originally Swedish.  He said he wondered if the letter is real, given how blatantly asshole-ish the letter writer comes across.  I commented that I've known a few catty, thoughtless jerks like this woman who lack empathy and perspective.

On the other hand, I will admit that this article only gives a little information.  It's possible that Wendy is an obnoxious person, too, and likely that the letter has been edited.  But just based on the information in that letter, I hope Wendy finds better quality friends and relatives to hang out with.  Poor lady got saddled with some pretty shitty sisters.

A review of Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of A Funny Story...

I honestly don't remember why I downloaded Ned Vizzini's book, It's Kind of A Funny Story.  It was published in 2010 and has been turned into a movie, but I think it was intended for young adults.  No matter.  I found Vizzini's book very engaging and entertaining, even though it's basically about an adolescent male who struggles with depression and suicidal ideation and ends up in a mental ward.

Craig Gilner is fifteen years old and attending Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School.  He's a high achieving kind with visions of success and prosperity in his very bright looking future.  Getting that success means getting into the right high school, the right college, the right grad school, and marrying the right person.  So Craig works to achieve those lofty goals and soon gets weighed down by depression.  Craig realizes that compared to his classmates, he's not all that impressive.  He stops eating and sleeping and one night, decides he's going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

So he calls a suicide hotline.  At first, he gets routed to a guy who doesn't seem to know what he's doing.  The operator on the hotline tries to get Craig to do some exercises intended to reduce anxiety, but they end up making him more anxious.  He hangs up and calls another suicide hotline and is advised to get to a hospital.  He goes to the emergency room at a hospital two blocks from where he lives.  He gets admitted to Six North, where he gets help.  There, he meets people with some real problems… and isolated from his high pressure school, Craig is able to isolate the source of his anxiety and depression and change his life.

Author Vizzini has himself spent time in a mental hospital, so he's able to make his story ring true.  He injects a lot of humor into a story that could be bogged down with too much of a heavy subject.  The end result is a very readable book that many people will relate to easily.  I myself have dealt with depression and anxiety, but I haven't yet spent time in a mental ward.  I hope I never will experience such a thing…  but I'm glad Vizzini was able to turn his personal experiences into a story that will help and entertain others.

Yes, this book is intended for teens from 9th grade up, but as a 41 year old adult, I also enjoyed it.  That's really saying something, because nowadays, I'm really more into true stories than novels.  I would recommend It's Kind of A Funny Story, particularly to young people who feel stressed about the future.  Of course, most people worry about what's coming next… but this book especially speaks to precocious teens and zany middle-aged people like me.

One more reason why I hate this house...

We had a big rainstorm with lots of wind last night…

This water spot is right over my desk.  I sat down in my chair and soon had a wet behind, because the rain leaked through the roof.  If you walk around our house, you'll find several spots like this one.  This house needs a new roof.

I'm sure our landlord hates us by now.  We had to get the pool fixed last week.  We had to get a new smoke alarm.  And now something urgently needs to be done about the roof.  The property is supposed to be inspected today by the property manager folks.

Bill and I want to leave town in the next few days, but now I wonder if we should.  On the other hand, we do have insurance…  My computer is insured, too.  I will have to check and see if water damage is covered and write down serial numbers and such.  I will take a cue from my friend Ashley, who commented on my USAA post.  

By the way, last night I was reading up on what it's like to be employed by USAA and found quite a few disturbingly similar postings about an especially oppressive and unpleasant work environment.  I told Bill that it would probably be best if he didn't approach them again for a job.

My friend Regina, author of I'm (No Longer) a Mormon: A Confessional, very kindly took a look at Bill's resume and tweaked it a bit.  She did a great job and hopefully that might help him find more leads.  I think he's starting to get a bit discouraged.  I had to remind him that he's not the only one in this situation.  He's lucky enough to be getting retirement, at least.

Anyway, I am eager to get out of here, as you can well imagine.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Interesting discussion about unemployment...

I hope everyone had a nice Mother's Day.  Bill and I spent ours with his mom, who is always a lot of fun to hang out with.  It's a blessing that Bill's mom and I are friends.  She's very easy to love.

The other day, I posted an article on my Facebook page that was written by a guy who seems to think people who are unemployed are solely to blame for their troubles.  Ira Wolfe, who bills himself as a speaker, author, and president of Success Performance Solutions wrote an article called "Why Many Unemployed Workers Will Never Get Jobs".  Wolfe's article pissed off a lot of readers, including some of my Facebook friends.  He seems to blame unemployed people for being unemployed.  I think that's a very complex issues and his article doesn't really acknowledge that many high quality and high competence people are having trouble finding appropriate work.  I didn't necessarily agree with the whole article, but I do think he got one thing right.  A lot of young people today seem to lack crucial life skills.  

Wolfe writes:

The skills we used to learn as children that carried us through the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Children learned to entertain themselves. When we fell, we were told to get up, dust ourselves off, and try again. We learned there was a difference between winning and losing. Just playing the game was an opportunity, not a guarantee.

We now live in a world where self-help isn't about helping oneself improve our lot in life but finding a a scapegoat for our failures and a surrogate to do whatever you want done for you. We expect employers or government to pay for health insurance while we eat too much, under-exercise, and engage in extreme activities. We don't save enough but expect the government and our employers to stash enough money away for a long retirement. Kids aren't allowed to ride their bike to Johnny's, grab a stick and ball, use a corrugate box for bases, and play baseball. At the end of a day, some of us won and others lost.

Today parents drive their children to sports registration, pay a fee, purchase equipment, and organize the game. Our children -- our next generation of workers -- are carted around for practice and weekend tournaments to play soccer, baseball and you name it. For the past 30 years or more, our children weren't taught the skills we need as adults to live and work. They grew up believing every child is a winner, regardless of the effort they put into it. And the parents began to believe it too.

Both my mom and my mother-in-law have mentioned this phenomenon to me recently.  My mom has people who come to help her with my dad.  The youngsters who are paid to assist her are supposed to be able to do most things my parents would need them to do-- everything from helping my dad get dressed to cooking him oatmeal.  Unfortunately, a lot of them don't know how… and they don't seem to have the common sense to be able to figure it out.  Granted this job isn't very well-paid and therefore doesn't attract the best and the brightest.  But still, you'd expect someone who's 18 or 19 years old to be able to boil water or know not to leave wet laundry on my mom's wooden furniture.

My mother-in-law, who works at an assisted living community, has had similar experiences with new hires who are very young and have never had to do things for themselves.  Some of them seem to have trouble having conversations with people face to face instead of on a computer.  

Bill has told me scary stories about soldiers showing up to boot camp who can't drive a car or who have never spent the night away from home.  They end up learning these basic skills in the early days of their enlistments.

Just by coincidence, I am watching an episode of Dr. Phil right now called "Generation Me".  He's talking about how young people seem to lack perspective these days and aren't prepared for the world.  I don't want to say this applies to all young people.  For instance, my friend Alexis is 19 and really does have it going on.  I'm talking about kids who have an entitled attitude and don't seem to know how to put in the effort to succeed.  

It's not all their fault.  I think young people today have to contend with a lot of things my generation didn't.  For one thing, kids today have parents who have access to news 24/7.  They hear about scary things that my generation's parents probably never would have simply because the news wasn't available on several channels all day long.  It used to be you only got it at 6:00pm and 11:00pm.  I think the constant stream of news has made a lot of parents more fearful of letting their kids evolve into adults.  We also have a lot of laws designed to protect kids that may keep them kids longer.

I remember a few years ago reading about Lenore Skenazy, a mother of a young son in New York City.  She made major waves when she let her nine year old boy ride the subway in New York by himself.  Many people were horrified that she'd take such a risk with her son's safety, but he managed just fine.  He had street smarts.  In my day, I used to get myself to and from the barn where I boarded my horse.  I rode a bike several miles.  If I was a kid trying that today, someone might call CPS on my mom.  

So we have a lot of kids who aren't allowed to learn how to function in the world because if they somehow get hurt, suspicion might fall on their parents.  The trouble with this is that the kids don't learn as many life skills.  They may be afraid to try because they are afraid to fail.  The concept of trial and error is not a concept they can embrace.  

We have a lot of parents who live in fear of CPS and their child being taken from them because someone calls them.  And while I certainly don't like the idea of kids living in abusive homes, I do think that CPS has a lot of power that scares parents.  And there are kids who are smart enough to know that they can call CPS themselves.  

This was written by a mother who was arrested when someone called the cops on her because she saw what she assumed was abuse toward her toddler aged son… signs of any kind of abuse were ever found — but we lived for SEVEN YEARS with the threat of having him taken away from us, because that is how long these cases stay open on the books. We worried about every bump, every bruise, every argument we had — because of course he was also smart enough to know that he could hold it over us and threaten to “tell at school” if we had an argument, not understanding what the consequences would be if someone believed that we had hit or abused him, or if someone at school noticed a bruise or scrape on his body and thought we had inflicted it.

While I certainly believe that kids need to be protected from abuse, I think CPS sometimes goes too far.  It makes some parents afraid to discipline or challenge their kids.  Some of them grow up not being able to take care of themselves and therefore end up less employable and less functional.  We have a whole generation of people in this situation.

Ira Wolfe's article did piss off a lot of people for many reasons.  I think his title is a bit insulting, which doesn't make people want to take in the better points of his article.  Being unemployed is very demoralizing and those who are working hard to find work don't want to hear that they are losers… which comes across in Wolfe's title.  However, I do think we sometimes sabotage young people by not letting them learn how to be self-reliant and competent.  It's pitiful when an 18 year old adult doesn't have basic life skills and can't function at a simple job.  It's sad when an 18 year old goes to college,  can't write a coherent sentence, and expects to earn straight As.  I don't think young people are to blame for this situation… but the pendulum really seems to have swung too far in the wrong direction.  

I think some people need to trust their kids more and give them a chance to succeed without fear of reprisals from government agencies.  I also think we need to stop promoting the idea that every kid needs to go to college.  Some kids are better off in trade school or even starting their own business.  Most of all, we need to stop treating every young person as if they are special.  If everyone is special, special can't exist.     

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day controversy...

Mother's Day is tomorrow.  I messed up and thought it was last week.  I called my mom and had a chat with her.  I'm not a huge fan of Mother's Day.  I don't "hate" it or even dislike it.  I'm just kind of "meh" about it.  It's kind of a polarizing holiday, though, as I've read on some of my favorite messageboards around the Web.  Yesterday, I read an interesting piece on about Mother's Day.  The piece was called "Why I Hate Mother's Day".  I shared it on Facebook with the comment that not all mothers are worth celebrating.

One of my Facebook friends wrote:

Actually, if you read the Salon article, the author is not so much dissing her mother.  She's commenting on the fact that Mother's Day often makes people feel guilty and obligated and it promotes a false belief that mothers are somehow more special than other people are.  The fact is, they aren't.  Most people can become parents quite easily.  It doesn't require any special gifts, talents, licenses, or preparation.  Some mothers are really into the job and deserve to be honored, but aren't offended when they aren't.  Other mothers are abusive, neglectful, and mean, but God help you if you forget them on Mother's Day.  You may never hear the end of it!

My own mom isn't really too hung up on it.  She likes to get cards or flowers, but won't have a meltdown if she doesn't get anything.  While she wasn't too into being a mom, she also realizes that she wasn't too into it… and she freely admits that she was a mother more by chance than plan.

My friend who wrote the comments I posted above is a soldier.  So this was my response to him.

...if you want to celebrate Mother's Day, go ahead. No one is stopping you. Don't you put on a uniform every day, in part, to protect freedom of speech and expression? The person who wrote that article was just expressing herself. If you have a problem with that, you really disappoint me.

Then I decided to address the comment he made about anger.  I've written about that on this blog before.  People-- Americans especially-- seem to have a real problem with anyone who expresses anger.  It's as if anyone who happens to be angry about something, even if their anger is perfectly justifiable, aren't "healthy" and need help from a therapist.  Personally, I believe that anger is just another emotion.  It has its uses.  Too much anger that controls a person's life is definitely not a good thing.  But that would be true of any emotion.  Too much of anything isn't balanced or healthy.

Being too angry can disrupt one's life and lead to destruction.  Healthy anger, on the other hand, can be very motivating and positive.  A person who feels angry enough to take action against an injustice, for instance, cannot be described as unhealthy or destructive.  I pointed out to my Facebook friend that if someone hurt one of his two adorable daughters, he would be very angry and rightfully so.  But based on his comment about anger, I'd guess he'd be alright with someone saying "Hey!  It's just one of your kids.  You can have another.  Buck up and get over it!"

Knowing my friend the way I do, I highly doubt that would be a good response to him if someone hurt one of his kids.  He would probably be enraged--  very "angry", even, as he wrongly described the author of the piece.  People who haven't had good experiences with their parents have a similar right to be angry since their parents, by and large, are the reason they exist in the first place.  

Another Facebook friend left a very thoughtful and personal comment about why she doesn't like Mother's Day.  That's when my very conservative and frequently obtuse soldier friend decided to respond.  I felt badly about that, since my thoughtful friend was under the impression that his comments were directed at her.  I had to tell her not to pay any attention to what he said.  I think he was just stirring up shit.  I probably should have just said to him, "Shut up.  Grown ups are talking!"  But since I don't like belittling people in that way, I chose to take my soldier friend's comment seriously.

Some people are perfectly justified in not liking Mother's Day or Father's Day or any other day…  It doesn't make them bad or angry or in need of "help".  They just have a different perspective.  It would be nice if other people both considered and appreciated other perspectives rather than telling those who disagree with their viewpoint that they are "disappointed" in them.  

Read on RfM today about why some people don't like Mother's Day.  Some of those stories are pretty heartbreaking.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Open letter to USAA...

Yesterday, Bill attended a job fair here in the San Antonio area.  It was the second time he went to a job fair that was also attended by USAA, the insurance and banking company that serves so many former and current military members and their families.  Bill and I have been members of USAA for many years.  We've mostly been satisfied with them, with the lone exception of a situation that happened back in 2003.  My car was broken into at our crappy apartment complex in Fredericksburg, Virginia and I had to call USAA for a claim.

A series of unfortunate events made our claim situation go awry.  I ended up writing a constructively critical letter to the president of the company.  Much to my surprise, he wrote back and so did the guy in charge of auto insurance.  I wrote about this situation on a review I wrote of USAA's auto insurance on  A lot of people read that review and I even got emails from people wanting to know how they, too, could contact USAA.  I was surprised by the stir my one 3 star rating among a sea of 5 star ratings caused.  Apparently, despite all its corporate cheerleading, USAA does have some disgruntled members who want to be heard.

Although I have only had to make one other insurance claim since that incident, and it was handled appropriately, I do feel the need to write an open letter to USAA.  This time, my complaints are not about customer service or claims.  This time, I want to issue a reminder to USAA as they are dealing with people who are job hunting.  Here in San Antonio, there are many people looking for work.  Lots of those people are veterans.  Lots of them are also USAA customers.

Yesterday, Bill approached USAA's booth to talk about available jobs.  He said the recruiter manning the booth was singularly unhelpful and dismissive.  His eyes kind of glazed over within ten seconds of Bill's "elevator speech".  He seemed to have a callous and elitist attitude.  When Bill asked about positions at USAA, he was asked "Do you know anyone in the company?"  As a matter of fact, Bill does not know anyone who works for USAA.  He said so and the guy rather dismissively told Bill that he should consult the Web site, which Bill has already done.

As he was telling me this story, I told Bill that when the recruiter asked him if he "knew" anyone at USAA, he should have said, "As a matter of fact I do.  Me.  I am one of USAA's customers and your attitude toward me is not very impressive or appropriate.  Maybe you don't have a job I can do, but you can at least be professional and courteous, right?  It's only the right way to represent your company."

Listen, I know that when it comes to job hunting, it's a buyer's market.  A lot of people are looking for work.  Maybe it's easy to be blasé about the endless stream of candidates, most of whom would never dream of calling out a recruiter for being rude.  But USAA goes out of its way to promote its very member friendly organization.  In a place like San Antonio, where so many people are serving or have served in the military, it makes sense to treat job hunters with a basic modicum of respect.  Not doing so can be costly.  USAA may be the biggest and best known insurance company dealing with veterans, but it's not the only game in town.

This idea of mine is not new.  When I was looking for a job, it occurred to me that these businesses who were receiving my resume didn't seem to understand that I could also be a future or current customer.  I could get a job with a competitor or perhaps with a firm that might be in a position to throw some business their way.  However, if I get turned off of a company by rude behavior from a representative while looking for work, I might be less willing to do business with them in the future.  In an economy like this, can businesses really afford to treat job seekers as wholly unimportant?

I get that in the long run, maybe it doesn't matter on a micro level.  Most people probably don't think about systems the way I do, and the concept of a company's image during a job hunt would never occur to them.  However, I have been known to swear off doing business with certain companies based on the way they act when I've been job hunting.  If I'm willing to do it, others probably are, too.  Being courteous to job seekers at a job fair costs nothing and really ought to be expected.  Unfortunately, Bill has told me that this was the second time he's been treated like crap by someone from USAA.

Hearing about that makes me less inclined to want to be one of their customers or recommend them to other people.  Hearing that all they care about is whether or not a candidate has an inside contact at USAA is even more concerning.  I'd want to ask that recruiter if the only reason he got his job was because he happened to "know someone".  If so, I'd wonder how USAA can be innovative and progressive.  If you get your talent from just one source of people who happen to know each other, how can any fresh ideas develop?  As someone who has money invested at USAA, this revelation is very worrying to me.

Every piece of correspondence, phone call, or face to face meeting with people makes an impression.  Standing around at a job fair, passing out business cards, and directing people to check out the USAA Web site hardly seems like an effective way to recruit talent.  Anyone with a functioning brain knows about the Web site.  Why pay to have a booth at a job fair if all you're going to do is tell people to consult the Web site or let them know that they have to "know someone" to get a job there?  How can that be considered "recruiting"?

I think it gets lost on recruiters sometimes that while they may be looking for new talent, they are also serving as a representative to people who may eventually be in a decision making position-- whether as an individual customer handling personal business or a corporate customer handling a firm's business.  I think it makes sense to make an effort to try to be nice or at least businesslike.  Recruiters expect that of job seeking candidates, so it's only fair that candidates (and potential customers) should expect that of the recruiters.  And if you're going to recruit, actually recruit.  Otherwise, why should anyone bother to attend the job fair in the first place?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Go atheist! Having religion in your life is like driving with bugs on the windshield."

Yesterday, after a couple of glasses of cheap Spanish wine, I posted on Facebook "I wonder if I should become an Episcopalian."

I immediately got a bunch of comments from people.  Several of them took my post more seriously than I intended.  I got a private message from my friend, Jason, who is the vicar at a local Episcopalian church.  He said. "Your friends don't read your posts very carefully.  They don't see that you just want to have an excuse to drink beer at the Yard House."  The Yard House is a local restaurant that offers many beer taps.  Jason has been known to have men's meetings there.  Talk about a progressive vicar!

My atheist friend Dave supplied today's blog post title.  After thinking about it, I have to agree…  Religion can obscure and complicate things, much like driving with bugs on the windshield.

Consider this…  Every month or so, someone shows up on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site upset about some aspect of the faith that they think might affect their lives.  One thing that often seems to come up is the subject of "sealing".  If you aren't LDS, you may not know about sealing.  Without getting too far into it, I'll just say that when a faithful LDS couple marries and both have "temple recommends" (the card that gives them permission to visit temples), they are expected to be endowed.  They go through the temple to take out special ordinances which involve washing and anointing with water and oil (getting the underwear and a new name), the endowment ceremony, and then "sealing".  According to Mormon lore, "sealed couples" stay married for eternity if both are faithful and "endure to the end".

It's a rather romantic concept… except for when sealed couples inevitably divorce.  Merely getting a divorce does not cancel a sealing, so if you got sealed to your ex and don't want to be connected to them after death, you have to get a "temple divorce".  That involves dealing with church authorities… and from what Bill and I have heard, it means the church will contact you about your ex and ask if there's any reason why a temple divorce shouldn't be granted.  A man can be "sealed" to as many women as he likes, as long as he follows all the rules.  If I joined the church, Bill could be a polygamist in the afterlife.  A woman, though, can only be sealed to one man.  If she wants to be sealed to another man, she has to get a temple divorce.  From what I've heard, depending on who you are and what church officials you're dealing with, they can be hard to get.  A man just has to have a sealing clearance done and it basically means he's sealed to two or more women.

Now…  a lot of people seem to think that if you resign, it automatically cancels the sealing.  Based on conversations with many ex Mormons who have been through this process, I have found out that simply resigning doesn't cancel a sealing.  Why?  Because the person who resigns might change their mind and go back to church.  Also, there are "innocent" people involved, like the spouse and kids who might be faithful (kids who are not born to sealed parents must be sealed to them in a ceremony).  The church won't punish them if someone goes astray…  or will they?  FYI Kids who are born to "sealed" parents are considered "born in the covenant" and don't have to do a sealing ordinance.

Bill was sealed to his ex wife.  Since he and his ex were both converts, the kids were sealed to Bill.  That includes ex stepson, Alex, who was never legally Bill's son and whose father was never consulted about whether or not he consented to his son being sealed to another man.  Bill has never been contacted by the church about a temple divorce from his ex wife.  While it may be that she did get sealed to her third husband, I'm guessing she didn't.  If she did, she'd want Bill to know about it.  Moreover, others who have been through this, even after they've resigned, have been contacted by church officials about the temple divorce process.  I'm guessing that Bill's ex probably hasn't bothered with it.

I used to be bothered by this because I realized that she probably thinks that she still has a tie to him due to this church ordinance.  But now, I realize it's all bullshit!  The sealing ceremony doesn't mean a goddamn thing.  I still wasted time worrying about it.  I have seen others worry about it, too.  They come on RfM and post about their exes being sealed to them or their spouses being sealed to someone else.  I just want to tell them not to worry about it.  The whole thing means nothing, especially if you don't believe in it.  I don't believe in Mormonism, so my husband being sealed to his ex wife doesn't bother me anymore.  Because even if the whole sealing bullshit were true, my husband doesn't want to be with her and wouldn't choose to.  Of that I am absolutely sure.  So even if Mormonism is true and she thinks she's got a ride to the Celestial Kingdom, she's totally fucked!  Or maybe not.  Maybe she got sealed to her current husband.  The point is, it doesn't mean anything.  It's just a manmade ceremony that is supposed to bind couples to the church, each other, and their families and create one more layer of obligation adhesive to their belief system.

I realize I may get some people on here commenting to tell me what I've gotten wrong in this post.  That's fine.  Because my point in writing this is not really about what Mormons believe per se.  My point is that religion sometimes complicates things that need not be complicated.  It can cause angst and upset where being angst-ridden and upset is not necessary.  It obscures clarity… much like bugs on the windshield do.  Religion only has as much meaning as you give it.  You can choose to center your life around it and be fine or you can choose not to and be fine.  But you shouldn't allow it to complicate your life and create stress where none is necessary.

Again, I don't consider myself quite an atheist.  I am not very religious, though… I see value in attending church if that's what you want to do.  I would go to church for reasons other than religious.  It can be a great place to meet good people and connect with a community.  It can be a good place to share ideas and music and friendship.  And if you are so inclined, you might find spiritual guidance there, too.  Just be careful not to let it muddle your thinking and cause crazymaking.  Don't give religious dogma any more power or mental stress than you have to.  When it comes down to it, the mental gymnastics won't do anything but get you upset over something that ultimately means nothing.

ETA:  A couple of years ago, a poster on RfM wrote this:

I am in a really difficult situation and would really love to hear from others on my problem. I was raised in the mormon church. I went every Sunday. As a kid, I held all of the leadership roles one could hold. I didn't go on a mission because my "testimony" just wasn't there. I rarely expressed my thoughts about the church because it felt so fake. I got married instead at the young age of 19. We had a civil marriage and got "sealed" in the SL temple exactly one year later, in June. OUr first child was conceived that same month and born 9 months later. We had another one 18 months after that. Life seemed to just roll along. I just did what I was told. Finally, after 22 years of marriage, I found a reason to take a job in another city and so I could commute (and get out of the situation as much as I could). Little did I know that the end of my marriage came after only a year or so of commuting (BTW, we got pregnant again, unplanned, and #3 child was born just before I started the new job). After one year of commuting, I met someone and fell in love. She was non-mormon and didn't really know much about the religion. We moved in together and I told my wife I wanted a divorce. She was very angry at first but then we finally ended the marriage.

Now for the problem:

My second wife and I have been married now for almost 8 years. We live in a different city than my kids (750 mi away) but we get to see them fairly often. My 10 yo girl spends time with us and loves her step mom. My ex (still single but has a BF) and I get along, no real problems at all. My older girls, now married and have small babies of their own, are warming up to us again. The problem is that my wife wants me to divorce my ex in the mormon church. She is adamant about it and says that our marriage will not be complete until I do this. We don't practice the religion. Heck, I met with a SP 9 yrs ago when we were living together (and before my divorce was final) and told him everything. I don't even know if I'm a member of the church anymore, and I really don't care. I have two main concerns: 1. Opening this "can of worms" will cause a huge issue between my ex-wife and I where we have things working just fine right now. I don't want to create problems that will be costly down the road due to our 10 yo. 2. My kids are STRONG believers of mormonism. If I do this, they will surely find out, and everything we have worked for will be ruined as far as my relationship with the older kids is concerned. If I lost my relationship with my older kids (and their kids), I would hold my wife accountable and would never be able to forgive her. I'm in a tough spot. Would love to hear from anyone who has been in this or a similar situation, or you just have thoughts about it. Also, I have no feelings for my ex wife. My wife sometimes thinks that I still have feelings for her. I don't. We are friends to the extent that she is the mother of my children, and I want to just keep it that way. We only communicate when it comes to the 10yo. Thx.

This was my response.

I empathize with your current wife. My husband and his ex were sealed after they converted. Unlike you and your ex, my husband and his ex do not get along. His kids are very estranged and TBM and he hasn't talked to them in 7 years. She has remarried, but as far as I know, the sealing she has with my husband is still intact (i.e.; we haven't gotten anything from the church about a sealing cancellation, though my husband did resign a few years ago). For the first few years of our marriage, it did kind of bother me, because I figured the ex was still thinking she had a claim to him... She had told my husband that she had never wanted the divorce and didn't want to be married to her third husband. I didn't think he'd ever go back to her, but that sealing thing was just stuck in my craw.

But oddly enough, as the years went by and the ex did some truly mean and hateful things to destroy my husband's relations with his kids, I started to care a lot less about it. The LDS church is a bunch of horseshit anyway. Besides, my husband has made it very plain to me that he doesn't have any loving feelings for his ex-wife. That was visibly clear one morning when I accidentally happened to mention her name in the bedroom when we were about to have sex. He immediately lost his hard on. After that, I knew she was absolutely no threat and their "temple marriage/sealing" meant absolutely NOTHING to him. And that's really all that matters to me. As long as he doesn't have any thoughts of reconnecting with her, I'm cool. Of course, in the years since that bedroom incident, it's been made even clearer to me that he would never get back with her. He hasn't spoken to her in over five years.

Maybe your wife needs to spend some time among us here in exMormonland... It really is a meaningless thing if you don't believe in the mumbo jumbo. It sounds to me like your wife just needs to know in no uncertain terms that the fact that you have kids with your ex wife doesn't mean that you still have romantic feelings for her. I think it's great that you two can be civil though. Believe me, I wish that was how it could have been with my husband and his ex. Total estrangement from his daughters has been very difficult for him.

Re: Temple sealing cancellation issue (one swear word and a little adult stuff)

Thx specifically for your reply. I'm sorry to hear about the relationship your husband has with his kids. That is very sad to me, and I hope things turn out for the both of you the way you want them to. I really appreciate your insight to this whole mess. It has helped a lot.

You're welcome.

I'm sorry my husband has a bad relationship with his kids, too. But that has a lot less to do with Mormonism than it does with the fact that his ex wife is just unreasonable and crazy. She did the same thing to her first husband and the son they had together and will likely do it again when she and her third husband split. And I'm pretty certain they will split eventually, though she may prove me wrong.

I hope my husband's daughters someday figure out what they've thrown away and come to their senses. But even if they don't, I hope they find peace. My husband and I are very happy and though it's been hard for him not to have contact with his daughters, he knows that they're young women who have to find their own way.

I wish you luck with your situation. It sounds like you're fortunate enough to have a reasonable ex wife and a good relationship with your kids. That's a blessing. Your wife probably just needs to be educated about Mormonism. Once I learned about it, it really helped me get over the sealing lunacy.