Sunday, January 31, 2016

Remembering David Vetter, the boy in the plastic bubble...

The 70s and 80s were an interesting time to grow up.  They don't seem like they were that long ago to me, but now that I've reached middle age, I can say with honesty that they were.  One story that intrigued millions of people when I was growing up was the story of David Vetter.

David Phillip Vetter was born on September 21, 1971, about the time my parents conceived me.  He was from Conroe, Texas, a suburb of Houston.  He had an older brother, David Joseph Vetter III, who died the year prior to his birth.  Both David and his brother had a genetic disease called SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency).  It meant that they were born without immune systems that could effectively fight off infections.  The slightest illness could be fatal to someone with SCID.

Because David had this disease at a time before there was a treatment for it, he was forced to spend all but two weeks of his life in a plastic bubble.  I distinctly remember hearing and reading about David.  I also remember the 1976 film John Travolta, Robert Reed, and Diana Hyland famously starred in called The Boy in The Plastic Bubble.  I saw the movie many times when I was growing up.  It was based on the real life story of Ted DeVita, a teenager who had severe aplastic anemia.  Ted DeVita lived in a sterile hospital room for over eight years.  DeVita's and Vetter's experiences were fascinating to people all over the world.  DeVita died in 1980 of iron overload, caused by too many blood transfusions.

This is a preview of Travolta's film.  At this writing, you can see the entire film on YouTube.

I'm reminded of David's story this morning.  There was a link to a New York Times retro report on my Facebook feed.  Though I hadn't thought about David Vetter in a very long time, I quickly found myself recalling him as I watched the 12 minute video and read the accompanying article.   

Had he lived, David would be my age.  He had a bone marrow transplant that initially worked.  Unfortunately, the marrow had a dormant strain of the Epstein Barr virus in it.  The virus activated and David ended up with a virulent cancer that overwhelmed his body.  He died on February 22, 1984.

On David's grave, the epitaph reads "He never touched the world... but the world was touched by him."  Even now, knowing that children with SCID are no longer kept in plastic bubbles, I can't help but wonder what life would have been like for David had he managed to become an adult.  Though he was able to accomplish a lot in his twelve years and provided science and medicine with new knowledge about a rare disease, there were so many things he couldn't do.

NASA made David a space suit, which he wore a handful of times.  The suit allowed him to emerge from the bubble, though he remained tethered to it by an eight foot long cloth tube.  He never felt his mother's kiss until he emerged from the bubble for the bone marrow transplant.  He never would have been able to have sex.  I even wonder if he ever saw a dentist... though, I guess if you live in a sterile environment, bacteria is not an issue.  Doctors worried what life would be like for David if he made it to teenhood or even adulthood.  Would he be able to tolerate life in the plastic bubble for en entire normal lifespan?

I am amazed by what David Vetter's twelve years on earth did for the advancement of science, ethics, and medicine.  I am also amazed at how old I am now.  It seems like yesterday, I was just a youngster.  I look at those photos and videos of David Vetter in his germ free environment, knowing that was state of the art medicine for the 1970s and 80s.  What happened to him then would never work today. Nowadays, kids who are identified with SCID before they get sick are given bone marrow transplants.  In fact, in the video posted with the New York Times story, there is even a story about a woman whose son had SCID identified in utero.  He had a bone marrow transplant before he was even born.

When I was in high school, one of the most popular guys school developed aplastic anemia.  He ended up going to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where he died just weeks later.  The day Mike Haury died was coincidentally also the day 55,000 Armenians died in a massive earthquake... December 7, 1988.  I have read that aplastic anemia is now much more successfully treated than it was in the 80s.  Again, it just doesn't seem like it was that long ago.  I guess it was.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Bill is back and we are both feeling icky...

I'm happy to report Bill made it back from Africa no worse for wear except for the cough he picked up and will no doubt pass on to me.  He brought me a big box of Neuhaus chocolates from CDG, where he was laid over for awhile this morning.

I feel kind of yucky today for a variety of reasons, but it's good that Bill is home.  I have missed him very much.  The bad news is, he's going to have to go back to Africa again soon.  But the good news is, the place he's going next is not as shitty as where he just went.  In fact, I may even join him on a later trip down there.

Now it's time to get slightly political.  Thursday, I posted this on Facebook...

This was posted by Senator Bernie Sanders, who writes "In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt or die because they cannot afford to take the medication they need. 35 million Americans should not have to go without the medication they need because they cannot afford it."

I had no idea this would be controversial...  I probably should have realized it would be, since it was a political post.  One of my cousins, the eldest grandchild on my dad's side of the family wrote the following...

So success is defined by having cheap drugs? Those 35 million Americans that take these drugs don't realize they are dying quicker by taking them than by doing without. We're enslaved by Big Pharma whether the price is small or great. BTW, I'm a Republican. I am 62 and don't take any medicine.

She ended up pissing off a number of my friends, including one military wife friend of mine who has to take expensive prescription drugs for the rest of her life.  Her drugs are extremely pricey and, thank God, are currently covered by Tricare.  She worries what will happen after her husband leaves the Army.

I, for one, had no idea why my cousin posted her commented about being "enslaved" by Big Pharma.  I don't really see what that has to do with the fact that necessary drugs are way overpriced.  The fact is, a lot of people have to take medications, not because they're looking for a magic pill instead of eating right and exercising, but because they have medical problems beyond their control.  And those drugs are very expensive and, for some people, unaffordable.  This is a huge problem and it needs to be addressed.

After a few more comments were posted, mostly WTFs from my friends, my cousin wrote this...

Don't mind me, I'm just Jenny's off the grid organic farmer cousin. I don't mean to be insensitive to those who really need medicine but there are drug companies and doctors who push all sorts of medicine unnecessarily. For the most part if folks would just take responsibility for their diet 3/4ths of the medicine now prescribed would not be necessary. But Medicine is big business. I live on the edge with no health care and use a lot of essential oils. I would rather pay a penalty than pump $6K a year or more into the healthcare insurance business. Call me crazy.

As a matter of fact, I do think it's crazy not to have health insurance.  Essential oils don't do dick for people who have been in catastrophic accidents or are born with congenital diseases.  And if you do end up having to go to the hospital and you rack up a huge bill that you can't pay, then everyone else has to pay for what you can't.  That's one of the main reasons why healthcare costs so much.  Yes, it's true that Big Pharma is big business, but the fact is, many people need to take drugs through no fault or responsibility of their own.

I generally hate politics and I'm not crazy about any of the candidates running for president this year. I think I like Bernie Sanders most, even though it's doubtful that he'll get elected or, even if he does, he will be able to deliver on the promises he's been making.  He just seems like more of a human being than the other frontrunners do.  

Anyway, I hate talking about politics and rarely delve into them on Facebook.  Healthcare is just a very important issue as far as I'm concerned.  I found my cousin's comments very offensive.  But since I'm not feeling that great today, I think I'll just shut up and go back to bed.

Friday, January 29, 2016

From hero to zero... Brock Talon's experiences as a Bethelite... an elite Jehovah's Witness

I just finished reading my second book by Brock Talon, Journey to God's House: An inside story of life at the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1980s.  As I mentioned in my review Talon's other book, Escape from Paradise, Brock Talon is not the author's real name.  He uses a pseudonym, one that he likens to something that might be used by a superhero or a porn star.  Journey to God's House was published in 2013, two years before he published Escape from Paradise.  

Having now read them both, I will say that I'm glad I read his newer book first.  For one thing, Escape from Paradise is about growing up JW and that makes it seem like a more logical place to start reading Talon's story.  For another thing, I liked Journey to God's House better than I liked Escape from Paradise.  I'm glad to finish reading Talon's books on a high note, rather than being slightly disappointed.

Journey to God's House is the fascinating story about how Brock Talon came to work at the World Headquarters for the Jehovah's Witnesses, a place called Bethel, located in Brooklyn, New York.  I have read a fair number of books about the JWs, but I had never heard of Bethel.  Talon explains that it is a place for elite JWs.  It's supposedly very difficult to get an invitation to serve there and those who are invited are treated as heroes by their hometown congregations.

Talon writes that none of the JWs in his hometown believed he'd ever get into Bethel.  They laughed at his application to work there.  When he did get the nod, they were all impressed.  Apparently, Talon was also impressed and thought he was going to be doing valuable work for his church.  He flew to New York City and was forgotten at the airport.  Once he made it to the headquarters, where he expected people to be expecting him and perhaps to apologize for forgetting him, he was treated with callous indifference.  That indifference set the tone for Talon's time at Bethel, which he describes as being a period of sheer drudgery and thanklessness.  Apparently, the Bethel experience could be described as going from "hero to zero".

I raptly read page after page of Talon's story, which is liberally peppered with snarky humor and tempered with poignant anecdotes.  Talon was a young man in the early 80s and clearly idealistic about the Witnesses.  He was ambitious and wanted to do something life affirming and good.  Slowly, he came to realize that the work he was doing was meaningless and a waste of his time.  Here he was, a young, intelligent, physically strong and vital man in the prime of his life, working for peanuts putting together literature for the JWs, living in a dorm room with as many as three other men, and allowing other people to dictate how he spent his time, where and what he ate, whether or not he had sex, and even how he recovered from illnesses and injuries.

I really appreciated Talon's way with a story, even though I couldn't help but notice the distinctly disparaging tone he had about many of the people he describes.  Talon uses pseudonyms for the characters in his stories, choosing names that describe their physical appearance.  For instance, he refers to one woman as "Sister Mams" (because she was well endowed) and a man as "Brother Pockface" (because he had a bad complexion).  The smartassed side of me admittedly enjoyed those descriptions.  The more mature side of me thought the nicknames were kind of a cheap shot...  Fortunately, I'm much more of a smartass than I am a mature person.  That's why I'm an overeducated housewife instead of gainfully employed.

Anyway, I found Talon's tales very entertaining and enjoyable, even though Talon comes across a bit cocky...  sometimes quite literally.  He includes a very interesting passage about the dilemma young men at Bethel faced, not being able to masturbate at will.  Like the Mormons, JWs think masturbation is sinful and wrong.  They also prohibit the use of pornography.  Talon explains what it was like to be a young horny man unable to relieve himself and what happens when men can't jerk off when they need to.  I will never understand why people willingly submit themselves to religions that try to dictate that aspect of their lives... but I say that as someone who was fortunate to be raised in a somewhat permissive religion and by parents who weren't totally nuts about God.

Overall, I think Journey to God's House is a better book than Escape from Paradise is, though both are good reads as far as I'm concerned.  Once again, a lot of what Talon writes reminds me of things I've read about Mormons.  It's kind of like he spent two years at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, except at Bethel, people are allowed to drink alcohol, coffee, and tea.  Apparently, drinking is one activity that Bethelites indulge in quite liberally, though JWs are not supposed to drink to excess.  I thought it was interesting when Talon explained that drinking was one way Bethelites distracted themselves from horniness.  The Mormons simply play basketball and eat snacks.

I gave Escape from Paradise 4.5 stars.  I think I'd give Journey to God's House a full five stars.  I really enjoyed reading it and recommend it to others who are interested in a look at the Witnesses.  No, it won't please all readers, but I liked it and learned a lot.  I'm glad Talon is able to look back on his time at Bethel and write about it with a sense of humor.

Touring Bethel.

It's gonna be...

one of 'dem days...

Despite taking a couple of Advil PMs last night, I had real trouble getting to sleep.  I had problems getting comfortable.  I was too hot, then too cold... then one of the dogs was crowding me.  I woke up at about 2:30am and couldn't get back to sleep until about 4:00 or so.  Then Zane woke me up with a start because he needed to go outside and was hungry.  I guess I can be glad he's gentle when he wakes me up.  He just whines softly.

Once I got up, I noticed my mouth was dry and my left nostril was blocked with snot.  That's the side I had my surgery on, so I can't blow it without risk.  I shot myself up with some Afrin nose spray, let the dogs out, fed them, and made a pot of coffee.

The very first thing I saw on Facebook was a post by some guy pissed off because people were celebrating Roe vs. Wade.  The second post I saw was a comment on a post I made last night about drug costs.  One of my right wing cousins decided to take me to task because I think prescription drugs should be more affordable.  She basically left a comment that was bound to inflame a bunch of people besides me.  I may have to rant about it later.

So then I vacuumed the house while the coffee was brewing.  Went down to get the coffee and promptly broke one of my mugs.  I tried gluing it back together but only managed to get super glue all over my fingers.  I threw out the mug, which means I'll probably need to get a new one.  I have shitloads of mugs in storage back in the States.  We should have packed a couple more of them.

Then I stepped on a tiny shard of pottery that I can't seem to dig out.  It's embedded in the hard, callused part of my foot and it hurts to walk on it.  I need to get it out, lest it get infected.  But it's going to take some doing.  I did manage to walk the dogs, at least.  I didn't fall down today, either.

I started my period just in time for the weekend.  Now I feel kind of bloated and icky.

The one lovely thing is that Bill is coming home tomorrow morning, God willing.  I have missed him very much this week.  It's been lonely without him.  But he'll be exhausted, so that means this weekend will probably not be much fun.  At least he'll be home, though, so that's one nice thing.  As soon as I get this piece of glass unstuck, I'll be back to write a book review.

Stay tuned.                                         

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Julie Andrews and the email I couldn't ignore...

I have an elderly uncle who likes to send me religious and political bullshit emails.  I never read most of the stuff he sends me because a lot of it is offensive.  He often sends mass forwarded emails that are sexist, racist, or anti-Muslim.  Yet, even though he sends me these messages that I almost never read, I do love him.  He's my uncle and he's often a lot of fun despite his extremely conservative and occasionally racist political views.

Last night, he sent me an email that I didn't immediately delete and ultimately couldn't ignore.  It was about Dame Julie Andrews, a woman whose career I have admired for many years.  Before last night, I had never seen this mass email about a remake of the song "My Favorite Things", which Julie Andrews sang in the iconic film version of The Sound of Music.  The email claims that Julie Andrews performed this bastardized version of "My Favorite Things" on the occasion of her 79th birthday at Radio City Music Hall.

Botox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillacs and cataracts, hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak, When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pain, confused brains and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short shrunken frames,
When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache, When the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,

Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad.

(Ms. Andrews received a standing ovation from the crowd that lasted over four minutes and repeated encores. Please share Ms. Andrews' clever wit and humor with others who would appreciate it.)

I have to admit, I thought the lyrics were cute enough.  However, I instantly knew the email was utter bullshit.  Why?  Because Julie Andrews has not been able to sing since 1997, when she underwent surgery to remove non cancerous nodes on her vocal cords.  She went under the knife for a routine procedure and woke up with her magnificent voice forever ruined. 

I suppose I could have sent my uncle a link to which confirmed my suspicions about the email.  Instead, I wrote back a quick reply that read "Julie Andrews has not been able to sing since 1997.  Her voice was ruined by a botched surgery.  Clever lyrics, though."  

According to Snopes, this bullshit email about Julie Andrews has been making the rounds for many years.  Apparently, the rumor got started in 2001 on a USENET newsgroup post.  The actual author of the remade lyrics remains a mystery, at least to me.  But rest assured, Julie Andrews never sang this adulterated song at Radio City or anywhere else in public.

Maybe my uncle won't appreciate my terse correction, but I get so tired of reading this kind of bullshit.  Usually, it's emails about George Carlin and Bill Cosby that get spread.  I get annoyed enough when I read about things being falsely attributed to them, especially George Carlin, who is one of my personal idols.  

As a fellow singer, I also have great empathy for Julie Andrews.  I can't even imagine how devastating it must have been for her to lose her remarkable voice.  I saw my dad lose his ability to sing and I know it depressed him.  Linda Ronstadt has also lost her ability to sing owing to Parkinson's Disease.  Singing is such a personal, emotional thing and for Julie Andrews and Linda Ronstadt, it was a source of livelihood.  I imagine for singers of their caliber, losing the ability to sing would be akin to someone smashing the hell out of a Stradivarius with a sledgehammer.

To their collective credit, Julie Andrews and Linda Ronstadt have been able to use their other gifts.  Andrews has even said losing her singing voice caused her to have to find other ways to use it.  Not long ago, I read Linda Ronstadt's life story, which I enjoyed.  On the other hand, I'm sure if you asked either of these women if they would have chosen to lose the ability to sing, they'd probably say no.  

So yeah... while it's easy enough for me to ignore stupid emails about politics and rantings about Muslim refugees from Syria, I couldn't ignore this thoughtless one about Julie Andrews and her alleged performance at Radio City. Please, for the love of all that's holy, check Snopes before you forward this kind of stupid crap. There's enough ignorance in the world today without adding more tragic falsehoods like this one. Your friends and family will thank you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I'm so misunderstood...

This post already sounds like it might be a little "Brently".  Fair warning.  I'm in kind of a funk this morning.  I hate it when Bill has to go away, especially when he goes to a place where Internet sucks. I know... there was a time not so long ago when no one even had Internet, so TDY to Africa meant not having any communication whatsoever except expensive phone calls.  I miss Bill, though, and I'm feeling kind of isolated.  There are things I could do to feel less isolated, but they would involve driving, which I hate doing.

Maybe "hate" is too strong a word.  I don't mind driving when I'm doing it, I guess... except when there's snow and/or ice or a lot of traffic.  Or I get stopped at a red light on a hill (I drive a stick).  It would probably do me some good to drive somewhere today and pick up some groceries.  I just don't feel like doing it and I don't actually have to.  I have enough groceries to get through the next few days.  But I'm out of orange juice, almost out of half and half, almost out of bread, and a few other things that would be nice to have, but are not essential.

Then yesterday, while I was walking the dogs, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed on my knee.  While I recovered quickly, my body is a bit sore this morning.  It's just stiff and achy enough to make me feel like an old lady.

All of this crap has led up to my mood this morning, which is decidedly pissy.  Yesterday, I read an essay on Yahoo! about a woman who took her two month old baby to a plastic surgeon.  The baby had large ears that protruded.  I didn't have a problem with the fact that the woman decided to get her daughter's ears "fixed".  Kids can be cruel and since the baby was so young, she could get a procedure done that wasn't as expensive or invasive as surgery.  If the mother had waited much longer, surgery would have been the only option and it would not be available until her daughter was seven years old.

What I did notice was this quote from the story.

But lately I’d been noticing a new type of comment: “She looks really smart!” Was that the equivalent of saying an unattractive woman had a “great personality”?

That comment came across to me as shallow.  I said so when I shared the article.  No one seemed to notice, though.  Everyone was making comments about whether or not the mom should have had the kid's ears fixed.  Finally, after someone else posted another anecdote about how cruel kids can be, I wrote that it seemed like everyone missed my point.  One commenter came back and vaguely addressed it, leaving me a little non-plussed.  Because yet again, it seemed like she missed the point, which made me feel like I wasn't being clear.

When you're feeling Brently, your body hurts, and you're lonely, it sucks to feel misunderstood.  But I guess it doesn't really matter that much, and if I had more of a life, I probably wouldn't notice it.  Anyway, since this is my blog and where I like to get on a soapbox, I'll post my thoughts here as clearly as I can.  

What's wrong with someone telling you your baby looks smart?  What's wrong with having a great personality?  Why is our culture such that hearing someone say that their baby looks "smart" automatically makes them think others see their baby as ugly and sends them running to a plastic surgeon?  Why is it so important to be attractive, especially if you're female?

Of course, being a female American, I totally get how important beauty is.  I was one of those perpetually dateless females when I was growing up.  In a way, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.  I don't have a lot of bad memories of unsuccessful dates or relationships that didn't work out.  I also don't have any lingering aftermaths of poor decisions.  On the other hand, I remember feeling shitty because I felt like no one thought I was pretty.  And I was actually quite a beautiful baby, if I do say so myself.  :)  My mom says so, and she's not the type to lie in order to spare someone's feelings.

The mother's comment about her beautiful baby's ears and her fear that people would someday say her child had a "great personality" made me feel kind of sad.  We should value all positive attributes of what makes up a person.  Physical attractiveness should not automatically trump someone's intellect or personality.  But it does, and that will never change in my lifetime.  It would require overcoming biological, psychological, and societal factors that are too great for the average person to surmount.  

I tend to joke around a lot, so many people don't take me very seriously.  I suspect that a lot of my family members don't even like me very much.  Bill is one of the few people who makes me feel very accepted and appreciated, so when he's gone, I get kind of depressed.  But I know he'll be home soon and I can get through these next three days.  It still sucks, though, even though I know things could be worse.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Things that set off my Modar...

Ever since I started studying Mormonism some fourteen years ago, I have developed what I refer to as "Modar".  By that, I mean that a lot of times, I can spot an active church member at about twenty paces.  It's not actually that hard to do, either.  Once you know what to look for, you can pick up the clues fairly easily.  It's sort of become a game.

Last night, I was reading about a family with a daughter who has leukemia.  I don't know this family at all, but they are in my Facebook circles and live in the area where I am right now.  They've been rallying the community for support as they get treatment for the cancer. In the interest of preserving this family's privacy, I'm not going to name them or link to their page.  I am only mentioning them because after just a few minutes, I picked up on the subtle signs and symptoms of Mormonism.

Now, before anyone gets upset and accuses me of being snarky, sarcastic, and condescending about a family going through tough times, I want to say that I truly wish this family all the best as their daughter gets treatment.  It must have been devastating for them to get this diagnosis.  They seem like a lovely family and their daughter appears to be handling the treatment like a champ.  Every picture I've seen of their girl shows her smiling and upbeat.  I am not posting this to be rude; I'm posting it because I think developing "Modar" is an interesting phenomenon... kind of like being unable to unring a bell.  Even if I wanted to ignore the clues, I don't think I could.

1.  Family pictures.  There are usually a lot of them and they often feature everyone wearing the same colors and looking very united.  Often, there are multiple generations in the family photos, but sometimes it's just one nuclear family unit.  Bonus points if there are a lot of kids close to each other in age and it looks like the parents are young, yet have been together awhile.

2.  Quotes.  A lot of Mormons like to quote their leaders.  This particular family didn't do a lot of this, but I did find one by Thomas S. Monson, who is the current prophet of the LDS church.  Generally, the first time you find one of these, it's a dead giveaway.  Most quotes are by people who have important sounding names and there is always a middle initial.  For example: Gordon B. Hinckley, Boyd K. Packer, or Bruce R. McConkie.  Often, the quotes come from men, but sometimes you'll see one from a high ranking woman, like Julie B. Beck.

3.  Clothes.  Mormons usually dress modestly and conservatively.  Women don't show a lot of skin.  Dresses often come with a shrug or a little jacket to cover the shoulders.  Skirts come past the knee.  If you look closely, you might see the outline of temple garments peeking out.  Also, if you see a man wearing a black suit with a white shirt and conservative looking tie, that's another major sign, especially if the suit is accompanied by a neat haircut and no facial hair.

4.  Lots of squeaky clean humor and corny jokes.  No swear words stronger than "crap", "flip", "frick", "fetch", "oh my heck", or "darn".

5.  Home decor.  Bonus points if you see pictures inside of their house and they have decals on the wall spelling out profound sayings and/or pictures of a very caucasian looking Jesus or the Salt Lake City temple.  No signs of alcohol, coffee, or tea.

6. Geography.  Many Mormons hail from the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, or the Southwestern United States.  The family that set off my Modar last night comes from Arizona.

7.  Travel.  Lots of posts about other countries, especially involving adoptions or religion.  Many Mormons, especially males, serve missions around the world.  Many Mormons also adopt children from other countries.

8.  Meetings.  Comments about General Conference, which convenes twice yearly in the fall and spring.  Most active Mormons will, at the very least, be watching it via satellite all weekend. There may be comments about other church activities.

9.  University affiliations.  Friends and family who have attended Brigham Young University or either of its satellites or Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, Virginia.  My mom is a Buena Vista native and went to Southern Seminary Junior College, which was not LDS at all.  It's been odd seeing her hometown "Mormonized".

10.  Baptism and wedding photos.  Pictures of family members dressed in white jumpsuits, especially if there's an eight year old child in the photo who appears to be soaking wet.  Pictures of family members in front of a temple with a modestly dressed bride and groom.  Temples are fairly easy to spot.  They tend to be very distinctive buildings with no cross on them.  Instead, there is an Angel of Moroni.

11.  Affiliations with multi-level marketing businesses.  A lot of Mormons are involved with MLMs, especially the women.

12.  Social media galore.  Mormons are very much into Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. And they are also into genealogy, especially

My Modar works when I'm watching TV, too.  For example, a few years ago, we lived in North Carolina and was I watching the local news.  A family was profiled because their daughter was bitten by a shark during a vacation on the Outer Banks.  North Carolina is not really a big Mormon state, yet I could tell this family was LDS.  The first giveaway was the way the mother was dressed.  She was wearing a bright yellow dress that covered her knees and had a matching flyaway cardigan covering her shoulders.

The second sign was the fact that the daughter, all of six years old and bleeding profusely, wanted to pray for the shark that bit her.  People thought it was so cute that the little girl wanted to pray and had forgiven the shark.  To me, it was a red flag that she was LDS.

The third was the fact that they were originally from out west and were in North Carolina because the father was a doctor.  It took very little time before I confirmed that they were LDS.  The mother had a blog that was interesting reading until she abandoned it.  That's another big Modar thing... blogs and scrapbooks.  Mormons are heavily into both activities, especially the women.  In this case, the mom had really great decorating style and would post pictures that were clearly Pinterest worthy.

Had I not been exposed to the LDS church through my husband and his ex kids, I probably never would have guessed this was a Mormon family.  But once you start to study the church, you develop that sense and after awhile, you can't help but see the signs.

Many religious people offer signs of what their beliefs are.  I also have a pretty keenly developed Catholic radar.  In fact, I tend to attract them.   I have many Catholic friends and, in fact, if Bill were still a churchgoer, he would probably be Catholic (and actually was for a time in his life before he was Mormon).

Anyway, my Modar has become pretty sharp.  I hope someday I will get to the point at which I no longer pick up on this kind of stuff anymore.  I'd prefer not to be interested.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Mood music...

Don't ask me why, but I decided to watch 7th Heaven again.  As smarmy and annoying as it was before it came out that Stephen Collins is a pervert, it's even more smarmy and annoying now.  Every time I see RevCam being all sanctimonious and holier-than-thou, I realize once again that actors are actors for a reason.  Stephen Collins is definitely not like his RevCam alter ego in real life.  Having read his two novels, I can say that he's a lot dirtier than one would expect a minister to be.

Here's what kills me, though.  I watched the episode where Mary and Robbie Palmer go out on Valentine's Day and Robbie takes Mary to a cheap motel so they can have sex.  Mary decks him and is very upset when she gets home.  She talks about the shitty way Robbie treated her and there's Stephen Collins, acting as RevCam, saying "Guys will do that."  I have to say, he looked especially knowing as he said it.

One aspect of 7th Heaven that always gets me is the music.  It was composed by Dan Foliart.  His creations are pretty easily recognizable for me.  They tend to be very fluffy and magical.  On 7th Heaven, it's usually played on acoustic guitars, piano, and saxophones.  For some reason, while I was sitting here watching the show, I pictured the musicians sitting around recording it.  I wondered if they played it with soul or sass.  Especially the really dramatic music... you know, the music they play when someone dies or drinks and drives... or ends up in jail.

By the end of the show, when everything is all resolved, the saxophones and guitars are all jaunty and peppy again.  Again, I picture the musicians sitting around playing...  and smiling as they make the mood merry and bright again.

I'm watching an episode right now about a girl who tells RevCam that she was raped.  Again, I inwardly cringe as he sensitively explains that the molestation was not her fault.  Given the actor's history in real life, I wonder if he had to mentally block his own dilly dalliances as he performed that scene.

Anyway... the dogs and I got through the first night.  Bill called me last night and the call came through my iPad, which was very cool.  Internet is terrible where he is, so I will probably not hear much from him.  I was pretty busy today.  I washed clothes, washed sheets, and washed the dogs after we took a walk in the muddy fields.  All of last week's snow is melting now, so it's really messy out there.  I ended up needing a shower myself.  I wasn't expecting anyone else, so I got into my nightgown...  then my landlady showed up.

I ordered a new electric blanket and am enjoying it, though I don't need it as much this week as I did last week.  The dogs have discovered that it's warm and nice.  I have a feeling it'll be covered with hair in no time.

He likes it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Another nutty Mormon idea...

I wasn't going to blog again today, but I just saw a thread on RfM that gave me pause.  Someone linked to a blog post about a nutty Mormon idea.  The post, which consists solely of a photograph, shows what appears to be yet another crazy attempt by church elders to maintain control over their young adult members.  It seems like a lot of young folks are abandoning the church.  The reasons for the exodus are plentiful and, in my opinion, totally understandable.  Naturally, church officials don't like to see people leave because they take their dollars with them.  So they have to do something to maintain that sense of authority.

The picture in the blog post is of a list of commitments returned missionaries are supposed to stick to once they are finished with their missions.  There's a place for the returned missionary to sign.  My guess is that someone came up with this idea to stem the tide of inactivity.  One thing I learned when I was getting my MSW is that people tend to honor things they sign.  One of my professors told our class that when he was counseling people who were suicidal, he used to ask them to sign a contract promising that they wouldn't kill themselves before talking to him.  He said it was a remarkably effective tactic.

The posters on RfM are pretty blown away by this contract idea.  While I disagree with making people sign contracts for something like this, I can also see why people in the church came up with this ploy.

Another thing I learned from the same professor when I was in grad school is that people tend to value what they have to pay for.  That teacher told us that he always charged people, even if they were very poor and could only afford a dollar.  Free help seems to be less valuable.  Given that missionaries mostly have to pay for their missions (unless they are like Bill's ex daughter and the church pays for it), that's another way to keep people in the fold.  On the other hand, I guess church officials didn't get the memo that free help is less valuable when they enlisted church members to clean their buildings instead of hiring professionals.  Instead, they sell it as another way of being "in service" to others.

Last night, a local friend posted an ad that was put up on Facebook about a dog that needed to be rehomed.  The person offering the dog wrote that there was a "reasonable" rehoming fee and that interested parties should not inquire ahead of time what the fee was.  That made some people suspicious.  I explained that people usually value what they pay for.  Also, sometimes people charge fees for pets needing rehoming because free dogs and cats can end up being used as bait in dog fighting rings.  People who train fighting pit bulls take docile animals, render them unable to fight back, and set attack dogs loose on them.  I'm not sure if that's why some military folks in Germany are charging fees, but the idea of value and money going hand in hand applies.  Of course, some people may simply be trying to make a quick buck.

I'm sure someone who has saved up money for years to be able to serve a church mission may already be pretty well vested in the idea of being in the church.  Those who come back and sign a contract afterwards may be even more invested.  It seems like a pretty desperate tactic, though.  It also seems more than a bit culty.  I'll be keeping my eyes peeled to see what's next in the wacky world of Mormonism.

"Inappropriate" GoFundMe campaigns...

This morning, I woke up and checked Facebook like I always do.  One of my friends posted a GoFundMe campaign for a friend of her daughter's who is fighting for his life after being exposed to flesh eating bacteria.  The guy has kids and the hospital expenses are making it difficult to keep the household running.  I can see having a GoFundMe campaign for something like that.  Medical care in the United States is ridiculously expensive.

But then, as I was about to navigate away from the campaign, I noticed a picture of a woman with a large tattoo on her forehead.  I clicked on the link and read about Tabitha West and her pleas for financial help.  She has decided she no longer wants that tattoo, so she started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money to get rid of it.  He initial goal was modest enough.  She just wanted $800.  At this writing, she is at $1045, which means that her campaign was successful.  Of course, a lot of people don't think her campaign was appropriate and they're leaving nasty comments for her.

Was Tabitha's campaign appropriate?  Well... she claims that she's trying to get a job.  The tattoo is getting in the way of that.  Someone else claiming to be her brother is saying that she has a mental handicap and doesn't know any better.  I suppose I could argue that at least Tabitha's goal was reasonable and it's true that the big tattoo on her head is not going to help her find meaningful employment.  Job hunting is tough enough as it is.

When I first saw Tabitha's campaign, I thought it was totally inappropriate.  But then I thought about it and realized that having that kind of a tattoo on one's face can be a major hinderance to a person's life.  People make dumb mistakes.  The one Tabitha made is pretty damn dumb...  but there is a backstory as to why she did this.  Another friend supplied me with a link to the story.  Apparently, Tabitha is not the only one who has 420 tattooed on her forehead.  She is one in a group of people who got addicted to bath salts that were being sold at a head shop called 420 Emporium in Fulton, New York.

The owner of the head shop offered $40 worth of free product to people who had this tattoo put on their foreheads.  A number of people took the offer.  While one can argue that Tabitha West and others were in the wrong for abusing bath salts, it also sounds like the owner of the head shop took advantage of addicted clients.  I have no idea what compels people to abuse bath salts, but I can only guess that they must offer a hell of a high.

Tabitha also has a Facebook page that is getting a lot of attention right now.   One person wrote that she hoped Tabitha would use the money she's raised to lose the tattoo.  Another person indicated that she's tried to raise money before and didn't use the money to have the tattoo removed.

I don't know how much tattoo removal costs, but I would think it would cost a lot more than $800.  Tabitha also writes that someone on the GoFundMe page offered to pay for the whole thing.  If that's the case, I wonder why she still has the page open.  Anyway, though I sometimes give to crowdfunding causes, I don't plan to donate to this campaign.  Tabitha has more than raised the cash she claims she needs...  I just think crowdfunding is interesting.  You never know who's going to have a successful campaign.  The comments are pretty interesting too, especially on so-called "inappropriate" campaigns.  I could probably spend the day getting caught up in the drama of it all.

Mr. Bill has left... and I'm giving some thought to going back to bed so I can finish reading the crappy book I've been working on over the past few days.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dr. Phil is getting sued...

Yesterday, I read an article about Dr. Phil McGraw being sued by a former employee.  Leah Rothman brought a suit against the famous entertainer, alleging that last March, he called her into work on her day off and falsely imprisoned about 300 employees after someone leaked information about an upcoming show.

Rothman, who had worked for Dr. Phil since 2003, claims that the unlicensed psychologist demanded that everyone hand over their cell phones as they gathered in a room guarded by a security detail.  According to Rothman, Dr. Phil said "If you fuck with me, I will fuck with you." as he read what he had to say to his employees from cue cards.

Rothman is suing for false imprisonment, emotional distress, whistle blower retaliation and wrongful constructive termination.  She quit working for Dr. Phil a few weeks after the incident because the stress afterwards was too much for her.

I have to say, having watched Dr. Phil on TV, I can totally believe this happened.  He's like a poster child for narcissism.  I commented as much on Facebook and my former shrink agreed with me.  If there is a shred of truth to Rothman's account, Dr. Phil must be hell to live with and work with.

I used to watch his show all the time when I was in the United States.  It wasn't so much because I liked him, but because some of his guests were fascinating in a trainwreck sort of way.  It sounds like the show has gone even more downhill, though.

My former shrink is hilarious.  He called Dr. Phil a "self-important d-bag."  Too funny!

I have a feeling this week is going to suck.  I look forward to next weekend.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What is a slut?

Yesterday, a friend/family member of mine posted this on Facebook.  I liked it, so I decided to share it.  I had no idea the number of comments it would spawn.

A lot of people liked this...

A few people took issue with the fact that the meme labels Bristol Palin a "slut".  They had no problems with it labeling Sarah Palin an "incompetent quitter" and Track Palin "a drunk woman beater".  However, the fact that Bristol Palin is called a "slut" gives them pause.  Several of them have objected.

For the record, I didn't make this meme.  I just thought it was kind of spot on.  Moreover, I don't routinely call people sluts.  I don't generally care what people do in their bedrooms or elsewhere as long as what they do doesn't affect me.  Perhaps it would have been better, or at least more PC, if the person who made this meme had labeled Bristol an "irresponsible hypocrite".  But they didn't, and now I'm kind of taking the PC heat because I shared the meme.  Sometimes I wonder if I should post a disclaimer with things like this, reminding people that the words posted belong to the creator and don't necessarily reflect my own views.  That seems kind of like overkill, though, especially for Facebook.

So what exactly is a slut? defines a slut as a sexually promiscuous woman or a woman who behaves or dresses in an overtly sexual way.  Now, I don't know that I'd say Bristol dresses or behaves in an overtly sexual way.  I don't know her personally.  What I do know is that she has done a lot of public preaching about sexual abstinence, yet she has two kids born out of wedlock.  Since I know how babies are made and Bristol has had two of them by different fathers, I can't help but come to the conclusion that Bristol has sex.  Is it excessive?  I don't know.  I do know that pregnancy is a condition that is easily avoided when one takes appropriate precautions.  

I think it's safe to call Bristol irresponsible, careless, hypocritical, and even loose.  She and her mother have not shied away from the media, which pretty much means that they've chosen to make their private business the public's business.  Recently, I read that Bristol and Dakota Meyer, the putative father of her baby, Sailor, were going to get a paternity test.  If Bristol wasn't screwing around with more than one man, why would they need the test?  Unless, of course, the test is simply to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dakota Meyer has rights and responsibilities to the child.  That could certainly be the case.  It does make one wonder, though, and if Bristol Palin believes in the  so-called "family friendly" conservative values the Republican party claims to love, she likely would have gotten married before having a child.

Like I said, I don't know if Bristol Palin really is a slut.  I do think there are times when the proverbial "shoe fits", though.  When you have two kids by two different men and you've never been married, it's possible that you are guilty of "slutty" behavior.  Or maybe you're just very fertile.  Who knows?

The word "slut" has become more taboo lately, probably due to women who have taken a stand against so-called "slut shaming".  There was a time not long ago when it was okay for people to use certain words that are now considered politically incorrect.  Those who think of themselves as "evolved" like to take people to task for using language they deem offensive.  It probably makes them feel better to climb up on that moral high horse.

But here's the thing.  Sometimes language is inherently offensive.  While I think it's always best to consider people's feelings as much as possible, sometimes an offensive word is what gets the job done.  Sometimes wimpy, soft, overly considerate language fails at getting the point across.  

To those who took me to task for posting a meme that refers as Bristol Palin as a "slut", I say that I honestly don't care who she fucks or how often.  But I do think that if you're going to lecture people about their sexual habits and hold yourself up to be a role model, you need to be mindful of your own activities.  And if you're 25 years old, you should know how babies are made.  If you profess that it's wrong to have sex outside of marriage, then perhaps you should take steps to make sure that your own sexual habits don't become glaringly obvious when they don't match up to what you say publicly.  That way, fewer people will know or care about who you're screwing and you are much less likely to be called a slut by the tactless and unenlightened masses.  

Not that I think Bristol Palin cares what a nobody like me thinks of her, anyway; but for those who do, I think Bristol should focus on raising her kids and take a sabbatical from public life.  She wants to be a role model?  She can start by being one for her famewhoring mother who seems to lose IQ points with every moronic thing she says.  I doubt Sarah Palin is quick-minded enough to take a cue from her offspring, but one never knows...  

Facebook sure has become a great place for people to get on a soapbox.  Maybe it's not a bad thing that they do, since it gives me something to write about rather than watching sappy 7th Heaven reruns.  And I get the chance to be snarky, sarcastic, and condescending about public figures.

You're doing it wrong...

It always sets me on edge when I see someone title something "You're doing it wrong..."   While it's true that they may be right that I'm doing something "wrong", I still find it rather offputting to be told that ahead of time.  But I see from a quick Yahoo! search that people love that common phrase.  There's even a YouTube channel called "You're Doing It Wrong".  It has over 8000 subscribers.  Some people must think it's cool to be schooled by arrogant, condescending all knowers.

These guys tell the world how to keep cell phones from dying prematurely.  Talk about snarky and condescending...  ;-)  also features a number of "You're doing it wrong" memes.  Apparently, the phrase has been popular since about 2004, which was a long time ago.  And yet I still see people posting memes with this saying.


So what prompted this morning's post?  As I was waking up this morning after failing to go back to sleep when Bill kissed me goodbye, I saw some old guy's disgruntled picture over an article entitled "You're doing it wrong..."  The last thing I want to see when I'm prying open my eyes is some smarty pantsed old fart being negative.  Besides, I think when you presume to tell people they're "doing it wrong", you run the risk of being embarrassed.  What if, in fact, YOU'RE the one doing it wrong, hmm?  What if your handy tips and "hacks" (how I loathe that term) turn out to be bullshit?

When I hear someone say "You're doing it wrong..." to me, I just want to lash out either verbally or physically.  But, because I am in control of myself and realize that busting a move could lead to imprisonment, I simmer down and simply roll my eyes.  

Here's another phrase that makes me roll my eyes...  "Pistol whip".  It just doesn't seem right.  How can one "pistol whip" another person?  Wouldn't the pistol have to be flexible in order for it to be whippable?  If you pistol whip someone, you don't get that satisfying "crack" as it whistles through the air.  

What a shame...  I guess they did it wrong.

I'm usually happy when Friday rolls around.  This weekend, Bill has to go out of the country again.  He's headed to Burkina Faso, which makes me a bit nervous.  But he tells me not to worry, since local officials will be more vigilant than ever after last week's terrorist event.  I hate it when Bill travels anyway, at least when he goes without me.  I especially hate it when he goes to places where he could get killed.  But, I guess when it comes down to it, he could be killed anywhere.  And we can't let terrorists cow us into not living life.  I just hope no one in his group ends up being pistol whipped.  I also hope no one is accused of "doing it wrong."

Maybe I'll get back into playing Sims 2...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sarah Palin backs Trump while her son goes on a bender...

I'm sure the Donald is just beaming right now because Sarah Palin is in his corner.  It seems like any time there is a presidential election, a parade of clowns comes out.  Why anyone cares what Sarah Palin says is a mystery to me.  Seems to me she ought to be at home, taking care of her own mess of a family and leaving the politicking to the minimally coherent.

Of course, I am referring to Palin's son, Track, who was arrested Monday night on domestic violence charges.  He also threatened to kill himself with an AR-15 rifle.  While Sarah's daughter, Bristol, who famously championed sexual abstinence, deals with a custody battle for her newborn daughter, Sailor, who was born out of wedlock, Sarah Palin is pumping up Trump's campaign.  Sarah Palin also blames Obama for her son's problems, claiming that the young man has PTSD.  She says he came back from war "different", yet she also crows about Trump sending troops to "kick ISIS' ass".  Yeah... as long as it's not your kid who is among the troops deployed, right Sarah?    

This spectacle makes me glad I'm not living in the United States right now.  It's bad enough when presidential candidates are somewhat respectable.  The gang of idiots we have running right now are just plain embarrassing.  I sincerely fret for the future.  I could probably write more about this, but I think I've made my point. 

Moving on...

I just read today's Dear Abby column.  The second letter is one that hits close to home for me.  The writer explains that her daughter's school had a grandparents' day and the writer's parents attended.  Unfortunately, the writer's mother made a faux pas when she asked the teacher when her baby was due.  The teacher was not pregnant.  Now the letter writer is embarrassed and senses that the teacher is upset with her.

Abby wisely advised the woman that it was not she who made the mistake and she should just let it pass without comment.  If the subject does come up, the letter writer should apologize on her mother's behalf for the mistake.

Something similar happened to me in October 2014 when Bill and I were in Colmar, France.  The wait staff at a restaurant where we were dining mistook me for pregnant.  It was very embarrassing, especially since there was a language barrier and it took a minute for me to understand them.  Personally, I think people should probably not say anything to a woman they think might be pregnant unless they have to for safety reasons.  And even then, it's a situation that requires delicacy and finesse.

I think in the situation Abby addresses, the mother would be smart not to bring up her mother's faux pas unless the teacher does.  Saying something after the fact would only prolong the embarrassment.  Besides, it wasn't the mom's mistake.  She wasn't even there when it happened and could not have prevented it.

Again, I reiterate... it's not polite to ask someone about the status of their womb unless it's obvious.  And even then, it's smarter and safer just to let them bring up the subject of pregnancy.  

And one more moving on...

Yesterday's chat with my former student makes me want to visit Armenia.  Unfortunately, it's not so easy to get there without stopping in either Moscow or Kiev.  I could go to Vienna and take a flight that arrives at 4:30am.  It would not be unlike the first time I went to Armenia, coming from Paris.  

We may just do it, though.  I know Bill is curious and it would be fun to see where I used to live 20 years ago.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yet another long lost friend...

Well... this week is turning out to be pretty amazing.  Thanks to my decision to link up with my old Armenian teacher, I am now linked up with one of my former students.  It turns out one of the kids I taught 10th form conversational English to now works for Peace Corps Armenia.  He has earned a Ph.D.  Actually, I'm not surprised, since he was very bright and already spoke pretty good English when I knew him.  He was one of my best students.

Anyway, he just sent me a message on Facebook and we just chatted for about an hour.  And it turns out he's still in touch with a lot of the kids who were in that class with him.  They are now, of course, all in their mid thirties.  It was really exciting to talk to him and he seemed impressed that I remembered so many of my students.  I'm sure most of them remember me, since I stood out like a sore thumb.

I may have to go to Armenia now, just to see how much it's changed and visit with some of these folks I haven't seen in ages.  I have a feeling that if we did manage to go back, we'd have a good time.

On another note, I'm glad to know that my time in Armenia wasn't for naught and some people there actually remember me.  There were times when I wondered if what I did there made any difference.  Now I know it did.  And I also know that I didn't imagine that one of my students, a guy named Arman, jumped out the window.  He really did... and he lived to tell about it without hurting himself.  I was pretty confused at the time, but now I understand why he did it.  It was all over a girl.  That figures.


Long lost friend...

The other day, I saw a meme on Facebook that was posted on the group Knowing a Narcissist.

I read this and had a sudden flashback...

In 1995, I joined the Peace Corps and moved to the Republic of Armenia.  After completing twelve weeks of intensive training, I was turned loose at my site.  In my case, my site was Yerevan, which is the capital city.  Our country director, an American who was ethnically Armenian, was the type of person who made a very good first impression.  She seemed very friendly, social, and caring.  Once you got to know her, you'd see a different, far less likable side of her.  The above meme reminded me of something that happened not long after I moved to my site.

When I first became a Volunteer, I moved into a house with a young woman and her nine year old brother.  The young woman was my age and lived in a single family dwelling that was owned by her parents before they died.  It was not in good repair and I was given a cave like room with no windows except one that opened into the kitchen.  A lone lightbulb hung from the ceiling, not that we had power most of the time. The window that opened into the kitchen did not have any glass in it, so privacy was non existent.  It was cold and drafty.

I was not very happy with that arrangement.  I didn't feel comfortable living there.  The sister and her brother would fight and she'd yell at him and slap him across the face.  Besides that, the brother would come into my room when I wasn't there and go through my things.  I felt like I couldn't relax and be myself.  It was making me feel depressed and anxious. 

One day, early in my assignment, the country director came over to see where I was living.  I distinctly remember her saying that my living situation was not good and that I should move.  A few days later, I decided that I would move and I mentioned to the country director that I was going to "take her advice" and find a new place to live. 

She was immediately aghast and claimed that she'd never said I should move.  She said she never "advised" me to do anything.  I knew that was a lie because I clearly remember hearing her say it.  I wasn't going to argue with her, though, because I was 23 years old and had no experience dealing with slick people like her.  I will admit, though, that I was dumbfounded by her insistence that she never said what I knew I'd heard her say.  

I was miserable in that house and knew I had to make a move happen or I would end up leaving.  Fortunately, I was able to move after about two months at my assignment.  I found an apartment for $50 a month and I got an Armenian friend to help me move.  That rent may seem dirt cheap, but when you only get $144 a month and $48 of that is supposed to be "vacation" money, it's really not much at all.  There were a few times that I went hungry as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Then I found a "job" teaching business English at a NGO and they paid my rent, which they were not supposed to do.  The Peace Corps turned a blind eye to it, though, because they didn't have the budget to help Volunteers pay for housing.

The country director and I did not get along very well and we butted heads throughout my service.  Knowing now what I didn't know then, I probably should have tried to get an assignment out of the capital city.  They no longer put full time Volunteers in the capital city, which is probably for the best.  

Anyway, the above meme reminded me of the country director... and because I am morbidly curious about people, I looked her up on Facebook.  I easily found her and started looking at all her friends, some of whom were people I knew back in the day.  One of her friends was my very first Armenian teacher, Armine.

Overcome with a rush of nostalgia, I sent Armine a friend request.  I wondered if she'd remember me.  I was delighted yesterday when we became Facebook friends and were able to catch up.  She still teaches Peace Corps Trainees Armenian and a new group, A-24, is due to start in March.  To put this in perspective, I was a member of A-3.  I learned that I was among her very first students, since my group was the first she taught Armenian to and I happened to be in her first set of students.  We changed teachers three times over the summer.

I probably spent an hour chatting with Armine, catching up.  She's just as lovely and funny as she was when I knew her in the 90s.  She said my group had a "real" Peace Corps experience.  The newer Volunteers complain about the conditions there, but they have no idea how it was in my day, when there was often no electricity or running water.  The two groups that were there before mine had it even worse than we did.  A lot of people could not hack it and left early.  A lot of other people ended up marrying locals.

I told Armine that sometimes I go on Google Earth to see how much Yerevan has changed since I was there.  She asked if I had been back and I said not since 1997, when I left.  She agreed that it's a different place now... and said that if Bill and I ever visit, we should come stay with her!  It's nice to know that I still have at least one friend in Yerevan and if we do manage to visit, I can show Bill what the people are really like there.

As for the country director, I can't say for certain, but I think she is a toxic person.  I had enough run ins with her to know.  But in a way, I think it's a good thing that I encountered her.  Dealing with her helped prepare me for dealing with Bill's ex wife, who is even more toxic and narcissistic than my old "boss" could ever be.  

The dentist removed my stitches yesterday.  In about four months, I will go in and he'll put the screw in for the implant.  He says that surgery will not be as traumatic as last week's procedure.  I'll probably ask for Ativan again, anyway.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

They're dropping like flies... and mothers who drink

Like so many other people, I heard about Glenn Frey's death first thing this morning as I was doing my morning routine.  He's just the latest in a string of celebrity deaths this month.  I don't know what's in the air, but I hope that's the last dead rock star for awhile.  I could probably write a great tribute to Glenn Frey this morning, but my mind is on other things.

I just read an article about a woman who has a daughter about my age.  The woman, whose name is Kathy Mitchell, drank a lot of alcohol while she was pregnant.  Her 43 year old daughter, Karli, ended up with fetal alcohol syndrome and has the mind of a six year old.  Kathy gave birth to Karli when she was barely eighteen years old.  Karli was her second child; the first was a healthy son who also survived Kathy's penchant for boozing.  Kathy had three more children, two of whom died as infants.

Now 61, Kathy has turned her life around.  She quit drinking alcohol and abusing drugs.  She earned her GED and later became qualified as a certified addictions counselor.  She is now the vice president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  She takes care of Karli and works hard to spread the word about drinking alcohol to excess during pregnancy.  I found her story very powerful and was glad to read that she had made something of herself after her troubled youth.  Then I made the mistake of reading the comments on the article run by the Washington Post.

People can be very brutally judgmental.  A lot of people ignore that Kathy has turned her life around and ask why she wasn't using birth control, especially since she could "afford" cigarettes and booze.  They say her story is "BS" and that young mothers in the 70s knew full well that alcohol consumption during pregnancy causes birth defects.  Other commenters accuse Kathy of having "recall bias", justifying her "stupid" decisions by claiming that she got erroneous information about drinking while pregnant.

I am inclined to look at Kathy's very young age when she became an alcoholic, got married, and became a mother.  She grew up in a family where drinking to excess was acceptable and normal.  She clearly didn't have a lot of guidance from her parents.  She made bad decisions.  What good does it do to insult and judge her now, given that she's made something positive out of her life?

It's true that Kathy's daughter will never be what she might have been had her mother not abused alcohol during her pregnancy.  But no one can change the past.  At least Kathy is brave enough to share her story with others.  If telling her tale saves one child from a similar fate as Karli's, isn't it worth it?  Why can't people just accept that and learn from Kathy's mistake instead of resorting to insults and judgments?

Kathy admits that she's an addict.  She is an alcoholic.  Her actions harmed her children.  Alcoholism is a disease that affects a person's judgment.  Kathy was also very young when she made her mistakes.  I, for one, am glad to see that she's evolved and become a better person.  I think it's worth celebrating that Kathy managed to raise her daughter and takes care of her every day.  A lot of people would not have bothered.

Aside from drinking too much while she was pregnant, Kathy also smoked, worked in bars, and didn't eat right.  Those were also contributing factors to the fact that she lost two infants and had another with fetal alcohol syndrome.  Her other two children, presumably in utero while their mother smoked, drank, and ate poorly, turned out basically normal.

I think that pregnancy is a bit like Russian Roulette, anyway.  No matter what you do, there is going to be a risk that you will end up with a child that has problems.  Of course it makes sense to do what you can to minimize the risks and take care of yourself if you are expecting a baby.  But the truth is, even if you do everything health professionals recommend, you could have a child who is unhealthy or abnormal.  And there will always be people around to judge you and go into holier than thou mode.

I suppose in writing today's post, I'm kind of a hypocrite.  I judge too.  I especially judge people whose actions have negatively affected me.  Somehow, I manage to have compassion for people like Kathy and inmates on death row.  I have compassion for pregnant women and mothers who face the scrutiny of the public.  I guess I should be glad this is something that is never going to affect me personally.

Anyway, I suppose I should get dressed since Bill is going to come home early and we're going to get my stitches out.  Afterwards, we'll probably do a little shopping at the Markthalle in Stuttgart.  Maybe we'll even have dinner.  Bill is supposed to go to Burkina Faso this weekend, but given what happened there a few days ago, the trip may be called off.  I have to admit that I kind of hope it will be.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Things I'd rather do than go to church...

I stumbled across this beaut of an anti-coffee film last night.  If you guessed it was made by the Mormons, you'd be right.  As I post this, I am drinking a nice hot cup of coffee myself.

This is just odd... crappy acting and stills instead of motion...  and what is with the sign language?  Is that not distracting?

Now, I am old enough to have seen my share of filmstrips in class.  I don't think I ever saw a film or "educational" filmstrip when I was a churchgoer.  This just reminds me of something they'd show in health class, only it's basically about the sin of drinking coffee.  Technically, the Mormon church bans "hot drinks" and includes coffee and black tea in that prohibition.  But you're welcome to drink all the hot cocoa and hot soup you want.

The above commentary doesn't have that much to do with today's blog post.  I just felt like writing about it because it's so weird.  The main idea of the above video is not so much that you shouldn't drink coffee.  Instead, it's more to remind people that things aren't always what they seem to be.  And some heathens out there aren't LDS and drink coffee.  Oh, and the church is true... 

I shared this last year... the responses were entertaining.

Most people who commented listed all the things they'd rather do.  My comment was that there are a few things I can think of that would make church more appealing.  For instance, I'd rather go to church than visit a gynecologist.  I'd rather go to church than eat mushrooms.  I'd sooner sit in a pew than spend a night in jail.  But yeah, I can think of many things I could do that I would choose over church.  We had an interesting discussion going.  And then I got a visit from Papa Smurf, who responded when I wrote that church was forced on me when I was a kid.  

Yes, Jenny, church has "bored" many. I can understand that. It is how I felt when as an adult I went to church with my wife to appease her. I learned much though once I allowed myself to be aware of and open to the greats and wonderful deeds we, as church, can be capable of. It is a place where many believers gather and do good for the world. Sure, we read much of what evil can and has happened via "religion" yet church is a place where people of faith gather for their own spiritual growth and to use the message of "Loving others as we love ourselves," and combined resources to help others. Are we perfect? Absolutely not!...and we know we are sinners. It is together though that we can provide a better community, church, with positive goals.

As examples it was through our church that we started a sort of meals on wheels when people here in our village were devastated by Sandy. They had no electric or kitchens throughout the winter.

We have another group, again started through our church, that goes down to missions in other countries to help others who live in conditions far worse than anything we have here in the states. Nine of us, along with supplies and funds from others leave next Tuesday. The best part is that there is no overhead, those we help draw no salary. They have dedicated their lives in poverty to help those who are severely deformed, the destitute, the dying and the throw-away people of society.

It is a shame that "church" gets a bad rap and there are some good reasons for it. That said, there is much good with unbelievable amount of good done through the faith-filled in church.

Church isn't always fun. It is in many ways a commitment. That said, church is a part of my life.

Next month my wife and I along with friends will be in an absolutely wonderful snorkeling spot in the Caribbean. Hey, it doesn't get better than this with great weather, sandy beaches, fun socials at night and swimming with turtles daily. Even with all that we will be sure to go to church on the two Sundays we are away. For us it reminds us of a greater being who gave us all and keeps us focused, as with the others who gather in the church from many different places, that we need to love one another and spread that message to the world. Whoa! Did i write all that? Glad that i did.

In other words, if you don't go to church, you're pretty much a heathen... ;-)

Church wasn't horrible for me, but it usually bored me.  What I got out of it was meeting good people and learning music.  Every once in awhile, a good minister would impart words of wisdom.  By and large, though, it wasn't an activity I enjoyed.  Now that I'm married to Bill, who had a bad experience with the LDS church, we don't attend at all.  Before he was Mormon, Bill was Methodist, Episcopalian, and Catholic.  If I had to guess which church he identified most with, I'd say the Catholic church.  And that makes sense, because I have always attracted Catholics.

As for Papa Smurf's comment, I'd say that much of what he gets from church, one could get elsewhere in a non-religious setting... except maybe the part about the greater being...  although if I'm honest, I'm not sure one needs a church to believe in a higher power.  Church provides a good social outlet and perhaps business connections.  Church provides a place to serve others and an outlet for using talents.  But you don't have to go to church to find those opportunities.

I see that I didn't bother responding to Papa Smurf's comment.  I think I was annoyed by it, mainly because it was one of many he's left on my page that seemed an attempt to school me.  Since I've achieved middle age, I don't necessarily appreciate schooling from other adults, unless I've asked for it.  Also, he has a tendency to take jokes too seriously, especially if he thinks they're tasteless.  Then, if  I respond to him with annoyance when he gets sanctimonious, he accuses me of taking things too personally.  


We have had a pretty boring MLK weekend.  We usually try to get away for MLK day, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel after my sinus lift.  As it turned out, the weather was pretty severe.  We had snow all weekend.  Yesterday, the weather was downright bipolar.  It snowed, then the sun would come out.  Then it would snow again.  This cycle repeated all day.  Since it was Sunday, no one plowed our street.  We decided to stay in and Bill tried a recipe from the Irish cookbook I got him for Christmas.

Tomorrow, I get the stitches out.  Can't be too soon for me.  I am ready to put the surgery in the past.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Blackberries and carnations...

This post is inspired by something I saw on Facebook.  A friend I don't know offline has been having a very tough year.  She and her husband have not been getting along so well.  They just celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary.

Eighteen years is a long time to be married, though many people have spend a lot longer together.  I have been with Bill for thirteen years and I can say with all honesty that we are still very much in love and enjoy each other's company.  In fact, last night we sat down in our living room together, listened to music, and just enjoyed hanging out.  We didn't turn on the television; there isn't one in our living room.  We sat and talked and drank some wine... hung out with Zane and Arran and watched the snow fall until it got dark outside.

By contrast, my Facebook friend who was celebrating her 18th anniversary writes that her husband presented her with carnations and a small box of blackberries as token of his affection.  He basically bought her a gift from the grocery store produce aisle.  Then he started watching football.

This friend has other friends who report similar tales of anniversaries being a non-event.  One woman even wrote that after twenty years and five kids, her husband never once gave her a gift of any kind.

I suppose if blackberries and carnations have a significant meaning in a person's relationship, it's not such a bad thing to give them as a gift.  However, this lady makes it sound like the gift was an afterthought and that her husband was more interested in watching football than being with his wife.  He didn't even bother to put the blackberries in a nice bowl for her.  He just gave them to her in the plastic carton.  It's the thought that counts, but it doesn't sound like much thought went into that token of eighteen years of marriage.

Stories like this one make me realize how lucky I am.  It's not about the gift; it's about the sentiment.  On our anniversary, Bill and I went out to a nice restaurant.  But I would have been happy if he just gave me warm hug and a kiss and told me how much he loves me.  He does that on a daily basis anyway.