Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mrs. Marriott gives up magnolias on her wedding day...

I haven't been blogging much about Mormonism lately, though I do keep my eyes peeled for interesting stories.  Yesterday, I ran across a video posted from the most recent LDS General Conference.  It's a talk given by Neill F. Marriott, whose lilting southern accent comes through in a story she tells about feeling "homeless" after leaving Louisiana for Utah.  She had been a Mormon convert for a year and was traveling to Salt Lake City on her own to get married.

At the beginning of her speech, Marriott explains that when she was born, her parents had planted a magnolia tree so there would be magnolia blossoms at her wedding in the protestant church of her forefathers.  On her wedding day, Marriott's parents were not at her side.  That was, no doubt, because they were not Mormons.  Non Mormons or "unworthy" Mormons aren't allowed to visit LDS temples for silly things like weddings.  So Marriott's parents, who had lovingly and thoughtfully planted a magnolia tree for her on the joyous occasion of her birth and the potential occasion of her wedding day, were left out of that important ceremony that binds two families.

Marriott goes on to wax poetic about nurturing people and being a "mother".  I can't help but wonder how Marriott's own mother felt when her daughter rejected her on her wedding day.  I'm sure it hurt like hell.  I don't know anything about Neill F. Marriott, but I have to wonder if her parents really deserved that treatment.  Of course, it looks like she married well and she has eleven children of her own.  If one of those children decides he or she no longer wants to be Mormon, I wonder how Mrs. Marriott will feel about it.  Does she have hopes and dreams for her children?  Is she prepared to let them live their own lives and choose their own faith?

I know there are some progressive and loving Mormons out there.  Some of them may even be alright with their offspring making their own decisions about what to believe.  But when I listen to Neill F. Marriott, obviously a high ranking woman in the LDS church, talk about the importance of nurturing and mothering, I wonder how Marriott's own mother felt on her daughter's wedding day.  Maybe she wanted to be there to nurture her daughter, but Marriott was being attended to by her husband's stepgrandmother "Aunt Carol" instead.

One of the things that upsets me most about the LDS church is that members often think their beliefs deserve respect rather than simple tolerance.  I don't respect religious beliefs that tear apart families.  The LDS church tears apart families, despite their "families are forever" mantra.  Families are only forever in their eyes when everyone is obedient to the powers that be.  When someone in a family goes rogue and starts thinking for themselves, all hell breaks loose.  You end up with people being shunned, politely excluded, or turned into a reconversion project, even as Mormons preach about "free agency".  That is very destructive behavior that does not call for "respect".  The right to free agency among Mormons seems to only apply when it's beneficial to promoting a specific agenda.  They don't seem to accept it when someone decides Mormonism is no longer for them.

I've seen my own loving husband lose his daughters, in part, over a made up religion.  I'm not stupid enough to think that Mormonism is the only reason my husband's daughters disowned him.  Their mother did the same thing to her first husband's relationship with their son before she converted to Mormonism.  But Mormonism definitely played a part in the alienation campaign.  It was a good tool the Ex could use to convince her daughters that their father was "unworthy" of them.  In the long run, they lose.

My husband's daughters have missed out on knowing their father, who is a kind, loving, and intelligent man and certainly "worthy" of them.  In fact, I don't think my husband's ex daughters are fit to shine their father's shoes.  He's a much better person than they are, simply because he has an open mind and an accepting heart.  He doesn't abandon people over their personal religious beliefs.  And though they and others may not believe it, my husband didn't abandon his daughters.  They abandoned HIM.  Had the situation been reversed and one of them had come to him no longer believing in the Mormon church, most decent people would have expected him to be kind and understanding about it.  But kindness and understanding is not what many Mormons offer when a fellow member determines that they no longer believe.  My husband's daughters were certainly angry that he and his ex wife divorced, but they were also angry that he quit the church.  In their eyes, it means he's cast off God.

In a way, I'm sorry I listened to Neill F. Marriott speak.  Not only is the cultish delivery of her speech disturbing and weird, it's also a reminder of families torn apart by religion.  Her parents thought enough of her to plant a magnolia tree when she was born.  They had hopes and dreams for her.  She repays her parents by abandoning them to join a cult that doesn't deem them worthy enough to see their daughter get married.  How fucked up is that?  But it's her life.  I hope she can live with the consequences.  I respect Mrs. Marriott's free agency, even as I don't respect what she did on her wedding day to her parents, who planted a magnolia tree in her honor when she was born.

I suppose this is one more thing for which I can be grateful to Bill's ex.  She threw away a wonderful man who is now my husband.  She also inspired me to learn more about Mormonism and other "strict" exclusionary religions.  I know enough to see beyond the fake smiles and feelgood speeches.  Mormonism is a crock of shit.  I'm glad I was never tempted by it.

Anyway... now to get back to reading about psychopaths.  That's slightly less upsetting.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Avenue Q is like the story of my life set to hilarious songs...

Bill and I finally went to see Avenue Q last week in Stoke on Trent.  I knew I would like it because it's done with puppets and I grew up during the Jim Henson heyday.  The storyline really struck close to home, though.  It's all about a bunch of young folks trying to find their purpose in life.  They live on Avenue Q because it's the only place they can afford.  They have college degrees they can't use and still have to pay for.

The lead male, Princeton, has a B.A. in English.  So do I.  Christmas Eve, the Japanese lady who is married to an aspiring comic has two master's degrees, one of which is in social work.  So do I.  And I'm even kind of an aspiring artist, like Christmas Eve's fat, unemployed husband.  I know that show doesn't speak to everyone, but it really spoke to me on many levels.

We had great seats... front row!

After the show was over, Bill and I talked about it and I said I thought The Book of Mormon Musical was more his show.  Avenue Q was more mine.  

This is not the show we saw...

I'm really glad I had the chance to see Avenue Q.  In fact, I think we need to go to the theater more often.  It's not so easy to do it in Germany, since shows around here are usually done in German.  On the other hand, my language skills could use a boost.  I've fallen off the Duolingo wagon lately and have no real desire to climb back on.

Meh.  Sorry, this post is kind of about nothing.  I'm probably a little blogged out right now.  I finally finished writing about our Scotland trip and probably need to go read a book or something.  Still, I highly recommend Avenue Q, especially if you were born in the 70s or 80s.  I really think people from that era will enjoy this show the most... though it's funny regardless!  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Taking your ball and going home...

So... a week ago today, I was vomiting and shitting up a storm.  It was not pleasant.  I would say March 22, 2016 could go down as one of my worst no good very bad days.  In the wake of that day, I got into it with some guy on Cruise Critic who thinks my "stomach bug" was actually alcohol poisoning.

Now...  I want to say that his comment wasn't really that far off base.  He's right that a person who is not used to drinking shitloads of liquor could end up with the same symptoms of Norovirus.  And for the vast majority of people, maybe what he said to me wasn't unreasonable.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective), he doesn't know me personally.  So he doesn't know that I come from a long line of drunks and have, many times, had enough alcohol that I have puked and shitted and been downright sick.  He also didn't know that I have an advanced degree in public health.  He had no way of knowing that because we've never met and he doesn't follow me.  So he made an assumption about me and ended up being wrong.

I went back to Cruise Critic today and revisited my favorite thread.  I didn't actually go back far enough to read his or anyone else's responses to me.  Why?  Because in my years of online interactions, I have learned that doing that does nothing but cause heartburn.  I didn't want to read something that would piss me off anew and make me feel the need to respond.  I will probably never meet this guy in person because I don't know when my next SeaDream cruise will be (though I haven't yet decided it will be never).  And even if I did meet him, it would probably be best if I didn't have preconceived notions of him.  I love SeaDream cruises VERY much... but my experiences on Hebridean Princess have taught me that other awesome cruise lines are out there and waiting to be put to the test.  And we only have X amount of money and time for cruising.  Also, if I'm honest, I like cruising, but not enough to do them exclusively rather than taking land based vacations.

So I didn't go read his comments.  However, the comments I did read indicated that our little tiff may have caused him to take his ball and go home.  Whether or not he actually did that, I don't know and frankly, I don't care.  He's had his "idle jottings" thread going since Bill and I lived in North Carolina and we moved from there in late July 2013.  So that's probably three year's worth of "idle jottings", which one could certainly say was a "success"... if you measure your self worth in whether or not you write a compelling thread on Cruise Critic.

He says he's tired and "the well is dry".  I would tend to agree, though I know many people enjoyed his quick wit.  Hell, when he first showed up on the SeaDream threads, I thought he was witty and funny.  What I didn't like was his tendency to belittle people and treat them with disrespect.

I am sure that my response to him, while rather terse and pissy, was taken as overly bitchy.  But here's the reality, folks.  I had written that I'd just gotten off of Hebridean Princess and planned to blog about our experiences.  Not many people write about Hebridean Princess and the last time I was on that ship, I actually blogged about it live to SeaDream folks because I knew they'd be interested... and they were.  So I left a comment there to tell those who were interested that I'd be writing a blog, but instead of leaving links on Cruise Critic, I invited them to find the blog by clicking my nickname and finding the link.  That way, I don't get any people pissed off who think I am promoting myself on Cruise Critic.  Those who want to read can find it for themselves.

I mentioned that I got sick from a virus.  I immediately got shit from the "idle jottings" bloke, who thinks I have mistaken alcohol poisoning for a virus.  He insults my intelligence, which is a quick way to end up on my personal shit list.  He tries to tell me that the Norovirus I think I have is actually too much scotch, which may be true for many women, but isn't true for me, because I am a drunk with a master's degree in public health.

I used to work for the Bureau of Epidemiology in the state of South Carolina.  I have studied public health policy and tracked diseases.  I have written up the results of the BRFSS (Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System).  I know what usually causes acute diseases, how to track them, and what the risk factors are.  So I know something about what I write even if I am, at this point, just an overeducated housewife.  I spent three years and five figures on graduate school, and there was a lot of effort involved besides time and expense.

That all being said, you don't have to have a master's degree to know that alcohol doesn't kill Norovirus.  All you really have to do is Google and read from reputable sources.  I just threw it out there, though, because to me, the idle jottings guy telling me about microbes is kind of like me trying to school him on Burberry.  I don't know anything about Burberry and he proved to me that he doesn't know the first thing about Norovirus, but was trying really hard to sound as if he did.  So I needed to explain to him that he was wrong and why I had the authority to tell him that he was wrong.

It was not my intention to stir up trouble.  In all honesty, the most I wanted to do was alert people who cruise on SeaDream that I will be writing about a lesser known luxury cruise line that they might enjoy.  I didn't mean for it to be a debate.  However, I can't abide idiots... especially those who can't get my name right and insist that I couldn't have a virus because alcohol kills Norovirus.  It doesn't.  You can Google it.  You don't need a master's degree to have this information.  Besides that, the contact that I had that made me sick came from wort, which isn't nearly as alcoholic as whisky is.

Some people might have told me that I should have been more ladylike and demure and just ignored or accepted this guy's shit.  I have done that for much of my life and it doesn't work.  Sometimes people who behave like assholes need to be called out.  I will admit, sometimes I am an asshole, as everyone can be in some situations.  But I don't go out of my way to embarrass or belittle people or make them feel small.  If Mr. "idle jottings" had a scintilla of empathy and decency, he'd realize that my comments to him were made while I was sick with a virus (not alcohol poisoning) and I am not a stupid person.  And he would have reacted with empathy instead of accusations.

As for his apparent decision to take his ball and go home, I say "Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya..."  :D

Monday, March 28, 2016

Travel obsession makes your life "mediocre"?

I'm taking a break from blogging about our recent trip so I can blog about another travel related topic.  You see, somehow, I ended up subscribed to a site called "Thought Catalog".  The other day, while pissing away time in England, I ran across this article by Jeffrey Grey called "Why Your Obsession With Travel Means You’re Living A Mediocre Life".

Mr. Grey wrote an essay that, at this writing, has inspired 98 comments from the peanut gallery, the vast majority of which appear to be penned by people pissed off at Grey's anti travel attitude.  I must admit, when I first read his essay, I had a similarly negative reaction to his comments that people who travel incessantly are wasting their lives away somehow.  After re-reading the essay, I think Grey is writing of young people who are just post college that keep postponing "real life" by traveling non-stop.  Instead of looking for what Grey considers "meaningful work", these folks are hopping from country to country, working at menial jobs, not contributing to the world or achieving anything.  Unfortunately, the essay is rather poorly edited, so it sounds like he's addressing everyone who travels, no matter why they do it.

I shared the article on my Facebook page and most of my friends who commented were very negative about Grey's thoughts.  Only two were somewhat neutral.  I think all Jeffrey Grey has managed to do is alienate people by coming at them with an over the top tone.  As I read his thoughts on "incessant travel", I started comparing him with Donald Trump.  Grey writes, "People obsessed with travel are conceding that they don’t have anything actually worth doing or creating. You don’t create while on the move, you create when you stay in one place."  I disagree with this statement, but I think I know where it's coming from.  Sadly, I think Grey has a very narrow perspective; he seems young and unenlightened, like he needs a good mental enema so he can think outside the box.  He also comes across as a little jealous that he can't do any traveling himself.

As to Grey's thoughts on traveling "too much" when you're young, all I have to say is that Americans are, by and large, a hugely undertraveled people.  Many Americans don't even own a passport and those who do, don't necessarily use it very often.  On our most recent trip, Bill and I befriended a nice couple from London.  The male half said, "I hope this doesn't sound condescending, but you two are extremely well-traveled for Americans."  Neither Bill nor I were offended.  Our new friend speaks the truth.  Americans really don't get out as much as people from other countries do and there are a lot of reasons for that.

I think one BIG reason why Americans don't travel is because so many of them have bought into the line of bullshit being spewed by Mr. Grey.  He thinks people should be putting their noses to the grindstone and working all the time.  In America, work is king.  Many workers are not fortunate enough to have paid time off, and plenty of folks need to keep working so they can keep the lights on at home.  Even those who do have vacation time may have employers who discourage workers from using it, even if using it may make them more productive and creative.

But say you have vacation time.  Now you need to have enough money to go somewhere.  And if you plan to go far, that means flying.  Some people are afraid to fly and some just plain hate the experience.  And some are afraid that if they go somewhere, they'll face anti-American sentiment or a terrorist attack.

Personally, I love traveling, even as I hate some of the hassles that come with travel.  I didn't used to love traveling.  Before I started exploring the world, I thought I just wanted to have a run of the mill life in Virginia or some adjoining state.  I thought I'd get a job, get married, and have kids.  Life turned out differently for me.  Sometimes I'm sad about the things I don't have that I thought I would, but I'd be crazy to say that I live a "mediocre life".  Shit, I pretty much get to do whatever I want every day.  I have gotten to see and do so many cool things... and I get to write about the experiences and show off my pictures.  My travels even inspire me to make music, which I did today.

I guess Grey would look at me derisively as a "travel blogger" and not even a particularly successful one at that.  But why is how I live my life his business?  Better yet, why am I writing this blog post?  Who cares what Jeffrey Grey thinks?  There's more than one way to get through life.

Of course, even as I write this, I realize I'm a hypocrite because I opine all the time about other peoples' choices.  For instance, why should I care if stepparents "marry" their stepchildren?  I guess I don't, really, except when they choose to make their choices everyone's business by putting them in the news for all to see.

Jeffrey Grey is certainly entitled to his opinion.  I think he would have had a more successful article had he not alienated people from the get go with his derisive Trumpish attitude about people who don't think like he does.  On the other hand, his article is getting read and commented on and, in some circles, that spells success, right?  Maybe it's not a good thing to be too careful and non-offensive with one's language.  Some of my most popular pieces have been controversial, even though they sometimes bring out the crazies.

Anyway, I'll go on record as saying that Jeffrey Grey's pissy essay probably made me a better person. At the very least, it gave me something to think about and write about.  Creativity is a good thing, even if it's spawned by something negative.  And hell, everybody's got to have a passion, right?  If I can't have a full time career or a passel of kids, what's wrong with being passionate about traveling?  At least when I travel, my readers don't end up with a stomach bug... though maybe sometimes my writing makes them want to barf.

We're back home, safe and sound...

And I am hard at work on my travel blog, but I plan to pop by here later and rant...

I have to commit some of these travel memories down while they're still fresh in my head.  

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Going home from Norwich tomorrow...

Looking forward to it.

Bill and I are now fully recovered from our stomach bugs and Auntie Flow has vacated, so I can go home and do laundry...  I look forward to sharing the many stories and photos collected on this trip.  It always amazes me how much busier I am when I travel.  ;)

We had a good day yesterday.  Went to see my home when I lived in England and my kindergarten.  Ended up drinking beer in the pub at our accommodations and met a former prison guard and his wife, who is apparently obsessed with the hit 80s TV show, Dallas.

Yes, it's been a very interesting trip.  We'll have to see what happens today.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pukefest Tour 2016, part two

The drive to Stoke was long and it was Bill's first time driving on the left.  He did very well.  The kind guy at Hertz, who had seen me in my horrible condition, had upgraded us to a larger car with an automatic transmission.  Again, I will be writing a review for them.  They went above and beyond.

The whole way there, my stomach kept cramping.  I still had pretty bad diarrhea, too... like water flowing from my ass.  I managed to eat half a muffin at breakfast and drink some tea.  At lunch, I ate a little chicken from KFC.  Bill had fish and chips.  Ordinarily, I would have liked that myself, but I was still feeling fragile.  Also, on the way to Glasgow, there was a truck in front of us with an ad for fish and chips. Just the sight of it made me queasy and I had to close my eyes.  The memory of that was too fresh in my mind.

We had no time for dinner and I wasn't hungry anyway.  We did have snack packs at Avenue Q which included wine, chocolate, and chips.  I drank one glass, then gave the rest to Bill when we got back to the inn. He drank it on an empty stomach.

At 2:30am, I awoke to the sound of my husband violently vomiting in the toilet.  For some reasons, a lot of the toilets in Great Britain seem to really do a poor job of flushing.  Since I had diarrhea and was on the rag, I noticed it.  Bill probably didn't care so much as he hurled.  I had a dreadful feeling that he had caught my illness and we still had to drive to Thetford, where I hoped to base so we could check out my childhood home.  He denied it at first, but it's since become clear that I passed the bug to him.  So far, he has been spared diarrhea and a menstrual period, at least.

In the midst of this illness, I went on one of my favorite messageboards on Cruise Critic and described what had happened to me.  I wrote that I might have picked up the germ after sharing a drink at a whisky distillery.  Some rude British chap tried to tell me the alcohol should have killed the norovirus germ and said perhaps I had alcohol poisoning.  I told him that not only am I an experienced drinker; I also have a master's degree in public health.  Alcohol doesn't kill norovirus and I, for sure, know the difference between alcohol poisoning and a stomach bug.  Now that Bill has it, I know that's what ails us.

Anyway, the ride to Thetford was long and hard, especially when Bill had to pull off so he could throw up.  But we are here for the next three nights.  Bill and I will recover and go home to Germany, pick up Zane and Arran, and I will wash everything in hot water.

Pukefest Tour 2016

Caution: This post could get graphic.

In my last post, I mentioned puking at the end.  Alexis commented that it sounded like things got ominous.  Sadly, they did.  I became a victim of what I believe to be a case of norovirus.

I woke up at 3:00am Tuesday morning, my stomach still somewhat full of the previous night's sumptuous dinner.  I felt queasy, so I threw up. The vomiting was pretty violent, but I figured I had an upset stomach from rich food coupled with booze.  I didn't actually drink that much Monday night, mainly because of Large Marge and her entourage barging into our spot in the lounge and overwhelming us with their boorish behavior.  I had spent the week watching her and the whisky expert dude suck down excessive whisky and didn't want to follow suit.

Anyway, I felt shitty, but figured it would pass.  I drank ginger ale and tried to go back to sleep, but my nose was clogged. So I took a shower.  While I was showering, I threw up again.  But at least my nose cleared and I was able to breathe clearly.

After the shower, my bowels decided to evacuate.  Owing to all the great food we enjoyed last week, there was a lot that needed to be expelled.  But it wasn't long before diarrhea and stomach cramps set in and I knew I was in big trouble.

Bill woke up and I told him I was sick. He called the bridge to tell them about my symptoms after I expressed concern that I might have something contagious. We were supposed to take a coach back to Glasgow with others on the ship and I feared exposing them, though realistically, it was probably already too late.  The first officer came down with water and electrolytes.  He checked my temperature, which at that point was normal.  I was getting chills, though, and knew the fever was coming.

I started trying to decide what we should do.  We had a car rental reservation and a hotel booked in Stoke-on-Trent for Tuesday night.  But I was feeling so horrible that I was pretty sure I would be barfing the whole way there.  But Bill said there was no Hertz rental car agency in Oban, which was where our final stop was.  And if we booked a hotel in Oban, we'd kind of be stuck there.  I started worrying about the stewardess who would be cleaning our stateroom, knowing she would likely get sick.

In the meantime, I had also started my period.  I did the same thing the first time we sailed on Hebridean, but that time, I had forgotten my supplies and the ship's assistant purser had to take up a collection among female staffers.  I might have asked someone myself, but I doubt many other passengers who sail Hebridean still menstruate. At least this time, I had plenty of napkins.

The ship's purser spoke to us and suggested that they send us to Glasgow in a cab, which the ship would pay for.  I was impressed by that, though I am sure it was better for them to pay cab fare than expose many people to my sickness.  So some poor guy in Oban was tasked with driving us. It was a long trip on a winding, two lane road.  I coped fairly well for the first hour.  We stopped at a gas station because I felt sick and needed a toilet.  The cashier had the cheek to ask if we were going to spend any money.  I gave him a pretty good "fuck off" look.  I was no mood for bullshit.  It was at that point, the cabbie became more aware of my condition.  He said I should sit up front, so I did.  

We continued south on the windy road.  Suddenly, I shouted that we needed to stop.  The driver stopped on the side of the road where there was really no shoulder.  It was also on a curve, bordering Loch Lomond.  I sprang out of the car and immediately hurled so violently that watery puke came through my nose.  As I was puking, diarrhea spewed like a fountain from my ass. But since I was wearing underwear and pants, it all ended up trapped and flowed down my pants leg.  Thoroughly disgusted, I quickly determined that I needed to change clothes.  Though we were still on the dangerous curve, I grabbed a new set of "cleanish" clothes from my luggage and ran across the road to a somewhat secluded area.  I changed clothes faster than I ever expected I could have and threw the soiled ones in a plastic bag I had used to protect my silk piano shawl from Spain.  Vowing to throw away what was once a favorite pair of pants and shirt, I tossed the nasty duds in the trunk of the cab, set my jacket down on the seat and sat on it, and we continued to Glasgow.

I told Bill we would not be going to Stoke because I was too sick to travel.  The driver took us to the Hertz rental car office near Glasgow's train station.  There, we were taken care of by a sympathetic man who really went above and beyond for us.  When I blog about this trip on the travel blog, I will give him the write up he deserves.  For now, I will just say he helped us get a hotel room, where I spent the rest of the day sleeping between alternating shitting episodes.  Bill brought me fluids because I couldn't eat.  By Wednesday, I felt better and we went to Stoke, where we caught Avenue Q.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Large Marge...

I am posting this here on my main blog, mostly because I badly need to get it off my chest.  Those who follow me in my Facebook group, Random Bullshit, have already heard of the woman I refer to as "Large Marge".  The nickname is very fitting, even as I feel a little guilty for calling her that.  I am not a fan of fat shaming or shaming in general.  But, this person, a female Floridian, is indeed the type of person who inspires a nickname like Large Marge.

From the moment she got on the bus at the Glasgow Airport until she carried her substantial ass off the ship, Large Marge was promoting the ugly American stereotype like a champion.  I have heard there is one like her in every crowd.  Indeed, she is not the most annoying cruise passenger I have ever met.  But she probably ranks up in the top five.

Large Marge appeared to be well off financially.  She stayed in one of the poshest staterooms on the ship.  Though she was apparently married (I heard her mention a husband), he was not with her.  My guess is that he enjoyed his vacation from his loud mouthed and overbearing wife.  She brought a fit looking companion with her.  They didn't seem to be especially close friends.  I got the impression that the friend had come along to help Large Marge with her bags.  Large Marge walked with a limp and needed a cane.  Consequently, anytime there was an excursion that involved walking, Large Marge stayed behind.  I found myself really appreciating those few excursions.  This was a cruise that was about going to whisky distilleries, though, so she mostly participated and made a big show about asking for chairs so she could sit during the tours.

I was curious about Large Marge and discovered that she worked for the taxman.  She also played tennis, before her obvious injury.  Perhaps that would account for her hyper competitive need to be the center of attention.  She'd come into a room and instantly demand attention with her loud voice and annoying laugh.  To be fair, I myself have a loud voice and annoying laugh.  But I am conscious of that and don't go out of my way to irritate people.  I got the sense that Large Marge purposely used her vocal weapons to be annoying.  She came off as a total attention whore.

On our cruise, there was a whisky expert. He had written many books about whisky and, to me, came off as a bit pretentious, though he was certainly knowledgeable.  He and Large Marge were fast friends.  It was like a mutual ass kissing society.  Of course, neither of them came across as particularly genuine.  I got the sense that their newly formed union was based on what one could do for the other. Large Marge could help the guy sell books and the whisky expert could make Large Marge look like she's a member of the cool kids' club.

I mostly tried to ignore the bitch all week.  I did my best not to sit near her or engage her.  It was very difficult to ignore her, though, because she constantly demanded attention.  On the last night of our cruise, she really pissed me off.  We were allowed to visit the galley.  Bill and I had seen it, so we didn't plan to visit again.  But I wanted to thank the kitchen crew for the excellent food...  While we were in there, Large Marge came barging into the galley.  She immediately took over the tiny space with her overwhelming presence.  It was astonishingly rude behavior.  I noticed one of the kitchen workers looking very annoyed, so I quickly made apologies and left.  But I was very pissed off.  We went to the lounge for a nightcap anyway.  While we were sitting there, Large Marge and her entourage showed up, sat in our space, and once again overwhelmed us.

I decided it was time for bed.  Sadly, someone had an accident on the steps and needed to be evacuated.  The staff didn't want to let us in the area, but I promised we were just going to bed.  So we went... Four hours later, the puking started.  More later.

No grease for me...

Was struck down by what I think is norovirus.  Started puking early Tuesday morning and it continued yesterday, even as we traveled from Oban to Glasgow.  We ended up booking a hotel room in Glasgow so I could sleep it off.  Today, we will try to get to Stoke so we can see Avenue Q.  Then Thursday, we will head for Suffolk.  That is, as long as the illness continues to improve.  I am a lot better today, so far at least.

Monday, March 21, 2016


The cruise ends tomorrow.  I am a little sad to leave it, though I am looking forward to our next adventure... And I really want a greasy cheeseburger.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Still having fun!

Meeting new people and enjoying Scotland...  Vacations are good for the soul.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Shut your pie hole!

Not two minutes after we left the hotel for dinner last night, we passed a Starbucks.  I heard a man shout angrily, "Shut your pie hole!"  I'm sure it was a coincidence that he said that and yesterday was 3/14.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Marrying" your stepchildren... part two

Last year, I wrote a blog post about a video I saw on my Facebook feed.  It was a viral video of NASCAR driver Brian Scott "marrying" his toddler aged stepdaughter, Brielle Caisse.  In my post, I expressed my disapproval over the whole "marrying your stepchildren" trend of today.  Although I thought most of my comments about stepparents-- particularly stepfathers-- mock marrying their new stepchildren-- usually stepdaughters-- were pretty tame, I still got a couple of angry comments from the peanut gallery.

Since I am about to write about this subject again and know that many people think this trend of stepdaddy stepping up is heartwarming and sweet, allow me to pre-emptively remind people that this is a personal blog and what I'm about to write are only my opinions based on my own research and experiences.  I know many people disagree with me on this topic and that's fine.  However, leaving me a pissy comment is probably just going to cause me to respond similarly.  I can guarantee that telling me off will not change my mind and may even inspire me to blog about you.

So, if what I write here makes you angry, my best advice would be for you to either take a deep breath and leave me a calm, rational comment, or simply go somewhere else on the web.  You can even write a rebuttal on your own blog, though I won't go looking for it.   These are simply my opinions and I don't necessarily care about anyone else's... especially if they are presented in a profane or unreasonable manner.

So... now that I've gotten that off my chest, on with today's topic.

Yesterday, I saw a post on Upworthy about yet another stepfather to be "proposing" to his soon to be stepdaughter.  Once again, I noticed how many people were praising William Ledbetter for giving his girlfriend's daughter, Maddie, a ring for her finger and a necklace.  Many people were holding him up as a great example of fatherhood.  In the past, I have made it very clear that I'm not a fan of these types of proposals to kids.  I especially think it's a bad idea to videotape them and post them online.  I have a number of reasons for feeling the way I do.

First off, I don't think it's appropriate for stepfathers to propose to their soon-to-be wife's kids.  Marriage is not the same thing as step-parenthood.  Marriage is a different relationship that involves sexual relations and a type of intimacy that is hopefully very different than the relationship a stepparent has with a stepchild.  A marriage proposal is supposed to be a serious thing and one that most people hope will be special and come once in a lifetime.  Stepfathers who present rings to their stepdaughters, in a way, kind of pre-empt that special moment that may come later in the child's life, when she is a grown woman.  Some people might argue that these types of proposals aren't really serious.  If that's the case, why film them and put them on the Internet?  In fact, why do them at all?

Secondly, many people marry thinking they will be together for life.  The reality is, many marriages don't last a lifetime, especially those that involve stepchildren.  What if, in the heady emotions of engagement, a man gives his stepdaughter a ring and promises to be her "daddy", and then five or ten years later, divorces her mother?  What if mom and "dad" both remarry?  While the proposal memory may be sweet when it happens, years later, it could backfire spectacularly.  For that reason, I also think these kinds of intimate "stepchild proposal" moments should not be filmed.  And, for God's sake, don't put them on the Internet!  If the relationship doesn't work out, that video will still likely be out there and could end up being a source of significant pain for the child.  Besides, I think anyone who wants to make that kind of a serious promise to a child and really means it probably ought to keep the moment private.

Thirdly, while I applaud William Ledbetter for his obvious devotion to Maddie and his girlfriend, Paige Evans, I have to wonder where Maddie's father is and how he feels about this.  While I know that a lot of biological fathers end up being out of the picture and many women rightly feel fine about "replacing" them with another man, I also know from personal experience that not every man is out of the picture by choice.  And while I understand that many people think you can pick and choose your family, my personal belief is that you really can't.  DNA does matter and many people want to know where they came from; why else would genealogy be as popular as it is?  Why else would so many adopted people seek their biological parents?  Many people have been in relationships they'd rather forget.  I know many would like a do-over of their past so that they can erase or edit the bad parts.  The reality is, everyone has a history and no matter how much you love someone you "chose" for your family, it's very hard to wash away that biological connection.

And finally, I know that if a stepmother similarly "proposed" to her stepchildren according to the current trend practiced by some stepfathers, people would not be nearly as supportive.  The reason for that is that most people consider a mother's role sacred.  Stepmothers are often seen as "wicked" or corrupt somehow.  While I am not going to go searching for hard and fast statistics on that truism, I will say that one only has to read any Internet article that allows comments about the stepmother experience.  You will no doubt find many written by children of divorce who hate their stepmothers with a fiery passion.  While I'm sure people have valid reasons for disliking their stepmothers, I also think our society encourages that disdain.  No one I know grows up hoping to be someone's stepmother.  I know I sure didn't.  When it comes to stepmothers, people don't tend to be rational or even have a lot of empathy.  Many folks don't believe you can replace a mom, but they are quick to believe that a dad is easily replaced.  If that's the case, isn't it risky for a stepfather to make a lifetime promise to a child that he may not be able to fulfill?

Personally, I think this trend of stepfathers pledging themselves to their stepchildren is more about the parents than the children.  William Ledbetter's proposal was filmed, after all.  It was planned in advance.  He presented the jewelry to Maddie on camera, which he then put on YouTube for the world to see.  Why do you think he felt the need to share this moment with the masses?  Could it be for Maddie's benefit?  I kind of doubt it.  So often, these kinds of spectacles are more about showing off  and winning over the heart and mind of the child than actual commitment.  What little girl doesn't like extra attention and jewelry (or any other gift that interests her if it's not jewelry)?  What little girl doesn't want to be called a "princess", which is yet another icky trend I don't like so much because of where it can lead?

Most people are on their best behavior before the wedding.  I would be more impressed by a stepfather who gives his stepdaughter a personal token of his love and commitment after he's been married to her mother for awhile, not just before the wedding.  I think those who manage to keep those special moments off the Internet are even more special and wise.

I know that for many people, a stepparent really does step up and fill the role of a parent.  I know that there are people out there who do not wonder about their biological relatives.  I truly do get that.  However, I do not think that's necessarily the norm.  Moreover, while Bill's and my experiences in the "post divorce with kids world" are not everyone's experiences, I think my opinions are valid.  I also think I have the right to express them, unpleasant as some people might think they are.

I see by the comments on YouTube that I'm not the only one who feels the way I do.  I did actually comment on the Upworthy post before I decided not to follow Upworthy anymore.  I expected a barrage of negative comments from outraged women who are pissed that someone dares to express a less than gushing response.  To my surprise, the first few comments were supportive.  When the first negative one appeared, I decided to quit reading.  It's the weekend and Bill and I are about to go on vacation.  I don't want to get wound up over Upworthy.

I will leave the comments open for now, but reserve the right to close them if people get too shitty.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Behind every good man...

You've heard the old saying.  "Behind every good man is a good woman."  I don't know if that's always true.  Not every man is into women.  I also think that people can be successful on their own.  We'd never say "Behind every good woman is a good man" because people would be outraged by that.  It's kind of a sexist saying.  At the same time, perhaps there's truth in it... somewhat.

This morning, I awoke to a discussion on Facebook about "entitled officers' wives".  Someone's friend's husband just made the O6 list.  I take that to mean he was selected to be promoted, not that he's actually been promoted.  So, because he made "the list", she's started parking in spots designated for colonels.  Bill made "the list" in 2010, but still retired as a Lieutenant Colonel because other people who were on the list were promoted instead of him.  That's life.  It just goes to show you that just because you make the O6 list, that doesn't mean a promotion is automatic.  It's hard to make colonel.

Anyway, some of my friends have a problem with this woman's decision to start parking in a spot designated for a colonel.  For one thing, they point out that the "wife" doesn't have a rank and thus has no right to park in a special parking spot intended for a colonel.  For another thing, they lament that there is not enough parking for the rank and file, especially here in Stuttgart.  I have no quarrel with either of these observations.  Besides, even if you are a colonel or the wife of a high ranking officer, if you are able bodied, it's probably best to let someone else have the close parking spots.  Most of us could use the extra exercise anyway.

However, once again, this issue brings up another issue that I've written about more than enough times on this blog.  So many people in the microcosm of military life have so little respect for the lowly military spouse.  It's true that in recent years, the military has been trying to do more to show appreciation to spouses.  That mostly comes from recognizing what spouses of people in the military go through.  For me, personally, being an Army wife was mostly easy.  I don't have kids and I had already gotten my education before I got married.  Though I had expected to have a career, the constant moves made it pretty much impossible to work in my field.  We could afford my not working, hence my ridiculous lifestyle.  And, I'll be honest, there have been many times when I wonder if I could have made it on my own.  I like to think I could have, but I honestly don't know.  I grew up taking care of myself, but I'm not necessarily a "go getter".

I realize that my experience as a military wife is not the norm, though.  A lot of spouses have to deal with their military spouses being gone for months.  They move frequently, with kids, dogs, family heirlooms.  Moving is very stressful and disorienting and you have to learn how to be resilient and resourceful.  With every move, there's the process of settling.  You have to find a new home, school, doctors, dentists, go to car repair shops, and, if you're lucky, a few friends who can commiserate.  Frequent moving was a challenge for me and I don't even have any kids or a particular desire to be near my family and friends.  Imagine having a couple of kids, especially one that has special needs of some sort.  For a lot of military spouses, that is reality.  I don't think it's wrong to recognize that life for a military spouse can be difficult, depending on their circumstances.

I have seen some really stellar military spouses who have supported their military husbands and wives.  Some of the spouses have their own careers and some end up more like me.  I have also seen some spouses who were shamelessly entitled and acted like parasites.  Like anywhere else, you run into all kinds in the military.

I guess I just think it's too bad that there are so many people who want to attack what other people are doing and how they're behaving as they go about their most mundane day to day business.  Is it wrong for a colonel's wife, not with her husband, to park in a spot designated for a colonel?  Perhaps it is.  I wouldn't do it myself.  But is it really necessary for people to get their panties in a huge wad over it?  Yeah, it's tacky for spouses to have a sense of entitlement, but this is an age old problem that isn't going to go away.  On the other hand, as long as this problem exists, people are going to get upset over other people acting entitled.  So maybe I shouldn't get my panties in a wad over it, either.  Especially since there are so many other things in real life that I could be worried about.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

A quest for Cisco...

For some reason, while sitting here dealing with my mental constipation, I thought of a time back in 2002 or so when Bill and I were engaged.  We lived in a crappy apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia because we were broke.  Back then, Bill was just getting over being LDS.  I told him about how, when I was in college, a lot of my friends used to drink a fortified wine called Cisco.

Cisco was pretty nasty stuff.  It came in several fruity flavors and was mainly used for the sole purpose of getting drunk.  I never drank Cisco myself because I preferred beer over wine back in those days.  But I saw a lot of my friends "enjoy" it in the heady early 90s.  Apparently, Cisco caused a lot of problems for some novice drinkers.  It happened frequently enough that on the label, there was a note that read "This is not a wine cooler."  I doubt that stopped many people from chugging it. 

Someone enjoys Cisco wine.

Anyway, because we were both bored and broke in those days, one Saturday we decided to go on a quest to see if we could find some.  We didn't actually buy any of the stuff.  We just wanted to see if we could find it anywhere.

I remember stopping at several 7 Elevens in Fredericksburg, gazing at the refrigerators where most of the booze was kept, and taking note of what was offered.  We went to two or three convenience stores before we finally found Cisco.  Not surprisingly, the store was located in a poor part of town.  The more upscale areas did not offer any Cisco for sale.  That led us to believe that there is a link between an area's economic stability and the probability that one can purchase Cisco wine there.

Though I still enjoy boozing far too much for my own welfare, I am grateful that I never got addicted to this particular type of "liquid crack".  I also never drank Mad Dog 20/20, which was another popular cheap drink at college, along with Boone's Farm.  I did, on the other hand, try Zima, which was considered a "malt beverage" more akin to beer.  I remember it tasted like flat, less sweetened Sprite.  It came in a pretty cool looking bottle, though.  

That was a time where there were a lot of gimmicky beverages being hawked to the masses, like Crystal Pepsi.  That shit flopped pretty fast... almost like "New Coke" did in the mid 1980s.

 I remember this ad so well...  Don't think I ever drank this, though.

Mentally constipated...

That's how I feel right now.  I feel like there are things I want to write about, but I'm too blocked to get the ideas out of my head.  It's like my brain is cramped.

There are days when the words just flow from my fingers effortlessly.  Then there are days like today, when writing coherently is a challenge.  I think today's post will be short... unless until I take a mental laxative.  I see things I could probably write about, but nothing is moving me enough to get going.  It's like I can't be bothered.

If I didn't have to take Arran to the vet this afternoon, I think I might get into my nightie and go to bed.  I could use a nap and maybe do some reading.  What a ridiculous lifestyle I have.

I may be back later.  For the next two weeks, my posts will likely be sparse.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

American woman has uterus transplant that fails. The Internet goes berserk.

Last night, just before closing my eyes for the day, I ran across this article from The New York Times. It's about a 26 year old woman from Texas named Lindsey who longed to have a baby naturally.  Born without a uterus, Lindsey had known since she was a teenager that she would never be able to carry a baby.  The news was clearly devastating.  Still, she grew up, got married to a man named Blake, and adopted three sons.

Lindsey is the first American woman to undergo a uterus transplant.  The transplant was done on February 24th in a nine hour operation at the Cleveland Clinic's hospital in Weston, Florida.  At first, the surgery was deemed a success.  Lindsey had received a uterus from a woman in her 30s who had died suddenly.  She was pictured sitting in a wheelchair, smiling... looking very hopeful, surrounded by benevolent looking doctors.  Though uterus implants are cutting edge medicine and are just now being explored in the United States, they have been done successfully before.  Swedish doctors have done the transplants on nine women resulting in five births.  Lindsey and her medical team had every reason to hope that she too would be successful.

Then, the day after that photo was taken, there were complications and the transplant failed.  Lindsey was suddenly back in the news.  The New York Times promptly reported the setback in a second article.

I will admit that the second article is the one I saw first.  I noticed the first one when it was first published, but never got around to reading it.  That first article included the information that Lindsey and Blake had already adopted/fostered three boys.  Still, the idea that she should adopt first never crossed my mind.  I figure everyone has the right to make their own family planning decisions, as long as those decisions don't harm other people.  Moreover, medical research has the potential to help many.  As long as patients are informed about the experimental nature of a new treatment and understand the risks, I can't help but admire the ones brave enough to be first.

I probably shouldn't have read the comments on the news article, though they did inspire me to read more about Lindsey and her brave decision to be a part of medical history.  So many people were saying that Lindsey should "just adopt", not realizing that she had already done that.  Even when they were made aware that Lindsey is already a mother and had adopted three kids who needed homes, a lot of them stubbornly derided her decision to try for the transplant.  Others suggested hiring a surrogate, which is another avenue that can be fraught with challenges.

I'll admit that it often pisses me off when people suggest adoption to people struggling with infertility, as if they've never considered it.  They make it sound like it's the easiest, cheapest, most perfect decision.  It's like they could just go to a child rescue and choose a kid whose picture "speaks to them", go home, and raise the child happily ever after.  It's not that simple.  Adoption is a big decision and comes with its own set of challenges.  Moreover, Lindsey had already adopted and wanted to try for a pregnancy.  She's an adult, living in a country that supposedly embraces personal freedom.  It's her body and presumably her money.  

A lot of people were saying that uterus transplants are somehow selfish and frivolous.  What I don't think they understand is that this kind of research could also be beneficial to other people.  Every time healthcare professionals are able to explore the human body, it helps them to learn about how it works.  Maybe the uterus transplant surgeries could help doctors understand even more about how transplants work and what causes failures and promotes successes.  Maybe more knowledge garnered during a uterus transplant surgery could lead to better understanding of heart transplants or lung transplants... you know, surgeries involving vital organs that support life.  Of course, a uterus also supports life; a life separate from its owner's.

I also noticed that many of the comments were being made by men.  So many flippant males, people who never expected to give birth themselves and don't understand that, to many women, having babies is a part of being female, felt the need to opine about Lindsey's family planning choices.  It's true that a lot of women never give birth and choose not to.  Quite a few women also only give birth once, because the experience of being pregnant is unpleasant for them.  But, for so many other women, being pregnant and having babies is a deep desire.  It's something that so many women can do with ease.  When you can't do it, for whatever reason, it hurts.  I wanted kids and presumably could have had them had I wanted to seek medical help (or a man who hadn't had a vasectomy reversal).  For me, the desire to be a mom was not that strong.  For other women, it's a very compelling drive.  I can't judge them for that.

I have a friend who endured many miscarriages.  She kept trying to get pregnant and would end up heartbroken time after time until doctors discovered that she had a hormonal imbalance.  She and her husband now have three beautiful sons.  It took years, lots of money, and plenty of patience, but they were able to achieve that dream and have that part of their lives fulfilled.  I wouldn't be surprised if some compassion challenged jackass said to them, "Jesus Christ!  Why not just adopt?  Look at all the kids who need homes!  The world is overpopulated!"  It's as if they're saying, "Sorry lady.  Fate made you unable to have a baby, so you should just suck it up and deal with it.  To hell with your own plans and desires; God has spoken and you're defective."

My question is, who the fuck are these people to make these kinds of tone deaf comments to strangers?  Better yet, who are they to mention them to friends and family?  Why is it anyone else's business how an adult plans their family?  Even though I am no fan of the way the Duggars live their lives, I still maintain that it's their right to determine how large their family should be.  I would hope they wouldn't choose to adopt, mainly because I think an adopted child in that family would suffer.  But even if I personally disagreed with adoption in their case, I still think people should have the basic right to make family planning choices that work best for them.  What works for one person doesn't always work as well for someone else.

I, for one, applaud Lindsey's bravery.  I'm sure the doctors who worked on her learned new things and honed their skills.  I'm sure this setback is devastating enough for all of them without idiots on the Internet belittling them for trying to advance medical science.  I wish the best for Lindsey and all the other women who are struggling with infertility, a problem that hits close to home for me.

Many years ago, I read the book linked below.  It's fascinating reading for those interested in medical experimentation and research.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Some people think I'm too nice...

Isn't that funny?  It just goes to show that everybody has a different perspective.  I've gotten comments on this blog indicating that I'm snarky, condescending, and sarcastic.  Actually, I am also those things, but I do try not to be a bitch unless someone really asks for it.

There's a guy on my Facebook friends list who is a real dick.  He often posts rude, disparaging, belittling comments on my page.  I'm not the only one he does this to; he's rude to a lot of people.  A lot of people have gotten sick of his bullshit and have deleted and blocked him.  I have tolerated him thus far because, to be honest, I sometimes find him entertaining.  He has a sense of humor and appreciates off the wall stuff.  And, while he's usually a dick and can be curmudgeonly sometimes, I have also seen evidence that he's not a total dick.

The other day, I posted a photo of Bill and me.  Since I used Time Hop, it showed that the photo was two years old.  It was actually taken in 2003.  Bill and I were 39 and 31 years old when the photo was shot.  That was twelve years ago, so we look somewhat different now.  I posted that the picture was taken in 2003.  The resident dickhead on my friends list made a snarky comment implying that we look old now.

Bill saw what the guy wrote and sent me an email telling me that he was getting pissed off at the dick's rude comments on my page.  Originally, I was going to respond with a rather benign comment. Then I changed my mind and stepped it up just a little bit.

Resident dickhead wrote: 

" It was actually taken in the summer of 2003, though... "
I was going to say . . ..

So my response was:

You were going to say what? If you're going to attempt snark on my page, I'd appreciate it if you would at least try to be funny instead of just rude.

He hasn't responded to that yet.  But another one of my friends said I was way too nice.  In retrospect, I probably have been nicer than I should be to that particular person.  I don't usually go out of my way to be nasty to people.  I'm sort of a believer in killing people with kindness when I can.  Bill is much nicer than I am.  Push me too far, though, and I do eventually embrace my inner bitch.  

On the other hand...  perhaps next time he snarks at me, I'll just post this.  Resident dickhead is not an Obama fan...  My other friend is right.  I should probably tell way more people to fuck off than I presently do.   

And, once again, I realize that I need to get a life.

Happily, I realize that in a week, I'll be on vacation.  I will have fucked the hell off myself for a change.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Out of control" controlling parents...

I just read a very interesting post on RfM.  It was written by a 17 year old guy whose parents are driving him crazy with their ridiculous micromanagement of his life.   In his post, he details all the ways his parents control him.  Although he admits to doing some really dumb things, like chatting with an online predator and getting addicted to pornography, his parents really seem to be bearing down hard to keep him under their thumbs.

I'm always interested when I read about hyper-controlling parents.  My own parents were pretty hands off with me and I could have done pretty much whatever I wanted, as long as I didn't disrespect or embarrass them in a serious way.  My parents were mostly concerned about their image.  They cared about me, but by the time I came along, they weren't that interested in the parenting gig.  My mom was the kind of mom who happily passed me along to other moms.  I never had any restrictions on sleepovers, not that I had that many with people other than my ex best friend.

Of course, when we were growing up, there was no Internet, so that was a concern my parents never had.  But even if we'd had the Internet, I can promise you they wouldn't have monitored my usage very carefully.  I know this because they almost never monitored what I watched on TV.  The one exception was my dad, who would stop and lecture me if he caught me watching Richard Pryor or George Carlin on cable.  But that was not something that happened with any regularity.

By contrast, I had friends whose parents were much stricter.  My ex best friend's mom was very controlling and overprotective.  By the time she graduated high school, she'd lost her virginity and smoked pot.  I didn't lose my virginity until I was thirty and I didn't try pot until my 43rd birthday!

There were times when I wished my parents had been more involved.  I was fortunate to grow up in a town where there were a lot of good people who looked out for other peoples' kids.  Of course, I also ran into a predator myself, though what he did was relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things. It could have been much worse than it was.

Anyway, as I was reading this poor 17 year old's lament about his super controlling parents, I started wondering what it was going to be like for him when he turned 18.  It's my experience that people who are that controlling are loathe to give up being that way.  He's probably going to have to move out of his parents' house, which is not so easy to do when you're young and first trying to claim independence.  It took me until I was 27 before I was fully on my own, even though I joined the Peace Corps when I was 22.  Those two years away in Armenia, I was on my own... kind of.  But I wasn't totally on my own, because I was a Volunteer and part of a group of Americans.  I depended on my parents for some things.

When I got back from Armenia, I ended up moving back in with my parents.  It took almost two years to develop a plan and move away for good.  I guess if I'd had parents who insisted on reading all of my emails, didn't allow me any privacy whatsoever, used emotional blackmail to control me, threw away my personal property, and threatened me regularly, I might have been more proactive about leaving the nest.  I seriously feel pretty sorry for the guy on RfM.  It must be miserable to be kept on such a short leash all the time.  Not only is it hard for the person being controlled; it's also hard for the person doing the controlling.  That's a lot of energy to expend on someone else's life.  Besides, not letting a 17 year old have some power to make his or her own decisions is potentially crippling.  If kids don't learn how to handle their own business when they are still minors and have the safety net of their parents, when will they learn?  I don't think it's the best idea to force them to wait until adulthood for that.

I empathize with this poor guy, even if he does admit to making some serious mistakes.  It sounds like his parents are a nightmare.  The good thing about his situation is that he's young, hardy, and very close to being a legal adult.  I hope he manages to get out of that situation soon.  If I were him, I'd be making some serious plans.  But I also know that when you're 17, five months can seem like an eternity.  He still has five months to be a minor.  And he's already talking about suicide because his parents are driving him crazy.  I hope he finds someone trustworthy to confide in until he can make his break for freedom.

As I read this, I'm reminded of some of the videos I've seen on YouTube where young people have filmed or recorded their parents being unreasonable.  I watched one the other day that made me think that if I had to live with someone like that, I'd be tempted to throttle them.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Farewell, Nancy Reagan.

I don't actually have a lot to say about Nancy Reagan.  I remember her well because she became the First Lady when I was in the third grade and remained in that position until I was in eleventh grade.  That means for most of my schooling years, she was the First Lady.  Smart huh?  I am a credit to the public school system in Gloucester, Virginia.

Anyway, I remember her well because she launched that "Just Say No" program that was all the rage back in the 80s.  There were PSAs, rallies, news reports, and even songs.  The 80s were a big decade for the "war on drugs".  We were constantly inundated with messages that drugs are bad.  That was also the decade when we heard about AIDS all the time.  I don't think we hear nearly as much about it now.

Punky Brewster just says no!  Good God, this makes me feel OLD.  We recently lost George Gaynes, the "dad" on Punky Brewster, too.

I didn't really have any political opinions when I was a teenager.  I didn't follow politics at all.  In fact, I still don't really follow them, though with the advent of the Internet, it's impossible not to know something about politics.  I do remember people commenting on Nancy's obsession with being with Ronald Reagan and her expensive tastes.  I remember some people outright despised her for many reasons.  

Back in the 90s, I remember reading Kitty Kelley's scandalous book about Nancy Reagan which, if I recall correctly, made her out to be a raving bitch.  I really only read that book because it was in English and I was living in Armenia, where books in English were rare.  I read lots of crappy romance novels during that time period, too.  Kitty Kelley's book certainly did not reflect Mrs. Reagan in the most flattering light; though I have to admit, it was an entertaining read.  Especially compared to all the romance novels I read.  

Yesterday, I noticed that most of the folks commenting on Facebook were kind in their remarks about her.  I was glad to see it.  There's no need to be nasty about a 94 year old woman dying eleven years after her beloved husband.  Aside from that, Nancy had her good side.  She brought a lot of glamour to the White House and there was no denying how much she loved and supported her husband.

Bizarre mashup of The Flintstones, Michael Jackson, and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No!" campaign. Given how Michael Jackson died, this seems especially odd.  Even odder, according to the credits, LaToya Jackson performed this little number.  I never would have guessed!

And Nancy even guest starred on "Diff'rent Strokes"!  This clip doesn't show Nancy, but it does show that the episode was about drugs.

Nancy Reagan certainly lived a long and eventful life.   She joins all the other celebrities who have already passed away this year.  We'll always remember her for imploring us to "Just Say No!"  May she rest in peace. 

The beginning of this clip shows that it was aired during an episode of Santa Barbara.  I mention this, only because besides reading crappy romance novels, I also heard a lot about Santa Barbara when I lived in Armenia.  It was a huge hit show for them in the 1990s, where it aired during prime time.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Molding, shaping, and grooming young people...

Early this morning, while processing the excesses of last night, I read an article about a woman whose six year old daughter was given a worksheet asking her to decide which branch of the military she would most like to join.  The article fascinated me on several levels.  First off, it was presented to kindergarteners.  Though it's been thirty-eight years since I was in kindergarten, I don't remember the work being that advanced.  Of course, I also went to a British school.  Seems to me, we were focused more on play.  I remember playing with blocks, learning the alphabet, learning to read.  The worksheet featured in the article I read seems very complex for such young children.

Secondly, while I think the worksheet's overall lesson is worthwhile, I can't imagine why someone thought it was appropriate to use military branches as the object of the lesson.  Why not use something benign like fruit or colors.  Would you rather eat an apple, a banana, or a pear?  Would you rather wear blue, red, or green?  Who thought asking little kids about their military branch preferences was appropriate?

Thirdly, while I understand the author thinks the military is some kind of evil occupation that involves constant violence, I'm here to tell her that it doesn't.  Going to war is one part of the job.  Handling weapons and learning how to fight are but a couple of aspects of being in the military.  There are plenty of other aspects of military life that have nothing to do with war and violence.  Moreover, if we didn't have a military, it's doubtful she could enjoy the peaceful anti-war existence she does right now.

I'm not going to get into the political arguments about the military.  I am not in the military myself, so I can't speak to the experience of wearing a uniform.  All I can say is that I've been around military folks my whole life.  Yes, there are some people in the ranks who could be considered war mongers.  There are a number of people who joined the military because where they came from didn't offer any better alternatives and they lacked the ability to go somewhere more suited.  Some people in the military are "dumber than hammered dirt" as my husband would say.

On the other hand, some people join the military because they see it as an opportunity to live a life of service.  Bill, who is one of the kindest, more peace loving people I know, has told me many times that he joined the Army because he wanted to be of service to other people.  He might have been able to do that had he become a psychologist or a fireman.  Knowing Bill as I do, I think the Army appealed to him because it offered him a place to grow up and develop confidence.  He was proud to wear the uniform and I know there are days when he really misses it.

The military is a respectable occupation for many people.  I am sick and tired of reading screeds from extreme liberals who don't actually have any real experience with the military.  I don't blame this mother for being upset that her six year old daughter came home with a worksheet about joining the military.  I agree with her that it wasn't an appropriate lesson.  At the same time, I cringe when I read an opinion piece about how violent the military is as an occupation.  It certainly can be a violent job, but that's not everyone's experience.

The simple fact of the matter is, the military is composed entirely of adults who choose to serve.  Not everyone who wants to be in the military can wear a uniform.  Kids in school are exposed to all kinds of occupations.  It's part of growing up.  I attended school in a town where the military was very much respected.  I come from a family full of veterans.  At my school, everyone took the ASVAB as a matter of course.  It never occurred to most of my friends to refuse to take it.  Guess what?  Most of us didn't join up.

Young people should have options open to them.  They should have information available so they can make the best choices about where they want to go in life.  For some people, the military is a viable road to success.  I see nothing wrong with presenting that option to young people.  Not six year olds, mind you, but teens who might be suited for serving in the Armed Forces.

The vast majority of men and women who serve in the military come out of the experience just fine.  A lot of them have life experiences and friends they never would have had if they'd been civilians.  Nobody who wears a uniform likes war.  Instead of dumping on people who choose to join the military, why not pay more attention to the people who are elected and make the decisions to send people to war?

That's my rant for the day.  It's time to eat breakfast and by the time I'm finished, I will probably be in a less contentious mood.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Pat Conroy is gone now...

Last night, Bill and I went to the local steak joint, not realizing that there was going to be a concert.  We ended up spending 30 euros in addition to what we paid for dinner to listen to a German guy named David Hanselmann.  He was backed up by two familiar musicians who play at Tommi's all the time.  We hadn't planned to go to the concert; we just wanted to have dinner.  We ended up crashing a four top table with a German couple who spoke English and told us about Hanselmann, who evidently is a well known singer here and suffers from cancer.  At first, we thought he was American because he spoke perfect English with no accent.  He sang a lot of great songs from the 70s and 80s and we really had a good time.

I woke up to the news of death this morning.  Two famous people died yesterday, both of cancer.  One was 40 year old country singer Joey Feek, of Joey + Rory fame, whose battle with cervical cancer was chronicled by her husband in a blog.  I didn't follow the Feeks' career, but knew about them because several of my friends are fans and shared the news about them.  It sounded like Joey Feek went through some pretty tough times as she fought cancer.  I know her family is sad to see her go, but maybe there is relief that she is no longer in so much pain.

The second death was Pat Conroy's.  He was 70 years old and had very recently announced that he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  When I heard about his illness, I knew he wasn't long for the world.  Pancreatic cancer is devastating and has a very high mortality rate.  I didn't expect Pat would be dead within just a couple of weeks of his announcement, though.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you may know that I've long been a big fan of Pat Conroy's.  We had a lot in common.  We were both children of abusive military officers.  We lived in some of the same places.  Pat Conroy was a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.   My father and quite a few other relatives graduated from The Citadel's arch enemy, Virginia Military Institute.  When I read about Conroy's experiences in a military college, I was reminded of the stories my dad told me about his time at VMI.  I couldn't follow in his footsteps when I went to college because VMI was all men back in those days.  Even if I could have attended, I doubt I would have.  Like Pat Conroy, I don't have much regard for authority.  Bill and I did get married at VMI, though.  The Lords of Discipline meant a lot to me because of the mark VMI left on my dad and other loved ones.

Pat Conroy taught English on an island off the coast of South Carolina.  I taught English in Armenia as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Amazingly enough, Pat also applied to serve, but either was rejected or never got a response.  So he taught people who needed him in his own country and then turned that experience into the wonderful book, The Water Is Wide.

Although I didn't exactly have the same military brat experience my sisters had, I have experienced life as an Army wife.  That's why The Great Santini left such an impact on me.  And The Prince of Tides was my first taste of Conroy's vivid and expressive writing.  When I finished it, I knew I wanted to read more.  I was not as impressed with Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad, but I loved all of his non-fiction works.  In fact, I think his non-fiction works moved me a lot more than his novels ever did.  I also loved reading about Conroy's experiences with food.  His use of language was so sensual and tactile.  You could almost taste what he described.  Whether the food he wrote about was decadent or disgusting, he had a way of making his readers experience it though words that wrung out every possible sensation of what they described.

I've read just about everything Pat Conroy ever published.  He had such a gift for expressing himself with words, even if his novels were basically the same characters placed in similar stories.  I remember lying in bed in Armenia and losing myself in his novel, Beach Music.  That book was long and convoluted, with many different stories within it.  It made me laugh as much as it grieved me.  Later, when I married Bill and watched his daughters abandon him in the wake of their parents' divorce, I was reminded of Beach Music and Conroy's own daughter, Susannah, who became estranged after he and his second wife divorced.

Pat was married three times.  His third wife is the author Cassandra King.  I wonder what it's been like for her to be married to Pat Conroy, especially with all the family baggage he carried.  He was definitely a complicated man who struggled with a lot of personal demons.  He ate and drank too much.  He suffered from depression.  His health failed, although I just found an article from August 2015 about how his health was on the rebound.  I guess he was in denial.  Today, the day after his death, I find it eerie to read about how just a few months ago, he'd been trying to get healthier.  He even opened his own gym.

Like Pat Conroy was, I am no fan of visiting doctors.  I haven't seen one in about six years.  I may end up suffering a fate like Conroy's myself.  In fact, I told Bill last night that I'd be surprised if I outlive him, even though a number of my family members have lived long lives.  As much as I hate the idea of going to see doctors in the United States, I'm even more hesitant to do it in Germany.  I've heard and read a lot of horror stories.

Well, this post is getting kind of morose.  I'm having trouble composing my thoughts this morning and I probably shouldn't sit here and dwell too much on the many great people who have already died this year.  All it does is make me depressed and remind me that I'm getting older.  Cancer sucks.  It's stolen too many great souls.

Rest in peace, Pat.  Maybe later, I will think of a more profound way to express how I'm feeling about the news that you're gone.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Some parents are real shitheads... another book review.

Last night, I read almost entirely in one sitting, a brand new book that was released on March 1, 2016.  It's been a very long time since I last read a book in a matter of hours.  My attention span is not what it once was.  Nevertheless, I was compelled to finish this book.  Once I was finished reading, I was good and angry.  I think if I hadn't taken a couple of Advil PMs, I would have had a really hard time falling asleep.

Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That's When My Nightmare Began is certainly a mouthful of an unoriginal title.  Had the author, Alex Cooper, simply called her book Saving Alex, it may well have gone unnoticed.  Ever since the blockbuster film Saving Private Ryan came out, there have been other titles that have used the "saving" motif.  It's the second part of the title-- the mouthful part-- that got me to order it.  I read a lot of so-called "exMormon lit" and I am also interested in gay and lesbian issues.  I have also read a whole lot about the so-called "teen help" industry, especially as it exists in Utah.  It was only natural I'd want to read Alex Cooper's story, so I did.  And folks, it made my blood boil, even though I am neither a parent nor homosexual.  Some parents are simply shitheads and I think Alex's parents qualify.  Edited to add:  I read in another review that Alex and her parents are on good terms now and they are very sorry for what they did.  I'm glad they have made amends, though I still think what they did puts them in shithead territory.  Just my opinion, though.  I'm not known for being forgiving.

Alex Cooper's story

Fifteen year old Alex Cooper's parents had moved to Victorville, California in an attempt to raise their daughter in a "safe" environment.  Alex's mother was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Her father was a Mormon convert who didn't necessarily agree with all of the church's teachings, but decided to go along with them for his family's sake.  Alex points out that her dad had chosen the religion as an adult, whereas she had been born into it and was forced to live by its tenets her whole young life.

Alex hated Victorville.  She found it boring and uninspiring.  As she was approaching adolescence, she also started to realize that she had romantic feelings for females.  Mormons are famously intolerant of homosexuality.  It's considered a grave sin for church members to act on "same sex attraction".  Nevertheless, despite Alex's strict Mormon upbringing in the church and association with church members, she turned out to be a lesbian.

One day, a few of Alex's Mormon friends introduced her to a beautiful 18 year old woman named Yvette.  Yvette was pretty much on her own, making her own money selling marijuana.  She was a lesbian.  Alex became fast friends with Yvette and they were soon engaged in a sexual relationship.  On a couple of occasions, Yvette and Alex took off together without telling Alex's parents where they were going.  Alex's parents did not know Yvette and would not have wanted Alex hanging around with her if they did.  They were faithful church members who believed homosexuality is wrong.  Besides that, Yvette was a legal adult who supported herself by selling marijuana.  Alex and Yvette were very attracted to each other and Alex describes Yvette as a good person, despite her less than church approved lifestyle.

Alex's parents became aware of Yvette's presence in their daughter's life after the second time the pair had run off for a couple of days.  Alex had left a note lying about her whereabouts.  During the confrontation, Alex came out to her parents.  They promptly kicked her out of the house.  Alex stayed with friends for a couple of weeks.  It was during the summer and Alex wondered what she was going to do when school started again.  Would she even get to go to school? Would she be homeless?  Little did Alex know, her parents had some big plans for her.

Conversion "therapy"

It's not a big secret that many Mormons think they can "cure" homosexuality through so-called conversion therapy.  For many years, there was a program based on church teachings called Evergreen International.  It was considered a "support group".  I have read some heartbreaking accounts of what "support" at Evergreen was actually like.  Evergreen is now defunct; it has been replaced by another program called North Star.  North Star supposedly focuses on the "law of chastity", accepting that some church members struggle with same sex attraction, but must be encouraged never to act upon those feelings.

Alex was not sent to a program like Evergreen or North Star.  Her parents told her they were going to send her to live with her grandparents in Utah for awhile.  They packed up all of her things and drove to St. George, a town in southern Utah that has hosted a number of so-called teen help facilities.  There is big money to be made in the troubled teen industry.  Having informally studied the industry for about fifteen years, I have noticed that many programs targeting troubled teens are run by faithful Mormons.  Some are run by other religious groups, such as southern Baptists, but Mormons seem to really have a stake in the industry.  I have written about this phenomenon plenty of times in the past, so I'm not going to rehash it in this post.  Suffice to say that if you Google, you will soon find out more about churches and "troubled teens".

LDS leader David A. Bednar explains why "there are no homosexual members in the church".

Dirty trick

So Alex arrived at her Mormon grandparents' home in Utah.  She greeted them warmly, thinking they would offer her love, acceptance, guidance and shelter as she tried to straighten out the mess she was in.  But her grandparents and her parents had banded together and came up with a plan to deal with Alex's "problem".  They enlisted help from Johnny and Tiana Siales, a Mormon couple who attended the same ward as Alex's grandparents did.  The Siales took "troubled youth" into their home in an attempt to rehabilitate them, even though neither Tiana nor Johnny had any real training in counseling.  They were just devout Mormons who had worked in Utah's burgeoning teen help industry and knew a few abusive techniques to get teens to do their bidding.

Johnny had a bad temper and suffered from gout, so he was unable to work.  He spent his days playing video games.  Prior to "helping" Alex, Johnny had been a goon at one of the teen help schools in the area.  Tiana worked nights as a "counselor/security guard" at one of the local facilities; it was her paycheck that mostly supported the family.  They also had young children of their own.  Alex was forced to share a room with the Siales' young daughters.  She slept on a mattress and wore "modest" clothes that were cast offs from Deseret Industries.  The Siales destroyed Alex's own clothes.

Even though her parents didn't know the Siales from Adam, they decided the Siales' home was a better place for Alex to seek help for her "issues".  They signed over custody of Alex to Johnny and Tiana.  And then, the nightmare began in earnest.

My thoughts

I'm really tempted to keep writing Alex's story and describe all of the horrors her caregivers subjected her to.  I'm not going to do that, though, because that would make reading Saving Alex unnecessary.  I think people should read this book, especially those who don't have a clue about the Mormon church's ugly policies regarding homosexuality and their attempts to "cure" it.  Alex was basically held prisoner by a couple of incompetents who abused her for months, trying to get her to change her sexual orientation.  What they did to her was cruel and disgusting.  I was seething as I read about Alex's "treatment".  Incredibly, she still wanted to go home.  She missed her parents.  Had I been in her shoes, I'm not sure I'd ever want to speak to my parents again.

Now, I'm not trying to say that Alex was totally innocent in this situation.  Had I been her mother, I would have been very upset about my 15 year old daughter running off with an 18 year old and not telling anyone where she was going.  I probably would have been highly inclined to discipline her.  I don't think that's unreasonable under the circumstances.

What I do think is unreasonable is kicking your minor child out of the home and then sending her off to live with people you don't even know.  Then, when she tries to tell you what they are doing to her-- and what they are doing is legitimately abusive-- turning your back on her and forcing her to continue to endure it.  And I ABSOLUTELY think conversion therapies are ineffective and damaging, even as I understand that there is a market for them.  If a legal adult wants to try conversion therapy, that's their choice.  Personally, I don't think it works, but I also think adults have the right to make their own decisions. But conversion therapy should never be forced on a child.  And a fifteen year old is still, by legal definition, a child!

Alex Cooper spent days wearing a backpack full of rocks, staring at a wall.  She was beaten, isolated, shamed, called a "dyke" and kept out of school.  Her parents completely abdicated their responsibility to raise their daughter to total STRANGERS with no actual expertise in helping teenagers except by employing abusive brute force methods.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  The many church members who witnessed the Siales' abuse of Alex Cooper, including the many Mormon missionaries who came over for dinner and saw Alex wearing a backpack full of rocks, should also be ashamed of themselves.

I'm not sure how Alex's life is going now.  She seems remarkably mature and evolved, especially given what she went through.  I admire her bravery and respect those who helped her, which included some good-hearted Mormon church members who are a bit more evolved than Alex's family was.  Her book pissed me off, though.  I do recommend it to those who need to be educated about conversion therapy and Utah's "teen help" industry.

Saving Alex's blog...