Friday, March 31, 2017

Flicking the bean...

Happy Friday everyone.  It appears that spring has finally sprung.  We have lots of flowers, fresh breezes, warmer temperatures, and love in the air.  We're all feeling it... especially the teens.

Yesterday, there was a funny discussion posted in our local Facebook group about teenagers who are apparently engaging in public displays of affection.  This, in and of itself, would be bad news, unless you happen to be hanging out at the Mineraltherme.  I've seen plenty of teens sucking face and doing other stuff there.  Unfortunately, the teens in question were hanging out in one of the kids' playgrounds on a military installation.  So one of the moms posted this...

To me, it was pretty obvious what was going on...  Other people had to look it up on Urban Dictionary.

I have to wonder what the military police officers do when they come across something like this.  Do they tell them to freeze?  Ask 'em to spread 'em?  Do they give them a stern talking to or a ticket?  I'm sure if the adults are doing it, it's much worse.  Engaging in that kind of behavior on a playground could be serious business.  But teens?  Hell, last year, I came across two teens practically fucking each other on the route where I take my dogs every morning.  It was August, but I'm sure there was some bean flicking going on just the same.  Those kids were going at it.

One rather funny lady called the young man in question a "clit bandit", which I found quite hilarious.  She also asked if anyone gave the lad a bronze star for being able to find the bean, since some guys can't find it with "a GPS, a map, and a clue".  I'm sure more people understood that euphemism than "flicking the bean".  Of course, when I was a teenager, I wasn't doing any of that stuff.  I was too busy with my horse and my job at Busch Gardens.  And there weren't any playgrounds near where I lived, anyway... and if there had been, I wouldn't have been hanging out there flicking the bean with a guy.  It would have been too embarrassing.

Sometimes it's a trip to live overseas among other Americans.  And now, I must confess, I feel like flicking the bean.  But I probably won't, because I just washed the sheets.

Incidentally, Bill brought the dogs home yesterday after they spent two nights with Max, our doggy sitter.  He hadn't seen them since November, when Zane was in low spirits after his mast cell tumor surgery.  Max commented on how much better Zane seems since we changed his diet and started giving him Benadryl, Tagamet, and CBD oil.  The CBD oil, in particular, has been a real boon.  I still think we're going to have a couple of bumps removed soon and they may be other tumors, but he does seem to be doing well right now.  Hopefully, we can keep him going for a long while.

I'm in a good mood today.  I'm glad it's Friday and March is almost over.  Time for good weather, longer days, and maybe some traveling... and bean flicking.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I'm still one lucky bitch...

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about gay black guys who were having trouble finding people to date.  They were sad that they couldn't find love.  I could sort of understand where they were coming from because it took me forever to find my husband.  I thought I was going to be an old maid.

Two years ago, I recognized how good I have it.  I still have it good.  In fact, I have it even better now than I did then.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about my good fortune and wonder how I got so lucky.

I had to endure my share of heartache to get to where I am.  So did Bill.  And Bill had it much worse than I did.  I guess, if I'm trying to say something with this post, it's that sometimes you have to go through a lot of storms to see rainbows.  We're enjoying some rainbows now.  I'm having a lot more fun in my forties than I did in my twenties.

So... to anyone reading this thinking life isn't fun and that there are a bunch of jerks out there...  take a deep breath and look around.  Sometimes you can find love in the strangest of places.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I don't believe in "bad" words...

Apologies to those who already know my stance on this particular topic.  It came up yesterday in a heated Facebook discussion and I am compelled to address it again here.  I'm sure those who don't find this rant interesting will move on to their next Internet station.

A person in a group I'm in related a story about being confronted in a parking lot because he had parked in a handicapped space.  He had a handicapped placard in his vehicle, but his wife, who was the one who had gotten the placard on account of an injury, had already gone ahead of him.  He was left standing alone by his car and apparently looked too healthy to park in a handicapped space.  So some do-gooder stopped by to confront the healthy looking guy, reminding him that he wasn't allowed to park in a handicapped space unless he had a handicapped placard.

The guy in my group pointed to the placard and, I assume, politely invited the do-gooder to fuck off.  Then he related to our group what happened, admittedly in a way that made use of a certain pejorative usually directed at male homosexuals.  The story was funny, especially since most of us have no use for busybodies who feel the need to get up in other people's business.  

Someone in the group took offense to the storyteller's use of the word "faggot" and asked him to delete it from his comment.  Curiously, the offended party did not have a problem when the storyteller used other colorful language that could be considered anti-gay.  He made no mention of it at all.  But he was very offended by the word "faggot" and told us all in very emphatic terms.

I told the offended one about my feelings regarding so-called "bad words".  I don't believe in asking people not to use specific words.  I am against the wholesale banning of epithets and slurs.  I think it's a waste of time.  Now... this does not mean that I agree with using words to hurt other people.  I definitely think people should be careful with their language.  I don't think it's right to name call or use words to diminish or belittle others.  However, I do think it's wrong to expect people to stop using certain words because they are "hurtful" to certain groups.  The fact is, sometimes so-called bad words aren't actually hurtful and they should be used.

Here's an example of what I mean.  I own a lot of Stevie Wonder's albums.  One of Stevie Wonder's most powerful songs is "Living For the City", which is the story of a young black man who grows up in Mississippi.  He goes to school to better himself and, realizing that he'll never get anywhere in racist Mississippi, lands in New York City.  His eyes are full of stars as he takes in the New York City skyscrapers for the very first time.

Suddenly, he's set up by a criminal who correctly identifies him as a fish out of water.  The criminal offers him a quick five bucks as he shoves a package of drugs into his hands.  Confused and caught holding the bag, the man from Mississippi gets arrested, tried, and sent to jail for ten years.

As he's thrown into his jail cell, we hear a white guard cruelly snarl, "Come on!  Come on!  Get in that cell, nigger!"  The door slams shut and Stevie's vocals become rougher and angrier as the story of the young black man from Mississippi continues... the ending sad, but profound.

Stevie Wonder's "Living For the City"...

As hateful as the word "nigger" is, I don't think this song would be nearly as powerful without it.  We hear the hatred and disgust in the guard's voice as the young man is thrown away like a piece of trash.  If the guard had not said the n-word and had treated the young man with more respect, the song would not drive home its compelling message about the problem of racism.  It would have less gravity.  

I could list numerous other examples from films, music, theater and literature, where hateful epithets actually add to the artistic value of a creation.  In college, I took courses in African-American literature and Women's literature.  I read many books that used hurtful language in context.  Try reading a slave narrative without coming across the word "nigger".  You won't be able to do it.  Try reading Gone With The Wind, Tom Sawyer, or Huckleberry Finn without encountering racist language.  It's not possible.  In those situations, the words many well-meaning people would like to ban illustrated a point better than softer language ever could.  Removing the "bad" words would weaken the work's impact.

Aside from the fact that sometimes hateful language is useful in an artistic or academic context, I also believe that words themselves are inherently neutral.  They have power because they are given power by people.  A lot of "bad words" didn't start off as offensive.  It wasn't so long ago that the term "mental retardation" was an official medical term used by doctors.  Now the word "retarded" is considered hate speech.  Other terms are now used in place of "mental retardation".  How long will it take before those terms are also regarded as "hate speech"?

Words can be repurposed.  Words that used to mean one thing now mean something else.  For instance, the word "bad" can sometimes mean "good".  The word "cool" can refer to temperature, or it can refer to something being interesting.  Likewise, a word that was once neutral can end up being "bad".  A word that was once considered offensive can be repurposed for something good.

Some groups have even reclaimed hateful words.  They use them among themselves and no one gets offended.  Why?  Because those words are not being used in a context of hatred.  Indeed, sometimes they are even used as terms of endearment and it becomes "okay" for people within certain groups to use so-called hate speech among themselves.  It's only wrong if an outsider uses the word.

For instance, as a now former Army wife who sponges off her husband, I am sometimes referred to as a "dependa".  I don't like the word dependa much, because I think it's belittling and insulting and really only applies to a small number of spouses.  But I've come to expect that people will use that term in military circles.  So now, I try to think of it in humorous terms.  I belong to a group of "dependas" and it's become a joke.  I still think it's shitty to refer to a military spouse (usually a wife) as a dependa (short for dependapotamus), but my getting pissed off about it won't change anyone's mind.  Instead, I think it's more effective to behave in a way that goes against the "dependa" stereotype.

I think it's a lot easier to demand that someone stop using words like "faggot" and "retard" than it is to have an honest conversation with them as to why they feel the need to use such language in a hateful way.  Moreover, asking someone to delete an objectionable word is basically a cosmetic fix.  The person can delete the word, but it's unlikely that he or she will stop using it.  They may not use it in your presence again, but they will probably still use it in front of other people.  So basically, all you've done is make yourself feel better momentarily.  You haven't changed anyone's mind or heart.

Yesterday, I told someone that I don't believe in bad words.  He said that he does, and said he was surprised that I didn't.  He called me a "wordsmith".  Actually, it's because I write that I don't believe in bad words.  I love words.  I think every single word has a use.  That doesn't mean I don't think one should be very careful with their language.  It doesn't mean I think it's right to deliberately humiliate or demean people with language.  But I do think people have the right to use whatever words they want to use and I hope they'll use them with care.

The words you use send a message about who you are.  For that reason, I don't generally go around calling most people hateful names (except perhaps Bill's ex wife and ex kids-- I'm working on that, though).  But I also think that's a conclusion that people should come to themselves.  It's not something that can be forced on people.  After all, you can do your best to shut someone up, but you can't control their hearts and minds.  A person might stop saying hateful words in your presence, but that doesn't mean they don't still have hatred in their hearts.  Ultimately, I think we should be trying to address the deep seated hatred rather than burying words and making them taboo.  Ah... but it's much easier to Band-Aid the "bad words" than it is to address the real problem.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

No curlers in the commissary! Or... true friends tell you the truth...

I'm writing again today because I finally remembered a topic I wanted to write about last night.  All of this uproar about leggings, yoga pants, and camel toes made me remember a simpler time back in the day...  I'm talking about dress codes on military installations.

Actually, dress codes in the commissary are supposedly still a "thing".  When you shop on a military installation, you're supposed to look presentable.  That means no spandex, no hats indoors, and no curlers in your hair, although I can't remember the last time I saw anyone wearing curlers in private, let alone at a military grocery store.  I used to wear them sometimes when I was a kid.  I'd sleep in them so I'd have curly hair the next day.  But my days of wearing curlers are long over now.

I never got in trouble for not dressing appropriately at the commissary.  In fact, I don't think a lot of today's servicemembers even know that the policy used to be strictly enforced.  I do remember maybe fifteen years ago having brunch at a Coast Guard station with my parents.  Next to the entrance of the dining room, there was a big sign outlining what was and wasn't acceptable dress.  I distinctly remember seeing the word "curlers" as among the specifically forbidden attire.

Some time later, when I lived at Fort Belvoir, I remember discussing the dress code with a fellow Army wife.  She scoffed at what she saw as the command's overreach.  I remember the commander had outlawed spandex with the explanation that some people "didn't need to be wearing it" in public.  While I agree that wearing spandex is ill advised for some people, what is and what isn't appropriate can sort of be in the eye of the beholder.  There was a time, however, when women who shopped at the commissary were supposed to wear dresses.  They weren't allowed to wear house coats, ratty pajama pants, or tank tops.  Men, likewise, were expected to look presentable and respectable.

Nowadays, a lot of people don't like the idea of being expected to dress to impress.  They will say they dress for comfort and screw anyone who doesn't like what they put on in the morning... or afternoon, as it were.  Hell, while I usually try to wear makeup if I'm going somewhere, if I'm sitting at home, I usually stay in my nightgown.  I like to be comfortable and rarely see anyone except the random people who ring my doorbell.  And I don't care if they're offended by my saggy, braless, boobs and bare face because #1., they were almost never invited to ring my bell and #2., my interaction with them is usually less than a minute.  You want me to look presentable when I answer the door?  Make an appointment.

In the article I linked above, there is a letter quoted by a man from Rhode Island who wanted yoga pants, leggings, and mini-skirts banned for people over age 20.  He wrote:

"Like the mini-skirt, yoga pants can be adorable on children and young women who have the benefit of nature's blessing of youth. However, on mature, adult women there is something bizarre and disturbing about the appearance they make in public," wrote Alan Sorrentino.

Well... I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that leggings, yoga pants, or mini-skirts are bizarre and disturbing on older women.  Some older women can pull them off just fine.  Unfortunately, it comes down to self-awareness and honesty with oneself... or, barring that, being able to take truthful, constructive advice from friends and loved ones.  Really.  I think a true friend will tell you kindly, but honestly, if your outfit is in poor taste or doesn't do a thing for you, as my mom would say.

My ex best friend was famously rude about some things, but I distinctly remember her telling me she liked a hideous pair of pants I tried on when we were shopping.  I'm 99% certain she was lying to me and secretly relishing the idea that I'd look ridiculous wearing them in public.  She was brutally candid with her opinions when she didn't need to be, but also a little too complimentary when she shouldn't have been.

At the time, I believed this ex bestie when she said the ugly knit pants "pulled my waist in" (bullshit!).  I wanted to believe her, of course.  At the time, I was obsessively worried about my weight and endlessly dieting to the point of stupidity.  I desperately wanted to believe that the smaller size I tried on actually fit and looked good, even if deep down, I probably knew the truth.  Yet she smiled at me and said I looked fine even as I continually pulled the pants out of my ass crack and squirmed as the inseams pulled irregularly at my thighs.

I know she was loving the thought of me sporting a camel toe or a wedgie while engaged in the business of the day.  A true friend would have said something to prevent that from happening.  Yes, it would have stung if she had said I should get something else, but it would have been the right thing to do.  That would have been the action of a real friend.

Years later, when my ex friend insulted my husband (saying he looked too old for me) while we were engaged, and then flirted outrageously with him at my wedding rehearsal (yes, the day before our wedding), I came to the very painful and obvious conclusion that she was never a true friend.  A true friend is not full of shit and won't want to see you publicly humiliated or embarrassed.  A true friend isn't abusive, cruel, or overly endowed with Schadenfreude.  A true friend has the other person's best interests at heart, even if it means a few minutes of awkwardness or embarrassment.  I would rather be humiliated for a couple of minutes in front of my friend who loves and appreciates me than embarrassed forever in front of other people who don't.

Anyway... I probably still look ridiculous most of the time.  I care less now than I did twenty years ago.  But at least I have given up spandex and curlers.

Tranny panties...

Yesterday, I found myself doing a little online impulse shopping.  First, I bought a couple of towels and a new duvet, which I've actually been wanting for awhile now.  The duvet we use right now has been loved a lot and is about ready for retirement.  Ditto for the towels.  I bought two new ones last year and the one I use regularly is wearing out.

I've hesitated buying a new duvet because European beds are not like U.S. beds.  I even toyed with getting a split duvet, but realized that would probably make sleeping with the dogs problematic.  Zane likes to burrow and probably wouldn't get the coverage he wants with a split duvet.  Anyway, yesterday I decided to pull the trigger and try out an online store I have never used before.

I found these new items on a site called URBANARA (don't know why they put it in all caps).   I thought it was a British site, since the Web address is British and I paid them in British sterling.  It turns out the company is based in Berlin.  So, within hours of placing the order, it was already on its way to me.  I should be getting it today, which is a good thing since I have to sign for it.  We are staying in a hotel in Stuttgart for the next couple of nights because we have tickets to see Sting in concert tomorrow.

After I bought my new linens, I moved on to underwear.  I didn't actually buy any undies yesterday because there is a specific kind I like.  You see, I have a big beer gut, so I don't like wearing briefs or anything that sits high on my waist.  I find that when I have high waisted underwear and I need to bend over, it ends up rolling down, which is very annoying.  I actually prefer bikinis or hipsters, underwear that sits just at the hip.  Unfortunately, the people who make underwear seem to think that if you wear over a certain size, you can't wear bikinis or hipsters.  There are, however, a couple of companies who make underwear that I like.  Alas, yesterday, they were out of stock.

I started looking around on to see what other underwear they had there and I ran across an interesting ad.  Warner's has an underwear ad featuring a woman who appears to be extremely thin.  But, even more interesting is the fact that the "woman" doesn't actually appear to be a woman on account of her very large, manlike hands.  Seriously... check out the big hands, veins, and body hair on that model.  If I didn't know better, I'd swear that model is biologically male, albeit one with a very well hidden package or perhaps post surgery.

I shared the photo on Facebook, but when you share it, another picture comes up.  It looks like the same model in a slightly more flattering pose.  The few friends who commented also said that the model's hands are unusually "mannish".  One person commented that the model looked like a meth addict.

Now... I have nothing at all against transgendered people.  I just question why a company would use a model who appears to be male in an ad for women's underwear.  Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but couldn't they have found someone who looks more feminine?  Even if they found another transgendered person who had slightly more flesh and less prominent hands and veins?  Failing that, couldn't they have done more editing of the photo so that it didn't look like a cadaver selling underpants?  How about a little airbrushing?

That picture did not make me want to purchase the product.  Looking around on Amazon, I see that other companies have used models who are clearly female with a bit more flesh on their bodies.  I think those ads are more attractive and they're probably more successful.

Moving on...

My Facebook discussion about the girls who were kicked off United Airlines continued yesterday as more people woke up in the USA.  One thing I noticed on that particular thread were that several people mentioned that the girls were flying on buddy passes.  Can I just say that I find it really annoying when people comment without reading what has already been established?

Seriously...  I know I'm cranky because I'm ragging, but how hard is it to take a minute or two to see if your point has already been made before you offer "more information"?  Maybe I'm just unusually sensitive to these things, like I am when someone plays harmonica over another person's vocals.  It's akin to chiming in on someone's conversation.  I am especially irritated when a person actually admits to not reading by saying, "I didn't read the comments, but..."

Well... if you aren't going to read the comments, what makes you think anyone cares what you have to say?  After all, you didn't care enough to read what they wrote, right?  When you take that attitude, you send the message that your time is more important than other people's.  That's not cool.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Girls get kicked off United flight for wearing leggings...

This morning, I saw an article about a couple of girls who were not allowed to fly on a United Airlines flight because they were wearing leggings.  A third girl was allowed to fly because she had a dress to wear over the forbidden garment.  I posted the article on Facebook because I know leggings are somewhat controversial among my friends.  I have a friend who always chants "Leggings are not pants." whenever this topic comes up.

It turns out the reason the girls were kicked off the flight was because they were flying on "buddy passes", which means they weren't paying customers.  United has a policy about how people who fly on buddy passes are to be dressed.  Evidently, leggings are not considered appropriate attire for people flying for free.

Personally, I don't think it's necessarily wrong for an airline to request buddy pass passengers to dress appropriately.  They aren't paying customers, so dressing nicely is a small price to pay.  On the other hand, bystanders who saw the girls being refused boarding might construe what was happening as harassment.  They wouldn't have known the girls weren't regular customers and might have felt the policy was too strict.  They might have even wondered if they were going to be treated the same way.

Another friend had an interesting conversation with me about this story.  He wishes people would dress up for travel.  I agree, it's nice when people dress well, but if airlines want people to dress nicely, they should make the experience of flying less like taking a bus.  Having flown coach a number of times, I know how dirty it can get back there.  I'm not sure I'd want to wear nice clothes if there's a chance I'll mess them up.  Moreover, flying is so uncomfortable that it seems silly to purposely make it less comfortable by wearing spiffy clothes.  Give my my yoga pants and shut up.

I don't mind leggings too much, as long as they aren't obscene looking or too loud.  Lately, I've noticed a trend among leggings fanatics to wear them in the loudest, weirdest patterns.  But I'd rather see someone in leggings than biker shorts.  I remember about 30 years ago, when they were all the rage.  They were hideous.

Fortunately for onlookers, I have no desire to wear leggings.  I gave them up in college... and probably should not have been wearing them then, either.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It's not nice to snark on the dead...

It's always interesting to see what posts will draw people to my blogs.  I have been writing this blog since March 2010 and over the years, have written some posts that have either drawn a lot of traffic or gotten people in a tizzy.  My post about Jessica McCord, for instance, was my most popular and contentious blog entry for years.  That was the first post on which I had to turn off comments, because it was attracting vile spew from the peanut gallery.

Since then, I have written about other people.  For a long time, my next most popular post was about the Hoveround guy whose ad was ubiquitous on TV a few years ago.  In that post, I wrote that I thought he was creepy.  At the time, I kind of did feel that way.  Much to my surprise, the actor who portrayed the Hoveround guy, Michael LeLand, found my blog and left a comment.  It was actually a gracious comment that included a link to YouTube and showed him doing some serious work.  I was impressed.  I still thought he was creepy on the Hoveround ad, but I thought it was cool that he took my snark in stride and showed me that he was just a regular dude on an ever airing commercial.  The ad is still irritating (and I don't see it in Germany), but LeLand won my respect.

Last night, I got a comment from someone indicating that Mr. LeLand recently passed away.  I went looking for evidence and didn't find any showing that he'd died.  I didn't find any obituaries and he still has a Facebook page that has recent public posts.  However, I did find that Mr. LeLand has apparently been in a lot of stuff besides the Hoveround ad and has an impressive theater pedigree.

The Hoveround chair offers freedom to the mobility challenged.

If he's dead, allow me to go on record to say that I'm sorry for his friends' and family's loss.  I became a fan when he left his comment and introduced me to his other work.  And I don't think he's creepy anymore, although I do think the ad is a bit creepy.  It probably made him some bank, though.

Another post that gets a lot of hits is one I wrote about Roger McDuff, who was a singer on TBN noted for his Q-tip like hairstyle.  I found Mr. McDuff entertaining, although not for his abilities as a singer.  I just thought he was fun to watch.  I wrote a snarky blog about him and compared him to Mike Farris, another singer whom I find very inspirational.

The post about McDuff was written in 2013.  Four years later, I got a bitter comment from someone who was upset that I busted on him and Betty Jean whatshername.  Why?  Because Roger McDuff recently died.  She accused me of showing "contempt".  

I don't know the specifics of why Roger McDuff died.  I'm sorry he passed away.  I didn't hate him.  I just snarked on him a few years ago, mainly because of his hair and his corny performance style.  I liked that he was game to perform, although I can't say I enjoyed his singing voice.  Other people obviously liked it, though, so what do I know?  I also think TBN is basically a sham network, although I did used to watch it for laughs.

I suppose my reaction to the commenter was puzzlement.  What was she expecting me to do?  First off, I didn't know McDuff had met his maker.  Secondly, that post has been up for years now.  Was she thinking I should take it down after Roger McDuff died?  Was she pissed off that I expressed myself that way on a blog?  Did she think that shaming me about writing that post was going to make me change my mind?


That hair...

This is a blog.  It's basically a reflection of me.  Not everyone likes me, and that's fine.  But if I only posted sunshine and light stuff, this blog would not get any hits.  It would also not be very authentic because I am not a sunshine and light kind of person.  I am not a bad person, but I'm certainly not perfect.  And sometimes, I snark.  Don't take it personally, because it's not personal.

In these two cases, the snark happened years before they passed through the pearly gates (if Mr. LeLand is, in fact, dead).  Everyone dies.  Someday, I'll die.  Maybe there will be snarky blog posts about me.  Maybe there already are snarky blog posts about me.  I don't know.  I don't deliberately go looking for things that will upset me.  So far, that plan has mostly worked well for me.  I figure if you put yourself out there-- whether it be through music, writing, acting, or being a politician-- you can expect some blowback and snark from people who don't understand who the person is/was.  Try to roll with the punches... or, failing that, don't read stuff that will rile you up.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I'm in a good mood today...

Despite my itchy boob...

I blogged on the travel blog about today's outing.  Other than that, I don't have too much to say...  I suppose I could write about how Trumpcare didn't pass, but I figure enough people are doing that.

So I guess I'll write something tomorrow.  Today, I'm going to enjoy the beautiful spring weather and the fact that we spent time enjoying it and some very good food.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hurry up and wait...

If you've spent any time around military people, you have no doubt heard certain catchphrases.  "Hurry up and wait" is one of them.  Basically, it means you're expected to be on time, but you'll spend all day waiting.  It's a common phenomenon in anything having to do with the government.

Yesterday, in a Facebook group, I asked who among the veterans enjoyed their "MEPS" experience.  MEPS (military entrance processing station), for those who don't know, is pretty much the first step everyone who enlists in the military must take before they are on active duty.  It's definitely a "hurry up and wait" situation, too, according to my veteran friends.  It's time spent being tested, evaluated, examined, and finally sworn in before your ass gets hauled off to basic training.

Of course, I have never experienced MEPS.  I only read about it years ago when I purchased a book called Guide to Joining the Military by LTC Scott A. Ostrow.  I had no intention of joining the military.  I was just interested in the process.  I read Dr. Ostrow's book (he was still a Mr. when I read it) and reviewed it on  To my great delight, Dr. Ostrow exchanged a few emails with me.  Every once in awhile, I would hear from people whose products I reviewed, which was a pretty great feature of writing on Epinions, besides the extra pocket money I made there.

It was interesting to read the stories of the MEPS experience.  Some people said it was hell. Some said it wasn't so bad and that the MEPS people were nicer than anyone else they encountered in the early days of their service.

Bill didn't go to MEPS when he first joined the Army.  He went to a now defunct military junior college and earned a commission.  Then he went to American University and finished his degree in international relations.

A few years later, Bill decided to leave active duty.  He had several reasons for making that decision.  The first was that the early years of his career didn't go so well.  He lacked confidence and was serving at a time when the military was being reduced.  It looked like he wouldn't be promoted beyond Captain.

Another reason he left was because his ex wife wanted him to take a civilian job.  She wanted to settle in a small town and not have the military tell them where they'd be living all the time.  I suspect that she was also threatened by Bill's career and the power it gave him.

So Bill dropped out of the Army, but joined the Reserves.  He took crappy shift work at factories.  First, he worked at a toy factory in Arkansas.  It didn't pay shit and the hours were terrible. Then he got a job working for a Whirlpool factory supervising a line where guys made refrigerator doors all day.  It was boring work, but paid much better (and was less corrupt) than the toy factory.  Both factories have been closed for years.

After a few miserable years working in factories with his fancy American University degree and his failing marriage, Bill decided to rejoin the Army full time.  Well... what actually happened was that the Army National Guard had a couple of slots open for Title X soldiers.  Basically, it meant being a full time member of the Guard.  He was just like any other soldier, except he was paid by the National Guard instead of the regular Army.  While he was in the Reserves, Bill was promoted to Major, so he entered the Guard at that rank.

Ex was not happy that Bill decided to go back into the Army.  However, because he was in the Army, he made more money and got much better benefits.  As their marriage disintegrated, she took full advantage of the much better salary he was making.  When I met Bill, he had just gotten back into the military and was living on about $600 a month.  The rest of the money went to his ex wife, who squandered it.

As part of the process of going back into the Army full time, Bill had to go to a MEPS.  He said he was basically treated like he was 18 years old, even though he was in his 30s and a field grade officer at the time.  He finally had to point out to the staff that he was already in the Army and just needed to get some documentation done.  At that point, their demeanor changed.

From what I've heard, MEPS involves some humiliation as referenced in the picture below...

Of course, the dude in the picture wouldn't be talking to his mom right afterwards.  From what I understand, MEPS is basically the last step before you head off to basic, wherever that may be.

There are also lots of rules and regulations to follow.  Like, you can't go out and get loaded the night before.  If you're in a hotel room paid for by the government, you'll probably be sharing your room.  All your meals will be paid for, but any extras are on you.  That means no porn viewing on the government's dime.

Anyway... the prospect of MEPS is enough to scare me away from joining up, not that they'd want me in the military at my advanced age.  The Peace Corps medical exam was intense enough for me.  I have no desire to do it again.  But I am glad Bill went to MEPS where he hurried up and waited.  His time in the Army has been pretty good to me.  At least I get to see the world, right?  And now that he's retired, I don't have to worry about him going to a war zone anymore.

If you want to enlist, I recommend reading LTC Ostrow's handy guide.  Chances are, if you email him with questions, he'll respond.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"I can't help how you feel..."

Today's blog post is inspired by something Bill's ex wife used to say to him whenever he mustered the courage to complain about her behavior.  When they'd have a disagreement, he would try to tell his ex how he felt.  She usually responded with, "I can't help how you feel, Bill."

I remember how Bill sounded when he first told me she'd said that to him.  He'd adopted a cold, almost snarky tone to his voice.  If you knew Bill, you'd know that when he's snarky, it's always in a playful, cute way.  But when he was imitating his ex wife, he'd adopt this mocking tone in his voice.  By the way he imitated her, I could tell that she plainly didn't care about Bill's feelings.  She only cared about her own feelings.

Of course, Bill's ex wife would shriek like a banshee when she was offended by something Bill said or did.  I remember years ago, when she was still trying to maintain control of Bill, she'd send him emails full of shaming and recrimination about all of the things Bill did or didn't do, or said or didn't say, that made her life worse.

Yesterday, Dr. Tara Palmatier, a "shrink for men" and co-author of the book Say Goodbye to Crazy, posted a great "red flag" meme about personality disordered people like Bill's ex wife.  Bill's ex would never apologize for anything.  She expected people to bow down and kiss her ass or even flat out grovel, which Bill did a few times.  On the rare occasions when she did offer an apology, it was always followed by the word "but".

"I'm sorry, but what do you expect?"

"I'm sorry, but I can't help how you feel."

"I'm sorry, but you shouldn't say or do such stupid things."

Or she would share the blame.  "We both did things we shouldn't have."

Never did she ever offer any true indication that she was remorseful.  Never did she take any responsibility for her part in the many messes of their relationship.

I'm writing about this today, not necessarily because I'm feeling upset.  I'm actually not.  In fact, lately I've been feeling pretty well recovered.  I'm not even that angry with Bill's ex kids anymore.  I still think they're assholes, but I don't seethe with rage like I did a few months ago.  In fact, I could say I'm actually feeling empathy toward them, even if I still wouldn't want to have a glass of Kool-Aid with them (no coffee, tea, or alcohol for Mormons).  I hate to admit it, but maybe it was a good thing that Bill's ex kid showed up in Bill's "people you may know" section on Facebook.  He did get a rather lame apology from younger kid, but it's better than nothing.  At least she didn't express the same vile hatred she did eleven years ago, when she demanded that he give her up for adoption.

I'm writing about this today more because I know there are a lot of people stuck in relationships with people like Bill's ex.  In fact, right now, the whole world is dealing with a massive narcissist.  Donald Trump is probably one of the biggest ones any of us will ever encounter in our lifetimes.

I don't want to say that a person is never right when they say, "I can't help how you feel."  Sometimes, if you're dealing with someone who whines incessantly or tries to blame you for everything that ever goes wrong, it's right to say that.  However, just like "tough love" and the concept of "rock bottom", that statement can be bastardized into something very toxic.

It's healthy to say, "I can't help how you feel." to a person who tries to make you responsible for all of their hurts.  It's abusive to say it when a person tries to hold you accountable for your part in a bad situation.  Moreover, I'm pretty sure that if Bill had turned that phrase around on his ex wife, she would have hollered like a stuck pig.  The words "How dare you?" would probably be uttered, followed by a lengthy diatribe of insults and uncontrollable rage.

You see, narcissists are the only people in their own worlds who are allowed to have grievances.  And anyone in their world who tries to hold them accountable will be shamed, ridiculed, abused, and demoralized until they either run away or submit.  I write about "I can't help how you feel" to remind anyone out there reading this that in almost any situation, there's blame to go around.  And if someone regularly diminishes or discounts your feelings because they can't help how you feel, they are probably not worth your time.

Anyway... below is a link to Dr. T's excellent book.  I recommend it to anyone, especially men, who deal with an abusive partner.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not everything needs to be debated...

Yesterday, I shared a funny comic I saw on Facebook.  For those who don't want to click the link, it's a depiction of Donald Trump watching Sesame Street.  In the picture, Big Bird is standing there and the caption reads, "Hey Donald, today's letters are..." Big Bird is holding a sign that has the letters F and U.

I shared that comic without comment because I thought it was funny.  Many of my friends did, too.  But then, as the sun began to set here in Germany, I got a comment from one of Bill's military friends.  This guy openly admits that he didn't vote.  In fact, he said he never votes because he's in the military and feels he should be apolitical.  Fair enough.  

Anyway, this friend of Bill's apparently supports defunding PBS.  He posted this comment.

So when you grew up and your parents stopped paying for everything did you tell them "F U" also?
It's a funny meme but has no basis in reality

My response to his comment was a flat "Whatever."

He persisted with this comment.

Yea......"Whatever" I want the millions of dollars that were spent on it in the past few years back.....

I wrote, "If I could, I would tell the entire Trump administration to fuck off for many, many reasons. But I posted this merely because I think it's funny, not because I'm interested in debating."

That comment was apparently not enough to send the hint that I didn't feel like a debate.  So he wrote this.

I's hard to be objective when petty and hate are all you want to focus's pretty common these days.....

To my surprise, a number of friends had my back.  Even Bill chimed in, which he rarely does because he doesn't like to appear to be fighting my battles for me.  He thinks I'm better at it, anyway.  But Bill's buddy eventually came back after a few folks explained how he could make it so he doesn't see my posts.  He wrote this.

I got the satire Bill, even stated it:
"It's a funny meme but has no basis in reality"
But the reality is that its getting old and it's particularly starting to bother me about this double standard.

Even Amy stated that its the same sentiment.....
A program that was provided funding for years no longer needed it as it is now commercially successful was shut off as part of an effort to control Trillions of $$$$ of debt spending.
But Trump is a jackass for making a smart decision and taking steps to control it?  
Yea, I want the money back that Obama and Bush spent on funding PBS while it pulled a fucking profit. Go on and take a portion of your retirement pay, put it in a fucking hole in the ground and burn it.
I chuckled at the meme but let's be clear, this is part of the problem; the President has made himself an easy target but in reality he is making some very real decisions that make sense but this is the exact kind of thing that works counter to it and is the reason our Government continues to waste Billions of dollars on shit that does not need it.

I'm perfectly aware of how to unfollow or unfriend Jenny but it's not necessary, Facebook goes both ways and you can post anything you like but people get to comment on it.
Thats how a discussion works!
But "whatever"

I left one more comment.  It was this.

You commented, and I told you I wasn't wanting a debate. I can do that on my page if I want to.

A lot of people seem to think that if you post something on Facebook, it invites commentary.  I don't necessarily disagree with that.  If I post something and you leave a comment, generally speaking, I won't delete what you've written, even if it's offensive.  But your decision to leave a comment doesn't compel me to have a discussion or debate with you.  And, if I say I don't want to debate, I mean it.

There are some people on Facebook with whom I will have discussion, even though I almost never agree with them.  Those people are folks who regularly interact with me on things other than politics.  They are mostly people who have proven that they have some respect for me as a person and aren't just wanting to engage in intellectual masturbation on social media.  I don't actually know Bill's friend that well.  I've met him a few times and Bill likes him a lot.  I think he's funny, but he never interacts with me as a general rule.  So I was a bit taken aback when he tried to rope me into a debate when I made it clear that I wasn't interested.

When it comes to Donald Trump, debates with me are utterly pointless.  I think he's a vile, despicable man.  He lost me forever when he bragged about sexually assaulting women.  I do not think he should be president.  I do not have any respect for him.  No matter what, it's HIGHLY unlikely that I can look at him as anything better than a lowlife scumbag.  So debating with me about his value as president is a complete waste of time.  

Some people felt the same way about Bill Clinton and George Bush.  I never had feelings of hatred this strong about either of them, despite what went on in the White House when they were in charge.  To me, Trump is a different beast.  It does no good to appeal to my sense of fairness when it comes to him.  I just plain despise him.  I realize that he's the president and we're stuck with him for now, but I don't have to like it.

Something else some of my friends may not realize is that I am not in the same time zone as most of them are.  So while their day is gearing up and they're online, feeling full of fire, I am sitting on the couch with Bill watching TV.  I am not at my computer, although I do have my iPad (mainly because I like to play games while I watch TV).  I don't want to get into a debate with someone at 8:00pm because I'll be going to bed soon.  If I'm on my iPad, typing responses isn't that easy.    

I grew up on PBS.  I realize Sesame Street is no longer on PBS, but Sesame Street will always be associated with public TV.  I do think it's worthwhile to support things like education, healthcare, arts, culture, and yes...  good TV for children.  I think I have the right to state that without entering into an argument.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No... castration is NOT the same as a vasectomy...

Today's blog post is brought to you by a dumb comment from an American that I read today.  Here it is.

The difference is males only have their furballs snipped off. Females have their insides removed. Imagine the difference between a human male having a vasectomy and a woman having a hysterectomy. One is done at an office visit the other is full-blown surgery. The males always have it easier 

The above comment is in reference to a thread in a local Facebook group about dogs getting "fixed".  I have mentioned before on at least one of my blogs that here in Germany, animals aren't as likely to be spayed or neutered.  More than once, a European has been confused when looking at Zane's and Arran's genitals.  They expect to see testicles hanging there and are surprised when they don't see them.  Nevertheless, we Americans are all over spaying and neutering, to the point at which some people are very nonchalant about the surgery, particularly for male animals.

Now... I totally understand why Americans tend to be hyper-vigilant about spaying and neutering their pets.  We have a serious problem with pet overpopulation in the United States.  A lot of rescues and animal shelters require that any animal adopted through them is spayed or neutered.  It's very common for an American dog or cat to be "fixed" well before they have fully matured.

In Europe, many vets recommend waiting until the pet is fully grown before spaying and neutering.  This is because sex organs provide hormones that are necessary for normal development.  Moreover, there is evidence that dogs that are fixed too soon may be at an increased risk of developing cancer.  Surprisingly enough, in Norway, it's actually illegal to spay or neuter unless there is a medical reason to do so.  

I've been learning more about spaying and neutering lately because four of my dogs have had cancer at relatively young ages.  In the course of learning about spaying and neutering, I found out that dogs can get vasectomies and ovary sparing spays.  And those procedures leave the reproductive system in the animal, but make it impossible for them to breed.  Vasectomies and ovary sparing spays have their drawbacks.  For instance, if a male dog gets a vasectomy, he'll still have sexual urges and it will take some time for him to get rid of all of his sperm.  But, he won't be able to father puppies and will still have those hormones produced by his sexual organs.  Female dogs who have an ovary sparing spay will still act like they are in heat and will be attractive to intact male dogs, but they won't have any significant discharge.

Anyway, I suppose I could have responded to the above comment in our American group with the above information.  In fact, I was very tempted to do that.  Ultimately, I decided not to chime in to that lady's comment because this is a rather controversial subject and I don't want to spend the rest of the day arguing with people about it.  So I'm posting here, because I feel compelled to vent my spleen.

Besides the fact that castration and vasectomy are definitely not the same procedure, I guess I was just taken aback that this lady is so blase about a dog having his "furballs snipped off".  I guess castration is a "walk in the park" if they aren't your balls being removed.  However, while a female dog gets internal parts removed and that's certainly not easy, I hesitate to dismiss what the poor male dog goes through when he gets castrated.  Obviously, if you're a person, you don't know how the dog feels.  But, if you're a human male and you have your nuts cut off, wouldn't that be kind of traumatic?  What human male would prefer having his testicles completely removed as opposed to a vasectomy?

For the record, I am in favor of spaying and neutering.  I certainly don't like the idea of dogs being put down because no one wants them.  I just think it's time Americans rethink when they get that procedure done on their pets.  I also think more vets should offer alternative procedures that allow the animals to retain their sex organs as opposed to completely desexing them.  

Although we have a significant problem with teen pregnancy in our country, it would be ridiculous to suggest sterilizing teenagers at risk for reproducing too early.  Why?  Because it's unethical and potentially unhealthy.  As a matter of fact, if you're a human adult under a certain age, many doctors won't want to do a tubal ligation or vasectomy on you because someday, you might want to have children.  Even if you seriously wanted to get yourself "fixed", there's a good chance that your physician will try to discourage you from doing it unless you've already had kids or are over a certain age.     

Naturally, dogs and cats are not the same as human beings.  We do have a terrible problem with pet overpopulation.  However, I submit that animals have reproductive organs for a biological reason, just like humans do.  And while not every pet needs to reproduce, they do have a need for those body parts that we so carelessly remove when the animal is still growing.

Off my soapbox now...  although I still badly want to shake that woman and ask her if she thinks any creature with balls thinks that having them "snipped off" is no big deal.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

You MUST always be nice... or else, you're a bitch.

This topic is on my mind this morning, mainly due to a rant I just wrote about on my music blog.  The incident that prompts today's rant has already been fully described there, so if you want to read about it, you can read about it on the music blog.  Here, I will simply write about this topic in general.

Have you noticed that many Americans place a HUGE value on being "nice"?  As a culture, we smile a lot.  We're mostly friendly.  This is especially true among women, who are expected to be nice over all other things.

I don't actually have a problem with being nice, as long as the behavior is genuine.  I genuinely like being around most people and I value kindness.  I try to be kind when I can.  However, there are times when someone does something that doesn't make me want to be kind or nice.  Sometimes, people say or do things that are annoying.  I would prefer to be honest and tell them they are annoying, but because of my programming as an American, I feel like it's safer to be nice.

Well... here's the problem with always being nice.  Sometimes, people need to be called out on bad behavior.  You can be nice when you call someone out, but there are times when nice doesn't cut it.  If you don't send a strong message, the message gets lost and you have to repeat it.  When the real message eventually comes out, it's liable to be more hurtful than it could have been.  And you've also wasted a lot of time and energy trying to be nice and not getting your message across.

One thing I like about Germany is that people here tend to be more blunt about things.  I will admit that when I first came here, it was a shock to be yelled at by a stranger (and it's happened more than once).  It was a rude awakening to have some random German snarl at me about something I did, mainly out of ignorance.  I couldn't understand what they were saying, either, which made things worse.

But then, after awhile, I came to realize that being honest and blunt is often a time saver.  Because if you address something from the get go, there are usually fewer misunderstandings.  You are less likely to find yourself in a situation where you let things slide so much that you end up exploding.  I would rather deal with someone being firm and/or stern one time than hanging around with someone who is faking being nice and is actually pissed off.  Then, when they reach the end of their proverbial rope, they go off and you're left wondering WTF!

Some people find it easier to be "nice" than others.  Bill's ex wife, for instance, has the ability to sound sugar sweet when she's dealing with people.  However, Bill's ex wife is, underneath that layer of sweet bullshit, actually a very nasty and dangerous person.  She can sell ice to Eskimos (or so Bill has told me), but she has an agenda and is dishonest the vast majority of the time.  So you may think she's fabulous when you first meet her, but then after awhile, you start to see what's under the layer of sweetness.  It ain't pretty, folks.

I am definitely not as sweet as ex is.  I tend to "go ugly early", as Bill would put it.  However, I am also not nearly as fake as she is.  What you see is mostly what you get.  You might not always appreciate what I have to say, but most of the time, you can bet that what I've said is how I feel.  And you will know where you stand.  The exception to this rule is on SingSnap, where if you don't tell everyone who joins you how great they are, people think you're horrible.

I think being kind while being honest is a big challenge, although that is what people should probably strive hardest to do.  Have some regard for the person's feelings, but tell them the truth plainly and assertively.  Unfortunately, our culture doesn't do enough to teach people how to be assertive.  In our culture, most people are too "nice"... which doesn't always translate to "kind".  In fact, it's usually easier and lazier to always be nice.  You don't risk upsetting the person, but you also don't communicate effectively and sometimes you even end up lying.  I don't like liars.

In our culture, especially in some sub-cultures such as the military, we also have a problem with people being too aggressive.  There are some people who don't have a problem with simply steamrolling or bullying people to get what they want.  Those are the people who are loud, threatening, and "in your face".  They don't communicate with respect.  The person who bitched me out on SingSnap last month and accused me of being "full of myself" and "lacking character" was being aggressive, rather than assertive.  She did not respond to me with reason or respect.  So my reaction to her was simply to banish her from my world.  Who's got the time for people like that?  Other people might have taken her comments to heart, which would be a tragedy.  Because if you have to be so aggressive with strangers, it's likely that you yourself are a wounded child who could use kindness and assertiveness.  And no one deserves to feel like crap because of someone else's psychic wounds.

It's a challenge to be kind without being too "nice".  More of us, particularly in the United States, could probably stand to learn more about being assertive-- honest, but basically kind and respectful.  Unfortunately, even if you're assertive, people will still think you're a bitch.  Especially if you're female.  That's my Monday morning rant.  Hopefully, things will get better as the day wears on.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Facebook purge...

I don't know why, but every once in awhile, I clean out my Facebook friends list.  It usually happens after someone unfriends me, which someone did the other day.  For some reason, that prompts me to go through my list and see if there are any people I need to drop.

When I do a purge, I usually just drop people I never talk to or who I know have died.  I know at least two of the people I purged yesterday were people who had passed away and I had never met either of them in person.  Next, I removed several people with whom I'd had contentious arguments.  For instance, I finally deleted ...tom... and Papa Smurf, two guys who have inspired me to write several negative blog posts.

I also deleted a couple of people with inactive accounts and a few people who haven't posted in over a year.  I usually don't do that right away because sometimes those people come back.  But one person I unfriended was an aunt who never posts on Facebook.  I will admit, though, that I didn't unfriend my Uncle Carl, who died in early 2015.  I'll probably do that eventually.

I have to admit to feeling somewhat guilty about unfriending people, which seems kind of silly when you think about it.  Facebook has kind of changed the way people communicate, though.  It used to be you could do the slow fade away.  Now it takes breaking ties online.

Truthfully, I kind of admire people like Bill and my sisters, who keep their friends lists very small.  That's probably the best thing to do.  There may come a day when I cut a lot more people.  In fact, I could do that today and not miss most of them at all.  Sadly, Facebook has kind of turned a lot of relationships into something a lot less meaningful than they might have been.

I recently read an interesting blog post written by a guy who analyzed the whole unfriending phenomenon on Facebook.  He wrote about how deleting "dead wood" actually improved his experience a lot, since he found he was engaging more with people he actually cares about.  He says that even deleting one or two people will change the look of your feed.  You start rediscovering people you used to know.  Or you start having more meaningful interactions with people.

A couple of days ago, I had 515 Facebook friends.  I now have 492.  I could probably have fewer friends and be just as happy if not moreso...  But I guess, having grown up at a time when you had to talk to people to be friends with them, it's just hard to let go.

The Fade Away...  a song about breaking up.

And Happy Birthday to my loose acquaintance...  a song about the Facebook experience.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Yet another Duggar babe...

Evidently, Josh and Anna have another baby on the way.  It's a boy, their fifth child, who is due sometime this year.  I doubt TLC will be showing the birth, so we will be spared seeing the poor lad being born on the toilet.

If we're keeping score, that means this year Boob and Michelle will have three new grandsons.  Jessa's second boy was born last month.  Jill is due in July with a baby boy.  And Josh will have a new boy sometime soon.  Add in the fact that Joy Anna is engaged and Joseph is courting and you know TLC will be working hard filming the oversized brood.

I'm sure it won't be long until Jeremy and Jinger start babymaking, too...  It's enough to make you want to puke.  It's like the Duggar family is exploding all over the place.

Facts and Figures...

I loved this book, even if it was hopelessly dated in the 70s and 80s.

I am the youngest of four daughters.  There is an eight year gap between me and my next oldest sister.  Even though there is a large gap between my sisters and me, I inherited a lot of their stuff when I was growing up.  One of my favorite hand-me-downs was a book called The Golden Book of Facts and Figures.  Published in 1962 by The Golden Press, this book was loaded with information that was accurate circa 1962.  I was fascinated by it.

I don't have that book anymore, but I did find a fun blog post about it yesterday.  Click here to see a picture of the book and its innards.  You will see that there were many colorful pictures on a huge array of topics.  I remember reading about everything from U.S. presidents (up until 1962, anyway), the five senses, zoology, astronomy, and anatomy.

I'm pretty sure my favorite part of the book was the part about the planets.  The author, Bertha Morris Parker, had constructed a chart that offered a visual comparison about what the planets were like (as they understood them in 1962).  One of the columns in the chart was the question "Capable of sustaining human life?"  For each of the planets, there was the word "no", except for Venus.  Apparently, in 1962, there was a belief that someday we might be able to live on Venus.  I find that hilarious now, but when I was a child, it opened up a whole realm of fantasies and possibilities.  I remember marveling at the idea that someday I could visit Venus.

I also loved reading about carnivorous plants, which if I recall correctly, was a subject that was covered in this book.  I loved looking at the illustrations of Venus Fly Traps and Pitcher plants, plants that would trap and eat hapless bugs that got caught in them.  I remember having my curiosity piqued by the subjects within this book and wishing I had more information.  I guess, in a sense, that's what made this book so good.  It whetted my appetite for learning and made me want to know more.  And that required looking for other sources of information, which is one of the best ways to learn something new.

At some point, my copy of this book disappeared.  I'm sorry it's gone, because I distinctly remember drawing and writing all over the inside cover.  I remember drawing a crude picture of a naked woman and writing mild expletives.  It was very childlike and I'm not really sure what possessed me to defile that book in such a way.  I think one of my sisters might have drawn in it first and I just decided to follow suit with my own artistic and verbal renderings.  Even those crude drawings remind me of something else from the past, though.

In my grandmother's house, there was a little closet under the stairs.  When my cousins and I were little kids, we used that closet as a fort/clubhouse of sorts.  I was usually on the fringes of the "cool clique" at Granny's house and was relegated to playing with my younger cousins, who have since grown up to be very cool people, but back then were strictly B List.  I remember my cousins and I wrote on the walls of that closet, just as I wrote on the inside of my book.  Many years later, my uncle remodeled the closet and removed our childlike graffiti.  I wish he'd left the graffiti, since that house has been in our family for probably 70 years or more.  My dad was actually buried near the house for about a year until my mom moved him to the family church's cemetery.  I guess she worried that someday, no one in the family would own the house anymore.

I'm not sure what made me think of Facts and Figures yesterday.  I guess the older you get, the more things like that pop into your head and you start feeling nostalgic.  I'm almost tempted to see if I can buy another copy of this book and relive the wonder.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Amount owed... $0.00

Yesterday, I paid off my last credit card.  This is the first time since the mid 1990s that I haven't owed anything on a credit card.  I had to pay them off before I went in the Peace Corps, but then halfway through my time there, it became possible to get cash advances from ATMs.  That's what I did those last months to stay afloat... and to be honest, I was pretty tired of not having enough money.  My mom kept the minimum payments up for me.  Then I went to Europe after the Peace Corps and ran it up to a couple thousand bucks, which seemed insane at the time.

The years after the Peace Corps were financially challenging.  I didn't make a lot of money and went off to graduate school, where I became more indebted.  Then I married Bill, who was broke.  It wasn't until about 2007 that things started getting better for us financially.  He went to Iraq and earned extra pay.  I put it toward paying off his debts and reducing my debts.  Then we went to Germany the first time, where we got extra money for utilities that we never used.  I used that extra money to pay off one card and pay down another.

Last time we were here, I also talked Bill into refinancing our car loan.  It wasn't easy to do that, because he was still very ashamed of his financial nightmare history with his ex wife.  They had gone through bankruptcy and foreclosure and he was afraid if we tried to refinance, we'd be turned down.  As it turned out, PenFed was only too happy to refinance our car loan at a much more reasonable interest rate.  Suddenly, our $500 payments to Toyota Motor Corporation were cut in half and going to PenFed.  When we bought me a new car in 2009, they financed that loan, too.  And we paid both cars off early.  We are still driving both of them.

By the time we left Germany in 2009, I had almost paid off my second credit card.  But then we got to Georgia and I decided to buy a bedroom set because I didn't want to sleep on an air mattress for a month.  I also bought us a refrigerator because the house we rented didn't have one.  Up went the bill again and it's taken me since then to get it completely paid off.  I was getting close when we were in Texas, but then I had to use it to pay for moving expenses.

When we got back to Germany in 2014, my bill was well over $10,000.  It's taken me a couple of years to get rid of the debt.  Until recently, we were spending over $1500 a month on my two credit cards alone, aggressively attacking that debt.  Now that money can be used to pay off Bill's credit card.  Then we'll put the extra money into savings so we can finally buy our own house someday.

I will probably incur new debt in May because that's when we're paying off our next cruise.  But I already have some money saved to pay down that bill.  Aside from that, Bill told me last night to up my student loan payments.  I am already paid ahead by almost $13,000, but with this new aggressive payment schedule, I will probably have that debt paid off in about two years... if we are able to keep it up for that long.  Once that debt is gone, it'll be GONE.  We won't have to worry about it anymore.

I've learned that it really does make sense to "pay yourself first", if you can.  Put money in savings and pay more than the minimum on debts when possible.  For instance, when I started paying down debts, I started small.  I added another $20 to my student loan payment.  It wasn't much, but pretty soon, that massive loan payment started to look more whittled.  Gradually, as we could afford it, I added more to my extra payments.  Instead of $20, I paid an extra $50.  And so on and so on until the extra money became very substantial and really started making a dent in the loan.

I am now paying quadruple what that initial minimum payment was in 2007 (granted, the minimum payment did balloon in 2011).  My original minimum payment before the balloon was $180.  In 2011, the minimum payment went up to $389, but I was already paying close to that voluntarily and was paid ahead on the loan.  It wasn't too painful to adjust to the new minimum payment and before long, I was paying significantly more on the minimum for that, too.  As of last night, I'm voluntarily paying $1000 a month so I can get rid of the debt sooner.

The faster you pay off the loan, the cheaper the loan ends up being and the more you can afford to pay it off sooner.  If all goes according to plan and I succeed in paying off that loan in two years, I will have finished about eight years ahead of schedule.  That's a lot of interest we won't have to pay.

Of course, there is no way in hell I would have been able to accomplish this goal without Bill's cooperation.  When I told him what it would take to finish paying for grad school, he told me to go for it.  I told him I wouldn't divorce him when the last payment goes through.  Of course I'm kidding.  I wouldn't divorce him anyway.  He's an amazing guy.

We've been blessed with good luck and good health.  Parental alienation also spared us from having to put Bill's ex kids through college.  The military lifestyle spared us from having a mortgage.  And it's only a matter of time before I owe again.  But for now, I will enjoy being more debt free.  It's a good feeling.

It may take time and effort to develop the mindset of paying yourself first and paying off debt faster, but it really works in getting finances under control.  After awhile, saving and paying ahead becomes less painful and more rewarding.  That's my pearl of wisdom for the day.

ETA: I wrote about this topic in 2013, too.  At that point, I was only $4000 ahead on my student loan.

Moving on...

Yesterday's topic was revisited on Facebook when a woman, who is not American but is apparently married to one, wrote that she agreed with the German journalist that Americans are building too much on Panzer Kaserne.  She basically wrote a post shaming Americans for being wasteful and ungrateful for Germany's gracious hospitality.  A huge, all day thread began.  It's still sort of continuing.  The funny thing is, almost no one arguing about the new commissary that is slated to be built will ever shop there.  By the time it's operational, most of them will have probably moved on to their next station.  As for Bill and me, I don't know.  I have a feeling we could be in Germany for a long time if we don't get kicked out over Trump's antics.

Again... amazing what passes for controversial in these parts.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

German journalist doesn't understand American construction projects...

Every once in awhile, Americans living abroad and affiliated with the U.S. military get reminded of what the natives are thinking.  Yesterday, I read a news article (in German, but you can read it translated on Google Chrome) that indicated that some Germans aren't quite sure WTF is up with us.  A journalist noted that at Panzer Kaserne, which is one of the four installations in the Stuttgart area, there's a lot of building going on.  We have a fairly new PX/BX (basically a department store), a new hotel (was being constructed in 2009 as Bill and I were leaving the first time), a new high school (opened in 2015), and in a couple of years, there will be a much needed new commissary (we have one on each of the local four installations, but they each kind of suck).  The old commissaries will be closed in lieu of just one on one installation.

The journalist thinks all of this building is superfluous and will cause Americans not to patronize German businesses.  He laments the traffic problems caused by the construction.  It's true, the traffic near Panzer sucks, but it sucks all over the area and it's certainly not just the Americans' fault.  It's pretty obvious that the journalist hasn't actually spoken to any people affiliated with the U.S. military, but is simply using deductive reasoning to come to his conclusions.

A German guy in our local Facebook group shared this news article with the military community and the comments from Americans were fast and furious.  So he ended up sending the journalist an email and they had a conversation on the phone.  The German guy concluded that the journalist wasn't very well-informed about what the construction is for, or how Americans feel about living in Germany.  However, he did say that the conversation was good and the journalist seemed interested in getting some input from actual Americans.  So here's my attempt at clearing the air for any Germans who happen to be reading this.

First of all, many Americans prefer German stores to buying what is available on the installations.  The commissary, in particular, gets a lot of complaints.  Yes, it sells a lot of American products that we're used to, but the food there is not always very fresh.  The dairy and produce sections, in particular, are often pretty terrible.  If you want fresh fruits, vegetables, or milk, it's really best to go to a German store or hell, even a farm!  Of course, going to a German store requires cultural sensitivity, since Germans don't do things the way Americans do.  For instance, you need to bring or buy your own bags.  The cashier doesn't bag for you, nor are there people employed to bag.  And it helps to speak some German, although that isn't compulsory.  

But really, the concern that Americans won't shop at German stores is ludicrous.  Even if I wanted to shop on the installations for everything I need, it would require a lot of time sitting in traffic.  We don't live close.  I do shop online for a lot of things and often get things through the U.S. mail/APO system.  But I also buy stuff from German online vendors and, personally, I never bother to use a VAT form to get the 19% sales tax back.  I've even started buying electronics with European plugs because unlike last time, we could be living in Germany for a long while.  Besides, every military installation run by Americans has certain basic services like commissaries and AAFES.  That's true the whole world over, at least for the time being.

Secondly, the guy complains about the new hotel.  I'm not sure he understands that as Americans rotate in and out of Germany, there is a transition period.  We are coming from the United States or Asia or anywhere else military personnel go.  It takes time to find a place to live or get settled in an apartment on one of the installations.  We could stay in German hotels, and Bill and I actually did that both times we moved here, but it's not very conducive to live in a regular hotel when you have kids and pets.  There is a need to be close to the installations to get your business taken care of, especially when you don't have access to a car.  Also, consider that it can take many weeks to find housing.  

Our first time here back in 2007, we lived in a shitty German hotel for six weeks.  That was six weeks of living in a little hotel room with two loud dogs and eating out for almost every meal.  The room did have a mini fridge, but that was it.  We had to go out to wash clothes, eat, or even use the Internet (the hotel didn't have WiFi).  It wasn't fun.  Our second time here, we were in a hotel for one week and then moved into a temporary apartment, which was somewhat better.  But you can't always find temporary apartments and, again, if you don't have access to a car, living far away from the installations is a problem.  So the new hotel at Panzer is a God send for people because it allows them to get their shit together without too much of a plunge into culture shock and inconvenience.  The rooms are set up for people who need to stay awhile and close to where the new arrivals will work.

Thirdly, the guy complains about the new school.  This, to me, was the most ridiculous of his complaints.  What the hell does he expect American kids to do for their educations?  Most of them don't speak German.  Some people do put their very young kids in German schools, but if you have a high school student taking chemistry, you can't expect to put them in a local German school and see them actually succeed.  Moreover, Americans don't pay German taxes, so they don't support the local schools.  Some areas have stopped allowing American kids to use the local schools due to the fact that we don't pay German taxes.  And most of us will only be here a few years anyway.  We aren't immigrating.  So yes, there is a need for decent schools for American kids, who will certainly be going back to the United States and will need to be integrated into the U.S. system.  That being said, there are some people who do use international schools for their kids, since if you aren't military or government, you have to pay tuition at the U.S. schools.  If Bill and I had a child, he or she would probably go to a private school or be homeschooled (which Americans are only allowed to do if they aren't regular residents-- otherwise, homeschooling is illegal in Germany).    

I'm not sure the journalist understands that many Americans live on the economy.  They eat at German restaurants, use German doctors, rent from German landlords (and often pay more rent than Germans do), and a whole lot of us actually like it that way (except for the paying more for housing part).  The construction may seem unnecessary and like it will take away from German interests, but trust me, Germans are making money off of Americans.  There are some Americans who don't want to deal with living in Germany and stay behind the gates of the installations, but many of us are having a good time here and spending our money.  It would probably do our hosts some good to actually have a conversation with us before assuming that we don't want to assimilate based on new construction at Panzer Kaserne.       

Americans have been living in Germany for many, many years.  Although our footprint is shrinking yearly, there are still quite a lot of Americans who live in certain parts of Deutschland.  It seems we generally get along with our hosts fairly well.  Either side is usually too polite to do much "in your face" griping.  Even if we did do that, there's a chance neither would understand the other.  I, for one, am grateful we got to come back here a second time.  This time, I'm finding living in Germany more rewarding than it was the first time.  But yeah, I think it helps for people to be more culturally sensitive all the way around.  That goes for Americans and Germans alike.