Monday, December 31, 2018

"Slow down there, Dependa..."

Last night, I was reading the comments on an article posted by the Army Times about retired General Stanley McChrystal, who warns about Trump's plans to cut troops in Afghanistan.  I honestly don't know why I read the article, since this isn't really a topic that interests me.  I think I read it because I recognized McChrystal's name.  But anyway, as usual, I ignored the little voice in my head that always tells me to avoid reading the comments on news articles posted on Facebook, particularly by military types.

It's no secret that a lot of military folks are die hard Republicans, even though the military lifestyle is a study in socialism.  The government provides servicemembers all sorts of benefits ranging from housing to medical to educational.  And yet, many of these people are typically politically conservative.  While there are many military servicemembers who are intelligent and thoughtful, and they vote for people over political parties, there are a lot of others who are doggedly persistent in voting for parties over people.  Consequently, we end up with immoral and incompetent morons like Donald Trump as our president.

Adding insult to injury is the pervasive stupidity and sexism among some servicemembers.  I see comment after comment, typically by insecure men, demeaning people whose opinions don't line up with their world views.  More than one male laments how the Army Times is becoming "liberal", simply because like most other legitimate news sources, it doesn't heap praise on Donald Trump or his cronies.  And if one points out some of Trump's many shortcomings, the insults fly with wild abandon, particularly if the other commenter is female.

One comment that I frequently see on publications such as the Army Times is, "Have you served?"  It seems that according to some Facebook users, one must have signed up for the military to make a  comment about any topic regarding the military.  It doesn't matter if one has been around military people from birth.  A person's experiences working with the military, being married to the military, or having been raised by the military means nothing to these lunkheads.  Time after time, I see these uninformed folks bringing up the "oath" they recited to protect and defend the Constitution.

I bet a lot of servicemembers would be very surprised that I, as a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, took the very same oath on August 22, 1995 that they did when they joined the service.  Thirty of my American colleagues were with me that day, as I swore "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."  Servicemembers are not the only ones who take that oath, nor are they they only ones who serve their country.

So what's bringing on today's rant?  As I was reading people's thoughts on General McChrystal's comments regarding Trump's leadership, I noticed an intelligent and coherent comment made by a brave woman, who wasn't quick to dismiss McChrystal's warnings.  The man she was engaging immediately responded with, "Slow down there, Dependa!"  I almost wish she’d responded with, “Speed up there, Numbnuts.”

For those who have not read my previous rants about the term "dependa", and don't know what it means, allow me to offer a quick explanation.  "Dependa" is short for "dependapotamus".  It's in reference to the term "dependent", which is government-ese for the spouse and children of someone who is serving or has served in the military and receives benefits.  There is a pervasive and specific stereotype of woman this term refers to.  It's generally a very uneducated woman who's fat, ugly, and willing to put out for marriage to a military guy who will give her his benefits.  She typically spends all his money, pops out babies, doesn't have a job or go to school, and thinks her "job" is being a "proud military wife", to the point of wearing t-shirts and putting "proud Army wife" bumper stickers on her SUV.

I have been around military folks my entire life.  In truth, I haven't run into too many people who fit the "dependa" stereotype, save for Bill's ex wife.  Last night, I read this very disrespectful article about the so-called "dependa" phenomenon.  It kind of pissed me off, but at the same time, I have to admit Bill's ex does fit the description quite well, at least when they first got married.  And Bill, bless his heart, did fall for her bullshit, in part, because he was lonely.  It's true that I despise Bill's ex wife, but if I'm honest and objective, she was a high school dropout, she has five kids by three men-- all three of whom were once in the military, she did drain Bill's bank account, and she was very interested in his benefits.  But never mind that...  I'm sure there must be others like Ex, since this is such a pervasive insult among military types.

What makes me sad, though, are the people who automatically label any spouse or family member a "Dependa".  It doesn't matter who she is (and it's almost always a she).  She could have a full time job and make more money than her husband does.  She's still a "Dependa" in the eyes of some of these boneheads.  She could have never had children, wear a size four dress, and be working on her Ph.D.  She's still a "Dependa", if she's married to a guy in the military.  And as a Dependa, her comments are irrelevant and easily dismissed.  Actually, a woman with education seems to be even more offensive to some of these folks.  They complain about uneducated, unemployed women who act like leeches, but God forbid you go beyond a simple bachelor's degree.  Then, you don't know your place and need to be knocked down a peg or two.

Anyway, I noticed that the guy who wrote "Slow down there, Dependa" must have been threatened by the intelligent remarks made by the woman he was addressing.  I think if you must immediately insult a stranger in a retort to them, you must not be very sure of your own standing.  To the woman's credit, she defended her decidedly "not Dependa" status, clarifying that she has a degree and earns as much money as her husband does.  And she called him an "ass" for insulting her with that degrading label.

I would have included their exchange in this post, but by the time I went back to find it, it had disappeared.  I wonder why.  I haven't noticed the Army Times deleting offensive comments, so maybe the guy who wrote "Slow down there, Dependa" felt badly for writing it.  He should feel bad about that.  Are there any women in his life that he loves?  Would he want them to be called "Dependa" or some other derogatory name, simply because of where her spouse works?

Some people probably think of me as a "Dependa", although I'm not uneducated and never had children.  I suppose it's less offensive to me to be called that by people who've met me or even know me online.  In fairness, I do sponge off of my husband, although I don't spend his money on Coach bags or abuse the Tricare system.

But this was an exchange between two strangers.  The guy who immediately tossed out the "Dependa" insult didn't even pretend to take the woman's comments seriously.  He simply made those comments because she's female and married to someone in the military.  And, it was very obvious to me that she way outpaced him in the intelligence department.  That's probably why he felt he had to insult her.  He clearly couldn't hold a candle to her mental acuity and couldn't stand the idea that she's obviously smarter than he is.

This is certainly not the only time I've written about this subject.  Unfortunately, I've read a lot of sexist, demeaning, insulting, and downright nasty comments from men who lack the ability to be civilized on social media.  It won't change.  I shouldn't read comments on the Army Times... but on the positive side, at least this kept me from reading more blog posts by Roosh V.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

WTF did I just read?

It's a dark morning here in the central-western Germany, the last Sunday of 2018.  I woke up at about 6:00am, as usual, because my dog, Zane, was whining to go outside and have his breakfast.  Once I woke up, I couldn't get back to sleep.  I started reading Facebook and noticed a link to a blog post that was shared in the Duggar Family News: Life is not pickles and hairspray group.

I don't know how I missed this, but there's an apparently popular blogger out there, name of Roosh V, who writes all kinds of inflammatory shit about how he thinks the world should operate.  I haven't taken the time to read a lot of his posts.  I probably should read more of them before I comment too much, although the first post I read was a doozy.  Before I even started reading the post, which was published in September 2015, I was confronted by this...


Um...  "bad girls"?  Wow.  What kind of women is this man meeting?

I'm going to try to confine my comments about Roosh V's blog strictly to what I've read so far.  For all I know, he's not as sexist and backward as he seems.  I am myself the victim of people who make judgments of me based on just one or two controversial postings I've made.  I don't like hypocrisy.  On the other hand, I'm not sure I want to read too much more of Roosh's blog, mainly because what I have read is very offensive.

The post I read is entitled "Women Must Have Their Behavior And Decisions Controlled By Men".  Roosh V observes that it's only been within the last hundred years or so that women have been allowed to make decisions regarding their education, religion, life goals, and family plans.  He reminds his readers that until recently, women were expected to be under the care of a male guardian, or at least constrained by "tribe, family, church, law, or stiff cultural precepts."  

Since women have been allowed more freedom, they have, in Roosh V's opinion, made "poor choices" that have negatively affected society.  Roosh V writes that women are not as rational as men are, and they make decisions that are not in their best interests.  He admires German philosopher Arthur Shopenhauer, who wrote an essay called "On Women".  According to Roosh V, Shopenhauer compares women to "overgrown children", as evidenced by their consistently "impulsive" and "illogical" behavior.  

As I was reading Roosh V's post, I couldn't help but notice how dispassionate his writing is.  The tone seems rather matter-of-fact, which sort of gives it a dangerous air of legitimacy.  Some of what he writes, on the surface, makes sense.  I even agree with a few of his more basic ideas, like encouraging people to travel more and interact with people who aren't from the United States.  I think that's actually a good idea.  But then I read more and see that he's actually very xenophobic and sexist, although I haven't yet seen too much evidence of racism.  I don't really care to spend much time searching his writings to determine if he's racist.

I think if Roosh V written a more emotional screed, it would be easier to simply laugh at the nonsense conveyed in this post.  I don't know what kind of women Roosh V has surrounded himself with, but clearly he hasn't had much experience with diverse women.  Are there "impulsive", "immature", "unwise", "overgrown children" women out there?  Yes, I think there definitely are.  But I have also seen many men who could be described in the same way.

Roosh V explains that left to their own devices, women make bad choices.  Have a look at his reasoning.


I could take the time to refute each of these claims.  Most of them don't apply to me, personally.  I had a lot of freedom to choose when I was growing up.  I apparently made good choices, as evidenced by the privileged life I lead.  But even if I hadn't made good choices, I might still be privileged.  Or, I could have made good choices and still been dealt "shitty cards".  I think much of life is a crap shoot.

As I mentioned before, I didn't read a lot of Roosh V's blog, although he does apparently believe that heterosexual American men should seek foreign women.  He thinks they're "sweeter" and "more pleasing", and likely to be thinner and more attractive.  I can tell Roosh V doesn't get out much, nor does he really listen to women from other countries.  They may seem "sweeter" and more pleasing, but trust me, a lot of them have their ways of getting what they want.  They just go about it in a less straightforward and more manipulative manner.  I think Roosh V is foolish for apparently taking them at face value.  

I did read Roosh V's "About Me" page, on which he writes that he shares Donald Trump's birthday.  He also writes that his "important work" has been covered in many countries and he's been targeted by "social justice" groups who want him silenced.  

For the record, I don't agree with trying to silence people like Roosh V.  I clearly disagree with his opinions about women, but I support his right to have and express them without threats of violence.  While the content of his blog appears to be offensive to many people and counter to most modern thinking, they are basically his thoughts and opinions.  I think he has the right to communicate them, even if I think they're mostly ludicrous.  On the other hand, it's scary how many people secretly think the way Roosh V does.  Since Trump was elected, these people have become emboldened.  I can see why so many people are afraid to allow Roosh V's more troubling ideas to go unchallenged.

But man... he does have some nerve, doesn't he?  Look at this.


If you're female, he expects you to send him a picture of yourself, so he can be sure you're not a "troll".  I wonder how he means that.  Is he referring to an Internet troublemaker or a very ugly person?  Before the Internet, trolls were defined as a derelict, homeless, or poor person, who would be considered dirty, unkempt, and probably unattractive.  The first time I heard of a "troll" was when I first heard the story "Three Billy Goats Gruff".

I also notice that on his blog, Roosh V commented on the post I referenced in today's post, assuring his readers that what he's written is, in no way, satire.  He means every word.  And evidently, most of what matters to Roosh V is getting laid by a sexy woman who isn't a "slut".  How tragic.  What's even sadder is that this guy is evidently making a living off of his ideas.  It could be that making money is all that's behind his inflammatory postings.  The fact that it gets any positive regard is very troubling and sad.  I wonder if he's like this simply because he's a narcissist or because someone really hurt him.  I'm sure I'll never know.  

Edited to add:  As of 2016, Roosh was still living in his mother's basement.  That may be where some of his misogyny comes from.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas classiness at church...

Today's post is inspired by a news piece I read yesterday.  Meet Mark Anthony Gilliam of Hi Hat, Kentucky.  It seems Mr. Gilliam gets around a lot.  He and his girlfriend came to Trimble Chapel Church on December 16th to see Gilliam's children perform in a Christmas play.

Who else was at the play?  Gilliam's wife.  In a dearth of the spirit of Christian love and charity, the wife and the girlfriend started bickering with each other.  Fightin' words turned into fightin' actions, and the two women got physical.  Gilliam then jumped into the fray and started choking his wife.

When a police officer attempted to diffuse the situation and speak to Mr. Gilliam, he lunged at the cop.  Naturally, this action upset everyone in attendance at the play.  Gilliam was subsequently arrested and charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The news article about this incident is woefully short on the juicy details.  It's a typical news brief, with just the facts included.  The storyteller in me wonders what led up to this altercation.  I'm sure it's a drama worthy of a soap opera.  Just the name of the town where this happened-- Hi Hat-- is interesting to me.  I wonder what the place is like.  I've been to a lot of small southern towns in my lifetime.  I bet it's the kind of place where everyone knows each other and goes to church twice a week.

My curiosity is so piqued, that I went looking for more information.  Sure enough, I found it.  First off, I found out that the church is located in Prestonsburg, and the name of the Christmas play was "The Gift That Counts".  Gilliam is 21 years old.  His girlfriend, Tabitha Ann Compton, is 20.  According to another report, Compton's sister was also in attendance.

Gilliam's mother-in-law was holding Gilliam's youngest child when the fight broke out.  She was knocked to the ground when Gilliam lashed out.  And, like good law abiding citizens, the congregation made sure no one left the scene of the crime.  Someone blocked the road with a pickup truck and the entire congregation was standing around, ensuring that Gilliam didn't escape.

Compton was also arrested and charged with two counts of fourth degree assault, one of which was listed as child abuse, and second degree disorderly conduct.  The church's pastor, David Bowling, filed another complaint against Gilliam, who apparently hit the pastor in the face as he was trying to break up the brawl.

I think it's interesting that Gilliam went to church and was apparently trying to be a good dad.  I mean, a lot of dads don't bother with Christmas plays, especially when they are estranged from their children's mother(s).  I'm not sure why he felt the need to bring his girlfriend with him while he's still married, but then I don't have a lot of information about this.  For all I know, they all know each other well.

Also, I take note of how young Gilliam and his girlfriend are.  I assume his wife is also young.  And yet, he has four children.  They must be really young children.  Their father is not much more than a child himself.  I could have been his mother and that would have meant having him when I was in my mid 20s.  I remember being 25...  no way was I ready for parenthood at that age.  Apparently, neither is Gilliam at age 21.  Perhaps he needs to put his dick in his pants.  You can't be a good dad if you're in jail.

I got more curious and found Mr. Gilliam on Facebook.  He obviously loves his children.  His cover photo is of them and it looks like it's been so for awhile.  His wife's name is Cherokee.  He also has a bunch of other public pictures of the children posted.  He looks like a man who wants to be involved in his kids' lives.  And yet, somehow, he just lost it at church and wound up getting arrested.

Then I started reading the comments on Gilliam's page.  Four kids at just 21 years old...  Sounds like a lot of stress... sounds like he was relieving stress by having a lot of sex.

And now I'm sitting here, amazed, since the first article I read was very short on information.  Do a little digging, and you're soon falling down a rabbit hole of small town drama.

Sheesh...

Okay... I have had breakfast and I'm back.  According to Gilliam's FB, his oldest child is five or six years old.  That means he was fathering children when he was still very much a teenager.  And he didn't just have one... he's got four.  And according to his Instagram, he was claiming another-- possibly a fifth child, maybe from a prior relationship his wife had?

I gotta say... I sure hope his girlfriend is paying attention.  This is a man determined to spread his seed.  The girlfriend is commenting on Facebook and she sounds like maybe she's trying to do the right thing... and is being called a homewrecker and such.  I don't actually believe in homewreckers.  I don't think it's possible for people to "steal" others from one another.

Not knowing the people involved or the situation, I'm sure Mr. Gilliam has some compelling attributes that draw young women to him in this way...  But here he is, father of many at such a young age.  On the brink of divorce.  Now he has legal problems and is the subject of my blog post.  If I were Tabitha, I'd give some thought to shopping around more.  Pay attention to the way he's treating his soon to be ex.  Realize that one day, she could be in her shoes.  I take a dim view of a person who starts another relationship before he's finished the last one.  If he did it with his wife, he'll probably do it with his girlfriend.  But love is blind...

I wish them all luck.  Especially the children.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A bad idea...

I ask for forgiveness in advance of this post.  I have a feeling that some people will find it offensive/too personal/mean spirited... or whatever.  I'm going to share this anyway, though, because there's a chance there are people who will get it.

There are a few people out there who have been reading my blog for years.  Those people have, no doubt, read my story about Christmas 2004.  I have shared it in various incarnations many times on this blog, so a detailed version of it is pretty easy to find.

The short version of the story is, back in 2004, my husband's children were still minors.  He was fighting his ex wife over visitation and she refused to cooperate with him.  He simply wanted to see them by himself for a few days without interference from her.  She refused to allow it.

Her "compromise" was that she, her husband, and her then four kids (she now has five) would all meet at Bill's father's house in Tennessee for Christmas.  Bill and I would also attend, but we would be expected to stay in a hotel, while Ex and her brood shacked up with Bill's dad and stepmother.  Ultimately, I decided not to attend this gathering because I felt it would be a disaster.  Indeed, it was a disaster, and it caused hard feelings for many years.

Christmas 2004 was also the last time Bill saw his daughters in person.  The younger one, who is now talking to him again, was pretty hateful during that precious visit.  She refused to speak to him.  I got blamed for "ruining" Christmas, even though I wasn't there.  It took years before we were able to clear the air with Bill's father and stepmother.  Since then, the air has been fouled again.  I haven't seen them since 2010, although Bill went to visit them in 2014.

Well...  younger daughter is now pregnant with her second child.  She wants to see Bill, and has proposed that he meet her at his dad's and stepmother's house in Tennessee.  I assume she expects me to come, too, although I'm not certain of that.  Personally, I don't think this is a good idea.  I do want Bill to see his daughter and her family, as well as his dad and stepmom, but I don't think a major holiday at the in-laws' place is where the meeting should happen.  Instead, I favor choosing a more neutral time and place.  And I also don't necessarily want to be in attendance.

On the surface, maybe it seems like a no-brainer that we'd be all gung ho for this.  But it's likely that younger daughter doesn't remember how awful Christmas 2004 was.  She was eleven years old at the time.  She might have blocked out that visit and how tough it was on Bill.  I'm sure it seems like a simple thing to just let bygones be bygones.  But I still don't think it's a good idea.

I'm assuming that if this Thanksgiving gathering happens, Ex won't be there.  However, I can't be assured she won't show up, since she's quite capable of the old surprise visit.  I really wouldn't put it past her.  I think if Ex gets wind of Bill seeing his daughter again, she might be tempted to drop in from New Hampshire.  Also, my in-laws' house has been the site for many dramatic family scenes.  It's where Ex presented Bill with divorce papers at Easter 2000.  Many holidays involving Bill have been ruined in that house.  I have only been there a few times myself, but every time I've gone, I've felt the shadow of Ex looming.

I don't particularly get along with Bill's stepmother.  I like his dad, but his stepmother seems to resent me.  I'm sure she has her reasons for resenting me, and they might even be really good reasons, but I can't say I really want to hop on a plane for hours to spend a holiday with her.  Life is short, and air travel is expensive and uncomfortable.  I think the pressure to reconnect with younger daughter would be too much if stepmom is in the mix.

And finally, I feel like Bill should see his daughter by himself-- at least the first time they reconnect.  It will be complicated enough for them to sort through fourteen or fifteen years of physical separation.  There will be memories they'll have that came before I was ever in the picture.  They'll have a lot to talk about.  I don't think my presence would be constructive, especially since I've been pretty angry with Ex and her kids for years, now.  I don't have a connection to Bill's daughters.  I wouldn't be averse to forming a connection with them.  But I think meeting them at another time and place would be better.  I don't want Bill to have to worry about how I'm doing when he should be focusing on reconnecting with his daughter and her family.

I think having these kinds of dramatic meetings on holidays are a bad idea, mainly because if they go wrong, you're left with that holiday becoming a "day of infamy".  For years, I've disliked Christmas because of all the bad memories I have of fighting with relatives on that day.  I'm getting to the point at which I like Christmas again.  Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, so I don't want that to turn into a day of infamy.  Maybe it's selfish, but I just have a gut feeling that a huge drama could erupt.  It's great and magical if there are no problems reconnecting, but it would be a delicate situation and the chances of problems erupting are pretty significant.  Holidays are stressful under the best of scenarios.

If Bill wants to attend Thanksgiving in Tennessee next year, I'm not going to stop him.  I just don't think I'm going to tag along.  I'll stay home and take care of the dogs, like I did last time.  If people think that makes me "childish" and "selfish", so be it.  I don't think I'm selfish to want to preserve my mental health.  Also, my motives for making this decision are not selfish, because I do think Bill should go if that's the only way he can see his daughter.  I don't have to be part of the equation, although I think no matter what I do, I'll end up offending people.  

I hope they can come up with a different plan.  I'd be all for Bill going to see his daughter in July or September... or some other time when there aren't huge family emotions at play.  Of course, it's up to him.  Fortunately, he recognizes that I also have the right to decide for myself.



Thursday, December 27, 2018

A, is for Apple... P, is for pain in the ass PenFed...

Yesterday, I managed to order my new computer.  I tried to order one on Christmas, but my card was declined.  I figured it was because I almost never use my credit cards and it was such a large purchase.  I sent a pissy note to the credit union, which then wrote back and said my card had a block on it.  Apparently, the block was placed on the card in November, but because I never use it, I didn't know.

I had also tried to use my other credit card, but it, too, was declined for some reason.  Bear in mind that this was all happening in German, since I have to use the German Apple store to get an iMac, unless I want to shop at AAFES, where selection and customer service are sharply limited.  My current computers came from AAFES and both are American spec basic models.  I wanted something with more power and memory, so I decided to shop locally, despite having to pay 19% tax.

So... yesterday afternoon, I called both banks.  USAA said that the "declined" charge wasn't even showing up as declined.  I'm not sure why the card wouldn't work, but I got it to work yesterday.  By the first week of January, I will be using a new computer.

PenFed was more of an ordeal.  First off, their customer service people were totally slammed with callers.  I gave up after waiting several minutes, then called another line, where I had to wait several more minutes, listening to the same maddening, hideous music and ads playing over and over again.  Finally, I got some lady on the phone.  I had to answer a whole litany of questions.  Bill was amused. I was using Skype, so he could hear it all.

After completing the usual phone maze pre-screening shit, I went through the security gauntlet.

Them: "Okay, so can you give me the phone number associated with this account?"

I gave them my cell phone number, which is German.  I do remember calling a few weeks ago to update my information, but truthfully, I don't know if I gave them my German cell number.  No one ever wants to call me, so I don't ever give it out to anyone.  I don't even know the number by heart, even though I've had it since January 2018.  In fact, I remember being annoyed about having to call them because they wanted to text me a confirmation and I knew they had the wrong phone number.  It was a pain in the ass that I thought we had straightened out.

Them: "Uh... are you sure that's the only one?"

Me: "Well, to be honest, I'm calling on Skype.  I don't know if that's the number I gave you, but it's my current number.  I'm in Germany."

Them: "Oh, okay.  What year were you born?"

Me: "1972."

Them: "What's your first name?"

Me: "Jennifer." (always makes me cringe to say that...  maybe I should have my name legally changed)

Them: "And your last name and last four digits of your Social Security number?"

I gave them that information.

Them: "Now, I'm going to ask you another question.  Think about your response, because I am only allowed to accept your first answer."  I felt rather nervous as I waited for her ominous question.  What if I got it wrong and had to call back?  I don't think I could have taken another trip through the phone maze yesterday.

She then asks me if I bought $250 worth of liquor on November 16th from an online retailer.

Me:  "Hmmm.... well, I was in Baden Baden last month on the 16th.  Maybe my husband used the card?  He's also on the account."

Them: "Yes, I do show him as an authorized user."

Bill walks in and I ask him if he bought any booze with the PenFed card.  He says he didn't.  But then he said, "What about the Advent calendar?"

Me: "Yes!  That must be it.  Master of Malt!"  Master of Malt is a legit and awesome booze retailer in Great Britain.  They ship all over the world, too.  I use the Advent calendar to try super expensive stuff that I ordinarily wouldn't buy.  I don't want to spend $800 on a bottle of scotch, but I'll pay $40 or $50 for a taste... if I am intrigued enough.

The PenFed lady sounds relieved as she confirms that was what the charge was.  Then she asks me about the attempted charge from Christmas Day for my computer.  I confirmed that was also initiated by me.  Seems to me, I got a text from one of the banks about a "suspicious" charge.  I think it was USAA, though.  I remember being annoyed about having to call them, too, as well as responding to the text.

Here's the weird thing, though.  I did use the card to buy our annual boozy Advent calendar, which I have bought every year since we moved back to Germany.  However, it was not showing up on my PenFed account.  Why?  Because I immediately paid the bill when the charge for the booze showed up on my account.

I had completely forgotten about buying the calendar, even though we just finished it on Christmas Eve.  It's probably because I ordered it when we were still living in our old house.  Even though we've only been moved for about a month, it seems like much longer than that, for some reason.  I have almost forgotten about our old life in Unterjettingen.

And even though the charge was paid, PenFed still put a block on my account without notifying me.  The block was there for about six weeks, unbeknownst to me.  So when I went to buy my big Christmas present for myself, the fucking card was declined!  I think the fact that the charge was paid should have been a sign that it was legit.  Go figure credit card security people.

Well...  PenFed could have had that big credit card charge, but it went to USAA this time.  I usually use PenFed for big charges over here, since they are less likely to decline charges than USAA is.  I'll get more points, which maybe we'll use for air fare somewhere interesting.  I'm just glad I can retire this computer soon.  It's filled to the brim with four years of my bullshit.  Time to break in a new machine.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Come on, now...

Some of you may know that I often follow Sanctimommy on Facebook.  Sanctimommy is well known for reposting funny and/or irritating Facebook status updates sent to them by followers who have sanctimonious mommy types on their friends lists.

I'm not a mom myself, nor do I pay a lot of attention to the smarmy posts some of my friends post about their children.  However, every once in awhile, I run across one that makes me roll my eyes super hard.  I can't help it.  Then, I feel bad for being annoyed/amused/snarky.

This morning, as I was wading through the usual post Christmas postings from friends and the few family members who are still on my friends list, I saw a post that I might have considered sending to Sanctimommy.  I mean, I really sat there and thought about it for a moment.  This is the time of the year when people can get especially sappy and/or egregiously religious to the point at which they make some of their friends feel queasy.

But then I thought better of it.  Instead, I'm just sitting here scratching my head, wondering if my friend's four year old is really as spiritual as she claims.  Apparently, on Christmas morning, she unwrapped a present from her son.  He'd never actually seen the gift, which was a cross necklace.  Her husband bought it, wrapped it, and put the boy's name on the package.  And when she went to put it on and thanked her little boy (for a gift he'd neither picked out nor purchased), he allegedly said, without even looking at the necklace,

"It's a cross, Mommy. Like the one Jesus died on for our sins. It's a cross necklace so you can always praise Him." 

A four year old said this?  Really?  

Maybe it's wrong for me to write about this.  Maybe my friend's four year old really is that invested in Jesus.  I don't know.  Some people are totally into religion, and maybe their very young children really do talk and think about Jesus to the point at which they'd randomly blurt out something like this on Christmas morning.  On the other hand, I have my doubts that this scenario occurred just as my friend claims it did.  I have a feeling that just like Daddy bought the necklace and wrapped it for his wife, he also coached their son.

I don't have my own children, but I remember how I felt about Christmas when I was very young.  I can't imagine Jesus ever really crossed my mind, even though I was regularly forced to attend church.    I doubt I would have been thinking about Christ on Christmas at any rate, since I would have been overwhelmed by the lights, music, food, toys, etc.  Certainly not when I was super young.  But then, I realize that I am just one of millions of people.  I suppose some people really are "special" in that sense.  Maybe my friend's young son is one of those people.

I will say this, though.  The idea of a four year old talking about Christ on the cross on Christmas (try saying that three times fast) is a little unnerving to me.  I don't mean to say that religious people shouldn't keep in mind the "reason for the season" (for whatever religion they follow, anyway), but it seems kind of morbid for a four year old to be talking about crucifixion on Christmas.  And again, I have my doubts that this scenario really played out the way she describes it.  If it really did play out that way, I feel kind of sorry for that boy.  If it didn't, then my very Christian friend has committed at least two sins in sharing this story.

Yes, if you're a Christian, Christmas is important.  Yes, if you're a Christian, you should be teaching your children about Christ.  But even though Christmas is a big "holy day", do you really need to brag on social media about how special and spiritual your very young child is?  Aren't you guilty of pride and piety?  And if you're stretching the truth, aren't you also guilty of lying?

Personally, I find it distasteful when parents brag about their very young children being "followers of Christ" or any other religious leader.  People in my own family are guilty of this.  I have a cousin who bragged about his then six year old daughter making the "decision" to follow Christ.  Are six year olds really capable of independently making such a choice?  Is your six year old actually going to tell you he or she doesn't want to follow Christ, when you are everything in the world to them?  Maybe your child likes going to church and enjoys Sunday School.  But at five or six years old, does he or she really have the mental capacity to independently "choose" to follow a certain religious path?  And do you really expect other people to believe he or she does?

I have never been LDS, but Bill was for awhile.  This morning, he told me that, much to his shame, he used to hold up his daughters on Fast and Testimony Sundays and whisper in their ears as they "testified" that the LDS church is "true".  These girls weren't really testifying about the truth of their church.  They were not at an age at which they truly understood what they were saying.  They were simply repeating what Daddy told them to say.  And then, at age eight, they got baptized.  Supposedly, this was also their "choice".  But was it?  If one or both of them had said, "No, I don't want to be baptized.", what would have been their mother's response (since at that point, Bill was effectively kicked out of their lives)?

I understand that you love Jesus and want to show everyone how much you love Jesus.  I get that you want us all to know that your children love Jesus, too.  But shoot... kids get so little time to enjoy being children.  I'd rather hear about how happy and excited your son was on Christmas morning, unwrapping his presents, singing and dancing, and eating good food, not some malarkey about how he recognized Christ on the cross when you unwrapped a present from him that he'd neither seen nor chosen.  If, on Christmas, your four year old is really talking about Jesus dying on the cross, I think it's kind of sad.  You might want to re-evaluate your priorities.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Holidays...

We've had a somewhat low key day today.  Bill is making dinner right now, and he's very happy with the few presents I had for him...  This year, neither of us were really feeling a big holiday production, so we only bought the bare minimum of gifts.  I got him a couple of gag gifts, including the ones pictured below...


Bill is always asking me what we should have for dinner... I figured this book would help.


And then afterwards, we can combine drinking and games...  Zane decided to photobomb.

Sadly, Bill bought my gifts at AAFES.  As two of them were electronic gifts and AAFES, for whatever stupid reason, mostly sells American electronics, we are going to have to make some adaptations.  He got me a new DVD player, but it's an American one that needs a converter.  And both the DVD player and Apple TV need HDMI cables.  One of our power strips blew up this morning, so I had to order a new one of those, too.

The worst part of today was when I decided to order a much needed new computer.  I configured one to my liking and sent the order... only to have my fucking credit card company decline the sale.  Both cards did this, mainly because I rarely use them and live abroad.  So tomorrow, I guess I'll be calling one of the companies and going off.  I get that fraud is a problem, but it's a major pain in the ass to have to deal with the credit card anti-fraud bullshit every time I want to make a major purchase, which is pretty much the only time I use the cards, anyway.  Why have the fucking security code if that's not going to be enough to stop fraud?  

I DO need a new computer, though.  My current one is on its last legs.  And I don't want to buy one at AAFES, for the reasons I've already stated.  I want a computer that offers more than the basic, which is what you get at AAFES.  I cancelled my order, but I'll probably reinstate it once I get the fucking credit card company to stop being so stupid.  I mean, you make money and Apple makes money... those are good things, right?  I just hate calling them, though.  

In any case, we survived Christmas with no drama.  I hope you did, too.  Hope everyone is enjoying their day, regardless!

Monday, December 24, 2018

In pursuit of Christmas peace...

As a child, I loved Christmas.  I loved waking up to all the toys under the tree.  I liked the good food and the music, as well as the twinkly lights.  I didn't love going to church on Christmas Eve, but afterwards, we'd come home and open at least one gift before bed.  Those were fun times.

I started liking Christmas less as I got older.  The myth of Santa Claus, which was never really pushed in my house, anyway, was completely destroyed.  I started getting things like day planners, cosmetics, aerobics videos and leotards, and other "self-improvement" themed gifts.  The inevitable friction that comes from young adults testing boundaries would come into play.  Pair that with drinking and PMS and you have a recipe for some serious bickering.

This time of year usually makes me a little crazier than usual.  I can remember a lot of times in the past, having big dramatic fights with my immediate family members.  It got especially bad when I was in my 20s, struggling with adulthood and being poor, along with all of the expectations that come with Christmas.

Christmas in my 30s were somewhat better, although we definitely had our share of drama.  I swore off family Christmases when I was 31 years old, mainly because they almost always ended with me in tears.  When I was 32, Bill's ex wife invited us to Bill's dad's house.  I knew Christmas with Ex would be even worse than Christmas with my alcoholic father and hormonal sisters.  I opted not to attend, and that caused a lot of friction (although in the long run, it was less than it would have been if I had gone).  We spent the following Christmases reliving the horror that was Christmas 2004.

Gradually, Christmas has gotten better for us.  Bill's daughters are now grown.  One is on her own, with her own family and another baby on the way.  The other is apparently still trapped at her mother's house, but there's hope that she could escape someday.  Bill's ex stepson has apparently matured.  And although we had some stress during the fall, we are now somewhat settled in our new place and have even set up a short trip over MLK weekend 2019.  We'll be going to the Netherlands, where Germany and Belgium meet.

I don't love all of the chaos coming from Washington, DC... but living in Germany sort of cushions us from seeing a lot of the most upsetting things that Trump does.  I'm just glad Bill didn't decide to take a government job.  For the time being, things are okay.

Last night, Bill talked to his dad.  I know it gives Bill anxiety to call his father.  Sometimes, when he calls his dad, Bill gets subjected to guilt trips.  Fortunately, there was none of that last night.  They had a good talk.  It's so good to see Bill finally being treated by his family the way he deserves to be treated.

I talked to my mom last week and we had a good chat.  One of my sisters sent me an email, and that went okay.  I'm sure Bill and I will sit around, eat, drink, watch bad movies or listen to music, and talk.  There will be no fighting and no drama... just nothing but easy companionship with my husband and our boys.  This is the kind of Christmas we love most.

As I get older, I'm finding that I like Christmas somewhat more, even if it does feel a little like there are tons of expectations to be met.  I don't stress out over Christmas like I used to, because I no longer feel like I have to be with anyone other than Bill and our sweet dogs.

Christmas 2018 looks like it might be somewhat peaceful...  knock on wood.  We'll see what happens.


My kind of Christmas company.





Sunday, December 23, 2018

For the love of God, look it up!

Apologies to all.  I'm going to continue yesterday's rant a little bit.  I know it's petty.  I know a lot of people don't care, and are more concerned that we get the "gist" of what people are referring to when they write "HIPPA" instead of "HIPAA".  Frankly, I take a different view.  Knowledge is power.  I hate to toss around trite sayings, even those created by great authors like the late Dr. Maya Angelou.  But she was right when she said this:


Sage, gentle words from a great writer...

I don't tend to use this quote much myself, mainly because the original wording has become bastardized into something that sounds kind of self-righteous and condescending.  Often, people who use this quote say or write something like this:


There's a real difference in tone between these two quotes.  The second one is actually a modified version of the first, but comes across as kind of obnoxious.  Some other people simply write or say, "When you know better, do better."  It's akin to the people who shriek "Educate yourself!"

Another blogger, name of Mom, the Intern, does a much better job ranting about the bastardization of this particular quote than I can at this hour.  I recommend checking out her post if I've piqued your interest.  

The point is, while I don't generally like telling people to "educate themselves" and don't want to sound condescending and self-righteous, sometimes I feel compelled to advise other people to "do better".  And that is what happened right after I opened my eyes this morning.

Those of you who read yesterday's post may remember my admittedly long-winded rant about how many people on the Life is not all pickles and hairspray Facebook page repeatedly misspelled the acronym, HIPAA, as they each declared their expertise about this law.  I got to the point at which I felt like I had to be "that person", and I posted this:

It's HIPAA, not HIPPA. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. 

Although I knew very well that I was right about the way the acronym is correctly spelled, I did take the time to look it up, just to be sure.  It's embarrassing when you try to correct someone and turn out to be wrong yourself.  I have done that before and learned from the experience.  When you have Google at your fingertips and a quick Web search takes a matter of seconds, it really pays to double check.  I also knew that my comment would annoy some people, so I wanted to be prepared for that.  People don't like it when you correct them.  

Not surprisingly, there were others, like me, who had been suffering in silence.  At this writing, at least nine people "liked" that I posted the correction.  One person even went as far as to thank the first person (not me) who had correctly spelled the acronym, though didn't call it out that people were getting it wrong.  

Also not surprisingly, I got one "who cares" response and another that claimed I was wrong.  The "who cares" response came from the page owner.  Frankly, I found her attitude disappointing, especially since the press follows her page.

Whatever, most of us know what it means. That's the important thing.

I strongly disagree with this mindset, by the way.  There's a reason for the concepts of "correct" and "incorrect".  Words have meaning, and when you change words, you change meaning.  It can be as simple as conveying a different mood than was intended, or as serious as completely changing the message imparted.  See the above Maya Angelou quote for an example on that concept.

But then, someone who obviously did not take a second to look it up, posted this:


I did edit my response, only to add that last bit about why it matters.

Maybe my being irked about this makes me anal retentive.  When it comes to some things, maybe I am the equivalent of my ex landlady and her clean freakiness.  Maybe my first comment about this, which I tried to keep as neutral and non-threatening as possible, is akin to my former landlady's compulsion to furiously sweep our driveway during her visits.  We all have reasons for being the way we are.  Our ex landlady is compulsive about her windows and the driveway.  I am compulsive about words (and a number of other things, but that's beside the point).    

On the other hand, it's irksome when someone tells me I'm wrong when I know I'm right.  Not only did I know I was right before I posted, I actually took the time to look it up before I commented.  And with just a quick Web search, the commenter insisting that "HIPPA" is correct could have spared me from feeling the need to insist that I'm right, and advising them to look it up.  I don't enjoy looking anal retentive and holier than thou, and yet, I couldn't bring myself to let this slide.  

I can see why commenting on this makes me look picky and annoying.  But then, I find it annoying when people claim to be knowledgable about something, yet don't even get the terminology right.  Especially when all they have to do to verify is a quick check on an official Web site, like the one run by the Department of Health and Human Services.  Am I less entitled to be annoyed than the next person?  I don't think so. 

I also think that the whole HIPAA argument, as it pertains to John David Duggar's potential hospitalization, is mostly irrelevant.  The fact is, the people involved in John David's medical care are beholden to HIPAA.  Friends and relatives who might spill the beans about his alleged hospitalization are not.  Either way, I personally don't really care if he was in the hospital.  If he was, and the show's producers and/or Boob want the public to know about it, it will probably come out in a forthcoming episode of the super boring show, Counting On, or it will be covered by People magazine.  

I know it's just Facebook.  I know I probably need professional help, or at least a life.  I just felt like I needed to get this off my chest.  Thank you for indulging me, and, for the love of GOD-- look it up!


Then watch this hilarious video...

Saturday, December 22, 2018

It's HIPAA, not HIPPA, for God's sake!

This morning, I read an interesting little tidbit on the Duggar Family News: Life is not all pickles and hairspray Facebook page (not to be confused with the Facebook group by the same name and run by the same person).  It seems that "Pickles", who has sources in the Duggar family and regularly breaks Duggar gossip before it hits the press, got the news that John David Duggar, newly married to his wife, Abbie, was recently hospitalized.

Pickles states that the information she got was unconfirmed, but "seems reliable".  A poster on the page chastised Pickles for sharing what she feels is personal information, particularly when the news is unverified.  It wasn't long before a debate about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) started.  Poster after poster quoted their credentials as to why they know that law intimately.  Over half of them referred to the law as "HIPPA".

I can understand why people do this so often.  HIPAA, when said out loud, sounds like "hippo".  It's counterintuitive to spell it HIPAA, with two a's at the end.  However, HIPAA is an acronym.  It's not a typical word.  Then, there's also the auto-correct we're all saddled with on almost every electronic device these days.  The computer thinks it knows better than the user does, and will "fix" things that don't need fixing.  But then, "hippa" is also not a real word in English, so auto-correct should not be an issue in this case.

I was amazed by the number of "experts" who kept misspelling the acronym that represents the law they claim to know so well.  You'd think if the law was so well burned into their heads, they'd know how to spell the acronym properly.

I myself learned a little bit about HIPAA when I was earning my master's degree in public health.  My focus of study was on what was then called "health administration (HADM)".  The program from which I graduated later changed the name to Health Services Policy and Management (HSPM).  I've noticed other changes, both in the Arnold School of Public Health and the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.  For example, when I was a student, both programs were strictly for graduate students.  Now, both programs offer bachelor's degrees.  You can bet the people in those programs know which acronym is theirs.

Anyway, I know it sounds petty to be complaining about this.  God knows, despite having a degree in English, I don't always do things exactly right when I write.  I guess it's because the older I get, the more crotchety I become, particularly about petty issues.  I also think that when people claim to know something really well, to the point at which they qualify their statements with their credentials, they should be able to get a five letter acronym exactly right.  If you really know about HIPAA, and want me to believe that you know about it, then you should know that it's not spelled "HIPPA".

By the way, I doubt there are that many actual experts on the HIPAA law.  Indeed, have a look at the Wikipedia article about HIPAA.  It's my understanding that HIPAA is a very complex piece of legislation that encompasses a lot of different areas regarding healthcare.  It's not simply about your right to healthcare privacy; it's also about taxes, application and enforcement of group health insurance requirements, fraud prevention, and a host of other things that I don't feel like looking up right now.  So while many people do have to work within the HIPAA law, my guess is that they only know the part that specifically pertains to the work they do.

If I wanted to, I could provide screenshots of the "expert commentary" on the HIPAA law where self-described expert after expert refers to it as "HIPPA".  I don't feel like doing that, though, because it would mean my having to take the time to block out their names to protect their privacy.  I can't be arsed to do that this morning, especially when anyone who really cares about this issue can simply check out the page.  The Duggar Family News page is open to all.  If this post were in the group, where one must be added by the admin, I might be more inclined to provide some cable.

As to John David Duggar and his possible hospital stay...  Well, honestly, I don't care about it too much.  While I agree in principle that everyone is entitled to privacy, particularly when it comes to their healthcare, I also think the Duggars are public figures.  The adult Duggars who continue to stay in the "family business" kind of sign up for random people caring about why they're in the hospital.

On the other hand, I personally believe that the Duggars' fifteen minutes of fame probably should have been over a while ago.  I mean, they're mostly famous for being fundie Christians and Michelle Duggar's hyperactive womb.  A lot of what made them interesting, when they first came on the scene in the early 00s, are now relics of the past.  They've moved into the Tinkertoy Mansion, so we don't see them all sleeping on top of each other like they did years ago.  The children no longer wear the frumpy, freakish, fundie uniforms they used to wear.  I mean, the girls still wear long skirts and flip flops, but they don't wear the ugly homemade jumpers and lacy collared blouses.  The boys don't wear the khaki pants and polo shirts.  A lot of the youngsters have graduated from the School of the Dining Room Table.  And some of the married women are now wearing pants and have piercings.

I don't wish ill on any of the Duggars, per se.  I don't even wish ill on "sex pest" Josh Duggar.  I just think that wondering why John David might have been hospitalized is a waste of time.  I'd rather wonder about other things, like whether or not there's lint in my butt crack and bellybutton.  But that's just me.

I just hope that if I've done one productive thing today, it's to impart upon my readers that if you really want to seem knowledgable about something, the first thing you should do is learn how to properly spell the name of your topic.  I don't know about other people, but I have a hard time respecting a person's so-called expert credentials about something when they keep misspelling its name... especially when the name consists of just five little letters.  But then, I'm also the type of person who gets annoyed when people write "breath" when they mean "breathe", or "phase" when they mean "faze", or "per say" when they mean "per se".  To me, spelling is fundamental.  That's why I'm still an overeducated housewife.




Friday, December 21, 2018

The Trump nightmare continues...

I debated whether or not I felt like writing today.  The weather has me feeling a little depressed.  It's dark and rainy, though not particularly cold outside.  I'd really like to go out and have some fun, but the weather makes it less appealing to go anywhere.  Besides, I'm still getting to know our new area.  So instead, I've been reading the news...

Like many others around the world, I read about how James Mattis, aka "Mad Dog Mattis", current Secretary of State, has decided to step down from his role.  Of all of the people Donald Trump appointed to his pathetic cabinet, I think Mattis was the best and most suited for the job.  Now that he's resigned effective the end of February, it's like Trump will be totally unleashed to wreak havoc.  It's depressing... much like the weather lately.

I truly don't understand how people continue to support Donald Trump.  It's like they have their heads firmly lodged in the sand.  Here he is, days before Christmas, threatening to shut down the government so that thousands of people won't get paid, all so his fucking wall will be funded.  And we have right winged idiots who are actually donating money to make the wall happen.  Do these people really not understand that the wall will end up costing a lot more than building supplies and labor costs?  The people who want the wall are the same people who complain about taxes.

America is becoming a place I no longer recognize.  I used to be proud of being American, but not anymore.  Trump is a disaster, and clearly the worst president of my lifetime.  But people still think he's "great".  He's great at being an embarrassment.

I just read another article written by a woman who just disowned her family, mainly over politics.  Her parents are devout southern Baptists and Trump devotees, and they tried to raise their daughter the same way.  After Trump was elected, she had a heated discussion with her mother, which led to her freezing her parents out of her life.  I have to admit, I've noticed myself doing something similar with some of my relatives.  In the past, I could ignore the differences.  Those were the days when we had someone sane in power.  The man in power right now is completely crazy, and on the verge of a meltdown.  Something has to be done, and soon.

I'd like to think it's simply the media whipping people into a frenzy...  but this is not like anything else I've ever seen in my life.  It's depressing and scary.

I know the easiest thing to do is turn off the news, get dressed, and try to find some fun.  Maybe that will happen this weekend, although weekends tend to be when we get chores done.  It's disconcerting to be in another part of Germany, especially when it seems like my homeland is falling apart.  I really hope we have some better news soon.  Or... at least a rebound of the stock market.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Singing as if you have a gun to your head... and I like our new house!


They look like someone is standing off to the side holding a weapon...

Happy holidays, folks.  Five more days until it's Christmas.  This year, our holiday stash under the tree is pretty slim.  I haven't had much time or inclination for shopping and we've just spent a significant amount of time wrapping and unwrapping stuff after our move.  I always find the holiday season to be kind of surreal.  This year, it's more surreal than usual, since we up and moved during the last weeks of 2018.

I ran across the above video the other day.  I'm sure I'd seen it before, but it cracked me up to watch it this year.  These two ladies deliver a wholly uninspiring rendition of "Go Tell It On The Mountain".  Not only can't they sing, but they seem like they don't even want to be singing.  I mean, I've heard some pretty bad versions of Christmas songs, but when they're delivered with enthusiasm, the performance is kind of saved.  There's no joy or cheer in this song.    

These two women seem like they were ordered to sing under threat of death.  The younger one is especially bored looking.  She looks like she just witnessed a violent crime or something.  Or maybe, once the song is over, the two of them will be hanged?  I don't know, but it's pretty weak.  On the other hand, it did make me laugh, so maybe the video has value after all.  It's been viewed over a million times since it was originally uploaded ten years ago.

So... on to another topic.  Our new house really is nice.  Last night, Bill had this look of wonderment on his face and he said, "I can't get over how much nicer this house is."

To be clear... this house doesn't have underfloor heating, a jetted tub, a bidet, or a sauna.  It doesn't have a humongous yard or a really huge kitchen.  It's just a nice, normal, free standing house with two large balconies, and a fenced in yard for the dogs.  The kitchen is big enough for both Bill and me to stand in it at the same time.  It has a built in, normal sized German fridge (which is still much smaller than American fridges are).  There's room for all of our furniture.  The laundry room doesn't share space with the oil tanks.  The stairs aren't clearly intended to be part of a communal house.  The floors are uniformly a durable wood parquet, rather than cheap vinyl, linoleum, tile, dirty carpeting, and old laminate.  In fact, there's no carpet at all in this house, which is awesome.

I think of all of the houses we've lived in, this one ranks among the best.  I don't know that I'd call it my favorite house, at least not yet.  But it's a really pleasant place to be.  Parts of it remind me of former houses, too.  

Yesterday, I was lying in our bedroom and had a flashback to our second house at Fort Belvoir.  That house was built in 2006 and we were the very first people to live in it.  It didn't have a lot of character, but it did have that "new house" smell.  And our bedroom in that house was configured in much the same way our current bedroom is.

When I sit in the living room, I'm reminded of our first German house in Pfaeffingen.  The living room is kind of situated in the same way our old living room was, next to the backyard.  Sometimes, I almost feel like I'm back in that house, which also had the added benefit of a beautiful view of the Wurmlinger Chapel.  Like our first German house, our new house has a good sized kitchen, although it lacks the built in table and masonry heater our first German house had.  It also has mother-in-law quarters, like our first German house had.

For the past four years, we've been living in a very dated, no frills duplex.  It wasn't a horrible place to live, I guess.  I have lived in worse dwellings.  I liked the neighborhood and the views from the house.  We had enough space, although the house had a very strange layout and was intended to be two apartments.  I pretty much hated the kitchen and bathrooms, but they were certainly functional enough. The rent was very affordable, which allowed me to retire significant debt.  However, for many reasons, that house was just not very comfortable. 

Our new house costs about twice as much as our last one did, but it's just much, much nicer on many levels.  It's funny, because Bill was very leery about renting this house.  He was worried about how much it would cost.  Yes, it's more than we've ever paid for rent anywhere.  And no, it's not a perfect house.  But it is, on many levels, a lot more comfortable and pleasant than our last house was.  That's probably the greatest Christmas gift of all.

I look at the pictures of houses being shared on Facebook by my friends in the United States.  I take note of the huge kitchens and closet spaces, luxurious bathrooms, and bedrooms that can accommodate bulky furniture.  I realize that in many places in the world, American houses (though frequently shoddily built), are like little palaces.  In Germany, you will pay a premium for such luxury.  I'm grateful we were able to make it happen, at least for the time being.

I was leery about renting this house because our landlords would be living right next door.  But so far, our landlords have been accessible without being pests.  That's very refreshing.  They don't seem to mind our dogs and I will be doing the lawn work, so there will be no intrusions and no worries about missing piles of dog crap or not keeping the windows clean enough. 

The new landlord's house is as big and nice looking as ours is.  In fact, our landlord's daughter lives nearby and she has a house for rent, too.  I think Wiesbaden just has a lot more people with money than the Stuttgart area does, plus Hessians are not as thrifty minded as a lot of Swabians are.  Swabians are notorious for their penny pinching ways.

Anyway... we're probably still in the honeymoon phase, but I do like our new place.  I don't know how long we'll be here, but I think I could stay here awhile... even if I do miss the beautiful scenery of our last home.  I hope those of you who think I'm always negative will take note of this commentary.  I'm not impossible to please, after all.  


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Going viral for the right reasons...

As many of my regular readers know, I was an Army wife for twelve years.  My husband is now a government contractor and still does the same job he used to do in uniform.  Although he's now a retired officer, we're still very much in the military lifestyle.  We also live abroad, where it's common to meet people you might not have back in the States.  Social media has made it especially easy to connect with people.  When you're not in your native country, you tend to meet others from there, even if back home, you might have run in a different crowd.  That's one of my favorite things about living abroad.  I like having friends from different walks of life.

I met my friend, Stephanie Lynn, online, when we were both living in the Stuttgart area.  Her husband is in the Army.  Stephanie and I share a love for snarky humor and reading.  We also both own Mini Coopers and have spent time living in Virginia.  Although I think I've only seen her offline once or twice, we chat on Facebook a lot.  I have come to value her friendship, even though we have different political views and she's quite a bit younger than I am.  Stephanie is very bright, motivated, conscientious and generous, and I really admire her.  She has since moved to Texas and I am now in Wiesbaden, but we stay in touch.

Stephanie and her husband share two young sons, ages 8 and 2.  Christmas is a big deal to their sons, as it is to many children.  Stephanie's husband works in a job that threatened to take him away from his family on Christmas.  Because she's very creative and has a big heart, Stephanie created a letter from Santa Claus explaining why they would be celebrating Christmas on a different day this year.  Fortunately, a generous childless co-worker stepped up to work Christmas for Stephanie's husband, so she won't need the letter this year.  Still, she realized that other people might like to use it, so she decided to share it with her Facebook friends.  

Stephanie's brilliant letter is beautifully written and very sweet.  It was an immediate hit when she posted it on her private Facebook page, and it didn't take long before people were sharing it all over the place.  It offers the perfect explanation to children who might be wondering why Santa might come early or late, while still preserving the magic of Christmas.

The letter has now gone viral.  Thousands have seen it, and shared it.  I've watched as my friend has been written about by various news outlets and bloggers.  Although the vast majority of people have been very positive and grateful for Stephanie's efforts, some seem to have missed the clue bus.  Stephanie wrote several versions of the letter for different professions and even wrote a "general" version that can be adapted for other jobs, but she's still gotten requests for different versions of the letter from people whose spouses are in jobs that run the gamut.  Some people have even demanded that she write a new version of the letter for their specific work situations.   

I'm amazed that some people feel perfectly fine in requesting that this busy mom take the time to craft specific letters for them, especially when she's freely shared her work and even welcomed people to use it.  I know for a fact that Stephanie is a very productive mother, but even if she weren't, it's extremely tacky to expect her to write new versions of her letter for every conceivable job where a parent must work on Christmas.  I'm surprised and dismayed by the number of people who lack the initiative and creativity to adapt Stephanie's letter for their own purposes.  It makes me wonder if those people also require help wiping their own asses.    

Stephanie has provided a perfectly good template for people to craft a letter that suits their particular situations.  It's well-written, grammatically correct, and really, all it would take is a few carefully edited words to change the letter to suit one's specific scenario.  She hasn't even copyrighted it.

In the time it takes for someone to post a request on Facebook for Stephanie to adapt a new Santa letter for, say, all of the tow truck drivers of the world, those people could easily do the work themselves.  And the letter would be far more valuable, since it would be their own effort rather than a stranger's.  I happen to like writing, so if I had a child who might be missing a parent on Christmas, I'd simply use Stephanie's idea and write a completely new letter.  I realize not everyone enjoys writing, but does it really take that much time or effort to simply make a few modifications?  Don't people have any ingenuity anymore?

Despite my complaints about the widespread laziness of some people-- and I am myself kind of lazy, so I get it-- I'm proud of Stephanie for going viral for all the right reasons.  She's helped a whole lot of families by graciously sharing her good idea.  I just wish people would stop and think before thoughtlessly demanding that this busy and generous mom write a gazillion different versions of her Santa letter for them.  Come on, people.  Get a clue, and stop being so obtuse.    



A review of Escape From Lecumberri by Dwight Worker

I have to admit, I love a good prison story.  That's why I watch a lot of documentaries about prisons on Netflix and iTunes.  In fact, it was after I saw an episode of Locked Up Abroad that I became familiar with Dwight Worker's story of his time at Mexico's infamous Lecumberri Prison.  Worker, who was interviewed for the show and had a dramatized account of his escape shown on the National Geographic produced series, mentioned that he had written a book about his experiences.  I was so curious after seeing the short version on Locked Up Abroad, I downloaded the most recent printing from Amazon.com.


This show led to my decision to read Escape from Lecumberri, by Dwight Worker.

Worker's book, Escape from Lecumberri, co-written by his ex wife, Barbara Wilde, was originally published in the 1970s.  In 1980, a made for TV movie was released.  I was around in 1980, but I'm pretty sure the movie would have been airing past my bedtime.  Now that I've read Worker's book, I wonder about the made for TV movie, which is a relic from the days when people watched TV every evening.  Maybe someone's put it on YouTube.  

Lecumberri Prison no longer exists.  Only two people ever escaped from the so-called "Black Palace"-- Dwight Worker on December 17, 1975 and Pancho Villa in 1912.  It's a coincidence that I finished reading Worker's book on the 43rd anniversary of his daring escape.

Who is Dwight Worker and how did he wind up "banged up" abroad?

The 1970s were a rather freewheeling time for a lot of people.  Many people were enjoying "free love" and sex, as well as better living through chemistry.  Dwight Worker was a young man in 1973 who enjoyed hiking in South and Central America.  He also enjoyed cocaine.  In November 1973, Worker went to Peru and acquired a large amount of cocaine, which he'd intended to bring back with him to the United States.  He planned to sell the cocaine, which would pay for the trip, a new camera, and give him an extra $10,000. 

Worker's travel plans unexpectedly took him through Mexico City, which he admits made him feel uneasy.  He thought he had a foolproof plan, though, by claiming that he'd been badly injured during his hiking expedition.  Worker wore a fake plaster cast on his upper body, under which he put the drugs.  He told people that he'd broken his shoulder after a fall while mountain climbing.  He even offered a fake x-ray and newspaper clipping about the accident as "proof".  

In the 1970s, Mexico and other countries south of the United States' border, were being pressured by the Nixon administration to crack down on drug smugglers who were bringing illegal substances over the border.  For all of his moxie, Dwight Worker was not well-versed in the best ways to smuggle drugs without being caught.  Sure enough, as Worker passed through Mexican customs, he was nabbed by the authorities.  The officials tore off his cast and quickly discovered the 800 grams of cocaine Worker had hidden within it.

Worker was then hauled off to jail, where he was beaten and repeatedly shocked with cattle prods until he signed a confession.  Then, without ever having seen a judge or spoken to a lawyer, Worker was sentenced to seven years at Lecumberri Prison, aka the "Black Palace", on the outskirts of Mexico City.  

What was prison like?

In 1973, Dwight Worker was still a young, tough, physically strong man.  Nevertheless, his prison experience at the Black Palace was brutal.  Worker explains that the prison was divided into "dorms", each of which was governed by a mayor.  Prisoners were expected to pay rent for their cells and do forced labor.  Worker describes a sort of hazing he and other prisoners went through called "fajinas".  I looked up the word, which was not one I learned during my six years of Spanish classes.  It means "jobs" or "tasks".  But Worker had to perform "fajinas" while duck walking, as fast as he could muster.  To fail meant being beaten.  And the Mexicans in the prison hated "gringos", and Americans in particular.  Worker writes that the Mexicans blamed Americans for taking Texas and California from Mexico.

Aside from the forced labor, Worker was subjected to many beatings, solitary confinement, and absolutely deplorable living conditions among vermin and unsanitary toilet facilities.  Although he did receive some medical treatment, it seemed to be mostly given to those who would die without it.  Worker went to the hospital a couple of times for life threatening injuries, but then he'd be returned to the violent dorms.

Worker had limited contact with his family.  He spoke to his parents on the phone a couple of times and warned them not to spend thousands on a shady Mexican lawyer.  His parents, who had already lost one son to premature death, were good, law abiding people.  One of Worker's other brothers admitted that if Worker weren't his brother, he would be fine with letting him rot in prison.  But... as many people discover, when it's your friend or loved one who is locked up, previously hard-assed attitudes about law and order tend to soften.

How did Worker escape?

About six months into his sentence, which Worker had been assured would not be reduced or forgiven, Worker was visited by an old friend who brought a young American woman named Barbara Chilcoate with her.  The two became friendly and romance bloomed.  They traded letters, and eventually decided to get married.  By July 1975, Chilcoate, who had a young daughter named Gabrielle, decided that she would marry Worker and help him escape prison.

As brutal as Lecumberri Prison was, prisoners were allowed a few simple pleasures that are not common in today's prison environment.  One thing they were allowed was visitors, including conjugal visits with spouses.  Barbara Chilcoate and Gabrielle visited Worker frequently.  The guards were brutal, but they weren't especially thorough when they searched visitors for contraband.  Worker and Chilcoate came up with a plan to dress Worker in drag, where he would blend in with all of the other women who visited the prison to see their men.

The couple came up with ingenious ways to smuggle in makeup, clothing, and a wig.  Chilcoate had to tutor Worker on how to apply makeup, which he would then have to scrub from his face.  Given that not all of the cells had running water, that was quite a challenge.  They also had to come up with authentic looking "passes" which could be slipped past the guards.  With luck, cunning, and planning, Worker was able to escape Mexico and is now the second, and last, person who would ever break out of Lecumberri Prison, which closed in 1976.  Since 1980, the building has been used as the General National Archive.  It is one of the oldest national archives in the Americas.

My thoughts

At the beginning of this book, Worker explains that it had been out of print for some time.  Worker now teaches college and had given no thought to reissuing his book until he noticed a couple of his students bringing old copies to class for him to autograph.  He realized that a lot of people were interested in his story and old copies of the book were hard to find, very expensive, and falling apart.  So, he graciously updated his book and put it on Amazon for the curious to download.

I was a little confused when Worker's side of the story and his ex wife's side was presented.  I don't remember their being an indication that the viewpoint had changed, so it took me a minute to realize that I wasn't reading Worker's perspective.  It had changed to his ex wife's perspective.  A warning would have been helpful.

I'm glad Worker reissued his book.  I found it hard to put down.  Worker is a talented writer with a gift for storytelling.  I'm glad I read the updated version, since Worker was able to update his life since the book was published.  He and Barbara eventually divorced, though they did have a son together.  They remain friends.  And though Worker was understandably bitter about having been tortured in a Mexican prison when his book was first published, he claims that his attitude toward Mexico has softened.  He wishes the country and its people well.  Naturally, Worker also speaks fluent Spanish.

Dwight Worker did break the law.  He was caught, and rightfully punished.  While I think prison was an appropriate punishment for trying to smuggle cocaine, I can see why Worker would decide to escape.  He was being subjected to inhumane conditions and was not treated with fairness or due process.  Because he was an American, his conditions were even worse than those of other prisoners.  It wasn't long before Worker learned to claim he was Canadian, Australian, or British.  Why?  Because the governments of those countries would not tolerate their citizens being tortured or beaten in a Mexican prison.  There would be sanctions.  Also, those countries did not "steal" any Mexican territories, as the United States did.

I found Escape from Lecumberri a fascinating read.  It's fast paced, engaging, and riveting.  I would definitely recommend it to those who, like me, love a good prison story.  I give it five stars out of five.