16 July 2018

this feeling of being useless when you are ill and unable to be active lying on my daybed (luxury) and asking myself how can I not waste my time, my limited existence notwithstanding, and realising that this is not wasting time

It's been a very hot day, my GP smiled at me this morning as she handed me another sick cert covering the rest of July (with me protesting, what ever is my problem?), let's reestablish some calm here, she said, you are doing too much.

The heat brings back memories. This used to be my favourite lunch place. Three spicy samosas and a bottle of fizz. Most days, the people in the queue very politely laughed at my attempts of teaching them in the art of capitalism.

15 July 2018

thank you internet

"How do you do it?" said night
"How do you wake and shine?"
"I keep it simple." said light
"One day at a time"

Lemn Sissay 

This is week two of vestibular neuritis, aka labyrinthitis, the 6th episode this year (R claims it's the 7th - does it matter?).
Episode? Attack is more like it. I am at sea with an engine roaring inside my head. The sea is pretty rough.
It will pass.

A couple of nice things that keep me entertained while reading is only possible in fits and starts, and watching is ok for short periods only.

To watch,

quiet resilience:

trying to understand brexit:


and cheerful gruesome, horrific podcasts because the eyes cannot focus:

The Home Babies

In the Dark

Death in Ice Valley

11 July 2018

Getting older has made me aware how amazing it is to have been alive in the first place, (. . . ) it used to be if I got caught in the rain, I’d think, what a nuisance, and now if I get caught in the rain I think that there are a finite number of times in one’s life when one gets caught in the rain.

Marylinne Robinson

Strange, almost forgotten smells and sounds. It's raining. Soft at first, and then a hammering downpour last night. The branches of the almond tree that reach inside the bedroom window sent a line of drops onto the sheets. I scooped them up in my hands, almost enough to drink.

In my early teenage years in arrogant academia, there was just one hour on Franconian radio designated to the younger audience. On weekdays at 4 pm, I sat, alone and motionless, holding my breath. Impossible to imagine that I was not the only one, the last lost soul, listening, starving for music, for sounds, for voices, to feel understood, recognised. Terrified that my mother would walk in, angry, you call that music.

They worked hard in those days, the young radio men, who made these hours into something meaningful, dramatic, chaotic, weird and I loved them so very much. The next morning, on the sleepy bus journey to school, I whispered the magic names, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, King Crimson, Roberta Flack, Van Morrison.

In the interview that I linked to above (click on her name) Marylinne Robinson, when asked what single thing she believes would make the world in general a better place, replies, loving it more.

That is the grand answer. The one that works with everything.

08 July 2018

We are in endless summer. We do not call this a heatwave in Germany. Obviously, ALL my childhood summers were like this and when some miserable relative from Ireland complains about having to sleep without the duvet, we snigger quietly.

The lawn is brown and patchy, I don't care. The magpies are picking large holes in it searching for mole crickets. A treat, it seems. The buddleia is full of butterflies drinking nectar. Before sunset, we selectively water the garden. Once the hosepipe ban will kick in, in maybe a week or so, it will be survival of the fittest.

I have recovered from my eighth (8th!) colonoscopy, bits of me are as good as new. I may print a T-shirt to show off this fact.

The world is full of horrors. While we are able to follow - almost live - the rescue of 14 young men from a flooded cave in Thailand with no efforts spared (and rightly so), close to 700 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean this week because some governments in the EU are now refusing rescue operations. No live coverage here. We can do trump, too.

05 July 2018

catch the heart and blow it open

Picture credit: National Archives of Ireland/The Irish Times

Yesterday, the brand new amazing wonderful exhibition of Seamus Heaney's archive was opened in Dublin.
Today, I had a gastroscopy plus colonoscopy.
These two events are completely unrelated. However, I could do with a drive out to the west, the salty wind from the Atlantic blowing away the fog in my brain.

28 June 2018

Our union is like this:
You feel cold so I reach for a blanket to cover
our shivering feet.
A hunger comes into your body
so I run to my garden and start digging potatoes.
You asked for a few words of comfort and guidance and
I quickly kneel by your side offering you
a whole book as a
You ache with loneliness one night so much
you weep, and I say
here is a rope, tie it around me,
I will be your
for life.

Today is our 36th wedding anniversary. Not that we make a big deal about it, never have. We got married so I could stay in Ireland and we had to travel to England for it because I am not catholic and in those days, it was extremely much too difficult to marry outside of the church. Life was complicated back then but we laughed our way through it. This is the link to that day, I post it every year and by now the whole world has read it. It still makes us happy to remember.

Today was hot, R went to the dentist for a check-up, I ate too many apricots and did some laundry. After lunch indoors (because 33°C /91°F) I went to work and did some important things to keep the world turning while R waited for the window cleaners and mowed a neighbour's lawn. For dinner, he grilled Irish salmon wrapped in slices of freshly harvested zucchini and roast some of our first potatoes with fat splotches of salty butter. All through dinner on the patio, we watched the butterflies and bumble bees frolicking on the phlox and buddleia and agapanthus. For dessert we crawled on all fours through the strawberry bed. I made some tea and sat on the patio to read a couple of sad short stories by Carys Davies because I have to return the book tomorrow and R harvested the onions.

I should add that we argue a lot these days, plenty of hissing and misunderstandings. You know, the stuff that comes up every so often.

Also, this music:

27 June 2018

On my last visit to Franconia, my father let me take two boxes home. They had been sitting inside the bottom drawer of my grandmother's bedroom dresser. He says, he never looked at them, has never been interested to go through "her" things. My grandmother died in 1995.

In her fine handwriting, they are labelled "history of the family in letters", and one is subtitled "the war letters".
At a rough guess there are about 400 letters, maybe more. 

I take my time reading them, there is a lot of tedious stuff, like going through your mother's texts on your cell phone (where is your laundry? did you lock the door? I wish you wouldn't wear this. etc.)
There are revealing (to me) insights into family life that I will treat with care and discretion.

And there's fascism and then the war. Or rather, there isn't.

The war never really happened in rural Franconia and its towns, no fighting, no bomb raids. 
From what I've read so far, the war mostly meant rations, petrol vouchers, the search for a bicycle tube, a decent winter coat.They lived secluded in the family cocoon, helping out and looking after themselves.

Fascism and its atrocities did happen. There and everywhere, discreetly and openly. My grandmother developed her own set of schemes to keep her children out of the compulsory hitler youth organisations, there are various medical notes claiming hay fever and chronic indigestion and there are her begging letters to friends in high places. My father's accounts confirm this but that's for another day. 
My grandfather knew and everybody knew that my grandfather knew because he was once almost arrested when a visitor noticed his radio was set to the BBC. That story is now one of the family legends. But my grandfather's story is for another day, too.

What strikes me most is the continuation of a seemingly normal life over many years. (I am well aware that this has been discussed by others in much detail.) Simply because at the time, my father's family was on the "right" side of things with sufficient resources, well connected and trying to remain unconcerned, looking after themselves.
What should they care.

Fintan O'Toole writes today in The Irish Times:
Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.
One of the basic tools of fascism is (. . .) the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.
But (. . .) there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.
It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.

This morning, we looked at each other over breakfast and decided, it's time to get ready.

23 June 2018

just garden




morning glory

the white queen of Sheba lily

voodoo lily


red elder

second spud harvest

20 June 2018

World Refugee Day

In nature there are two approaches to dealing with flooding. One is to build a dam to stop the flow. The other is to find the right path to allow the flow to continue. Building a dam does not address the source of the flow – it would need to be built higher and higher, eventually holding back a massive volume. If a powerful flood were to occur, it could wipe out everything in its path. The nature of water is to flow. Human nature too seeks freedom and that human desire is stronger than any natural force.
 (. . .)
Establishing the understanding that we all belong to one humanity is the most essential step for how we might continue to coexist on this sphere we call Earth. I know what it feels like to be a refugee and to experience the dehumanisation that comes with displacement from home and country. There are many borders to dismantle, but the most important are the ones within our own hearts and minds – these are the borders that are dividing humanity from itself.

Ai Weiwei

World Refugee Day is held every year on the 20th of June to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.

18 June 2018

Being unreasonable is the only way that we can have hope.

Arundhati Roy 

The Franconian sky on a hot June morning. If you see things the way my father expects it from me, you will of course observe the faint line defined by broken hedgerow and immediately connect this to some deeply buried forcefully forgotten knowledge acquired during years of excellent education.  And after a moment's hesitation, you turn to him and say, surely this is where the Limes was, ending your sentence with a firm note of conviction. He nods briefly and with a tiny glimmer of pride in his eyes.

Has it helped me in life to know that in the 2nd century AD the Romans build this wall across Central Europe, across Franconia? As a defence against the "Barbarians"?And that the great Roman empire collapsed when the Barbarians (the Goths, the Germanic tribes, the Huns, you name it) had enough of being treated like shit? And that the Roman economy crashed because the fat rich Romans ran out of slaves? It has.

Do I sigh in exasperation when my father repeats one of his favourite maxims, namely that history always repeats itself and that in human history, every revolution is followed by a tyrant and every tyrant is followed by a revolution? I do.

06 June 2018

blog housekeeping

As of May 25th, the new European Data Protection Regulation is applicable in all EU member states to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe. It is a good thing, I have turned to my favourite computer geeks to convince me of this.

And blogger recommends that I inform my readers re comments:
If users leave comments or other contributions, their IP addresses are stored for seven days. This is for our own safety, if someone leaves illegal content in comments and contributions (insults, prohibited political propaganda, etc.). In this case, we ourselves can be prosecuted for the comment or post and are therefore interested in the identity of the author.

I also had a very nice email from a blogger nerd explaining why I can no longer receive email notifications when there are comments to my blog posts waiting for approval - I didn't quite understand why this is so but the email was ever so nice so I must assume this is surely due to a shortcoming in my digital understanding department.
For now and eternity, I probably have to always go to the blogger dashboard and check and click and run around the garden three times etc. - so be patient if your comment takes time to appear and be forgiving if a comment has been lost in the past.
I also found mountains of spam comments overflowing in a newly discovered spam comment file. Life is full of surprises.

02 June 2018

the rambling rose after the thunder storm

from Middle High German winner and Old High German giwitiri and West Germanic gawedrja is really a collective noun for weather; the initial meaning being "totality of weather", yet in common modern usage "thunderstorm"

In the early hours just before sunrise, a heavy thunderstorm wakes us. The way my mother taught me, I count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, taking a rough guess as to how far away it is. It is clearly coming closer. I grew up with summer Gewitter, I can recognise the silence and the sounds, the smells, the way the approaching clouds change colour.

I don't want to get out of bed but if we don't pull the plug to the router and the tv and whatever else, the insurance won't pay in case of damage. Just then, the house is shook by a string of such heavy and loud thunder, that all I can do is crawl further and deeper below the covers. Too late.

The sounds of thunder slowly receding are replaced by the loud hammering of hail and rain and I peek through the blinds at a heavily flooding street and so we get up and check the basement which is damp with salty patches beginning to blossom on the floor surfaces but otherwise dry.
And now the sun is rising and the birds are awake filling the air with their urgent chorus as if they have to catch up for lost time.

The day is misty and damp, hot, we are clammy and moody. Later after dinner I am floored by another episode of low blood pressure and whatever else, which takes longer than the ones I had experienced before and by the time I make it into bed my first slight panic gives way to a dramatic, divaesque breakdown. The voice in my head whispers that there must be a better way to cope but like a child during a temper tantrum, I howl at the moon and wipe my tears for a very long time. A triumphant moment of exhausting anger.

At one of the earlier appointments after the initial diagnosis, I was given a list of the organs at risk and how to watch out for symptoms of, say, advancing kidney failure. At regular intervals, I have to sign various forms to confirm my responsible acknowledgement and to release the experts from any potential wrong doing.

I wish these form include the heart, not the muscular organ sitting somewhere behind my left chest bone (they include that, coronary risk factors feature highly), but my real heart, my innermost center of being and hope and love. Which I know is at risk due to fear and panic and loss and that endless always-stay-at-the-bright-side-of-life effort.

And yet. Another morning and as so often, my life today is not like my life before. Something has shrivelled away during my diva moments.  Gone. A bunch of fibers from my heart worn into shreds and gone.
A memory of R's worried face, shrugging his shoulders, asking me if I want him to stay or leave and feeling unable to absolve him from his confusion. My mind forms meaningful sentences but I am at a loss of words and send him away.

I do not for a moment ask that my life be exactly as it was before—no one remains static neither in health nor in sickness. All life is complex at any moment.  And yes, some moments are harder than others. But I know that I must understand what I feel and figure out what I am capable of. Every day.

Someone once told me that we have many more places in the heart, empty places in the heart, ready to exist if we allow it. Let this be so.


29 May 2018

the Robin rose

I took this picture early today while the dew was still out. This May is hot, hot, hot and we are expecting thunderstorms later. Very early this morning, all our alarm notification apps on the various cell phones started beeping and the full neighbourhood grapevine is on alert, heavy rain, clear the basements, tie up the loose peonie branches, keep your fingers crossed for the fruit trees full of tiny apples and pears.

This picture is for Robin, who lost her beloved mother this spring and who once told us the story of a similar rose and who posts such wonderful pictures of the natural world around her.
Thank you.

We now call this rose the Robin rose, the queen of our garden right now.

26 May 2018

There it is again. That amazing urge to be alive. I wake up and walk through the garden.  Eight different roses are in bloom. After breakfast, I carefully go through the motions to get the dreaded sick cert and R walks me back from the surgery under the flowering linden trees and briefly, the scent reminds us of a visit to Paris many years ago with a moody teenage daughter and everybody arguing for a while until life/love caught up with us. A scent bringing back tiny sparks of memories that mean family and us and always and wide open hearts.

There it is again. The realisation that this memory sits inside our cells and all we need to do is lift our heads to the trees and say, Paris, laughing quietly.

To say that my health is rapidly improving would be an overstatement, but often within overstatements are kernels of truth and frequently at the nub of a kernel can be found the essence of possibility. See, I actually have the energy to type out such a convoluted drivel of a sentence.

Like so many people attached to Ireland one way or another, I spent a good part of the last two days on various news and social media sites following the run-up to the referendum. It's a lot more than voting for the right to have an abortion and I won't go into it. There's others who have done a great job explaining this.

As with the same-sex marriage referendum of 2015, tens of thousands of Irish people working/living abroad travelled home to vote (there is no postal vote for Irish citizens abroad).
Following #hometovote can restore your idea of dedication and may even make you cry.

But then this: Yesterday, a train service from London to meet the ferry in Fishguard (Wales) crossing to Rosslare (Ireland) was experiencing some hold-ups and delays. A considerable number of Irish people were on that train who would now miss the boat and thus their chance to vote in the referendum. Several passengers used twitter et al. to alert the railway co. and the ferry operator and both responded, providing a bus to bring the passengers to the boat, while the ferry operators agreed to wait until everybody was on board.  There were massive cheers from the other ferry passengers.

Life is a string of anecdotes that keep me afloat.

21 May 2018

the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do
. . .
and surely we shall not continue to be unhappy
we shall be happy
but we shall continue to be ourselves
continues to be possible

Frank O'Hara 

Not quite, let me add. Not everything. But who am I to ask for more.
My mood is lousy, my health is rough, I am doing all the wrong things and for reasons I pretend I cannot figure out. So yes, another medium sized flare up, unexspected and believe me, I tried to ignore it. But tell that to the vestibular nerves, the clue lies in the term labyrinthitis.

Once I was a schoolgirl on exchange in a strange land, afraid to enter the maze at Hampton Court, when a kind soul explained that upon entering a labyrinth, all you need to do is move with your hand along the right side of the path, never let go, no matter how many twists and turns, and you'll find your way out.

This is me at the moment, holding on to the wall on my right as I move through the house, slapping it with my hand in anger and frustration. And no way out in sight. Certain people are avoiding me for good reasons and so on.

This will pass, we all know that. I wish I was a better patient person.

(Oh. And I am reading all your blogs and in another life, I would comment. Believe me.)

11 May 2018

Spring morphed into a bit of summer, there is the beginning of a drought and basically, my mood is all over the place, incl. a couple of door banging episodes and frustrated shouts of anger to the world at large.
Some days I have to dig quite deeply to find my hidden store of tranquility. But, there it is still, surprise, surprise, once I have exhausted the latest wave of fury and self pity.

My grandmother has been in my dreams, also my mother and the war and I am attempting to sort it into shape and words. But, difficult.

For the time being, there is the garden. I play no part in this, I just watch. And eat.

01 May 2018

Hidden between faded holiday pictures, I find this letter from my grandmother. (The holiday pictures are from my aunt's first trip to Greece, sometime in the late 1960s. My wild aunt, my father's only sister, long dead. Another story.)

Barely two weeks after this letter was written, the US troops arrived and the war was over in Franconia.
The front door of my grandparent's house, now my father's house, is made from strong oak and there is a small window in it. When we were kids, we would climb on a chair and play the game of opening and closing this small window, shouting hello, hello, hello.
It was through this small window that my father, sent there by his parents (go, speak English), saw his first black person, a GI pointing his gun at him, and said "Hello, I am a schoolboy".

My grandmother's birthday is on May 30th. Always celebrated with fresh strawberries and large bouquets of Margeriten (leucanthemum), her favourite meadow flowers.
My father has cried real tears three times in my presence. When his brother died a sudden death in 1965, when Germany won the football world cup in 1974 and when he first told me of his mother's birthday in 1945.
He had gone out early to pick the flowers, the table was set under the plum trees, strawberry cake, when the garden gate opened and there were his brother and his sister, exhausted, dirty, hungry.

1st of April 1945

Dearest E.

Today is Easter Sunday! We enjoyed our Easter baskets, ate fresh fruit salad with sweet curds and later, we even had a cup of real coffee with our apple cake. Our Easter spread didn't look very warlike. 
But when I prepared it, I had to spend more time down in the shelter than in the kitchen. The air-raid sirens went off at 8.30 in the morning and while we were on our way to church, low flying aircraft started to strafe and we barely made it back home unharmed. Since then there has been no end to the sirens. 

We hear that there is fighting in M. and that the Western front is approaching in giant steps. The Russians are already in Vienna. Is there any help for us? When will we meet again? I am keeping N at home with a stomach ache but his school mates are already in uniform.  Still no word from A, all our letters have come back.
Now it is quiet and peaceful but what will it be like tomorrow. Let's not think ahead.
How much would I have liked to climb B hill today but nobody would join me. They are all afraid and hiding indoors.

Write to us. We may not be able to stay in touch for much longer. Please answer.
Everybody sends their love but especially, your mother.

sweet curds: a very German dairy product, I just had some earlier
the shelter was the basement of my grandparent's house
M. is a town about 30 km away
N is my father
A is his older brother, in uniform and at the time last known to be fighting in Croatia or Serbia, but as we found out later, he had already deserted and was walking home
B hill is a local attraction with a viewing platform
I wrote about my father's account of these days here.
My aunt E who had started to study medicine before the war was at the time working in a military hospital in Austria.

26 April 2018

There it is, spring. Currently, we are enjoying lilac week. A flowering lilac in every garden here. It's a German thing. Which is why R doesn't like it and has been sabotaging - by constant replanting - the gnarled old one we inherited when we bought the house back when we were younger. The man who gardens here has a strict hierarchy and on top are plants that produce food not feasts.

This is today's view for those who arrive via the back lane on bicycle. I left my bicycle there for show.
My energy levels are shitty and I try not to think of the woman I used to be, the one who cycled daily come rain or shine. Right now, I mainly concentrate on making it through half a day at work and the tiniest, shortest cycle if I'm lucky.

My brain is equally shitty, tired and certain thoughts are going round and round where I wish they would not. I am now on five different meds throughout the day. According to the experts, this has become necessary in order to reduce too many risks and therefore will keep me alive. 
Seriously. All these new versions of being alive, I am learning. Must polish my appreciation skills and all that stuff about acceptance. Taking things for granted is overrated.

So, what else happens.
Steve's post on the collecting impulse brought back memories of stuffing the bib pocket of my overalls, getting water into my wellies trying to catch tadpoles, trapping maybugs, peeling flattened lizards off the road. And then I found this image online:

In which we see what writer Katie Munnik found in her 4-yr old's winter coat before washing. Essentials, basically. 

And BTW wasn't that congress speech by Macron refreshing. 
Whereas on a much more somber note, this did not lift my spirits but read I had to:
Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.
Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Mayer Hillman (here)



. . .

13 April 2018

No matter where I go these days, people talk about war and not in a detached way. Even my Heidi Klum colleague, who has a somewhat delicate selection of topics of interests, is very concerned about a real war that could even have an effect on our lives. In a way, that is.
Also, the news are of blood rain coming, which sounds almost as bad but actually only involves large amounts of reddish Sahara sands that have been detected in higher atmospheric clouds above Europe. Should it rain, chances are these sands will come down with it. Dramatic.

Anyway. Spring. Always so sudden.

When we lived in paradise with its eternally tropical climate and our time of departure and inevitable return to damp and rainy Dublin was approaching, I tried to prepare my daughter to things to come, incl. seasons.
There she sat on the sagging hammock that provided a handy bridge for the ants to wander from one mango tree to the other, sucking on a bilimbi ot maybe a green mango dipped in salt as she listened with wonder to my tales of spring with snowdrops and daffodils and strawberries and I must admit that I made it sound rather lovely, one happening after the other in a long string of delights, like chapters of a fairy tale. I left out the other seasons as they can be tricky in Ireland. She laughed at it as one laughs at a good joke and skipped off to vist the women singing and washing clothes down by the river.

So no, I don't think I made an impression one way or another. We returned to a mild and wet autumn and by the time there was real snow in February, life had caught up with us in so many unexpected ways that winter was actually enjoyable for the (one and only) day of chaos and snowball fights.

This spring feels different, everything seems to be happening late and all at once while I am still picking up withered blossoms of the xmas cactuses in my office.
Outside, magnolia reigns supreme. And as every year, R tells me in his teacher voice that magnolia are the dinosaurs of flowering plants, 50+ million years old and so on.
This one is about 150 years old, whenever I walk past it I take a bow.

Yesterday, my drug regimen was reshuffled and I sat there all timid and well-behaved listening to The Lecture on rest and paying attention to symptoms. On the way home I spontaneously decided on a short detour to the DIY store and totally out of the blue decided to hire a high-pressure cleaner for the weekened. As a result, for most of today, I have been cleaning the patio stones. Very soothing, let me tell you, and with the added surprise of rediscovering the actual terracotta colour.
My arms, however, are a shaking mess and I cannot lift my cup of tea. As for tomorrow, ah feck it, one day at a time etc.

06 April 2018

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

E.M. Forster

This may be the last day for the winter coat for a while, I am ready to chuck it deep into the darkerst corner of the wardrobe. This morning, I cleared the ice from the windscreen in the sharpest sunlight full of promises. Warmth, birds, colours.
The fog in my head and my bones is lifting, slowly. Getting ready for spring.

I am already overdoing it. Trying to calm the niggling thoughts that this exhaustion may stay with me - as predicted. Yesterday, I cycled furiously, yes furiously, for half an hour against the cold wind and pretended to feel invigorated for a while. In my office, I worked hard at being efficient and laughed at the right moments. Nobody noticed.
At night, angry dreams woke me up. At one point, I watched my feet changing shape, toes fusing into thick round swellings, nails curling upwards as if to tell me that my walking days are over.

Still, stuff happens, life is wonderful - enough.

31 March 2018

Can you feel the world pull apart,
the seams loosen?
What, tell me,
will keep it whole,
If not you? If not me?

Blas Falconer

The thing is, when you are caught in the loop like me, the loop of chronic illness, that never ending hamster wheel, you are generally expected to be either noble or depressed.

Noble in the sense of, look how she copes, look how she finds meaning in every day things, look how brave she is, but most of all, look at her sense of humour.
Depressed as in downtrodden, slow, sad, withdrawn, but most of all no fun to be around.
Mostly, you are expected to be both.

Things get even harder when you don't look ill. But that's for another day to discuss.
Oh, I could write a book about the supreme efforts of schievement and the wasted days of doing nothing at all.  It would read like an ancient lament. Or like one of these self improvement tomes, complete with a set of motivational calendar wisdom cards, a whale sound dvd and a wall chart of pilates exercises.

However. I mostly ride the waves of sarcasm and distraction. Pretend there is nothing to get hung about. Be fucking jolly. Don't dwell and for goodnesssake, don't be such a drip.

22 March 2018

To insist on life's being life and recognising that it could easily be less but shouldn't be.

Richard Ford 

Rain and sleet, cold north wind. I get up and make tea. I go through the motions of a normal morning but something isn't quite right. My muscles ache, my hands will not hold this mug firmly, my taste buds are numb, I feel ravenously hungry and yet, the food on the breakfast table makes me gag. The voices on the radio are too loud and my eyes, my eyes, my eyes just don't want to take anything in.
My head, however, is full of thoughts and plans, swirling with distant images and ideas, potential. 
Alas, the effort.
Day one after the seventh monoclonal antibody therapy. This is what it's like when approx. 90% of my overactive B-cells have been told to disintegrate for a while so that whatever ongoing inflammation they have been involved in is shut down.

16 March 2018

Adorno and snow

How innocently we thought that this was it, winter was well on its way to outer Lapland or wherever. Little did we know. The wind has turned yet again from west to east and rain is slowly looking like snow.

This winter has done something to me, I can't put my finger on it yet. But I feel I've crossed into a new terrain, a sense a resignation. I couldn't tell what it is that I've lost but I feel it. The loss, a gap, like taking a breath and not getting any fresh air, just standing there waiting for it.

My immunologist called me four times in as many days with instructions and results from our last appointment. Because. The treatment of shitty-diseases-that-will-not-go-away follows protocol. And I tend to question some most aspects of it. As in: why should I have to take a prophylactic antibiotic that is contraindicated for people - such as myself - with a known history of gut inflammation? And being the good doctor she is, she assures me that this will be discussed with the experts and in the meantime, I better not take it. So we go back and forth in our merry ways.
This morning I almost asked her, what do you really want to tell me, but of course that was all in my mind. After a night of dramamine-induced swirling in space, I tend to be a tad otherworldly.

Anyway. Spring. Can't get its act together yet. So I am stuck with winter thoughts. And I was reading Colette's post about visiting a psychic and briefly, I encouraged various ideas of the metaphysical and the spiritual and the religious world.

I was raised by atheists and in my teens, experienced a short-lived infatuation with baptists, the benign European variety. After a few months, it got too tedious, no heavenly father ever spoke to me and getting up early every Sunday lost its appeal. Also, my parents took no notice at all, which somewhat dampened my enthusiasm. But I still know most of the songs!

My secondary education was heavy on philosophy, ancient philosophy, Plato's cave allegory and so on. I was not too keen, at age 15, my mind was on other things. But I went through the motions and yes, it does something to you. The concept  of a rational mind, reality and illusions. And before you know it, religion becomes something irrational, fed on myths, unconsciously experienced 'certainties', read tea leaves.

After a while longer, this happened:
I realised that there is no god. And not because my father always said so. And it got worse. I realised that the belief in a person-like god tempts us hand over our responsibility for our life and our world to some imaginary institution beyond our understanding. In other words: a cop out.

But there is something I would - for lack of words right now - call the god-like principle, the good that is incarnate in humans. (And in turn, there is no devil, no hell, only bad deeds done by humans.)
I admit that we cannot exclude metaphysics. It's actually exciting. I adore the thought that that there is something beyond our limited concept of reason, our rational and careful experiences. If we need to call it anything (yet I think we maybe should not have to) I suggest something along the lines of "always question yourself".
Because we, and we alone are responsible for this life. That's our terrible freedom. I can understand that this can be unbearable for some, at times I wish I could cop out, too.

Once we had regurgitated the classic philosophers for seemingly ever, we jumped to the critical theorists and Adorno in particular. I may have missed out some stage in between, I was often extremely tired in class for obvious reasons. But I managed to stay awake for an entire term dedicated to watching and discussing the replay of a seemingly ancient televised debate (1965) between Adorno and one of his adversaries (Gehlen) on the nature of human suffering and human violence. First they go back and forth for ages defining this and that in their clever words - the language and terminology of philosophers and sociologists is out there with Finnish or Hungarian (no offence), i.e. quite impossible to grasp.

 And at some stage half way through, Adorno said this:

I have a particular conception of objective happiness and objective despair, and I would say that, for as long as people have problems taken away from them, for as long as they are not expected to take on full responsibility and self-determination, their welfare and happiness in this world will merely be an illusion. And will be  an illusion that will one day burst. And when it bursts, it will have dreadful consequences.

And that's my credo, has been ever since.

28 February 2018

The days are getting longer, there is a small streak of apricot light low on the horizon around sunset and I feel the connection again, to the natural world around me. But oh, that cold frosty air.

All my life, winter was a hard time, physically, a struggle to keep warm outside and always overdressed indoors.
My childhood winters seemed endless and were cluttered with toboggans, ill fitting ice skates, skies stacked at the back door in a messy tangle of poles and bits of bindings sticking out. In winter, there was always too much to watch out for, too many things to put on hands and feet and head and trying not to lose any of it before the day was over. The exciting races on the frozen canals and carp ponds more than once ended in the discovery that some boys had filled our boots with water and so we were forced to walk home on skates and face my mother, furious because we were late and what did you do to the boots!
In my late teenage winters I wore one of my grandmother's moth eaten fur coats, cut off at waist length and button-less. Waiting for the bus in the mornings, I tried to keep warm wrapping the long hand-knitted scarf - a must have - around myself and smoking too many cigarettes. One day, a brand new dufflecoat, navy and with the correct type of toggles, was waiting for me at home. My mother never said a word. And neither did I.

My mother had a strict regimen of hand-me-downs for clothing and shoes, for mending and darning, stopping ladders in nylon tights with clear nail polish and forever letting down hems. She would sit in the kitchen, furiously unravelling sweaters and cardigans we had outgrown and later, my sister and I fought over the balls of wool to knit yet more scarves.

Once a year, the kitchen table was covered with piles of worn nylon stockings which my mother would cut into long strips (on the bias, mind you) and roll up into fat bundles. These were sent off to the Bethel Institution - a place my mother would never set foot in. Some time later, strangely shaped plaited rugs arrived in the mail, their sickly pale brown nylon hues static to the touch. One or two of them would eventually find a place  in the garage to mop up grease. But as for the rest of them?

Once an item of clothing had finally, at last, outgrown its use, my mother carefully cut off all buttons, eyelet hooks, toggles, buckles, unpicked stitches that held zippers. The buttons were stored in old biscuit tins, in fact they still are. I have three of them here in this room. I played with these buttons, my daughter played with them as did (and still do) visiting children.
The zippers, however, we threw out, seven large bin bags, upstairs in the spare bedroom, when we moved her to the apartment she hated so much.

My mother was not a collector, she had no interest in old buttons. I don't think she ever reused a single zipper.
But, the war, you see. The war. That's what you did in the war.

13 February 2018

the 2100 scenario

Don't build your home by the sea. If you own one by it, sell it and move inland.
And these are very conservative and cautious predictions based on multicenter data models. It could well be worse and much sooner.

If sea level continues to change at this rate and acceleration, sea-level rise by 2100 (∼65 cm) will be more than double the amount if the rate was constant at 3 mm/y.

Climate-change–driven accelerated sea-level rise
R. S. Nerem, B. D. Beckley, J. T. Fasullo, B. D. Hamlington, D. Masters, G. T. Mitchum
This will not go away. It's only 82 years to 2100.

Also: We made pancakes today, because Shrove Tuesday tradition. With icing sugar and lemon juice.

11 February 2018

We learn as we go along. At least, that's the plan. And yet, we drink a fresh cup of strong coffee despite the first signs of stomach cramps fully aware blissfully ignoring all evidence of what the next couple of hours will be like.
This is minor. Just a tiny bit of denial. I accept full responsibility.

Winter tried its thing for a while but the snow did not last and two nights of frost meant nothing. Hear that? Nothing. Crocus and daffs are eager little pushers.

This morning, in our warm bed, we discussed the finer points of Dark having binge watched nine episodes on the two previous evenings (or was it three?), explaining to understand who is who and who is related to whom, what is the lunar solar cycle, why the number 33, is there such a thing as the Einstein Rosen bridge and so on. I was ready to admit that I haven't the slightest idea when R in his matter of fact science teacher voice mentioned that he can handle black holes and gravitational waves, no problem. But that dark matter was in doubt according to latest research. Also, that exoplanets are an amazing concept and nothing to fear.

I feel safe now.

It's a great series, very entertaining, somewhat mind blowing. Don't miss it. The English subtitles are well done, for a change.

03 February 2018


As of yesterday, we are looking into the possibility of spring and beyond, the bigger picture of seasons and the cycle of growth and harvest and rest, using the Gaelic seasonal festivals  for orientation. Now that R has been liberated from the restrictions of a school calendar.

Accordingly, Imbolc is the gateway to our year ahead.  The feast day marking the beginning of the light. Which called for sowing of seeds of the following: two varieties each of capsicum (peppers) and tomatoes, sturdy broccoli, cauliflower, two types of basil and Tibetan gentian. They appear dormant snug inside tiny peat pots in the heated cold frames on the big window sill, but we know, they are busily stretching and growing and expanding as of this minute (!!) and on and on and on.
And this is only the beginning. There are many small bags of ordered and collected and exchanged seeds waiting patiently on R's desk. The man has a plan.

This winter has been exceptionally mild, the two almond trees on the west wall are about to flower.
Today, alas, it started to snow.

In a complete turnaround from last year, when I was on sick leave most of the time and could not take holidays, I am now portioning out my accumulated holiday allowance to be sick. It feels very secretive and only I know that I am cheating.
I try to pretend and make a show of coping. Yesterday, after a short visit to the whole food store and the library, I slept for the next couple of hours and when R woke me up, I continued pretending some more.
Mostly, I try to not listen to the hissing voices inside my head reprimanding me, demanding that I face reality and all that other weird shit. Ah! Not now. It seems I have lost any sense of what feels healthy or unwell, I just plow on, crawl through the day and hope for the best, for the next morning. I am so used to it, being well would come as a real surprise now. Admittedly, this latest level of weight loss and exhaustion is new but for now, I have decided to ignore it couldn't give a shit.

We spent last weekend in Franconia, celebrating my father's 89th birthday. He was in top form, everybody arrived on time at the inn, a medieval building once home to the minnesinger (poet) Wolfram von Eschenbach, who wrote the original Parzival (Perceval) story (forget all about Wagner). Of course, this is strictly for tourists, we Franconians just accept it as our birthright, all that medieval history everywhere. We let it shine briefly, just enough to feel somewhat superior and then we ignore it.

As we sat along the tables under the fat wooden beams, eating a proper Franconian Sunday lunch, my father looked proudly around his clan, most of whom are sharing his surname, the youngest barely six weeks old, all on the right track, or so he believes. We played it well.

Franconia did not disappoint (see below). It never does - even on a grey cold January weekend. On the way home, I curled myself into a ball of deep exhaustion, while R drove us home through fog and rain, disobeying the speed limits as usual.

01 February 2018

This music. There should be a better word for it. Something about force, heart, soul, depths.

Hugh Masekela died last week.

In the late 1980s when I was living in paradise, we would listen to this song in silence. My co-wokers, who normally were happily skipping and shuffling to reggae and zouk and moutia and sega, sat motionless whenever this song was played on the radio or from the boomboxes they brought to work.

I may have been their boss, in theory, but when it came to music at work, visiting family, girlfriends/boyfriends, buying and selling of home produce incl. illegally collected seabird eggs or the trading of foreign currency, I was powerless. And reader, I didn't mind one bit. I only tried eating an omelet made from seabird eggs once, too fishy for my taste.

For the men and women in my office, the ultimate shithole country was apartheid South Africa and they told me by the way they listened to this song. 

In my time there and since, I have met a good few people who call this beautiful stunning natural beauty of a country a shithole mostly because the shopping experience is severely limited, there are too many mosquitoes, it is always hot and humid, it rains almost every day, the birds make a racket every evening before sunset, the bats make a racket all night, the dogs bark all day and night, there are children everywhere, and so on.

And I should add nepotism, that terrible African trait whereby members of the ruling clan are given cushy government posts. Plus, backhanding, blatantly corrupt officials, off shore tax schemes, all these strictly African shithole characteristics. No?
The tinier the country, the more obvious they are.
And the rumours of political intrigues, secret prisoners, coup attempts, exiles. Yes, many of them were true. Every week someone would walk up to my desk with secret information, sometimes testing me and if I fell for it, and I usually did, there was much slapping up thighs and laughter.
Paradise was (is) a bad place. Human greed etc.

(But also, free school for all, free health care for all, clean buses running to almost everywhere, more women in government positions than anywhere else in the world, active trade unions, a ban on all plastic packaging, strict observation of environmental protection laws etc.)

I was lucky to see/hear/experience Hugh Masekela live, here in our city. It was a cold night for an open air concert. He had us all sweating and shouting in no time.

21 January 2018

This is what defeat looks like, thankfully. The river showed me my place and when I arrived back home after a mere half hour, my knees were buckling under me and my conscience kicked in.

On a good day, I can cycle on and on until that castle ruin on the other side is a long way behind me. (In my fitandhealthy life, I cycled all the way to almost Switzerland.)
But it has been a while.

So yes, I am miserably unwell but what else is new. Keeping fingers crossed that it's just a bug or a virus simmering below the surface. Even cancelled the all important meeting with the big boss on Friday. Exhaustion is my middle name. Consequently, this post is all over the place.

But otherwise life is good enough, seriously. We got the first (hopefully of many) bunch of daffs.

The dawn chorus is swelling, mostly blackbirds. The ladybirds that have been hibernating inside the house are getting restless. They make these tiny sliding noises when they crash against the window panes. Don't worry, they are tough.

I have been reading, as always, and this here stuck in my head:

I’d like to teach my daughter to protect herself. I’d like to teach her not to be thankful for the leering eyes of a man on the street, or the groping hands of a man at a bar. I’ll teach her that she is the ruler of her body, and I’d like to imagine a world where she can go to the grocery store at night and not walk fast to her car with her keys poised like a weapon.
Because I tried, I swear I tried. I wanted her world to be so much safer.  I wanted her to grow up feeling free and welcome and fearless almost everywhere. I want all women to feel free and fearless and I think every single person I know wants the same and yet, I have failed. For a while I thought if I encourage her sense of fearlessness that surely will do the trick. But before I knew it, she learned that "N O spells no" in kindergarten - and we pretended it's a funny game, enrolled her in self-defense training not once but thrice and arranged for safe passwords, secret codes and pretend phone calls while walking home from the night bus. Mothers should not have to buy pepper spray for their daughters or warn them about the safe way to dress because men cannot help it or whatever shitty backlash comes next.

Meanwhile, listen to the fabulous NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is pregnant with her first child and will show the world that work and motherhood are not incompatible.

10 January 2018

it's terribly important not to be too gloomy

The fabulous Mary Beard speaking.

At around 6:30 am after a night when I exhausted myself on the battlegrounds of gastritis I realised that I really don't have to go to work at all today, I can just call in sick and if they hold it against me, so be it.  Which of course is paranoia on my part because labour protection etc. Also, as my clever daughter pointed out to me, complaints about my work in general solely based on my age is a rights violation (that's called ageism, mum, don't let them get away with it).
So, I am staying home because I am old and sick or maybe because I am sick and old. Take your pick.
Or rather, because I feel like shit and just want to potter about a bit, watch/listen to Mary Beard, not brush my greying hair, read my book with a hot water bottle placed on my bloated tummy.
And: no apologies.

The river is receding, the birds are very busy courting and getting things ready in the hedge for their spring marriages. Even the sun came out for a (very) short while.

07 January 2018

midwinter is in the past

2015, all innocent

The river  burst its banks three days ago and this lunchtime, the water level reached orange alert  with red alert forecast for tonight. Like all good citizens, we duly made our way to see it with our very own eyes. Let no disaster happen without crowds to witness.
It was as expected, ducks and swans showing off their best plumage, a couple of canoeists paddling along where some eight meters below, we would normally cycle. Only the NE wind was icy cold.

In the morning, I can hear a timid dawn chorus, the days are getting longer, so R reassures me.

At nights when exhaustion has me in its tight wrap, I lie in the deep silence and although I cannot see the moon directly, I watch the blue light, the way it shimmers and shivers along the walls and across the ceiling and this longing for life comes over me, like an urge from deep inside of me that I had almost forgotten existed. 

01 January 2018

new year's resolutions

According to reliable sources, Seamus Heaney’s  final words just before his death in 2013, texted to his wife, were noli timere –  do not fear.

If I should have to try and spell out a new year's resolution, Looking forward to next year, I could do worse than to bear these words in mind.

Because the more we fear, the more they win. Right? But then another new year's resolution of mine is to always ask, who are they?

My dream resolutions, the ones I haven't yet properly examined but which the spirits and fairies and pixies of winter have been whispering into my ear: retireretireretire and see someone about that paralyzed right foot (as in get to walk properly again).

And while we're at it, the big one, the resolution of resolutions, is to only buy stuff we need, absolutely need. This is actually not  very difficult now with R starting on his meagre pension next month. And seriously, we have everything we need. Stuff wise.

Other than that, I will let shit happen. I am 60 now, no need to get too excited.

New Year's eve was exceptionally mild, a weird spring day. We sat outside with our mugs of tea. We cycled without gloves. Today, it is cold again and that poor Meyer lemon is probably going to react badly to us moving it in and out and in and out. Right now, it's flowering and downstairs smells like Spain.
This was a week ago: