06 December 2016

I will try to make this stop at the place of self pity the briefest possible. But be warned, I have a tendency to dwell. 
As a child, long before anybody ever considered contact allergies, I would forever pick and remove and restick the sticky plasters covering my multitude of injuries resulting from climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek on the building sites of our growing suburb, cycling accidents, general fighting, all that feral outdoor stuff. Once I got the plaster off for good, I continued picking the, by now, red and itchy wound or scab, trying to hide well away from my mother's slap and yet another application of sticky plaster. 
Years later, when I worked as a night cleaner at the university clinics in Heidelberg (a much sought after student job at the time) and developed a nasty looking rash, a dermatologist covered my back with a zillion sticky test patches for 48 very very itchy hours. The result was that I am allergic to just one thing, sticky plaster. (The rash was a chemical burn from one of the cleaning agents I used at work.)
Life can be so easy sometimes. 

Today, the house booms with R's coughing. The kitchen reeks of the eucalyptus and thyme oil concoction he inhales, his fever has dropped, the world did not come to a sudden end after he swallowed his first ever antibiotic pill and the resulting recovery process is a joy to observe. Of course, he would not describe events as such. He is suffering greatly and requires a considerable yet predictable amount of cajoling and distraction to get through this extremely unfair onslaught on his usually excellent health and the resulting massive burden of boredom.
Whereas I crawl along, exhausted yet fever-free, non-coughing yet miserably chesty, basically waiting for the ground to open up beneath my feet. I have no idea why I remembered the sticky plaster stuff.
Meanwhile, my father has turned off his mobile phone because we interrupted him too often, he is watching the skiing tournaments live on tv from his hospital bed.

In frost-free tropical paradise, this was our back garden.

05 December 2016

If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire—then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer.
More about this quote of a quote here. 

What was it again about  things that come in threes?  Let me show off my Latin, wow I am so fabulous: omne trium perfectum - have a guess.

Like The Three Little Pigs and The Three Musketeers. Or specifically, my father in hospital, my man with his first ever strep throat still contemplating his first ever prescription of antibiotics (we are not there yet and you have no idea) and myself with a temperature of something above normal but hey, no strep throat.
Outside, heavy frost. Wait, that's four things.

04 December 2016

Our antidote to cultures of fear is knowledge, empathy, compassion. The open hand. The open imagination.

Paul Salopek

28 November 2016

this morning's cycle

There are a thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
Marilynne Robinson 

27 November 2016

In the mid 1980s I got lost in a dark space. I only realised this fully some time later when we moved to paradise and set up house as a family of three with a huge variety of insects (both a first for us). Back in Ireland we had been battling unemployment and the establishment with the radical agenda of the time, all the various campaigns ranging from the political to the philosophical to the environmental to the personal. It was a hectic, wild and full time. I have few regrets - but never again.
There was that one evening in our messy crumbling mansion, where we - about ten people at the time - had come together to watch tv. We were so full of ourselves that even watching tv had to be a commune activity and I remember that of course, we had discussed this beforehand. Eventually, we all sat in front of a small black and white portable tv and watched Threads, the BBC drama about the nuclear war.
It was screened in two parts with a panel discussion half way and at the end but I never made it beyond the first half hour. Instead, I can still see myself, I was rocking on top of our bed, a keening mess, begging R to get something, drugs whatever, to be prepared for when the time comes - or worse.
A year later, Chernobyl happened. But by that time, I had made room for my fear, incorporated it as yet another enemy into my radical  feminist agenda and I had developed some of that snide sarcasm we all seemed to polish up with every new doomsday scenario. Not enough at times, the Ethiopian famine and that whole Live Aid crap hit me big time shortly afterwards, but I got by. Mostly by reassuring myself that others could cope alongside me.
Now, thirty years later, I look at the innocent, dreamy woman I was then, getting so carried away. Was it motherhood, hormones? Probably.
I wish.

Last night we talked about fears again, we rarely do, but that morning I had opened up the news feed on my phone to this"Please don’t read this unless you are feeling strong. This is a list of 13 major crises that, I believe, confront us. There may be more. Please feel free to add to it or to knock it down. I’m sorry to say that it’s not happy reading."

We sat down to eat a delicious meal in a small Italian restaurant and cycled home through the cold night air, looking into the lit up windows of our comfortable neighbourhood. Back home, we watched a thriller with Mark Rylance, the only actor I have a crush on, we drank xmas tea (black tea with cardamom pods, anise, orange peel, cinnamon and safflower), we looked at the stars. We tried to change the subject a few times. We still try to. To be honest, I am not sure how to cope. One day at a time, I know. This fundamental fear has been the backdrop to my life for thirty years, there is no pretending that all has been well.

23 November 2016

This evening, I was once again the only person cycling through the dark forest. There was no moon and I had to be careful with the piles of slippery wet leaves and that sharp bend across the stream, but after all these years, I could probably cycle this stretch with my eyes close anyway. All in all, I figured if there are monsters, I can handle them. Later, back in city traffic I cursed a lot at the top of my voice at the other monsters, the male drivers unable to use the indicator etc.
Possibly a hormone thing, testosterone-induced indicator blindness. Maybe they need a spell in my forest, in the dark silent forest. 
Anyway, I am home and didn't get wet, my fingers will eventually defrost and there is a nice man cooking dinner (he knows how to use indicators). We will pretend that all is well with the world. We are getting quite good at it.

22 November 2016

Life is not about knowing. Life is about feeling your way through the dark. If you say, ‘This should be lighter by now,’ you’re shutting yourself off from your own happiness. So let there be darkness. Get down on your knees, and crawl to the dark. Crawl and say to yourself, ‘Holy GOD, it’s dark, but just look at me crawl! I can crawl like a motherfucker.’

Heather Havrilesky

We needed to come down to earth, solid earth preferably, after the gloomy, wet and dark first half of November and watched the first episode of Planet Earth II. It delivered. David Attenborough is the best person ever, seriously. I would sell my bicycle to meet him. If you want to get a glimpse of hardship and endurance and love, watch the penguins. We humans are whining weaklings compared to penguins. And forget the Komodo dragons, all brute muscle and clout, strutting for show without compassion. The penguins break my heart every time.

20 November 2016

For a long time I stood at the kitchen window watching R digging and replanting, raking leaves with the last blustery winds from last night's storm around him. Last night, a long conversation with a friend who returned from the climate summit in Marrakesh about the unusual melting arctic sea ice and jet streams and possible outcomes.
Tomorrow is our daughter's birthday. The long hours of labour and her birth changed our lives dramatically, in ways we never thought possible, never expected in our hippie innocence and which we only realised and continue to realise in hindsight. The way we and everyone and everything is connected, the gift that will always return, the myriad faultlines that run deep below us all. There was a time when the memory of that day would fill me simply with happiness, incredible happiness that seemed to stretch forever into the future. Oh, it is still there, her voice, her face, her laughter and her tears, all of her will always reach into my deepest innermost heart. But there is also such fear now and a sadness I never expected. And worst of all, she knows. That her future will not be as easy and uncomplicated as the life we had as a family. That her generation and the generations to come will face challenges and disasters we never imagined.
This is a hasty translation of a comment in one of our national papers, by Kai Stritmatter, author and foreign correspondent currently living in China.

Shout! Do not stop being horrified. Do not hide behind jokes. Stop reassuring each other that it may not be so bad. Assume that it will get much worse. This is how it looks from China: the world is now ruled by Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping. And: America is fucked. Europe is tipping. The liberal West is a thing of the past. Democracy is seriously wounded. And now? What about our children?I posted these lines after the US election on Facebook. A friend replied: "Relax!"
I did that once. In Turkey. After the rushed election of Erdoğan. When he stood before the people and pretended to be meek. I did relax then, I told everybody: Give the man a chance. Well, I will not do that again. I've learned my lesson: We must take them at their word, these megalomaniacs, these narcissists devoured by their thirst for power and revenge. Believe them when they promise to sow hatred and practice retribution. I don't understand how we can pretend today that the world is turning as always. Something monstrous is happening. It happens now, at this second, it happens tonight while you sleep, and it will happen tomorrow when you wake up. Barack Obama just visited Athens. He spoke urgently about the flame of democracy. He also tried, so I read in the newspaper,  "to take away the fear of Trump". Of course, he wants to keep a bit of influence on Trump. I think that will be disastrous. If Obama were honest, he should say, "Be afraid!"

What is now referred to as "the post-factual age", I've been living in for almost 20 years as a foreign correspondent in Turkey and China. Living with lies, propaganda and resentment, I've learned that in China and in Turkey. Existing among autocrats and budding autocrats. In societies where one lives in a minefield full of uncertainty and arbitrariness. But throughout I always had two consolations. First, I can always go back home and rely on the values ​​I believe in. And second, the world is always striving to become a better place because people elsewhere also dream of freedom and human dignity. Well, the charisma of democracy has been disintegrating for years: America's wars in the Middle East, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The revelations of Edward Snowden. What do you want, you hypocrites, people were asked in Cairo, Moscow, and Peking? The world has become a feast for cynics. For how much longer will my home country be a safe place I can feel proud of? Will Europe also fall?Do not let yourself be lulled. Not from the smell of your morning coffee, not from the subway that runs today as always  The world is no longer the same as  yesterday. Shout. Wake those who still believe in the comfort of hope, who lack the power of imagination. Wake them up. There's a monster. It stuck his gaze on us. Look him in the eye. Shout! And then go to work.

15 November 2016


The Arctic's temperature is way above normal for the time of year. The water is much warmer after the summer ice loss and there is a flood of warm air coming up from the South.

The unusually high temperatures reduce the temperature differential between the Arctic and lower latitudes and mean that the jet stream starts to slow down and meander bringing unusual weather to populated areas. ​​

This is probably the fastest way that climate change will affect people in the heavily populated regions. Waiting for crops to fail when the temperature rises 2 C will take another thirty years and waiting for the ice to melt and raise sea levels is a slow business but this is quick. Reduce Arctic ice cover, temperature rises and straight away the jet stream moves course.
It can bring excessive rain and floods or it can bring dry weather becoming drought, but in either case it is quick, it is regional and it is very unpleasant and expensive. 
 read more here

These are maybe the only things that governments understand about dealing with climate change if they are able to look beyond their little bitsy power deals and are willing to deal with it at all.

14 November 2016

Jack Frost has arrived with a cold wind. I wrapped myself up and walked down to the river where everything was bright and shiny, the river, the ferry, the hills, the joggers and cyclists and I got carried away for a bit. How beautiful it all is, how comfortable and happy our lives are here in this small city where so many nationalities live and work and study together, where the ultra right demonstrators were outnumber 500 to one last time, and then I met the elderly Korean tennis coach swinging his racket. Predictably, we chatted about the weather and the cold wind and our grown up children and earthquakes and universities and - this happens regularly - Ireland. His wife, he told me, is one quarter Irish, so his children's blood is one eighth Irish blood. At this stage I laughed and mumbled something about blood being the same for everyone but maybe the DNA and how that could be a surprise etc. And he nodded and laughed as well before he said, whatever the science, at least we are not black.
What? I said. Are you serious? And before I  would grab his tennis racket to hit him over the head, I walked on shaking, while he called after me, sorry, sorry, only joking. And of course all the right answers came to me much later.

13 November 2016

No rain today, cold yes, but clear mostly. Late breakfast, we make plans for the afternoon. I go upstairs to sort out my desk for the coming week and there is that ping on my phone.
The message reads don't worry we are fine and for the rest of the day I sit and watch a live stream camera of Wellington bay,  the waves of the Pacific ocean gently rolling in, rolling out, rolling in, no tsunami, no tsunami, no tsunami, at least 45 aftershocks. My child is safe.

11 November 2016

Our antidote to cultures of fear is knowledge, empathy, compassion. The open hand. The open imagination.

Paul Salopek
Thank you Leonard Cohen for teaching me that there needs to be that crack in everything - so that the light gets in.

09 November 2016

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought. That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again. Nothing is what we thought. I can say that with great confidence. Emptiness is not what we thought. Neither is mindfulness or fear. Compassion—not what we thought. Love. Buddha nature. Courage. These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them. These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.


06 November 2016

I wanted to do many things this weekend but my anger got in the way plus a couple of other things, like working on a translation about women and midwives in Upper Mustang (Nepal) which rapidly brought me back to my senses and reality. The picture above has been on the wall above my desk for the past five years. It shows Rensum, one of the older midwives. This is how she travels every day to the mountain villages at a high altitude to attend to her clients. (If you want to know more about her and the women in Upper Mustang, let me know.)
In between, I followed R around as he did our weekly shopping (bless him) and I felt like an alien in these endless miles of aisles. I eventually found two things to halfheartedly add to the trolley but generally, it was another lost day for capitalism. We won't starve as R shops with dedication and a list and he never ever gets tempted to buy crap except when there's wine to taste. Nobody said this would be easy, kicking and being furious in style and comfort. But I do have a talent for getting lost in my very own mess.

04 November 2016

Hello active world out there. I pushed this week in front of me like a sack of rotten potatoes. Last night I was so fucking tired I couldn't sleep, too exhausted to relax I just hung in there waiting for someone to come and knock me over the head or something. I know. drama queen. Anyway, nobody came. Just the usual banging noises from the fridge and R gently snoring.
Accordingly and following the developing pattern of slothfulness, I skipped this morning's Qi Gong with the Muslim women and instead nursed several cups of tea while gazing into the far distance for a few hours until my father phoned to list all his many many exciting plans for the weekend. I just let him talk on and on until the interference from his hearing aids became too loud. He only wears them for show, he has never been interested in listening.
Plus, it's almost freezing outside and while cycling to work is exhilarating what with all the colourful leaves and stuff, the thrill of cycling back home through the lonely dark forest is rapidly decreasing (do thrills decrease?). Also, once again I have come to realise that there is no such thing as windproof, chill-proof cycling gloves. They simply haven't been invented. Last night, I briefly considered immersing my hands into a dead horse in true Revenant style but this plan was abandoned due to lack of horse.
So there, life goes on. This is November, not July.
I shall finish this cup of coffee and go to work, I may even discover some purpose along the way.

02 November 2016

There are days when, well you know.
Days when I wonder what on earth etc.
One of them started with reading the wrong sections of the paper. I should stick with the glossy celebrity "news", I know.

Every seventh child on this planet - and remember it's all we've got - lives in an area of severe air pollution, the biggest environmental health risk. But of course, India and China are far away places.

We are now living in a 400ppm world with levels unlikely to drop below the symbolic milestone in our lifetimes.

And there is more. Shitloads.

Then I went shopping and I almost got into a fight with the young man who currently manages the local supermarket. It started very politely when I asked him why suddenly all the organic veg and fruit are now shrink-wrapped in plastic (actually, the bananas were unwrapped). We went back and forth for a while about regulations identifying organic produce, about stopping people buying organic stuff and pretending it was conventional, about making it easier for staff to clean and discard, about environmental pollution and how to recycle plastics (tell me another one) and I admit I was leading him on because I had just spent some time with someone on the phone who happens to research that kind of shit. And I walked away like the old biddy I have become feeling stupid and oh so well aware that this is not the way to go about it. But still. There are days, etc.

One of my friends-with-positive-mindset regularly reassures me with sentences like 'We have a planet full of resources, a body of knowledge and seven billion pairs of hands. The impediments to our finding an answer are not technical. They are organisational. How do we organise human affairs to prevent this?'

Currently we are still stuck in " How do we organise human affairs within the current rules, systems, mores, cultures and values to prevent this?"

And quite probably we will stay stuck there until it is actually too late.

Increasingly, there are days when I am relieved that I am almost old, that I probably have another 10, 15 years (max) and what the heck. But I am kidding myself. We all are.

31 October 2016

perfect day

lazy Sunday cycle along the river, clear air, a bit chilly, almost no wind, this is our life of luxury

29 October 2016

picture credit here

There are 27 bones in each hand and about 123 ligaments and there are times in the day when they all seem to shout at me for attention like one load roar. Also, morning stiffness, what a silly name.  Quite some morning, I tell you, it goes on and on.
At the back of my head I have stored the information from my last medical appointment, namely that I could either increase drug A or change drug B to drug C or maybe it was the other way around. I politely suggested to wait a bit longer explaining that I would like to pretend I could have a life without so much medication, at least until after xmas and the new doctor smiled from behind her desk and said, sure. For a while.
It's that easy. At least in my mind.
Now that I have officially switched experts, I wrote a long thank you letter to my lovely immunologist and sent it with a box of the best Italian dark chocolate covered torrone, wrapped in brown paper. Doctors are not allowed to accept gifts from patients, officially. But she will. I hope so. I will miss her, we had some good laughs.

Anyway, most mornings I wake and while I carefully move my hands and feet into flexibility, for a while it makes - surprisingly - a lot of sense, all this, life, death, being and stuff. Here in my bed, in my warm relaxing ocean of positive thinking, my mind humming with "Hell yes, I know how it works" and "I get it, I can handle it" until  eventually this huge wave rolls along which takes me away screaming "I will never understand!".
Maybe it's a winter thing. Clocks change on Sunday.

25 October 2016

I asked, acceptance, why is it so hard, tell me what to do.
And I was told to sit still, relax, breathe and repeat to myself quietly for the next 20 mins: who and what am I rejecting in my life right now?
Just this, don't search for an answer.
Try it. You may find a vast open space full of blue sky. Maybe.

21 October 2016

it is time for this

History will record that this was the decade when women owned funny. Or anyway drink this:
They lean in with the ingredients that they have been gathering for days, for years, to make the potion potent.
Eye of newt. Wool of bat. Woman cards, both tarot and credit. Binders. Lemons. Lemonade. Letters to the editor saying that a woman could not govern at that time of month — when in fact she would be at the height of her power and capable of unleashing the maximum number of moon-sicknesses against our enemies, but the nasty women do not stoop to correct this.
They drop in paradoxes: powerful rings that give you everything and keep you from getting the job, heels that only move forward by moving backward, skirts that are too long and too short at the same time, comic-book drawings whose anatomy defies gravity, suits that become pantsuits when a woman slips them on, enchanted shirts and skirts and sweaters that can ask for it, whatever it is, on their own. They take the essence of a million locker rooms wrung out of towels and drop it in, one drip at a time. Then stir.
They sprinkle it with the brains of the people who did not recognize that they were doctors, pepper it with ground-up essays by respected men asking why women aren’t funny, whip in six pounds of pressure and demands for perfection. They drizzle it with the laughter of women in commercials holding salads and the rueful smiles of women in commercials peddling digestive yogurts. They toss in some armpit hair and a wizened old bat, just to be safe. And wine. Plenty of wine. And cold bathwater. Then they leave it to simmer.
And they whisper incantations into it, too. They whisper to it years of shame and blame and what-were-you-wearing and boys-will-be-boys. They tell the formless mass in the cauldron tales of the too many times that they were told they were too much. Too loud. Too emotional. Too bossy. Insufficiently smiling. The words shouted at them as they walked down the streets. The words typed at them when their minds traveled through the Internet. Every concession they were told to make so that they took up less space. Every time they were too mean or too nice or shaped wrong. Every time they were told they were different, other, objects, the princess at the end of the quest, the grab-bag prize for the end of the party.
They pour them all into a terrible and bitter brew and stir to taste.
It tastes nasty. It is the taste of why we cannot have nice things, and they are used to that.

Perhaps if the potion works, they will not have to be.
The nasty women have a great deal to do before the moon sinks back beneath the horizon.
But that is all right. They know how to get things done.

Alexandra Petri 

20 October 2016

my homes, part II

This has been unexpectedly difficult. I don't know how many times I have started writing this post. Mostly,  I got lost in much too detailed descriptions of quite boring episodes from happy/unhappy childhood, seasons 1-15, in long and unwanted contemplation of my mother's life, which always ends poorly for both of us. Some days, I found myself considering motherhood in general and how so many adult children I know have this amazing capacity to keep a pragmatic distance, storing their mothers somewhere in a drawer marked 'slightly doddery and definitely tedious' until emergency strikes (this after watching season 2 of Transparent, esp. the last episode). My own daughter is a case in point. She can be adoringly ruthless and dismissive.
If only I could have had some of her confidence at the time.

Anyway, none of which gets me where I want this to go.

Throughout my childhood and my teenage years in southern and northern Bavaria, i.e. Franconia - and later as a university student in Heidelberg - the US army was all over the place. In Freising, where I was born, my parents lived next door to young GI families, sharing playgrounds and childcare and baby gear. Shortly before we moved, my father was offered a research fellowship in Alaska for three years and decided against it based on the recommendations of these GI friends (too cold, too boring). So I have been told but I suspect there were other reasons.
My point is that during the late 1950s, the US army families provided a much needed breath of fresh air, careless fun and pragmatic innocence, new references so to speak, to my parent's generation who had barely if at all begun to recover from the war and all that unmentionable shame.

By the time we moved to our brand new home in this Franconian city, my father, who was in his early 30s, had climbed to a surprising height on his career ladder and that allowed my parents to become somewhat haughty again, which means that our sitting room had walls of books, the music was ever only classical, the table cloth on Sundays old family linen etc. And most certainly no tv, not for ages, the world was always neatly separated into us and them (imagine a pyramid shape).
The house was a 1960s dream come true with central heating, a large open space sitting room with French windows complete with fringed striped canopy, jazzy ironwork banisters, crazy paving in pastels from the garage all through the garden and to the back door. Two (!) bathrooms, a fully equipped laundry in the basement and so on.
my mother knitted our matching blue coats with the white buttons

The area was about to be developed from a sleepy farming village, surrounded by oak forests and a disused historic canal perfect for ice skating, into a neat middle class hub of family life with access to the city. It all looked a bit like this watercolour by Albrecht Dürer. Actually, it didn't just look like it, this is the actual village, only he lived there for a while long before we moved in.

 It was a fabulous place with amazing freedom.

Lots of kids, on scooters, bicycles, roller skates, roaming the forest, climbing trees, building dens, gang warfare with snowballs in winter, collecting mushrooms on the way home from school, flying kites and crossing forbidden main roads, exploring the building sites of this growing suburb, coming home in the evenings covered in muck and dust, no questions asked.

And in between the proper German family homes with their pianos and cultivated gardens, the boring Sunday afternoons with Kaffee und Kuchen using the best family china, there lived many US army families, who had barbecues on the front steps. Imagine: a grilled hamburger between two slices of white toast (we only got white toast when we had a tummy upset). We stood there in our Sunday's best and stared at these lively people wearing shorts and playing loud music from a transistor radio  (music as in AFN). The gates stood open and that's all we needed, never mind the language. I spent wonderful afternoons exploring the mysterious world of Barbie dolls and Superman comics (we were allowed one comic only when we had to stay in bed with a fever and my mother would choose it personally), chewing bubble gum and eating peanut butter - with a spoon. Soon we were friends waving to each other in the mornings on our way to school, the US kids in their strange yellow bus, the German kids on their bicycles.
It was a wild time, believe me.

But with the cold war getting hotter, the army moved their families into compounds and our neighbourhood was once again ruled by Mittagsruhe and white knee socks on Sundays. Still, we had the great outdoors all to ourselves and for a while longer at least, no adult interference.
It ended when I started secondary school - at age 10 - and had to spend hours commuting back and forth, plus piano lessons and horse riding lessons and tennis lessons and whatever else my parents considered essential in molding us into proper representatives of their make believe world of academia.

18 October 2016

We are on autumn midterm break and move around the house and garden in very slow motion. Wait, that's me, R has been digging and relaying a path at the bottom of the garden most of the day. After which he wolfed down the delicious dinner I prepared (pasta with pears, wild mushrooms and gorgonzola, a very small bowl of the first tiny tender Brussel sprouts and a salad of baby spinach with Moroccan olives, beetroot (boiled and sliced) and sour cream dressing) and now he is sitting at his desk marking exam papers listening to African jazz or something equally lively and invigorating. Whereas I have almost exhausted my daily dose of energy and typing is all that stops me from falling asleep.
I am exaggerating. I am merely lazy as hell. In fact, I cleaned the downstairs windows this morning and I finished editing a long and rather repetitive paper on genetic predispositions for lipid diseases. Seriously, I am hopeless with genetics (and science, I admit it, I admit it), all that stuff about heterozygosity or homozygosity, I haven't a clue. Well, we all have to earn a living somehow. Just don't ask how I got stuck with this line of work. Maybe I'll write it down one day.
Last night I had the weirdest, most vivid dream and this morning, I read several blog posts about people's weird dreams. The moon, never underestimate the moon. But don't tell my father I said so.
Anyway, in my dream, an old friend from long ago brought me to a party with lots of drugs and mountains of food and everyone was dressed as a character from Alice in Wonderland. It went on from there. I was glad to wake up eventually. But I remember that one of the guys wore gold trousers.

13 October 2016

These are almost the last grapes. There is one chock full vine still out there waiting for even colder nights and a few more sunny days to give the grapes that extra thrill and sweetness. This lot here has a sugar content of 16% and a potential alcohol content of 8% but we have already devoured them. Rapidly. The plumeria, now indoors, continues to produce buds. So there is hope. Every morning, I whisper my encouraging thoughts while I dust it with distilled water.

What an exciting week so far! I made new friends and no enemies. When I walked out of the surgery yesterday, pressing onto the small bandage in the crook of my right arm, it all made sudden sense. But only for a second.
The good news is that while both my kidneys are odd, they are well. So after he explained all that business about floating kidney and stuff, we parted for good, the nephrologist and I, both hoping we may never meet again.
Whereas the moody rheumatologist and the jolly radiologist are now in my inner circle of close buddies after we spent a fair amount of time together, mostly considering the state and fate of my hands and feet, of which all four have started to display signs of 'involvement'. 
Strictly speaking, my hands have always been involved hands, I tend to wave them around a lot and as my disgusted father remarks - unsuccessfully in my case - one does not point with a naked finger at dressed people and so on. But recently when I make a fist with my right hand it shifts sideways reminding me of Kermit's face when he gets aggravated. My two new friends agreed and provided the proper  terms like cysts and ulnar drifts. 
It seems, that all my secret dreams of becoming a world famous pianist are now shattered but I can, so far, do all the necessary stuff excl. opening a new jam jar in the morning which is where R comes in. Handy  (sic).
As for my feet, any hill walking expeditions scheduled for this winter may have to be curtailed. Obviously I shall cross the Alps by bicycle instead. 
I'll have to anyway.
Last December, I successfully avoided the big boss's Xmas dinner but only after I had submitted the dreaded list-of-three-goals for the coming year: one academic, one business, one personal (while he is a brilliant scientist, he is a lousy business manager). In a fit of madness and giggles, I wrote "crossing the Alps by by bicycle" as my personal goal for 2016. Deep down I thought he would get the joke but as it turns out, he used my email as part of his pep talk at the dinner. Which explains why from time to time people come up to me and ask for cycle routes from Oberstdorf or Mittenwald or whether the Inn valley is a better choice.
So, maybe next year. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, here is something I whipped up in the last couple of weeks, just to show them, rheumatologists and all the other busybodies .  

09 October 2016

Of course some women will continue to collude with these scumbags, they will vote for Trump, they will excuse him. Women are good at excusing men. If we weren’t, the human race would die out. Some women will look away, believing men can’t help it and carry on humouring the “banter”. You drop something in a restaurant and a guy says: “While you are down there love…” and you laugh because if you didn’t you might stick a fork in his eye. And you remember being 14 and being bruised from mere “groping” but thinking yourself lucky because the worst didn’t happen. You think about how you knew the practice of misogyny long before you heard the theory, so wonder how the good guys are slightly baffled by it.
For misogyny is not some secret society, a form of freemasonry. It is mainstream. It is endorsed by Trump. It is not simply unacceptable, it is murderous.
Kill it dead.

Suzanne Moore - to the point

08 October 2016

I want to write down a good few things about all sorts but we just got an orange alert on our phones for night frost and although we doubt it will be happening - much too early, but you never know - the task at hand now is moving all of the delicate plants incl. the massive plumeria indoors.
So briefly, I was the only person cycling through the rainy forest yesterday after work.
Plenty of birds all around me though. It was gorgeous - and cold.

06 October 2016

Suddenly we are looking for mittens and scarves and keep the windows shut!! Not quite but almost frost this morning. I had forgotten how cold air stings the face and ears when cycling downhill. Last night after I had taken this picture on my way home, I was just so miserably cold that I had to moan for a while about five months of this etc. until I found some decent cat movies on the internet. As usual, R just ignored my complaints.
One month since the 3rd monoclonal antibody treatment and I am slowly beginning to feel more alive, trusting the level of energy to not drop suddenly and in the middle of things - it still happens but not as dramatically as during the summer. I'll go with the flow for the time being, some days are best forgotten, others are brilliant. Four more medical appointments this month, I am losing the plot here. Anyway, thank heavens for this country's socialist health insurance. This month started expensive, I paid 10 Euros for 12 weeks medication. 

29 September 2016

I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies
from a longer poem (I have news for you) by Tony Hoagland

You know what made me a tiny bit mad today, when this young smart healthy person in a moment of feel-good-compassion got all serious and put her hand on my arm, looked into my eyes and felt the need to tell me this was all wrong, that I was letting the disease take over, that I was losing myself being ill, that - oh no - I was becoming this disease and that she for one could not watch it any longer, because I am on my way to hell and depression and so on. And it hurts her to see how I have changed, worse, that I have allowed myself to be changed.
WTF, I almost replied, you don't even know how to spell  'this disease'. You have no idea of its symptoms and risks, you are too healthy to even dream of being ill beyond a sore throat. There are parts of our universes that do not overlap.
Anyway, said nothing. I smiled and thanked her for her concern before she was off on her merry way.
And do you know something else? I once was just like her.

Anyway, this autumn is like summer. The plumeria is about to flower, probably on the first October weekend. It feels wrong, there is no other way to describe this feeling in my gut.

22 September 2016

Some days I become a factory for sad thoughts: the night shift starts not when I go to bed, but when I decide to go to bed. As I turn the lights out. the factory lights come on. I used to make them by hand, the sad thoughts, but lately it's become more of an assembly line, the machines doing all the work: I sleep, and in the morning I have another consignment ready for distribution; for export, for import.

Patrick McGuinness 

I watched the documentary about the Syrian Civil Defense last night. It's only half an hour long.
It has won prizes at film festivals. This is the world we live in.

My father only talks about the war when I ask him specifically. Only once did he speak about the bomb raids . Now, he doesn't want me to mention it.
My mother never said a word, but when there was a heavy thunderstorm at night, she would walk the house, silently stand by our beds until my father came to bring her back to bed.
I never even tried to understand, I was far too angry. Why don't you just get on with life, I asked her.

19 September 2016

my homes, part 1

My first home was the drafty two room apartment my parents had moved in after they got married. I have no memories, only pictures. This was in the small, extremely catholic Bavarian town of Freising, with a large cathedral, one of the world's oldest breweries and - most importantly - the agricultural science department of the university of Munich.

Money was tight, my parents were young with two small children, my father worked as a junior researcher and my mother was slowly losing all hopes of ever returning to her university career. The story goes that I slept in one of the large wicker laundry baskets I now use in my attic to hold S's toys and a variety of sleeping bags.

There is a family anecdote whereby I fell out of the window while my big sister, who was four years old at the time, was watching me. The window was on the ground floor and I fell onto a soft lawn and my sister apparently went to my mother with the news that I had walked out. Soon after that, my father got his first car, a beige VW beetle, and his career took off.
My mother got pregnant for the third time and we moved to spacious apartment with a large garden and babysitters when my parents had dinner guests. The one vivid memory I have of this place is of the day my baby brother had an accident. In the evening, me and my sister were sent home by the neighbours, who had been looking after us and I noticed that one of the paving stones near the front door was cracked. For some reason, I was convinced that the ambulance crew had broken it and that made me mad enough to throw a massive tantrum.
Shortly before my fourth birthday, my father was headhunted away from the university and we moved north, back to my father's Franconian homeland into a newly built semi-detached house. In fact, it was still a building site. We moved during a very hard winter and during that winter, my mother's life started to unravel.

16 September 2016

Two weeks ago I watched the agonisingly slow monoclonal antibody infusion dripping into my vein, my blood pressure dropping so low I could not keep my body upright.

This morning I stood in the basement gym of the local protestant church, in a group of mostly elderly Muslim women, getting ready for an hour of Qi Gong. Lots of deep breathing, confusion, sweating and plenty of laughter.

Last night, a short downpour after another week of record temperatures, and autumn is in the air.

13 September 2016

This film is based on a poem by Jenifer Toksvig called 'What they took with them', which was inspired by stories and first-hand testimonies from refugees forced to flee their homes and the items they took with them.

07 September 2016

summer gatherings, final

1988, already steps ahead
The ground not quite there where it should be underneath my feet. But this I know: Soon I will feel it again and eventually I will go upstairs and take the sheets off the bed and fill the washing machine, the last couple of loads of summer gathering laundry.
Maybe not exactly today, there is no rush.

It's been a full summer and she was my shiny diamond throughout. It was a wonderful summer when she was around (and a pretty awful summer when she was not. Next time, I want intend to be considerably more healthy).

I forgot how deep it goes, how physical this feeling is, how heavy my arms and legs become  watching the departing car. Her serious face behind her sunglasses, while I am wiping away tears. Only minutes earlier we were snapping at each other, stop taking pictures of me, (stop being such a mum, stop being such a teenager) and now there she goes again, a car on the motorway to the airport.
In a couple of hours I will check the website that allows me to track their flights over the next two days and by the time they are back home with the cat and the dog, I know that I will have found the ground beneath my feet as well.

She moved out 14 years ago, slowly widening the gap (which now is 18,000 km wide). I know the drill. We usually argue at the last minute. Before we start crying.

Again. I let her go back to her amazing life. And you have no idea how amazing!

If this is true:
I suppose we are all products of our parents' joy and suffering. Their emotions are written into us as much as the inscriptions made by their genes.
(Siri Hustvedt)

Then she got all our joy genes.

Thank you my love for a wonderful summer.

06 September 2016

and so the night comes without fuss
like the quiet and graceful appearance
of an orca's six-foot dorsal fin
beside your kayak -
the whole creature bearing you
until it passes

Lynn Davidson

02 September 2016

What was intended as a 12 hrs max exercise/adventure has now expanded into three days and two nights of interrupted sleep and questionable food. However, the coffee is fabulous.
At this stage - helped by the prospect of going home as soon as the infusion has been fed drip by slow drip into my vein - I am so grateful for the kindness and skill and indeed thorough treatment plus detailed explanations of every step that I could start crying when the next smiling face walks into the room to monitor my process.
This morning I assured the ward nurse that I can find my own way to another  dept. where yet more tests had been scheduled and for the first time I walked across "my" campus as a patient using the shortcuts through a small green area only staff know. The early morning air was like a special welcome and as I stood there with my eyes closed facing the September sun and letting the breeze gently lift and carry away all lingering traces of the night, the smell of disinfectants and illness and fear that had  gathered inside and around me, this poem by Wendell Berry came to mind. 

There are new challenges, new results as I move into autumn and winter and I am not sure how I will be able to accommodate it all. But nobody knows and this is a comfort. 

31 August 2016

I am in a hospital room. Almost everything is white except for the pale wooden doors and a non descript painting on the wall. A tranquil beach scene. Possibly a donation from one of the local charity artists auctions. 
Things did not proceed as expected but not I hope due to anything I did or that was found in the myriad tests and blood samples that were done all day.
I am all by myself with the aircondition humming for company. Tomorrow after breakfast, they promised me. Which means I could be home in the afternoon.

In between and all day I have been reading one of Colm Toibin's earlier novels, The Blackwater Lightship, with his exquisitely sharp description of a failed mother - daughter relationship and it has brought back so many memories of the days when all I could think of was how to get away. Far far away. From her and the house and all that was in it. I know I tried to mellow with age - something she wasn't able to either. Well meaning friends as well as total strangers have urged me to forgive and forget and all that stuff about closure  (what is closure?). I did try and I will probably go on trying. But there is no getting away from it. Our relationship was running on a strong current of mutual dislike, disgust and distrust (nice alliteration here but coincidental) and my sister and I are doing our utmost to keep it going. We have set our course, we keep at it.  We had an excellent teacher.
Oh there are moments of genuine kindness and even sisterhood, the positive kind, but these are mere sparks from a time we have almost forgotten.

The day before my mother's life was so unexpectedly reduced to those remaining six months of misery and agony, one day after her successful heart surgery, when she was totally sober except for whatever pain killers they may have given her on the ICU - totally sober for the first time in maybe 30 years - I had gathered the courage to phone the hospital (a safe 300+ km away) and before I could protest they put her on and for a brief five or maybe fifteen minutes my real mother, the one I had loved so fiercely as a child and who had truly loved me as she once did love all her children, spoke to me. She spoke to me the way a mother speaks to her daughter regardless of time and age. Like I can speak to my daughter so often and so easily. Her voice was calm and reassuring and she called me by the name she used when I was small. A name she had not used for 30 years (or if so, only sarcastically. She had a thing for sarcasm.)
Her lungs collapsed later that day and with it her power of speech and her will to live. My sister has not forgiven me for being the first (and last) of us to speak with our mother. We have tried to talk about it but she carries this inside her heart like a sharp weapon and I know I haven't a hope.

30 August 2016

In a nutshell

The boss meets the negotiator from the personnel dept. who meets the negotiator from the government agency (who will partly fund my assistant if the boss pays the rest) who turns to me with that cheery social worker smile (no offence) and asks me: in a nutshell, how do you notice a flare up of your what was the name of your chronic disease?

Well, I imagine I answered, it starts with this feeling of utter tiredness washing over me. You know like the time when I was breastfeeding for nights on end. No sleep until I lost all sense of time. But this here is without the exhilarating happiness. More like something fierce holding me down and pushing against my chest. Like walking through deep wet snow. Or trying to swim against a strong current too scared to let go but knowing I will have to.
When the stuff that's been clogging up my sinuses for the last couple of weeks turns out to be crusts of blood and it takes longer every morning to clear. When the tinitus bass quartet in my ears (ok I know it actually is in the brain but) has become a full orchestra with cymbals and trombones and a massive percussion section.
When I count every blessed hour without vertigo - keeping fingers crossed but knowing it can happen any minute because my ears are throbbing and aching ready to explode.
Basically, I could explain, basically this is just the beginning. Those weeks when my head packs it in because you know, everything is too noisy too fast too much even my own miserable voice. By then usually my stomach and my liver and my intestine begin to act up which can be rather painful and tedious because food becomes a problem and sometimes the heart cuts out for a bit on and off and I wake up about 100 times at night soaking wet and shivering and wondering what the heck and I could go on.

But no. You want it in a nutshell. Microvessels get inflamed anywhere in my body but mostly in my inner ears, lungs, throat, stomach, guts and heart due to a programming error of my immune system.

Which is why I am going to hospital on Wednesday for another round of monoclonal antibody infusions. The miracle therapy - here's hoping.

(The boss BTW is going to cough up the money and recruitment for my assistant has started today.)

29 August 2016

Three disturbing things I found out today:

  1. The first shampoo was sold in 1927.
  2. The office of the dean at our local university (founded in 1777, 33,000 students, seven Nobel Laureates so far) is going to introduce parent - lecturer evenings so that the mums and dads of the undergraduates can check on homework and grades.
  3. At our local primary school, a private security firm was hired to supervise the first-graders first day, esp. preventing parents and their many relatives from sitting down at the desk next to their little ones, following them onto the hall stage when all first-graders came together for a song, and managing the queues outside the principal's office for special requests.  The situation at the parking lot was said to be chaotic to put it mildly. 

28 August 2016

Vanessa cardui

Look! All five chrysalides have hatched, these guys are getting restless, ready to be released tomorrow.

26 August 2016

cycled to GP, legs shaking and slightly weepy considering my lack of strength, got her blessings and went to work, survived five hours, drove home, outside temps nearing 40°C, ozone warning from city officials, hid inside the cool house, briefest possible visit to the self pity stop, watched silly cat videos for a while

25 August 2016

so then so there so what

I got a bit of an earful from R after mentioning "so then so there so what" without the proper reference. How could I!
So then  so there so what is the title of a song by Zig and Zag, two hideous puppets who for quite some time during the 1980s and 1990s were members of our family - sort of. They had a Saturday morning TV show that fitted in nicely with our schedule (parents in bed, daughter in front of the box) and they produced cassette tapes (remember?) which were used during our years in Africa to shut up the child on long journeys and/or retain a decent enough Irish accent. Of course, we all speak a much more refined version.
The song is fairly mediocre but it gives you an overall idea of the general attitude during our child rearing days.

We got a lot more mileage from the Belly Button Fluff:

And I could get quite emotional about this one (my daughter used to sing along):

23 August 2016

Classic mistake. I went back to work because I wanted to show my superhuman commitment and let everybody think what an obviously  tough and dedicated person I am but also because of cabin fever setting in and frankly, because I miss work and for a while I thought I could pretend it's all down to willpower and taking control and just doing it.
Of course it is not, what on earth was I thinking, and so here I am, the stranded beetle once again, trying to remain cool and calm and composed and carefree about the variety of new symptoms. Obviously, I could write about them endlessly but right now I just want to let them be.
So then, so there, so what - as we tend so remark in this family before we move on to our next mistake.

The summer is entering its seedy phase when you stop caring about the flower beds overgrowing with weeds and no longer brush away the spider nets between the garden chairs. The first apples are falling off the tree, there are masses of blueberries, R is shaking the hazel bushes every evening collecting handfuls, the blackbirds are eating the grapes and someone's cat has started to shit on our lawn. Or maybe a hedgehog. Never mind, go right ahead. We know this is going to be over soon enough. Hot sun on your skin, warm wind in the evening, open windows at night. In a few weeks, the spiders will be dust and we will wear long sleeved garments again. I even may be able to recover some semblance of health and fitness. Alternatively, I may find myself without a job and will start making quilts and read that silly meaningful book on how to reorganise your wardrobe with the sock rolled up in a peculiar colour coded way.

The butterfly larvae ate their way to fat green and black caterpillars before turning into shiny hard grey chrysalises speckled with a line a golden dots. There are now hanging almost motionless inside their habitat (a mesh cage) until some time maybe this week or next week they will mysteriously unfold their magic wings and teach us a thing or two about beauty.

It's amazing, isn't it, how all this goes on around me, just waiting for me to notice and be surprised and awed.

Outside there's children laughing
The radio plays my favourite song
The sun is shinning
Oh and peace broke out in the world
And no-one says a cruel word
And peace is the sweetest sound I've ever heard


20 August 2016

I have been thinking a lot about the video of the young boy in Aleppo and why I posted it. Because my father is right, there is nothing we can do. And I admit that I posted it partly because he said this to me and also because I didn't know what to do with my anguish, how to soften the blow. Which of course has no effect other than a feeling of: see? There you have it. In your face, you cruel world.

The boy BTW is back home with his family, he was (physically) not seriously injured. We cannot imagine what "home" means in this context, how he, his family and the other 300,000 remaining residents of Aleppo get through their days.

I remember when the bazaar of Aleppo was burned to the ground in 2012 and the reaction in the media, what a loss and what a shame. I met a Syrian taxi driver a few days later (we have many Syrian taxi drivers) and he was so upset, the souk, our souk, he cried, all gone! Four years ago, there was outrage because a UNESCO heritage site was destroyed.

Meanwhile, we can donate some of our spare cash to the various aid agencies which are doing amazing things and sleep a little better. Or we can read this report by Dr Sahloul, a physician from Chicago working in Aleppo and lose more sleep.

But most of all, I would like to see this happen:

18 August 2016

My father tells me don't look at it. There is nothing we can do.
We are speechless for a short  moment before he berates me about something or other and I can take a deep breath of anger.

14 August 2016

There is this slight feeling of ground between my feet. Although to be honest, after almost four weeks  in the horizontal position I am not certain, could be wishful thinking.

At least I don't fall asleep any longer listening to podcasts. Which means that I have been discovering once more how everything is connected. Don't ask. But in my addled little brain this listening sequence was entirely logical: about folk singer Richard Farina, Irish spy and tearoom lady  Margaret Kearney Taylor,  the amazing story of Bala and Shamira Amarasekaran's chimpanzee sanctuary in Sierra Leone,  and the inspiring approach of flipping the script (reverse the usual or existing positions in a situation; do something unexpected or revolutionary) when confronted with hate.
In short, I have once again been able to reassure myself that the world is simply amazing.

The butterfly larvae are getting fat, R has dug up all the potatoes, cooked huge quantities of tomatoe sauce, now ready to go into the freezer, he swept all the floors and cleaned the cooker (surface). He has been cooking dinners for the last six years anyway, knows how to change sheets and do laundry, enjoys grocery shopping to the point that I have given up all hope of ever writing a shopping list again - although this morning I had to mention the neglected bathroom and the ironing . . .
No, seriously, no I did not. I swear.

The summer gatherings are slowly coming to an end, our various visitors are on their last missions catching up with more family and friends elsewhere before coming here again for a last and possibly weepy celebration of life as a family. This is my kitchen window and my daughter cooking (she got that from her father):

11 August 2016

these are the days of miracle and wonder

On the day when your boss calls you to assess whether you are still an asset or possibly already a massive burden and you really couldn't care because you spent most of the night coughing

on the day your GP confirms that this isn't strep throat but in fact scarlet fever and that it will take a good while longer before you will enjoy whatever you imagined this summer still has to offer

on the day your sister tells you - sort of by the way - that just before we all got together under my granny's apple trees, three and a half weeks ago, her granddaughter, the sweet but somewhat cranky toddler we all passed around from lap to lap that afternoon, had developed the tell tale rash plus fever and that the pediatrician had warned earlier that she was highly contagious and should be kept at home but my sister felt what the heck

on the day that you open a small parcel that your science teacher husband has placed on the lunch table

you realise that obviously this is the day you start breeding your very own butterfly family.

These are the first five larvae just after arrival. If it works out, I am going for hundreds. This year, we have counted numerous useless Cabbage Whites, one Brimstone and one lonely Red Admiral on our butterfly friendly flowering plants. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

10 August 2016

Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degrees of presence.
Alan Watts