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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Loose The Frogs Of War

We Americans may be getting into our THIRD Middle-Eastern conflict in the last decade, if President Obama's speech this morning is any indication.  I think what's going on in Syria is atrocious, but there are so many really sticky factors therein that I think American involvement would prove even more of an entangling mess than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. 

We should know historically that small countries are not necessarily easier to subdue than larger ones (Greece v. the Persian empire, anyone?)--and, besides, there's much more opportunity for "bleed over" into adjacent countries.  Whereas Afghanistan and Iraq have geographically generous proportions, Syria is comparatively small.  But it's nestled cheek by jowl with some of the most diplomatically delicate areas in the Middle East.  Sure, Afghanistan has Pakistan and Iran on either side, and those places have their own problems, and Iraq has Iran and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but there was still plenty of desert on all sides so as to avoid accidental incursions by Allied forces into others' territory.  Syria, on the other hand, is framed by Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and our one steady ally, Israel.

Although thousands of wannabe muhadejeen (Did I spell that right? Blogger doesn't think so) from abroad streamed into aid their coreligionists in Iraq and Afghanistan against the American-led invasion (with clearly documented ill effects on our military), there wasn't an ongoing official call-up of volunteers from that old anti-Israeli bugbear, Hamas, to support the regime, nor was either country directly allied with Russia (which has maintained naval bases--its beloved, long-sought "warm water ports"--on the Syrian coastline since Soviet days).  Afghanistan had given the USSR its own bloody nose and its resistance fighters a decade of in-cave military experience long before the Americans decided (for dubious reasons) to invade (only to depart almost as ingloriously as their Russian predecessors, and with about the same long-term effect on the infrastructure and intertribal tensions).

I grant you Assad is a real bastard.  But he's been in power for decades, committing atrocities against his own people throughout that time (albeit not quite on today's scale, but then again, they weren't taking this level of action against him at the time, either), and the US has turned a blind eye.  He's a murderer, using chemical weapons (really, rather than just rumored to be capable of it, like Saddam) against women and children.  I think this should be stopped.  But do we have to do it?  There are so many evil things in this world (even here at home!), and is it really the US role to attempt to quell them all?  And certainly, shouldn't we ask if it is even possible? 

We tend to look back to the situations during World War II (and the Korean War, for those who know about it) as examples of times America intervened and "saved the day" (with a little help from our friends...), and yet we haven't successfully reproduced the positive results of those "good ol' days" since 1953!  Sixty years of repeated failure, in "limited war" after "limited war" is not a good track record.  I would suggest that Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan (have I forgotten any?) all illustrate an aspect of what is and has been fundamentally wrong with American diplomatic-military foreign policy: sending troops into ethnically messy ongoing conflicts where there is no clear extra-territorial aggressive intent on the part of the "bad guys". 

Since 1953, there have been repressive, murderous, and even genocidal regimes all over the world: in Cambodia, in several parts of Africa, in North Korea.  Some of these have been in place for much longer than Assad.  Yet we let them be militarily.  Quite a few have been and are cozy with the USSR/Russian Federation, and even though we Russianists are thin on the ground these days, at least in the past Americans had enough sense to avoid direct conflict with that large and well-armed (and now economically recovered) country. 

Unless Israel or Turkey is directly attacked by Syria, subjected to outright invasion which the military materiel we've given by the boatload to both cannot handle without additional help from us, I say let the US stay out of direct involvement in that war.  Support the rebels, if we can afford it (which I have begun to question, even on this limited scale), and shout "Vive Le France" and let the French (who have their own method of dealing with their former colonies), deal with the mess.  After all, the French and the Russians have faced off before, and each are less inclined than Americans to be hyper-concerned about collateral damage, which would doubtless handicap the well-meaning, but ill-informed American ground forces. 

Especially as Egypt falls further into chaos, I see no need for Americans to move closer to the Armageddon area, diplomatically or geographically.  And if we aren't going to occupy and colonialize clearly and long-term, I don't see democracy developing post-war in places that have never tasted even a hint of its bittersweet fruit (which both Germany and South Korea had done, pre-wars).  Especially in a land as ethnically and religiously diverse as Syria (India, the world's largest democracy, a country of huge ethnic and religious diversity, had two centuries of occupation by the British to inculcate some appreciation for the benefits of representative government--one mostly denied to Indians until Gandhi led the civil rights/independence movement--and it still occasionally suffers from sectarian violence), I don't foresee the advent of democracy for many generations to come. And aren't we going to have to "do something" about Russian ally Iran sometime in the near future?  Why don't we save our limited resources for dealing with that larger (and potentially more economically devastating) threat?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Whazzup

I have been battling the miseries and insomnia multiple nights running. The LOL Cats website has thus far enabled me only to articulate the former condition ("I haz a sad"), not dispel it.

I am supposed to dogsit for a neurotic pair of rescue beagle mixes this weekend. I am to give out treats after they relieve themselves. Their "parents" are paying me well for this attention.

Just acquired and read Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. A telling detail that Delisle noted: no disabled people visible anywhere on the streets of the capital, and when he pointed this out to his translator, the man told him that it was because North Koreans are all born strong and healthy. Who knows what is happening to all of those many imperfectly formed humans?  Birth defects are common enough in wealthy countries with good nutrition and prenatal care. Are they sent to the camps, relegated to the provinces, or exterminated at birth?

Got a new copy of my favorite Russian-English dictionary. My previous copy disappeared in my move, and is doubtless in a box in one of my storage lockers.

A good Georgetown antique dealer has agreed to take an oil painting I own on consignment. I dearly hope we both will make some money on it!

I never heard back from my LCD, after a sudden cessation in correspondence. I suspect I may have been too enthusiastic, and freaked him out.


Monday, August 26, 2013

New Template

Mums and others have noted that for a while it's been impossible to leave comments after posts.  In an effort to correct this issue, I have reformatted the template for this blog.  I look forward to hearing reader responses! 

I will probably add back some of the links to blogs which I enjoy, such as Sand in the Gears, but for the most part, I want to leave this new arrangement as uncluttered as possible.  All previous posts are still accessible through the sidebar (on the right this time).

Thank you for reading! (And please leave a note saying "hi" so I know the comments function in this new template works). :-)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Contentment + Godliness = Great Gain

This morning's sermon really hit home. The text was Philippians 4:10-13, Paul's remarks that he had learned to be content in all circumstances. The guest preacher, the Korean pastor of a local church plant (turns out he went to the seminary associated with Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, which is where Daddy really heard the gospel for the first time--he was doing an internship at the Children's Hospital there, and he, Mums, S Dawg and I were sharing a tiny apartment outside the city and hearing James Montgomery Boice on Sundays. That was also where I remember my worst OCD symptoms, which were to haunt me into my late twenties, beginning), talked about how the last verse in that section is frequently taken out of context--"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  It's not that we are magically equipped to achieve all our dreams, but that looking to Jesus is the key to contentment in every life situation. 

Seeing our dreams dashed, and seeing them fulfilled, each can illuminate the almost divine value we place on those particular desires--the tenth commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Covet" really does bookend the group, complementing "Thou Shalt Not Have Other Gods Before Me". Coveting is perceiving in that relationship, object, information or situation the satisfaction that only God can provide.  In contrast, contentment allows us to appreciate the value of what we have in its proper context--liking the hamburger for being a hamburger, to use his culinary example, not being dissatisfied with it because it isn't a sirloin steak. 

The preacher concluded with the point that the realization of how often we fall short from contentment shows ever more starkly the good news of how much God loves us, that despite our determination to find happiness in other things, he still sent Jesus to die for us. 

Although I know on an intellectual level that no relationship, object, information or situation is going to make me really, permanently happy, I was again gob-smacked by the truth that I've been living as if they will.  But the "if only" thoughts cut both ways, and the "what is", both in a temporal and eternal sense, is to be chosen.  I don't want to be like my old art teacher, an exceptionally lovely-featured woman (she's always reminded me of Katherine Hepburn), whom I encountered at my home church last Sunday who is still audibly regretting her singleness.  Even if I should be stuck in a miserable marriage, I wouldn't want to be focusing on that, rather than on the happiness of knowing the Lord.  I don't want to be a slave to the inbox-refresh button, wondering why I haven't gotten any messages, constantly needy for some outside affirmation that someone cares.  I want to be content.

I have a sneaking suspicion that like most things, contentment doesn't spring into being full-fledged.  It's one of those irritating "discipline" things, that you have to keep pointing your nose towards, when all other sorts of seemingly-attractive smells assail you from the right and left.  Especially for a mentally-compulsive person like me, it's hard to distract myself from whiny habits. 

I want to re-discipline myself into regular scripture reading. Or rather, I am praying that God will give me the gumption to do so.  It's especially hard when you start off with Proverbs after a long dry spell and feel like you are getting bitch-slapped (well, there it is, folks!) by every other verse, having proved your self a fool in financial management, in commerce, in interpersonal relationships, and so forth.  Whap! Whap!

Rachel, who makes some really shrewd observations during our tea-meets on Wednesdays, pointed out that we don't need to have it all together for God to bless us, a lesson I easily tend to forget, being the recovering Pharisee I am.  Back in college, before I'd been reduced to spiritual powder, I remember actually saying what I then truly believed--that God would not bless me with a spouse until I had achieved some level of spiritual maturity.  This is a dangerous default setting belief for several reasons: as it presupposes that a romantic relationship (or a degree, a job, or whatever) is somehow in itself a satisfactory performance reward, it places that reward in a divine position.  It also posits an if-then connection between a person's behavior and getting what she or he wants, as if God were a sort of celestial gumball machine rather than the Lord of the Universe.  It may be God's will for me to stay single, insolvent, even end up (hopefully only so to speak) on a parkbench somewhere (the destiny my father left me to worry over, paranoid, as one of his last comments about his fears for my future).  And I should certainly continue to make what steps I can to avoid this.  But God is still God, and he does love me.  And these plans he has for me, no matter how difficult and trouble-full they may seem in the short term, are ultimately to prosper me. 

I think that for self-absorbed pessimists like me (it is easy for me to be optimistic about others' prospects, but I am always somehow convinced that the falling piano that missed their head will hit mine--they are the Roadrunner and I am the not-so-Wiley Coyote), it is really easy to be convinced that contentment is "settling", when it isn't.  Happiness with what is, and how my life is in God's hand, is not the "there it is" resignation that I frequently adopt, nor a tacit agreement to just slog along without hope for better things.  To counter my inborn negativity, it is often useful to go back and count past blessings, to clearly identify gratitude for things that didn't happen, as well as for things that did.  In my life, these tend to follow a repeated pattern: God spared me from this desire's fulfillment, and as a result of that temporal disappointment I was actually allowed to do something really cool that I would have missed out on otherwise, or I was able to cope with a challenge that was in the offing that I didn't know would arise, which I wouldn't have been able to withstand had that particular "want" been met when I initially had it.

As my stepdad (whose wisdom I really started to appreciate on a deeper level during this last visit) pointed out, God's timing is perfect. His plans are perfect. And learning the secret of being content--that in Christ I can get through and rejoice while in anything--is a sermon I need to preach to myself not just daily, but many, many times a day.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Recuperating & Self-Educating

My belly still feels like I was sucker-punched. My metabolism is so slow that it's taking a while for all the desiccated cells in my abdomen to plump back up with water. I've eaten several times today, drunk a pint or so of chamomile tea, and now that dinner is done and Susan and Steven have gone downstairs to watch a movie while Theo rolls around on the rug and squawks excitedly, I am in the kitchen nursing a large sippy cup of water and a small bottle of vino de screwtop.

The weather has been early fall gorgeous today, and we've had all the screened windows in the house open. If I were in a trifle more robust condition, today, too, would have been perfect for outdoor exercise. As it was, I stayed in my pajamas until dinnertime, slowly watching the grey fade from my skin. Which is not to say that the hours were wasted in dermal-gazing.

Last year I had signed up to take a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course online, but I never got around to it before the Groupon deal expired. This year, when the same company offered the deal again, I resolved to get off my duff and do it. I started and completed the first of 20 eight-hour modules today.

The first section was about communicating clearly with your students, and I was convicted afresh of my tendency to be less than clear. "Brevity is the soul of wit" was the major theme. It is going to take practice for me to become brief. Thus far, I've done Ok on their little tests, which are somewhat harder than I had expected.

I have 2.5 months to finish the course, which they say takes 160 hours. It might take as little as 120 hours, given my relatively swift reading, but I am also taking copious notes, as the purpose behind my studies is not merely to get the qualification certificate, but actually to absorb the principles of TESOL.  I had told Susan (who is a public school ESOL instructor) that I would be picking her brain for tips, and I've already accosted her several times today with questions.  I would like to have a Cambridge TESOL certificate just because of the wide acceptance and recognition factor, but although they allegedly offer a teaching test to those who want certification apart from their expensive CELTA courses, neither their office in Boston nor one in New York (the closest centers offering the teaching test) have responded to my emails requesting further information.

I have attempted to re-register for the Foreign Service Exam, which is being offered in October. Supposedly, should I have to sit for it again (I think this is necessary, though I did pass it the first time), I will receive an email in early September telling me when and where.

I think my sheer verbosity has overwhelmed my LDC. I have not heard from him in two days.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Derailed By Dehydration

Last week my sister went running with her husband while they were on vacation in Florida and came down with a nasty case of heat exhaustion, which left her nauseated and miserable for 24 hours. Today it was my turn.

I completed proofing the Russian to English rendering of a semi-scholarly book review and emailed it off, then decided I would continue being diligent (I have really totally let slide most of my self-discipline, and I desperately want to get back on track) by going on a run, burning off some calories before the panfuls of warm ginger cookies Susan and Steven had just whipped up came out of the oven. It was only eighty degrees out, moist and overcast, and I'd done this same run successfully several weeks ago, so I didn't anticipate any problems.

All I can say is, thank God (reverently and enthusiastically) for good Samaritans. I had run more than a mile and had descended a long, long hill when I was suddenly beset by nausea and chills. I knelt on the side of the road cradling my cramping stomach, wondering if I would get arrested for indecent exposure if I ducked into someone's bushes to relieve myself.  I didn't have my cell phone, and there was no way I could move more than a few yards under my own power.

Just a moment later, a woman up, rolled down her car window and asked me if I were OK.  She drove me home, and I barely made it in the front door before my body crapped out on me.  Steven, being a Marine, immediately recognized the symptoms of heat sickness, and started plying me with liquids.  It was a while before I could swallow more than a mouthful without feeling like it was going to start back out--it was like my body, being already short on water, was rejecting the introduction of more at the same time that it was determined to rid itself of as much as it could as quickly as possible.  I stayed covered in cold sweat for hours.

Needless to say, the long-planned trip to the MD Renn Faire is off tomorrow. I am bummed--I had already assembled parts of my costume collection, and my friends and I were looking forward to dressing up. But as it happens, I am not the only member of our prospective group to be struck down--three others reported this evening that in appropriate pre-Rennaissance fashion, they have contracted the plague. So, instead of swilling cider and cheering jousting and tightrope walking tomorrow, we will all be drinking juice and resting up.

I gave this blog address to my Long-Distance Corespondent (henceforth my LDC) a few days ago, in a Tolstovian move. The unfortunate new wife of good old Lev T. read his personal history of his premarital paramours and wept; I hope that my LDC reads this informal memoir and laughs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wet But Well-Fed

I was supposed to be back in DC yesterday evening.  But I am still in GA. Frankly, the central justification for my procrastination is the rain. The Southeast has been subjected to monsoon season for the last week. When I spoke to Grandmommy a few days ago, she said that they’d gotten 5 1/2” overnight, and that the downpour was so heavy, she could hear it. Grandmommy is almost totally deaf. Even rudimentary conversations require direct eye contact and shouting, so that rainstorm was of biblical proportions.

Dublin was deluged first. Augusta has not escaped, either.  I think the rain has come down for four days.  There have been intermittent pauses, and then the bucket turns over again. The splatter of water on the driveway resembled an open garden hose all night Sunday, and I finally was able to sleep only with foam earplugs stuffed in my ears.  There is standing water in the little copse of trees at the entrance to Mums’ subdivision, and that is not low-lying ground.  The effects were more personal, I found this afternoon as I was loading my car to leave: the carpet in my trunk was wet.  Disgusted, I unloaded all of the paraphernalia from the back, and lifted the carpet to find several cups of water in the spare tire well.  The foam underpadding the carpet was soaked.  I carefully inspected the gasket around the trunk lid, and could find no breaks or separation.  It appears that the sheer volume of water running over the vehicle had breached the protective barrier and accumulated in the trunk.  So, instead of leaving, I am here at the folding table that is serving as a makeshift platform in the half-empty downstairs at my mother’s old townhouse, and my car is in the garage, the carpet out of the trunk and propped up with a fan blowing at it, and the trunk lid open so that any residual moisture will evaporate before I re-pack. 

Braving the rain, Mums took me out to a fabulous lunch today.  At the Goodwill.  Somehow, the combination of donation-center charity and fine dining seemed odd to me, but I am hugely impressed.  This is the poshest Goodwill I have ever seen, and between the shop (which also includes a library and a barista-tended café) and a culinary college is Edgar’s, a wonderful new restaurant.  I cannot use too many superlatives in describing it.  The décor is lovely, the ambiance simultaneously elegant and friendly, the menu mouth-watering, the service impeccable, and the prices more than reasonable.  It was one of those meals that leave you at once fully satisfied and desperately longing to be able to eat again.  Mums chose the humbly-named BLT, and I decided on the White Pizza.  Oh. My. Goodness.  The food was the best I’ve had since a meal at a Belgian chef’s restaurant in DC which is frequented by the Clintons and others of their set. Which experience cost ten times as much.  It almost made me decide to stay in Augusta permanently.  Caramelized onions, boursin cheese, fresh mozzarella, fresh roasted garlic, a crust of pale gold, thin and crispy.  Gosh, my mouth is watering again just thinking about it. Check out their website. 

I worked out with my mother three times this week.  I cannot say that I lost any weight because of the good meals (besides the delight of today, we had Mexican one night, Indian another and Vietamese last night) and also because Mums shared some of her birthday Godiva chocolate with me.  So, I continue as round as ever.  I have almost finished “skinning” my old desk chair of the varnish and grime of the ages, but as the weather is so damp, I have not been too anxious to paint it the shiny candy-apple red color I have bought for the purpose.  One of the several things I miss about not having my apartment any longer is the fact that my Japanese wedding kimono is in storage, rather than pinned to my wall like a giant scarlet and gold butterfly.  I miss having a cacophony of color around me. I have a very comfortable and pleasantly-caparisoned room at Susan and Steven’s, but it is all muted tones, which do promote peaceful thinking, I admit.

Rachel, the NPV and a couple of other people and I are supposed to go to the Maryland Renaissance Faire this Saturday.  I hope that the weather cooperates.  They all plan to raid my costume collection before we drive up to Annapolis.  I will probably end up wearing the same thing I did last year.  I have a set of gossamer wings which I’ve owned for more than 5 years that I would like to wear at least once, but they are so large that I wouldn’t be able to fit into the car, much less into a Port-o-John at the fair!  But when one is gazing at wings for sale online, one frequently fails to think of such practicalities. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

65th Birthday

My mother and my dad's twin sister both turned 65 today. Mums and my friend Susanna and I went out for lunch at Five Guys after church (John has been on call for three days, so other than Friday night, when a HUGE cold-packed box of Godiva chocolate arrived at their house, and he was there to chortle over Mums' reception of this delicious gift, I haven't seen him this weekend). Church was good--the pastor is preaching through the so-called minor prophets, who "get into your business" more than the others, he points out. I need to have an accountability partner to help me get back into reading the Bible regularly. My life has gotten so out of whack without proper rhythm and interaction with the Almighty.

The surprise party in Rock Hill, SC, for my aunt was a great success--out of the more than 40 people who came, nobody had breathed a word, and she was shocked and delighted all at once. Both of her remaining siblings, their spouses, children, grandchildren, and in one case, great-grandchildren, all came, with the exception of my siblings, niece and nephew. I was a little disappointed to discover that my young second cousins, who have been living in London for two years, don't have English accents! :-(

Other than Thanksgiving, this is the first happy-occasional family reunion we've had since before Daddy died, and the most comprehensive. It was good reconnecting with relatives, all of whom are friendly and most of whom are creative people. It was very, very loud, at the party, though, and my poor stepdad wouldn't have been able to understand a thing if he'd been free to attend. A dozen small children under the age of twelve, plus thirty-something happily bellowing adults in a single party room make for a deafening volume.

I continue to correspond with the fellow with whom I was matched a couple of weeks back. I think he is my Korean male clone. Unless something unexpected happens, I expect we shall simply remain steady penpals. He asks me questions about American culture and I ask him questions about Korean culture, and given that we're both generally insolvent and he hasn't suggested a time for Skyping, I don't expect we'll meet either virtually or in person anytime soon.  I get a message or so every day from other people who have seen my profile and want to start corresponding, but nobody else has really piqued my curiosity.

I got my first paying freelance translation/proofing gig for a religious studies journal, run by a Stanford graduate who describes himself as an ex-Evangelical. Whatever its and his persuasion, I thought the opportunity sounded worthwhile for several reasons: it would get my foot in the door for similar work, and also give me a chance to become conversant with the current debates over the history and contemporary manifestations of religious faith in the Russian-speaking world.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Insomnia!

I should be flaked out on the comfortable futon in the living room at my mom and stepdad's, but instead I have popped awake for the third night in a row, and have wandered into the den to curl up in front of his 24" screened Mac and blog.

John's house is totally transformed. Mums has remodeled the kitchen, one of the two bathrooms, and had the whole house repainted. She has rearranged the furniture, and organized most everything. There are no longer a dozen bicycles in the dining room, but instead our old dining room table, china cabinet, and real chairs!  Both John and Mums seem fundamentally happy.  It's cheering to see them so comfortable.

Her old house is being slowly emptied of furniture and whatnot with the help of my medical brother, who drives down from Charleston every so often to help shift large pieces of furniture.  When I drove in from DC Sunday morning, Bob was out in the driveway, washing and waxing her tiny silver Miata convertible.  I parked and went in to flake out for a few hours, and after he and John got back from church he came in to tell me that my tire pressure was very low on the right passenger side, and the JiffyLube people had reinstalled the hubcap incorrectly when they rotated my tires, leaving the air nipple inaccessible.  So, he jacked up my car, unbolted the cap, rearranged it properly, and pumped up my tire.  It's kind of hard to express how cared-for this made me feel!  It felt so good to have my brother look out for me, and make sure I was safe on the road.  I got a chance to return the practical care yesterday, when he was attempting to move my mother's treadmill down the stairs.  Bob is built--he's got massive muscles (at lunch at Grandmommy's on Monday, our five-year-old nephew whispered to S Dawg, "Mommy, what are those lumps in Uncle Bob's arms?" shortly after Bob flexed for him)--but the treadmill was more than one man could handle, and he was (as he put it) "One butt-cheek away from taking a sleigh ride down the stairs and through the [closed] front door" when he got the treadmill down two steps.  I hurried up to lend what small strength I could to the effort to get it back to the upper level, to await a crew of guys to manhandle it over to the studio where Mums kickboxes.  That sucker weighed north of 300 lbs.  Bob was just about tapped out at the end of the ordeal, and I was breathless from my little input.  That's what siblings do--they save each other's bacon.

They also make witticisms at each other's expense.  Our dinner at Grandmommy's Monday was like a scene out of a Southern Gothic novel. At one end of the table were Grandmommy and John, both effectively deaf (each can only understand what you say when you are meeting their eyes, shouting, and there is no background noise anywhere around).  At the other were S Dawg and Bob. Fernando (my brother-in-law) and I and the two children were on the sides of the table.  Brad was having a severe episode of shyness, and Rita was shoveling a plateful of good down-home Georgia cooking directly from her plate into her mouth, since her chair made her sit at chin-level with the table.  She kept referring to herself in the third person, asking me to "Pat the Rita" which I told her I would do after lunch. Bob told her, "Bob Dole used to refer to himself in the third person, and you know what happened to him? He didn't get elected President. Do you want that to happen to you?" Rita responded, "I don't want to be President. It's a very hard job. You can't go outside to run." And so forth. Bob laughed and agreed--point to her. She's very quirky, and her hair is constantly tangled, and her new teeth make her look like a chipmunk (she's taken to doing "chipmunk paws" with her hands, too), but she's sweet, smart, and she's got good sense.

Meanwhile, S Dawg was holding forth on the shortcomings of our absent brother Nate, particularly his recent reading habits: "Anyone who reads Moby Dick for fun is half a bubble off plumb".  Which observation struck me as quite funny right at the moment when I had taken a mouthful of peas, and I had to get up from the table and cover my mouth and nose with my napkin to prevent splattering peas all over. Grandmommy and John didn't know what was going on, and looked at me with concern, thinking I was choking.  The zingers and the incomprehension continued bizarrely through the meal, which was delicious, as always. Grandmommy may have lost her hearing, but she has certainly not lost her touch in the kitchen.

I got plenty of critique from my younger relatives, too--the ring I had made from my grandparents' wedding jewelry was declared morbid and oddly eye-shaped, and my gestures were imitated and giggled over .  Brad showed me his new toy soldiers (he'd missed his own so much that he'd wanted to go back home to Rhode Island early, so his daddy had gotten him some at the local drugstore) and it being Georgia, instead of little green army men, they were blue and grey, with Union and Confederate flags.  Bob started making snippy remarks about the "War of Northern Aggression" which of course passed harmlessly over my little Yankee nephew's head.  Fernando, who is a Portuguese immigrant and really into western novels, smiled and said that that was frequently what the Civil War was called in the books he reads.  Then the purple velveteen pig that Brad was using to back up his forces fell over, knocking down several infantrymen, and Bob said, "Treacherous swine" without missing a beat.  I think sometimes that my role in life is simply to enjoy my smart aleck relatives.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Multicultural Metroplex With Micrognomes

Ramadan ended a few days ago. I'm not especially conversant with the Muslim calendar, but as I was drifting homeward over the last few weeks late at night, I kept being stopped at a police-staffed crosswalk on the busy 5-lane road near my house, while clumps of men in long white gowns and white cotton caps (irreverently, I kept thinking of the poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas") and women draped in considerably more fabric hurried to and from the local mosque. I got the impression from the crowd-volume that Ramadan is more or less the Islamic equivalent of Christmas and Easter, service attendance-wise; even those folks who don't darken the door of a mosque the other eleven months of the year will make cameo appearances at prayers during the fast. And given everybody's insane schedules around here, evening prayers are the best attended. Not to mention, people have actually gotten to eat something by that point, so everyone's in a better mood. A local restaurant had large banners up advertising after-sunset iftar--its outdoor seating area was packed one not-so-late night I went by.

Friday provided further evidence of our multicultural greater District of Columbia area. When I left for work, I was briefly behind a car with an "I [heart] Allah" bumper sticker taped in the back window, and upon my pulling off the Beltway into Silver Spring, I found myself behind a minivan with a bumper sticker in Hebrew and English, proclaiming the driver to be a certain type of Jew (I couldn't remember the Yiddish-sounding adjective, so I trolled CafePress for the sticker, and now I know a lot more Jewish humor, but I still couldn't find the word, so I don't know if it was intended to be humorous or not)--at least it wasn't an Obama sticker in Hebrew (I have seen those around here). 

Starting around twenty years or so ago, when "The Full Monty" was issued, there was a sort of international craze for garden gnomes.  The Roaming Gnome mascot of Travelocity (or some such travel website) is a holdover from this fad.  Usually these kitschy plaster figures were eight to twelve inches high, and deposited around one's garden, frequently next to a path or set of steps, like Anglo-Saxon domovoi.  I have to park in a visitor spot in the lot near Susan and Steven's townhouse, and I try to vary which one I use so the locals don't get irritated.  On Saturday, I parked in front of a neighbor's house, which like its fellows has a little patch of greenery in front.  I noticed in the center of the patch there was a gnome. A very tiny gnome, about two inches high, carefully positioned.  It makes sense, I suppose, to scale down one's gnomes just as one scales down one's furniture to fit into a smaller space, but it makes me wonder if the reverse is true--is there a gigantic gnome plunked out in the middle of a Midwestern cornfield somewhere?

Watching Taiwanese television has paid off! Saturday evening, as I was loading my car for my latest night drive down I-95 to Georgia, I heard threads of loud music echoing from the Hilton a few streets away and I glanced up to see glowing candlelit paper lanterns ascending gracefully into the clear night sky.  "How beautiful!" I exclaimed. "Chinese lanterns!"  A young matron from next door was unloading a couple of items from her car, and she expressed relief, learning what they were.  "They were too close together to be airplane taillights," she told me, "I was worried there was some sort of vigil going on." I assured her that the lanterns were probably from a wedding--you painted your wishes on the four sides and sent them floating heavenward. 

A friend is staying in my basement room this week--she's come for a week of work in DC from her home in Prague, and I am out of town at the same time.  I traded in my ticket voucher for a round trip plane ride to Colorado in September.  I had flirted with going to exotic locations (including to see my friend in Prague), but they all were far more expensive than my voucher (the cheapest means to Prague is running about $1400 for coach round-trip), and most would have required considerable additional expenditure for lodging.  I will be staying nights (for free!) with my cousins out in Denver, and have arranged to rent a car to tool around on my own (go hiking and sightseeing!) during the day.  They have two nice cats, so I will be getting my feline fix, too. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

Morale Booster, Mood Calmer

I think one of the reasons that it has been good for an OCD person like me to have no romantic prospects for the last umpteen years is that I basically haven't had the opportunity to obsess over the possibilities and pitfalls of a relationship.  "Will he like me? Will he think I'm cute? Will he hate (or find irritating) x, y, z, characteristic? Will he think I'm dumb? What if he's perfect in every way but [a superficial element that's really a deal-breaker for me, like obesity]?" and so on and so forth just haven't been in my worry list for so long that I'd forgotten the frustration and agony of it all.  And I have heretofore approached my second foray into the world of online matching with a suitable detachment and bemusement. But then in the last couple of days someone popped up who instantly generated the "Gosh, he sounds so great!" response, which made my damaged female brain switch into overdrive, imagining all sorts of ridiculous scenarios that if he (or any one of my male friends and quite a few of my female ones) only knew of, they would think I am way, way, overboard and silly.  Argh! 

So, that's a negative side-effect of the dating-site membership: personal lunacy. A positive effect is that this afternoon I got a very nice message from a fellow in Chicago who noted that he had liked my profile and though "there's a slight age difference [...] I figure what's the harm in just saying hi". Curious as to the "slight age difference" (and sure that he was bound to be another grandpa), I checked his profile, and he's 24!  So, although I'm not interested (his age wasn't a factor), I was very flattered to be considered attractive by a person of his youth!

I haven't Skyped in so long that I had to look up my username before I shared it with the fellow who sounds promising.  Rachel told me that the quicker one moves to face-to-face contact with matches, the better, as one can sound wonderful in print and be disappointing in person--the reverse also being true, the NPV having apparently not appealed online but having been winning in person.  Since we aren't in the same time zone, I figured Skype was the next best thing to a coffee date.  We'll see: firstly, if he rings me (I told him it was up to him) and, secondly, if there's any chemistry when speaking directly. 

I applied for another job today.  Really, I just threw my hat into the ring with the contracting company that works with the agency where my friend Anita is a department head.  They say that they keep a pool of resumes for upcoming openings, so I submitted mine.  I followed the directions (and it's an IT company, yet!) for general submission, but somehow the system responded that I had applied for a slot with the DC government which requires advanced familiarity with Drupal, which sounded like a nuclear disaster, but apparently it's a programming language of some kind.  It will be amusing if I were to be called to interview for that slot, given that all other attempts at gainful employment for which I am amply qualified have come up short.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Cornflowers & Queen Anne's Lace

We had clouds today, but the weather continued extraordinarily comfortable, which made strolling through Georgetown under the lush trees thoroughly pleasant. I met up with a German friend of mine, who has been handsomely, if inexplicably, pensioned off by her husband of a score years, and will be officially divorced in a month. Her only child is departing for college in just a few weeks, and she will be alone for the first time in decades. Happily, she does have a support group at her church that has been helpful in working through the considerable emotional turmoil--though she has always put on a calm front to me and others, she did admit that she'd cried a great deal over this event which "did not fit in with [her] plans."  I admit to being more than a little puzzled as to why her husband, with whom she coexisted peaceably and to all appearances happily, should want to part with her.  It's not like there's a romantic third party, financial strain, physical disability, or any other elements which most commonly contribute to spousal separation.  She asked me over a very good Thai lunch if I were interested in moving into her downstairs apartment, rent-free--she'd like to have someone else around.  I told her I was comfortable where I was for now, but would consider it.  Her house is lovely, but alarmingly neat.  I don't know that someone like me, around whom clutter collects like lint on a chamois cloth, would make a good housemate for her.

Some of my favorite flowers are weeds.  Dandelions, cornflowers and Queen Anne's Lace are such happy spots of color and texture along the roadsides around here, dancing up daintily amidst bits of broken glass, gravel and grit on the medians of busy roads and popping pluckily through cracks in the highway masonry.  I remember one summer evening when I was three or four, when we were living in North Carolina while my father did his anesthesia residency, walking along our poorly-paved street with my parents, looking at the grasses growing wild on the verge. I was the height of the Queen Anne's Lace, and I was entranced by the tracery of white flowers across its coaster-size surface.  I don't recall if that was the same evening that either Mommy or Daddy or the both of them demonstrated the technique of sipping the nectar out of a honeysuckle blossom, but that was a magical summer altogether.  Daddy showed me how to lay bathroom tile, the sump pump in the basement failed (and I developed an antipathy for the damp, unlit version), I went over to a friend's house by myself for the first time (and gave her mother directions back--I remember she was impressed I knew which turns to make all the way home), I saw the animated 101 Dalmatians for the first time at a theater with brass chandeliers and red carpet in the foyer, and my mother got me and my sister a bag of chocolate gelt for waiting in the car by ourselves while she went in to the drycleaners (which was next to a manufacturing plant with a big smokestack). I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday--well, I can if I sit and think about it for a minute--but these sensual images from preschool are branded into my brain.  I would love to have a house with antique-style floral metal chandelier in a sunroom, where I can have plants that can stand up to the neglect I will doubtless inflict on them and still seem healthy.  Thus far, I have kept my two jade plants and my African violet alive here at Susan and Steven's, but I am soon going to have to figure out a safe place to keep them, out of the reach of a quickly-mobilizing Theo. 

I applied for three more jobs two days ago, as I keep getting almost mocking emails from the USAjobs website, telling me repeatedly that though I was deemed eligible for the positions for which I applied, I was not referred to the interviewers because eligible veterans with preference points were lined up ahead of me.  Argh!  Being the great-great-granddaughter, granddaughter, daughter and sister of veterans, I do support those who are serving and have served, and I certainly want to make sure that folks who lost limbs or whatnot in the line of duty get a leg up (no pun meant) when it comes to making sure they don't face discrimination because of their disablement.  But Steven has told me that most ordinary grunts don't qualify for the regular veteran's points (though they may for the disability points).  So, in other words, I am mainly competing against people who are already drawing a decent (though perhaps not overgenerous) government pension, who are applying to work at another government job, and they are getting jumped up the line ahead of regular, otherwise indigent, mutts like me who are otherwise perfectly capable, and might actually be better in the positions because we wouldn't be perpetrating the good ol' boy mentality.

After World War II and 11 years in the navy, my granddaddy really couldn't find a job which suited him until he got on with the Veterans Administration as the physical plant manager at a VA hospital, a role which he filled ably for the next 30+ years. He didn't get official veteran's points in the hiring process, though--the interviewer was impressed by his service record, and that helped to get him the job, but there was no built-in bias keeping others from even being interviewed.  It seems to me that, apart from the disability points, the current veterans points program is silly and should be abolished. People who are good at keeping in touch with folks they met while in the military--particularly the higher-ranking individuals who are the ones who currently benefit unfairly from the program--won't have any difficulty leveraging these connections to aid them in the job-hunting process anyway.  Too, it would give those of us who haven't been able to serve our country by joining national defense forces a means of competing on a level playing field for an opportunity to work for it in other ways.