complaints, condescending twatbags, Germany, healthcare, language, politics, psychology, social media, social welfare

Am I really that “funny” to some people?

Lately, I’ve been feeling kind of puzzled about how I seem to come across to people. I know that sometimes people find me funny. Sometimes, they even find me funny at appropriate times, like when I make an obviously humorous comment. But then, sometimes I find puzzling laughter reactions to things that aren’t meant to be funny.

For instance, yesterday, I shared an old photo of Bill and me at a beer spa. We were in a tub shaped like a keg with a beer spigot next to it. I suppose that could be kind of funny… but it was actually more awesome than humorous. Several people laughed at it. When I asked what was funny, no one responded. I wasn’t necessarily offended by the laugh reactions to that photo. I was just confused by them. I don’t see what’s funny about a couple sitting in a beer spa keg, especially since we weren’t naked.

I did get some laugh reactions at another post, though, that I did find kind of obnoxious. I have ranted a few times on this blog about how certain people in the United States like to tell me how life is in Germany. It’s usually conservatives who do this. They have this idea that Germany is a dystopian communist hellhole, where people are paying taxes out the ass, living in tiny boxes, can’t get medical care, and are subjected to death panels by Muslim terrorists. And yet, my guess is that most of them have never so much as ever left the United States. Or, if they did, they didn’t stay away long enough to understand that life can be good outside of the United States.

The mocking, derisive effect of the laughing emoji is annoying enough when it comes from strangers. It’s actually kind of hurtful when it comes from “friends”. Below is something I wrote in September 2019, after having a very frustrating discussion with a friend of a friend, who was convinced that no one in Germany feels safe, because people don’t walk around with guns here. She stated that she knew Muslims were taking over Germany, and that life here is a nightmare. And she was saying this from Dallas, Texas!

Twice this week, Trump supporters in the USA have tried to tell me how things are in Germany. I have heard how unsafe I am, how I can’t get medical care, how Muslims run everything, crime is rampant, and no one is allowed to have weapons. Do I really look like I have no ability to draw my own conclusions about what life is like over here? Folks, Germany is a nice place to be. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s pretty good, despite those pesky “socialist” policies that make healthcare and higher education affordable and guns more difficult to obtain.

I swear, I must come off as just plain dumb to some people. I don’t get it.

I shared this again, because it still happens regularly. I was completely serious when I wrote it, and when I shared it as a memory. Yet some friends “laughed” at me for this. People who don’t know me presume to tell me how bad it is where I live. What’s especially strange is when they assume I’m not American, and lecture me about life in rural America. It’s inconceivable to some US citizens that anyone can be happy beyond the shores of the United States. Especially a fellow citizen! It’s like– how in the world can one stand to be away from the most fabulous country in the world?

Uh… yeah. A country where people are still screaming about an election that happened two years ago, in which a delusional and obvious narcissist LOST… and on his way out of the White House, which he had threatened to refuse to leave, he STOLE highly classified documents and took them home! A country where children have to learn how to behave in case some unhinged young man with a gun comes in and opens fire on them. A country where more and more states are denying physicians the right to practice their profession without speaking to a lawyer first… and women are being denied the right to choose whether or not they want to be pregnant. A country where we speak of freedom and the right to pursue happiness, while in practice, people who aren’t conventional are pushed to the peripheries– their rights and personal safety threatened regularly. A country where a hell of a lot of people think anyone who has their well being in mind should be sent to prison. A country where a large segment of the population are incarcerated and treated inhumanely!

I could go on… but I think you get the point. It’s not that I don’t love my country. I do. I am proud to be American. But it’s really not the most awesome place there is. There are other countries where life is very good, and even preferable, to some people– Americans included. Personally, I like the lifestyle in Europe much more than I do the US lifestyle. I like the fact that people here don’t obsess so much over work. People take vacations, spend time with their families, enjoy hobbies and clubs, and engage with their communities. New parents can take paid time off to take care of their babies, rather than handing them off to a childcare facility after six weeks. And yes, it’s a huge plus that there’s a lot less violence here.

I’m not saying life here is perfect. It’s not. There are global issues that affect life here as much as they do in the United States. Sometimes I really miss my friends and family back home. I miss being able to do things easily, simply because I can easily speak and read the language. I miss certain foods, and having things like a big kitchen, closets, and the ability to buy a king sized American mattress with ease. I miss being able to go to the beach without spending ages in the car. But, by and large, it’s been nice to live in Europe. I like it here. I think this experience has forever changed me, too.

A few years ago, Bill and I attended a Christmas market in our village, and we met a German lady with an adorable little shih tzu dog, who was wearing a t-shirt that read “Security”. The lady spoke excellent English, and explained to us that she had lived in Tennessee for years, having worked for the drinks company, Seagrams. When we told her about how we’d been in Germany for years, she smiled with recognition and said, “Well, you’ll never be the same again. When you go back to the US, you’ll be too European.”

She’s right, of course. Every time I live abroad, I’m irrevocably changed. This latest stint has been the most life altering. Sometimes, I wonder if I can stand the idea of moving back to the US. Other times, I think that of course I can. That’s my home. But living over here has opened my eyes to its many shortcomings. Why is that funny to some people?

I think social media has really made people more thoughtless and callous, anyway. I started my morning today by blocking a young lady named “Ashlie” who left a rude response to a comment I had left about Dr. Fauci, who had just announced his retirement. I expressed support for Dr. Fauci, because I think he’s done some incredible work for humanity. His job has truly been thankless, because there are so many people in the world– especially in the United States– who think that COVID is a hoax, and vaccines are useless. I just want to ask those people– where the hell do you think all those people who died went? Are they all in Roswell, New Mexico with all the people who disappeared on 9/11? COVID is very real, and it’s killed millions of people. The vaccines have been life savers.

I had COVID myself over the summer. It was like a bad cold. Maybe it would have still been like that if I hadn’t been vaccinated, given that it wasn’t the original variant that got me. Or maybe I would have had to be hospitalized and would have been left extremely debilitated or even dead. I have a few of the risk factors for severe COVID. I’m still not a big fan of face masks, but I cooperate with the rules. I trust people who went to medical school and work in public health.

But this young woman wrote “straight to prison where you belong.” to my well wishes about the octogenarian, Dr. Fauci, who is finally going to retire. I assume she means Fauci should be imprisoned, but the fact that she presumably accidentally wrote that I should go to prison was enough for me to block her. Lately, my block list has been growing by leaps and bounds… and in a way, it makes me sad. People can’t all be this awful, can they? And yet, they are… even though Facebook keeps disciplining me with bots, claiming that I’m a poor citizen of the ‘Net.

I wonder if the young woman who left that comment wanted me to block her. Maybe she doesn’t care. If she doesn’t care, why should I?

Ehh… I know some people would miss me if I quit social media, and I would miss them. But, I have to admit, I do think about doing it every day, because I’m tired of interacting with people who don’t think. I suppose I could have asked “Ashlie” what the hell is wrong with her. I could have addressed her, stating that I haven’t done anything that warrants going to prison, and neither has Dr. Fauci. I admire Dr. Fauci for the lifesaving work he’s done, in spite of massive hostility and stupidity directed toward him. And I could have made a firm statement that COVID vaccines have saved lives worldwide… and Dr. Fauci is just one of many competent healthcare professionals worldwide who have touted them.

I live in Germany, and COVID vaccines have been heavily promoted here. Dr. Fauci doesn’t work in Germany. Should I adopt the belief that Germany’s healthcare minister, Karl Lauterbach, who is a physician and has a Ph.D. in public health from Harvard University, should go to prison for the work he does? I don’t like all of Lauterbach’s opinions or policies, but he has a tremendous responsibility. His job is necessary. My guess is that he’s lost a lot of sleep over the past couple of years. Yes, he’s in a position of power, and some of his policies have been highly annoying and tedious. But again– he has a tremendous responsibility and is in a position of huge trust. Same as Dr. Fauci. Saying that either of these men should go to prison, simply because of their unpopular policies, is ludicrous, disrespectful, and frankly, very stupid.

I could have told Ashlie all of that, but in the end, I just decided to remove her from my sphere, because I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with such idiocy. It just seems like here in Europe, there are fewer people like Ashlie to deal with. They do exist, but they’re in much smaller numbers. Or… maybe it just seems that way, because I don’t speak German very well. Anyway, I like it better. No need to laugh at me for that. At least my opinions are based on real experience instead of conjecture.

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mental health, psychology, social media

You just never know what someone is going through in life…

Today’s post is about suicide. If you think that will trigger you, please move on to the next Internet station.

Over the twenty years I’ve been in Bill’s life, he’s repeatedly told me stories about his friends from high school, and how they helped him through that time in his life. Bill owes his career, in part, to his high school days. At his mother’s insistence, Bill joined Army JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps), and flourished as a cadet. He had grown up without consistent access to his father, so being in the JROTC helped him immensely, by providing him with positive male role models.

Unfortunately, Ex was also enrolled in JROTC, and that was how and where she and Bill met. She later tracked Bill down when he was in Germany the first time, and managed to marry him. We all know how that turned out. 😉 But in spite of the connection with Ex, JROTC was also a place where Bill met some great kids, most of them guys who were a lot of fun. His friend Mark, who committed suicide last month, was among them.

I wrote about Mark last month, even though I never had the chance to meet him. I was the one who told Bill about Mark’s death, as another one of Bill’s friends, who also “friended” me on Facebook, had announced it. Bill was really shocked by the news. He watched as his friends posted their reactions to Mark’s death, and their memories of knowing him. I felt sad for Mark’s friends and family members. Even though a number of them admitted that Mark had “demons”, they all had wonderful things to write about him. And even though they weren’t necessarily people who knew each other, they all shared in the commonality of knowing and loving this man who had violently left life on his own terms.

Sometimes, these things tend to happen in threes. When I initially wrote about Mark, I included some commentary about my cousin’s wife, who, in April, passed away of cancer. In another post, I also included some words about a guy I knew when I was in high school, who also had cancer and died on March 31st, having just turned 50 years old. I will be 50 next month, and I have been worrying a bit about my own health, lately. I have significant issues seeing doctors. So, although I’m sure I will need to pay a visit to one at some point, I’m having some trouble doing it. What makes things harder is when I hear or read about someone who commits suicide. Especially when they are presumably young and healthy. It makes me wonder what the point is of seeing doctors.

This morning, I’m realizing that the three deaths I thought had comprised that old adage of deaths happening in threes, actually weren’t that at all. Because since I wrote that post in mid April, two more people who have somehow affected my life have committed suicide. One of the people I’m referring to is country star, Naomi Judd, who abruptly ended her life on April 30th. Naomi’s death was tragic and shocking on many levels, but at least she’d lived a pretty full life. She didn’t live as long as she was physically able to, but she did live until an age at which a lot of people die for reasons other than suicide.

I wrote about Naomi, although I’m sure I’m not as affected by her passing as some people have been. I enjoy her music, and as a fellow human being who has experienced depression and anxiety, I have great empathy for the suffering she must have experienced to cause her to make such a decision. But this morning, I read an article on People.com about a man who spent some of Naomi’s last hours with her as they sat next to each other on a 90 minute connecting flight to Chicago. Strickland explained that Naomi “never met a stranger” and would talk to anyone.

At first, the man she sat next to on her last plane ride hadn’t realized she was famous. But they got to talking during that short flight, and Naomi had made a real impression on him. When he got news of Naomi’s death, he decided to reach out to her equally famous family via email. To my great surprise, I was feeling a bit choked up as I read about the man’s kind message to Naomi’s widower, Larry Strickland, who had been so concerned about Naomi flying alone. According to the People.com article:

“It’s a small comfort, I’m sure, but my life seems a lot richer after meeting your wife, however briefly,” continued the note, which visibly sparked an emotional response from Strickland onstage. 

“Obviously, I didn’t know Naomi at all, but I can tell you she spoke highly and warmly of you, and the life you shared together,” read the heartfelt email, which Strickland recited while choking up. “Rest assured she loved you and had no qualms about telling me, a stranger on a plane, that was so.”

The man concluded his letter by telling Strickland about the “measure and impact” his late wife left on him during the brief time they spent together, and Strickland told the audience the message provided “great, great pleasure and comfort to me.”

What a great gift this stranger gave to Larry Strickland. It’s a reminder to everyone that famous people are no different than non-famous people. I’ve thought about Naomi a lot, lately, but I am so glad that her husband was able to be comforted by a stranger’s loving message to him.

Now comes the part of this post when I write about third suicide that has sort of affected me on some level. It’s a convoluted story, so bear with me, and keep in mind that this is simply from my perspective. Other people, I’m sure, have different perspectives. This is just my version of the truth.

Some readers– especially those who remember my original OH blog– might recall that in 2019, I abruptly moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress. I made that decision for a couple of reasons. I had actually wanted to move the blog for awhile, since Blogger isn’t the most professional or functional blogging platform out there. But I put off moving the blog, because I knew it would be inconvenient, and I’d have to start over from scratch. I finally moved it when it became clear that the old blog was becoming a liability. I had some readers who weren’t friendly to me, and they were stirring up trouble. I needed the extra security and functionality that WordPress offers.

I was legitimately shaken by the actions of this woman I had perceived was “stalking” me, and was in cahoots with our former landlady. I’ll call her “Jodi”, though that’s nowhere close to her real name. She had lived in our previous house immediately before us. She and her husband had left ex landlady’s house in September 2014, which was about halfway through their stint in Germany. Since they were still living in the community, and back then, I was sharing my travel blog in the local Facebook groups, Jodi started following me. Because the travel blog was also on Blogger, it was easy for her to find my rawer original OH blog. She decided to follow that blog, too, which probably led her to make some erroneous negative assumptions about me, and my character.

Perhaps because she was feeling curious, or maybe even a little guilty about moving out of ex landlady’s house, Jodi was regularly monitoring my blogs, even though she’d left Germany in 2016, or so. Occasionally, she would leave me “friendly” comments, always with a fake name. At first, the comments were nice, but then when I started having trouble with former landlady, she would leave comments that were shaming or chastising. One time, she asked me to edit something I had written that she was uncomfortable with, since she claimed it had wrongly implicated her. Basically, I had wondered why she and her husband had moved out of that house halfway through their tour in Germany. She had told us that she thought of the ex landlady and her husband as parents to her, and claimed they were wonderful people. And yet, she had to move. The story she told me was one that didn’t ring true to me, based on my experiences with the Army. Jodi insisted that she’d told us the truth… but I still had my doubts. I wasn’t born yesterday.

Jodi was “buddies” with our ex landlady, and in February 2019, a few months after Bill and I had vacated our previous house, she sent me a private Facebook message that really upset me. I had already blocked her on social media before I even saw the message, so when I finally discovered it on my Facebook page for this blog, she showed up as “Facebook User”. In that post, she chastised me for a new fiction blog I was starting. She’d read my initial posts on the fiction blog and mistakenly believed that I was going to write a “hatchet piece” about our former landlady’s daughter. She wrote that ex landlady’s daughter read my blog regularly and would be offended. Then she implied that I’m “crazy” and begged me not to “harass” the ex landlady by writing about her.

Now… the fact is, I have NEVER met our ex landlady’s daughters. Putting it lightly, ex landlady and I definitely weren’t friends, and I don’t think she would have condescended to introduce me to her family members, other than her husband. I didn’t even know her daughters’ names, and had not so much as been in their presence. I’m sure Jodi wouldn’t have believed me if I told her that, because I think she was wholly convinced that I’m a mean, unhinged, person who lies. You can say a lot of things about me, but I am generally a truthful person. I’ve written a lot of negative stuff about Ex, for instance, but now that I corroborate my posts with actual evidence, you can see where my posts are coming from. I may express things that are “ugly” and negative, but by and large, I am truthful.

One time, Bill met one of the landlady’s daughters, and he was impressed by her. He said she was very bright and articulate. She had a physical condition that made her different, but Bill did not mention this condition to me. The first paragraphs of my now deleted short story included a description of a character that had a physical condition similar to that of the ex landlady’s daughter’s. Naturally, “Jodi” read it, assumed that I was going to write a mean spirited story about her friend, and decided to pre-emptively stop me before I caused offense. However, writing a mean story about this woman I’d never even met hadn’t been my plan at all, and she hadn’t given me a chance to develop the character to what I had envisioned. I also didn’t know that Jodi had been sharing my blog with our ex landlady’s daughter, and probably ex landlady herself. It pissed me off that she was so concerned about her privacy, but had no regard for mine, even though my blog is, admittedly, public.

In her message to me, Jodi wrote I didn’t have the right to create a fiction story inspired by people in my life (from where did she think authors get their inspirations?) She implied that I’m a “hack”, and “begged” me not to drag her friends through the proverbial mud, even though they had treated us unfairly, and she had even corroborated some of my complaints in comments left on my blog (most of which she later deleted). Jodi’s false accusations, erroneous assumptions, and continuous meddling in what was my business, really made me angry with her. I felt violated and misunderstood by someone I had met in person only twice. It caused a lot of psychological angst, and I was very pissed. Some of my earliest posts in this rehashed blog spell that out.

It never seemed to occur to Jodi that I’m not a total shit. I would not have written a snarky story on the level that she was assuming. Even though I did write a few snarky fiction story posts in my original blog that had characters inspired by real people who bugged me, some of my characters are neutral, or even positive. The character she’d clued in on was going to be one of those, and was not actually based on ex landlady’s daughter. Above all, it was clearly FICTION, and very few people even bother to read my fiction.

The vast majority of readers of my blog aren’t at all connected with the military. Even if I had written a mean fiction story about people we both knew, most people reading wouldn’t be any the wiser. I figured that if my fiction bothered Jodi and her friends, they could exercise some self-discipline and find something else to read on another site. But, because we were planning to sue the ex landlady for illegally withholding our deposit, I decided to delete the fiction blog after only a couple of days. I had intended to restart it at some point, but just couldn’t find the heart to do it after Jodi’s meddling. Her actions really did some damage to me, although I’m sure she never thought about that, and likely didn’t even care. She didn’t seem to have much respect for me, and clearly expressed that she didn’t think of me as a “real” writer. I had also noticed some hits coming from places where she had family. I had a feeling some of them were watching my blog, too, and that made me feel kind of paranoid, even though most of what I write should have been of little to no concern to them.

For the past few years, I’ve had Jodi blocked on Facebook. I didn’t look her up, especially since I knew that she was very concerned about her privacy on the Internet. I really just wanted to forget about the whole incident involving my blog, as well as her seemingly shady behavior involving our previous house. However, since moving back to the States, Jodi had gotten a job with Bill’s company, and he’d noticed her on the company’s email list. A few days ago, he told me that she was no longer on the roster. She also wasn’t listed as a government employee.

That seemed strange to me, since I knew she was very much into her career and she seemed to be on an upward trajectory. But I just chalked it up to her moving on. I never looked her up online, because I knew she kept a low profile. I just wanted to forget about her, and how she’d made me feel. But, sometimes I get into trouble when I get bored. Sunday afternoon, I finally did a cursory search of Jodi’s name. I didn’t expect to find anything. Imagine my surprise when I immediately saw an obituary for her, along with a video of her memorial service, which took place several months ago.

I called Bill over and said, “I just found out why Jodi is no longer listed as an employee at your company.”

Bill was curious, so I showed him her obituary, which listed her at just 34 years of age. The obituary made it sound like she’d had a very full and vibrant life. Naturally, we were curious about what happened. I unblocked Jodi’s Facebook profile, and eventually found out that she, too, had committed suicide.

Let me just say this, in case anyone who knows “Jodi” happens to be reading this. I am truly very sorry for your loss. No matter what I might have thought of Jodi and her actions toward me, I know there were people in her life who loved her very much and are devastated by her decision to commit suicide. I am especially sorry for her two children, who are still so young. Losing their mother at such a young age will affect them forever. All I can do is offer a sincere prayer that they will have as much peace as they can possibly have, under these circumstances.

After I discovered Jodi’s cause of death, I realized that she and I had some things in common besides the Army, living in Germany, and having had the same landlady. When I was growing up, I was a horse enthusiast, like Jodi was. I had a horse and worked at a barn to help pay for his upkeep. Jodi was a barrel racer, but my discipline was hunt seat. I spent my high school years showing my horse and going to fox hunts and competitive trail rides. I gave up my horse when I went to college, although I would have loved to have brought him with me to school. To this day, I miss having horses in my life.

Jodi was an animal lover, as I am. She had a cute little dachshund, whom I met when Bill and I toured the house we rented after her. I am a hound lover too, although mine have mostly been beagles.

I like to travel, just as she did. That’s why we moved back to Germany. I had remembered Germany as a beautiful place, and wanted to come back here to live for a year or two. I never thought we’d be here for as long as we have. I swear, when Bill and I met Jodi and ex landlady in 2014, all we were looking for was a place to live after a very rough summer. We weren’t trying to make trouble for anyone. But then, writers who don’t sometimes stir up controversy are often pretty boring and unsuccessful. No matter what Jodi thought of what I do, I am a writer. And yes, I have actually been paid to write.

Just like Jodi, I have also struggled with mental health issues. I was treated for depression and anxiety for several years, and I have felt suicidal at times, although obviously I haven’t yet committed to the idea. I haven’t been on antidepressants since my early 30s, but there are times when I think I would be better off with some chemical assistance for my moods. But again… I don’t like visiting doctors.

Jodi’s loved ones have posted many pictures of her doing things she loved, living in beautiful places, and reaching for her goals. I haven’t got the foggiest idea why she decided that suicide was an appropriate solution for her problems. I won’t even try to guess. I just feel compassion for those left behind… and yes, that includes ex landlady and her daughter, whom I know were her friends. I hope Jodi has found peace. I wish we could have had a mature discussion, so that the whole mess and the misunderstandings with my blog could have been avoided.

You just never know what’s going on in someone’s life. I had no idea that Jodi was troubled in any way. She seemed like a person who had everything going for her. Clearly, some things weren’t going right, in spite of her facade. Wherever she is now, I hope she’s out of pain.

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musings

Seven years ago…

Every day, I’m newly amazed at where Bill and I are. Seven years ago, I never thought we’d be living in Germany, especially for as long as we have. Seven years ago, we were in San Antonio, Texas, having a terrible summer. I remember July 2014 was particularly awful, as my dad had his very last health crisis and we were dealing with constant real estate showings and trying to plan for our overseas move to Stuttgart.

We worried about so much, particularly since we had dogs and Bill had a month of unemployment. I remember when he was offered the job in Germany. It was as if he was a custom fit for the kind of person they were looking to hire. We wanted to move to Germany. They wanted someone experienced in a niche field who would take a low salary. The lack of money is partly why we wound up renting our cheap, weird house, dealing with a very intrusive and controlling landlady from hell. However, living there was a good thing, since it set us up for adventures and helped us save a lot of money.

Plus, I paid off my student loans. In 2014, I still owed over $40,000 on my loans. By 2018, they were completely retired. I don’t think we could have done that if we hadn’t had a cheap house and Bill hadn’t had a job at which he is a star performer.

On this day seven years ago, my dad died after having spent about six years suffering from dementia. I remember my sister leaving me a message on my phone, sounding concerned, but not panicked. She said our dad had a really bad gallbladder attack and had needed emergency surgery. The surgeon removed Dad’s gallbladder successfully, but my Dad was never able to recover from the anesthesia. I remember my dad tried very hard to keep breathing after the respirator was removed. Mom finally told him to let go and be with all of the people on the other side waiting for him. So he stopped fighting and died.

Since then, four uncles, an aunt, and a cousin have died. Three of my uncles died in 2015 alone. I haven’t been home since we did our memorial for my dad, back in November 2014. I have newly born relatives who don’t know me at all and a few who have probably forgotten me. Some have said they’d like to see me, though I wonder if I should believe them.

I do kind of miss Virginia, although the United States seems to be getting weirder by the year. I read a news story this morning about a self-described Virginia militia member who is hoping to see Virginia secede from the Union. He was arrested for breaching the Capitol on January 6th, even though the feds didn’t take that step until he mistakenly told an undercover DC cop and an undercover FBI agent posing as “patriots” about his plans to raise a ruckus.

The “militia member”, name of Fi Duong, is a former Marine of Chinese and Vietnamese descent who says his family has been running from communists. He doesn’t want to see communism take over the United States. So, for that reason, it’s okay for him to be talking about testing Molotov cocktails at what used to be Lorton Prison in Virginia? What about the fact that Virginia went “blue” last November? I mean, I come from Virginia, so I know that there are many conservative voters there. But the conservatives did not win last year. Why is it appropriate for guys like Fi Duong to try to force change that the people clearly don’t want?

It’s scary to read about all of the extremism in the United States right now. People are very polarized.

Still, although I am not a Trumper, I do have a lot of Trump loving family members. Some of them claim to miss me. The truth is, I miss a lot of them, too. There may come a time in the near future at which I’ll want to go home for a visit. But I’m not sure I even want to live in the United States anymore. It’s gotten too strange and dangerous. I almost wonder if I’d even fit in there.

I guess this experience of being in Germany for so long has given me some idea of what immigrants go through. We aren’t immigrants, of course, and we don’t even have resident status here. We’re here on SOFA status, which means we don’t really have the typical expat lifestyle. Germany isn’t home, and probably won’t be, but it feels so much more normal here. Yes, there are some extremists, but not as many as there are in the United States. And there are many fewer guns, which is a nice thing.

I still can’t believe we’ve been here for seven years. It just doesn’t seem real. I look back on it and realize it’s actually been a long time, but the time seems to have flown by so fast. It’s been a mostly good time, too. Sometimes I miss being with people I know and love, but for the most part, being away has been good. I’ve learned a lot and changed… In fact, I may not be able to go “home” again. A German lady we met in 2019 told Bill and me that living here has made us “too European” for the United States. She knows of what she speaks, too, since she had lived in the United States for years. I think living there changed her, too.

I still have a German friend who lives in North Carolina. When I first met her, she complained a lot about North Carolina. Since then, she’s earned a nursing degree and had several American boyfriends. She also bought a house. I suspect she may be there for the long haul. Funny how we kind of traded places. She’s responsible for us finding our sweet Arran.

Well… I guess that’s enough musing for today. I wish I had more to say, but I’m a bit preoccupied. I spent this morning finding and booking a hotel near Zurich. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to enjoy a long weekend down there. Bill will indulge his curiosity about Jung and I will get some beautiful photos for my travel blog. Tomorrow, I will be singing in an online memorial for my old friend. Hopefully, it will go well.

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Military

Our “European Vacation” that isn’t…

Several years ago, I got into a discussion with an Italian friend. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen, but he no longer lives in the United States. He had lived there as a young man hoping to earn a doctorate. He did eventually get one, but it was in Canada that he earned it. He married an American woman, had two children, and lived in the United States for about twenty-five years until his marriage finally fell apart.

My Italian friend is now married to a German woman and, at least until the pandemic, did a lot of work in Belgium. I haven’t heard from him in awhile. There was a time when we would spar a lot, but he eventually got disgusted with social media and dropped off of Facebook. The last time I got a ping from my Italian friend was over the summer. He found my travel blog, congratulated me for being on a trip, and said he was glad I still live in Germany instead of the United States.

I was kind of surprised by his comment. I first “met” this man online, back in 2005 or so. At that time, he was still in the United States. We both wrote reviews for a now defunct site called Epinions.com. I had written an opinion piece entitled something along the lines of “I’m glad some people’s sons and daughters are joining the military.” My Italian friend, Vic, took issue with it and started an online argument with me. I remember that morning, I also had a terrible hangover and was in no mood to argue with Vic, who wasn’t a friend at that point. In fact, I thought he was just an opinionated and condescending asshole who was out of touch with reality. In those days, I was a lot more conservative.

Forgive me for not knowing the exact title of the essay I wrote. It’s so many years later, although I do remember what had inspired it. At that time, I was a member of a “support” site for second wives and stepmothers called the Second Wives Cafe. It was a pretty toxic place, in retrospect… but I was much younger and kind of bewildered by being a second wife and wanna be stepmom (Bill’s kids have still only met me once). Anyway, we had a forum called “The Back Burner”, where women would post about politics and religion and anything else controversial. I remember a lot of women were posting about how they’d never let their “kids” join the U.S. military. Remember, this was during the George W. Bush era, when war was going on in earnest.

It occurred to me that if no one’s “kids” joined the military, there would have to be conscription. At this point, it would not be possible for the United States to function without a military. Of course, in W’s era, we had no idea of the horrors that were coming in Trump. I also realized that the military provides an excellent career for the people who are suited for it. My husband, for instance, grew up somewhat poor. His parents divorced when he was very young and, though his dad paid child support, it wasn’t very much. Thanks to the military, Bill still managed to go to an excellent private university for his undergraduate degree, then earn two more master’s degrees, all with minimal debt. I know a lot of other people like that, too… people who had grown up poor in small towns and would have had a much harder time launching into adulthood with work that paid enough.

So I had written this heartfelt piece about why the military is a good career option for many people and parents should not try to talk their children out of joining if they feel led to go in that direction. I still feel that way, although I can certainly understand why parents feel the need to meddle. Vic had commented that he would never “allow” his adult son to join the U.S. military, and a lengthy argument ensued.

For years, we continued our good natured bantering. I started to see Vic for the type of person he really is, and I think he began to understand me a bit more. But he was still “upset” about the United States “occupying” countries in Europe and Asia, to include Italy and Germany. I reminded him that thirty years ago, there were military installations all over southern and western Germany, and in the former West Berlin. Now, quite a lot of them are defunct. Italy also used to have more installations, though it never had as many as Germany did. Italy now has fewer installations. Bit by bit, the U.S. presence in Europe has dwindled. In fact, I can count several places that were open when Bill and I were in Germany the first time, but have since shut down.

One day, back in 2015, Vic and I had a Facebook argument about Italy’s hosting of American troops. It came up because Bill had to go to Vicenza for a conference and I was going with him. On my old blog, I wrote a post about our discussion, and why I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Americans come to Europe to live. I will repost it at the end of this fresh content, for those who are interested.

All of this leads up to today’s topic, which was inspired by a piece I read in The New York Times a couple of days ago. It was about the Bavarian town of Vilseck, which hosts a huge U.S. military base. Bill was once posted there in the 1980s. Over the years, the Army installation in Vilseck has provided a lot of money to the town and provided its citizens with work. It’s also fostered friendships between Americans and Germans. Now, in the wake of Donald Trump’s comments about moving American service members out of Germany, the mayor worries about what will happen to the town.

The same goes for prime ministers in other parts of Germany, where there are still U.S. military bases. A lot of them have closed. Right now, four states out of the sixteen German states host Americans. They include Bayern, Hesse, Rheinland-Pfalz, and Baden-Württemberg. Over the summer, the prime ministers of those states wrote to thirteen members of Congress, asking them not to move the troops. Indeed, Trump was discussing moving the troops to other European locations, such as Poland, Belgium, and Italy, and sending a few thousand “home”.

I shared the post about Vilseck on my page, but then went back later to read the comments from New York Times readers. Not surprisingly, a lot of people seem to think that no work is going on here, and military members are simply having a vacation. That is NOT true. I can personally attest to the amount of work Bill does, and I can also say that it’s not simply about policing the world. What Bill does actually has an air of diplomacy within it. He helps plan training exercises that involve other militaries in countries in Europe. When we were in Stuttgart, he was doing the same thing, only with African countries. In both instances, he’s also worked with European militaries who are participating in the trainings. In all cases, the militaries are participating because they WANT to. Incidentally, Bill also did a similar job in Texas, working with militaries in Central and South America, who also wanted to do training exercises with the U.S. military.

Others complain that we shouldn’t be “occupying” other nations. Also not true. The United States pays a lot of money to have installations in Europe. American military members and their families also contribute to the economies, not just of the countries where they live, but also in surrounding countries. In fact, back in 2008, Bill and I visited a hotel in Poland run by Brits of Polish descent. They had not known about the American military presence in Germany when they invested $4000 in a dilapidated barn that they turned into a very cute hotel called The Blue Beetroot. Back in 2008, they were still fairly newly opened. I asked the innkeepers to tell me their story, and the wife said they had originally meant to attract Brits to Poland. But their hotel turned out to be a huge draw for American military wives on the prowl for Polish pottery. Their business is still thriving (or was before COVID-19), and it’s provided a nice livelihood for others in the community.

But my main reason for being grateful for the bases abroad, besides the fact that having them makes it easier for the U.S. to respond to situations beyond our borders, is because it allows a lot of Americans who DESPERATELY need to travel the opportunity to do so. I have lived abroad for a number of years. At this count, I’m at three countries besides the United States. I’ve learned from all of those experiences and they have made me a better person. While there are plenty of Americans who don’t care about Europe and would just as soon go home to the States and watch their Sunday football, quite a lot of people are profoundly changed by living in another culture. I know I have been. And I also know that a lot of Americans are under the impression that our way is the best or only way. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. Living abroad several times has made me a better person, and I don’t think I’m the only one. And when we leave these places where we’ve been for many years– like Lajes Air Field in the Azores, Portugal, we hurt a lot of the locals.

Anyway… Vic did say last summer that he’s glad Bill and I are still in Germany. But it’s because he likes us (or at least he likes me) and sees what is happening in the States– the violence and the raging pandemic. And he knows that we’re probably a lot safer here. He probably still thinks the U.S. military sucks, though. Anyway, a lot of people in the States simply have no clue what goes on over here at the military bases. Maybe some people don’t think my husband’s work is important, but I can tell you that it’s made him more culturally aware and, therefore, more culturally sensitive. And I think Americans need all of the cultural sensitivity opportunities we can get. It’s easier to do that if you’re living abroad, rather than just vacationing.

Now… breakfast is ready. Below is the post from 2015 I mentioned earlier.

Italy’s “huge” military base… (from December 17, 2015– Vic did read this, by the way)

A couple of days ago, I got into a discussion with an Italian friend of mine who is now a US citizen living in Germany.  I “met” him on Epinions.com, a now defunct product review site where I posted for about eleven years.  My friend, “Vic”, used to read my reviews and leave snarky comments.  At first, I was offended by him, but then grew to appreciate him as we got to know each other better.  Make no mistake about it.  He’s not a fan of the US military.  He enjoys disdaining it and other things about the United States.

I can’t help but think it’s a shame that Vic got naturalized, since he clearly doesn’t love his “adopted” country and now has to pay taxes.  Aside from that Vic clearly identifies as an Italian, though he hasn’t lived in Italy for years and often disdains Italy, too.  Indeed, Vic has said the only city that “works” in Italy is Bolzano.  I will agree, Bolzano is a beautiful city with a nice mix of Austrian and Italian.  I can see why that works well.

So anyway, I was commenting about my initial impressions of Vicenza, which, to be honest, aren’t all that positive.  Granted, I haven’t had the chance to see much of the city, since I’ve kind of been stuck at the hotel in the depressing outskirts this week.  What I did see looked charming, though crowded with aggressive drivers and dented vehicles and I was seeing it in the dark while highly annoyed with Bill.  The food, on the other hand, has been a real delight.

Vic agreed that Vicenza is not Italy’s nicest city.  He mentioned that one of the main reasons it sucks is because of the “huge” US military installation there.  He says that as a US taxpayer, he doesn’t like his taxes going to fund the US war machine.  As an Italian, he simply wants that “crap” out of his country. 

I had to take exception to Vic’s comments.  First off, if you want to talk size, the military installation in Vicenza is certainly not “huge”.  It’s about a quarter of the size of the one(s) in the Stuttgart area.  In fact, the United States has been downsizing its footprint in Europe over the past few years.  A couple of installations in Germany that were open when we lived in Europe last time are now defunct.  One in Italy used to be a full base, but is now just a “camp”.  Little by little, the United States military is leaving Europe, though I doubt they will ever totally go away.  And while some people would like to see them leave, others are glad they are there.  Not only is the US military handy for defense purposes; it’s also good for local businesses.  Aside from that, a lot of US citizens end up befriending or even marrying host country nationals.

But there’s another side to this that I don’t think people not affiliated with the military realize.  Americans ought to have the chance to live abroad.  Too many Americans never leave the United States.  Too few have passports and take the opportunity to travel.  People talk about how Americans have no concept of what life is like in other places and they don’t have respect for other people.  One way to build respect and empathy for others is through exposure.  Taking vacations is all well and good, but it takes immersion to really get a feel for what another country is like.  It’s true that a lot of Americans living abroad never bother to see anything beyond the gates of a military installation.  On the other hand, plenty of people take the time to see where they are and get exposed to new things. 

To be honest, a lot of Americans in the US military come from places where they might not have otherwise had the chance to travel beyond the US.  Granted, that isn’t true for everyone, but it is true for many people.  My dad, for instance, grew up poor and later became an Air Force officer.  His career afforded him a chance to see much of the world and develop a fascination for other cultures, an appreciation for which he passed on to his daughters.  We grew up more open minded than we might have, largely because we didn’t grow up in one place.  In fact, though my dad was a staunch Republican, his daughters are way more liberal than he ever was.  Because we had been exposed to other people and other places, we didn’t have that narrow perspective of someone who always stays within a comfort zone.

This is my fourth time living abroad.  Every time I move to another country, I learn new things and meet new people.  I try to be a good ambassador for my home country.  I understand why people have a negative opinion of the United States.  But if we quit living abroad and traveling, pretty soon all many people will know of us is what they see in movies or watch on the news.

I can appreciate that it’s expensive to maintain military bases all over the world.  I understand that moving Americans to Europe or elsewhere costs a lot of money.  Vic wants to know why we need to do this.  Why does the military send people to live abroad and spend so much money on bases in places like Italy and Germany?  Well, I won’t pretend to know all the reasons why.  It’s a rather complex issue that has roots going back to way before I ever walked on Earth. 

I doubt what I say to Vic will change his impressions of the military or the people within it.  I think if he met Bill in person, he would not see someone who is a knuckle dragger who likes blowing up things.  He’s a kind, sensitive, intelligent man who loves what he does and loves his country… and loves Europe, too.  All I will say is that I’m glad that we have the chance to live in Europe.  I appreciate it.  It’s changed my life and opened my eyes and made me a better person.  I can’t be the only one who feels that way.

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musings

This week is going to be historic…

I don’t actually feel too much like bashing Trump today, even if he did cheer on the gang of idiots in Texas who swarmed Joe Biden’s campaign bus. I would like to think his actions speak for themselves. I also know that nothing I write in my blog is going to convince people who have already made up their minds about which way they want to vote. I truly hope decency prevails.

I have long believed that people should be free to vote their consciences anyway. I have not made it a secret that I despise Trump and his ilk, but I do understand why some prefer him to Joe Biden. I think they should be free to vote for Trump if they want to, even if I also think they’re ignoring the fact that he has some pretty serious character deficits and ignoring those deficits does not make them look too good themselves. As I posted in my last article, I am not big on shaming people. At the same time, I fervently hope and pray that this political circus will end at some point soon. It’s exhausting, and I would like to have something else to write about besides Trump’s shenanigans.

That being said… on to another topic.

I decided last night to reactivate an old Facebook group that was previously archived. When we first moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, there was a group for Americans renting houses in Germany. It consisted of people who are affiliated with the U.S. military. I found it very useful when it was active, but unfortunately, it eventually went dormant.

Given that Bill and I have now lived together in three different homes in two different German states, I thought I would be a good person to revive that group. And given that Bill sued our former landlords, I know that we have the experience to help people who decide to go to court to assert their rights. Some people might just want a place to share their stories. I know there are some doozies out there.

I don’t know how well it will go across. I probably won’t promote it heavily. I just feel like it might be a good tool for people who have come to Germany and need assistance. But even as I write that, I feel some dread because oftentimes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I also think this group could be a lot more contentious than my wine group is.

We’ll see what happens…

I’d like to finish reading Lenny Kravitz’s book today. It’s surprisingly good. I’m glad I’m not in the States and can avoid the political shitshow that will be upon us tomorrow.

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