I Can See Dead People – For Now

Can I rant about German law for a minute? So I have written about my parents before. Both are deceased, my dad passed in 1982, and my mom followed him in 1998, 20 years back. Which is why I just got mail from the cemetery management of the small town where my parents‘ burial place is located, saying that I have until the end of the year to have the tomb removed. Apparently, in German cemeteries, you only rent the gravesite, for a limited period of time, and my parents‘ has expired 20 years after my mom passed away, no extensions permissible. Am I the only one to find that macabre? I mean, the whole ritual that we do with with the funeral, and the speeches, and the flowers is designed to find closure, and it works a charm of course. But for a lot of people (me included) it doesn’t really stop there. They go and visit the graves of their loved ones, just to go see them, talk to them, connect with them, bring them flowers – whatever. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that topos in a book or seen it in a movie. I have certainly done it myself.

Since I live hundreds of miles away from that place, I don’t get to go there often. But I do feel a connection to that cemetery, and I especially love my parents‘ headstone. It’s a simple, undressed stone, and the epitaph simply says their names and the respective birthdays and days of death. The last time I was there, I saw that some moss had started growing in the crevices of the rough surface, and it made me smile, and think: Look, life goes on, even in a cemetery. So I don’t go a lot, but were I to live closer, I’m quite certain I would. It had (until I received the letter from the authorities) a certain permanence if you will, it was a place I knew would always be there. It was, after all, my parents‘ final place of rest.

Not all that final, evidently. Granted, I wasn’t the person to make the arrangements. That was my mom, when my dad passed away. She must have been told about the legal situation, not that she was probably listening, grief-stricken and in shock as she was at the time. And it never came up when she died and was buried in the same place 16 years later (well before the 20 years mark), and the management probably thought I knew. Well, I didn’t.

And now, I’m supposed to renounce this place I had wrongly assumed was mine, to make room for other dead people, and for their bereft. I guess it makes sense in a way, what with the overpopulated, aging society we live in. If you’re aware of these things in advance, you’d be well advised to not put any deep emotional roots down there, to spare yourself additional grief.

But as a migrant who has no ties to her place of birth, no childhood home I could return to and (duh!) no parents left, I can’t help but feel, once again, discarded. Also, whacked over the head, once again, with the realization that nothing in this life last forever, evidently not even a f…ing grave.

Educating myself on the web, I found it’s common procedure to either recycle the headstones (stonemasons who are contracted to remove the tombstones either remove the epitaphs from the stones and give them away to poorer families for free, or smash it to gravel that is frequently used for road-building (in which case you get a discount on their fee for removing the whole shebang) … I mean, WTF, that is just appaling, right?

Nope, not going to allow my parents‘ memory to become a piece of turnpike. I can see myself standing on some autobahn bridge or other, staring at a strip of road … I always wondered what it was people were doing who stand up there, and hoped they weren’t going to jump; maybe they weren’t crazy, but simply paying their respects to Aunt Edna or Uncle Joseph?

I’m not saying this country hasn’t, all things considered, been good to my family. In fact, most of the time, I’m happy enough in Germany. A stable democracy is nothing you can take for granted in this day and age, and I appreciate many, many things about living here. I married a German man, I have two beautiful kids, and I adore my friends.

But right now, my inner child can’t help feeling betrayed and cheated out of a thing I held very dear. Mad world …

Mad World Cover by Gary Jules

 

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The Way They Were

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First, I have a question for you: Do birthdays make you all nostalgic? Do you feel like looking back and remembering, whenever someone turns a year older? Or do you wake up in the morning all eager for anything the new day/year may bring? Maybe birthdays are just like any other day to you?

For me, birthdays tend to be busy (baking, cooking, organizing parties). The days after the fact, however, are often filled with quiet reflection, and this year is no exception.

My birthday last week was a sunny, summery day spent swimming in the lake, barbecuing things and hanging out with friends on the shady lawn after. I got wonderful, thoughtful presents, I felt loved and cherished, and I had a really good time. Since it was a Sunday, we started around noon and people went home early because they needed to work the next day. Lawn and kitchen were cleaned up by 10 p.m., and the day ended in the hammock with my teenager, and a little substance abuse. That was memorable in and of itself obviously, but the conversation was even more so. You know the rambling way people talk when under the influence, which can feel so profound but actually is mainly losing your filters. So we had a fascinating chat about sex, and love, and the way this new generation’s approach to both is somewhat different from my own generation’s.

As much as I commend the way they’re open to experimenting, I’m also a little bit weirded out by the cavalier attitude towards what I consider to be intimacy (‚for science‘, as he put it). Well, I guess as long as you talk in advance and make sure everyone’s on the same page. I know I always preached to be open about things, and not have any hang-ups, so I guess this is what the outcome is :-).

It was all very interesting, and it’s certainly remarkable how these experiments went on without my husband and me even realizing. I guess we must be very trusting individuals. Which is actually what I’m applying as a strategy for bringing up my teenager: Trust in him (thank you so much, Jesper Juul!), and get him to talk (figured that out all by myself). Thank God we don’t really need weed for that!

I made no grand speeches, I hope, but I did point out the importance of making sure nobody gets hurt (you may feel all casual about messing around with someone, but he or she may have feelings for you, so you better be sure it’s the same empirical interest (read horniness and curiosity) driving both partners before you engage in anything). I also said sex with a person you’re actually in love with is a whole different ballgame, and there’s still a lot to discover (or scientifically research) when that is the case. He’ll get what I was talking about when that happens, right? For now, it’s safe to say we’re not in Kansas anymore. Evidently, my son is a sexual being, bizarre as it may be to me as a parent. Who knew?IMG_E6368Thoughtfully leaving this place today without even mentioning food or crafts, sorry not sorry :-).

Those of you who have older children, talk to me about this stuff, for right now, I’m just flying by the seat of my pants. I’m sure I’d benefit from some, well, experience.

Summer Appreciation Post

IMG_6363Welcome to serenity;-).

This is what I see when I spread out my blanket at ‚our‘ spot by the lake. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m always astonished at how few people come here, but of course I’m not complaining. To the contrary, I’m deeply thankful we get to have this place to ourselves more often than not.IMG_2394As you can guess, we have moved our life out to the country cottage for the next few weeks, and so far it’s been pretty chill. We’ve done the things we usually do when we’re here: Walk in the forest, swim in the lake, find mushrooms, cook, grill, sleep in, play games, sit by a fire, gaze at the stars at night. Our lazy routine is punctuated by the kids‘ sudden cravings for favorite foods, or certain things that need to be eaten because nature or the garden supply them.

When we found chanterelle mushrooms after the rain last week, we made the best fanfuckingtastic grilled cheese from them, see above. Pimped with green onions and fresh rosemary, yum.

The above are plum dumplings, one of my childhood favorites. I learned how to make them at an early age, since they were one of my Dad’s specialties. It’s not difficult, albeit a messy process. Consisting of a mashed potato, flour and egg gnocchi dough wrapped around a plum and boiled in salt water, they’re breaded in buttered breadcrumbs and eaten with a bit of sugar. The kids just like to roll ‚em in the stuff as you can see above, and depending on the type of plum you use, it may be necessary too.

Other Parents Have Time to Cook foods are: lasagna, pancakes for breakfast, as well as, notably, my husband’s Jewish pizza topped with chanterelle mushrooms, what a treat that was! I was going to take a picture but the pizza was gone so fast I didn’t have a chance. So sorry, maybe next time. But you get the idea – thin, crisp pizza dough topped with sour cream, onions, mushrooms and cheese – very good stuff.

IMG_E6285The above was my adaptation of a classic Arabic basbousa cake; I was inspired to make one myself when I read about it on Cleobuttera’s blog. Her recipe sounds very good, but that particular day I was dying to know whether it isn’t possible to add dark chocolate to the orange flavor, and use spelt semolina instead of the called for wheat. And what can I say? It was certainly a worth-while experiment.

As of late, I’ve become quite the home-made syrup buff, check out the flavors we made for the school fair in June (yellow is elder flower, red is raspberry), so the orange syrup part didn’t scare me.IMG_5955We ended up with a lovely melt-in-mouth dark chocolat-ey concoction soaked in sticky orange bliss. Nice with a glass of milk, black coffee, and (I was told) with a glass of fruity champagne. Not drinking much myself, these days, as my body does not appreciate it anymore. Who knew I’d end up becoming such a health nut??

We have a sweet four-legged visitor for a couple days who is making puppy dog eyes at me, urging me to leave the hammock I’ve been typing away in and take him for his midday run:IMG_6375Cooper is an Australian Shepherd, and he’s a very cute bundle of activity, this one. Since we also brought the cat, it’s an interesting experiment. So far, they’ve been giving each other the evil eye, and the kitty needs to be coaxed to come out of the house at all:

IMG_6369That hammock has become a favorite place to do favorite things in, here’s my new couch blanket coming along nicely, on DC row at a time.IMG_6297Have a beautiful summer, wherever you are and whatever your favorite seasonal activity may be. I’m off to the woods with a strapping, woofing young fellow now.

Detachment Part Two, and More Heat Eats

IMG_6111When I stumbled across this piece by André Aciman in the New York Times a while ago, it resonated with me, not only because of the example he gives (his boys have moved out…), but because it made me realize that I, too, tend to try and anticipate what bad things are going to feel like so I’ll be prepared when they happen. But while this type of emotional rehearsal may seem like a valid strategy to any constructive pessimist, it may ultimately prove futile. For despite all anticipation, there will always be stuff you hadn’t reckoned with: Life can and will whack you over the head with Unexpected Things.

Mr. Aciman advises to be thankful and enjoy the good things as they happen. It’s sound advice, too, for these precious moments of joy are the piggy-bank for coping with the times life will give you lemons and throw you curve-balls. img_2907.jpgRemember your first heartbreak? I’m sure you do. One moment you feel loved and happy and secure, and the next you get dumped, and realize that the person you cherished, relied on, and trusted in is yours no more. Long story short, apparently my son’s ex-girlfriend (bizarre consecutive words right there!) has fallen out of love with him over the course of her 3-month exchange in the UK, and ended their 2 1/2 year relationship. He didn’t see it coming, all seemed fine when he went to visit her over Easter, but that’s how it goes with still waters. I also remember how much can change over the course of such a long time. She’s made her decision, and he needs to accept that.

But boy, do I feel for my boy. He’s being very mature about it, for now. He says he’s sad, he certainly seems subdued, but he doesn’t want to talk about it much, not to me anyway. There’s a solid support system of friends. Maybe he talks to them, or he simply lets them take his mind off things. They got him to join a gym, which we support, and of course we also have his back. His baby sister makes him laugh, his cool daddy took him to the Long Night of the Sciences, and we’re going to have more mom and son dates again. Yesterday we cooked, and watched 2 episodes of vintage television, Deep Space Nine, which I can only hope he didn’t just do for my sake. He seemed to enjoy it.

Also, we’ve begun checking out our boxed up old vinyls, and of course I have a back story to each and every one! (The Cure’s Head on the Door album (went to see them live on stage for that tour, and Robert Smith said nothing at all to the audience other than hello, good night, and announcing one song with the words ‚this is the Kyoto Song, I’m sure you wouldn’t understand‘ ;-))! What do you think? Was he always like that on stage, or was he in a particularly weird mood that night? We found The Sonics‘ first album that opened my mind to garage rock with an unforgettable BANG, just listen to this: Psycho; and of course, courtesy of my music lover of a daddy, this hauntingly beautiful Étude by Alexander Scriabin. In the YouTube link, Vladimir Horowitz is playing – the recording my dad had was by Svjatoslav Richter, different but equally sublime. I could go on and on, but I’ll save that walk down memory lane for RL, I think.

So, the detachment business. Here’s what I’m doing right now:

a) Allow my boy to be in pain – I’ve passed on Prof. Pearlman’s advice from ‚Call Me By Your Name‘ (don’t snuff it out, let yourself feel it); who knew I’d need to quote this to my own kid so soon? And what a good thing I just read that wonderful book …

b) Get used to not having sweet St. around any longer, friend-zone or no friend-zone, things are probably going to be awkward for a while now.

c) Trust my son to cope with this by himself, and with a little help from his friends.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for a parent not to grieve by proxy, I don’t know how not to anyway. I know my son will be miserable for a while, but I also know he’ll learn something from this. And of course there will be quite a few who’ll happily console him if he lets them!

And since even heartbroken people need to eat, especially when they’re 16, how about a little comfort food that’s heat wave compatible? Have some

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Gigantes Bean Salad

Usually, I would use a can of tuna for this, but since I had run out and it was the weekend, here’s what I used instead. Sun-dried tomatoes, lemon stuffed Spanish olives and because this is me, capers;-), make for a lovely Mediterranean combination. Olive oil, dash of lemon juice, oregano and black pepper – and you’re done. No cooking required, always a plus when its more than 30 °C.

You will need:

Canned Gigantes beans, cooked

1 small shallot or onion, sliced or chopped

Handful of sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips

Handful of green olives, lemon stuffed and sliced

2 TBSP capers (recipe also works without these if you dislike the taste)

3 TBSP olive oil

A few squeezes of lemon juice, to taste

Very little salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 TBSP oregano, dried

Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl, season and let steep for a bit. Enjoy with or without crusty bread – from a nutritional point of view, it’s certainly unnecessary, but if it makes you happy, by all means, have some.

Thank you for reading, everyone, and have a good week!

The Boy With Blue Hair

I have written about my son’s school before. It’s an independently run Waldorf school and a small one at that, which has both its perks and its pitfalls. Sometimes, you need advanced social skills and emotional intelligence for coexisting with certain teachers, colleagues or classmates, as you can’t simply switch into a parallel class (there’s one of each grade only). If you’re absolutely incompatible as human beings, you may be forced to change schools, which has resulted in a fair number of comings and goings over the years, but fortunately, these rarely concerned us personally.

If things go smoothly, though, the kids are solid with each other, and the teachers really care about them, this creates an exceptional environment of mutual respect, affection and trust. I’ve attended breathtaking theater performances that were born from this safe space, I’ve read astonishing papers, and the kids have written and publicly read absolutely incredible poetry. They never fail to impress me.

But let me tell you about what happened yesterday. The German teacher had assigned the kids to write speeches, about a topic of their choice. One of the boys (E. with the blue hair) wanted to talk about homosexuality. It went well, E.’s very bright, and a good speaker. And then, in closing, he came out to the class as gay! After a moment of silence, there was cheering, applause, and the teacher complimented him for personal courage.

As a parent, I cannot help feeling glad to have enrolled my kid at a place where there exists such an atmosphere of trust. My son said the boy hadn’t even told his mom before opening up to his friends and teacher in class. Remarkable, isn’t it?

On this positive note, I’d like to add a few pics of my latest crochet project: It’s a blanket for our couch, in a simple but gorgeous color block design I found on Pinterest. The pattern can be found here, but I’m changing everything but the color scheme, really. My yarn of choice is thinner, my hook is smaller … so 220 instead of 81 stitches across, double crochet instead of single crochet, and God knows how many rows this is going to take … but I knew that going in, and I ordered a generous amount of yarn, I’ll be fine. I couldn’t wait to start swatching and starting out, even though it made for a late night yesterday, and the need for some extra caffeine this afternoon.img_5314.jpgHave a great weekend, everyone.

What’s in a Name?

Remember when there was no Internet? We used dictionaries, encyclopedias and we bought newspapers. We wrote letters to our friends, and when we were on the phone, we needed to be home for it. There were phone booths and the fastest way to send a written message was telegrams. Everything took longer. I wonder if we ‚knew‘ less people then. I certainly wrote to fewer.

So yesterday, I was contacted via Instagram by a person from Latin America who was looking for a way to get in touch with a mutual friend whose name I had mentioned once in a hashtag. A couple weeks ago, I would probably have passed on my friend’s details without blinking an eye. Yesterday, I did not. The reason for that is a big ugly catfish.

We’re all aware that the Internet is anonymous – duh. Creating an online persona is a piece of cake, and the younger generations grow up with Social Media being a given. There are forums and platforms for just about anything out there, and people connect, even when they’re thousands of miles apart or on different continents. Nobody has to be lonely anymore if they have an Internet connection. And that’s a beautiful thing, right?

I must admit, though, that one of ‚my‘ author’s recent exposure as a fraud gave me pause. Long story short, apparently the person, who had been writing under a pseud, allegedly because of their working in education in America, is not a he but a she, and a straight woman and not a bisexual man at that. They’ve caught some flak for that, as they have for using online friends‘ personal stories in their books. But what (understandably) upsets their fans most is their pretending to need cancer treatment without actually being sick, and accepting financial support from their community – which leaves a very bad aftertaste indeed… Shame, for I thought they were really talented. Needless to say, their publisher and co-author have dropped them, and their writing career is probably shot to shit. But seeing how easy it is to be someone else online, we may be hearing from them again after all without being aware it’s them. I imagine it must be so hard to stop being a writer if you have stories to tell, so what else are they going to do with themselves?

Self-absorbed as I am, it made me wonder how this translates into my own online identity, not so much as a blogger (for it’s my sneaking suspicion that stitch readers are mostly people I actually know). No, it occurred to me when I was thinking how it’s even possible that the author’s agent and publisher didn’t know their true identity. But then I realized that even I don’t really know most of my own clients in person. I’ve been shying away from the whole networking thing because I’m an introvert, I’ve not been going to the book fairs and conventions because crowds confuse me, and I’m not even a member of the translators‘ associations because I don’t really care. I might be a con person myself, and my work might be done by a slave I keep in the basement … kidding, I’m kidding! You know what I mean though, right?

So, weirdness happened. Please let me know your thoughts – have you ever experienced anything like this? As you can see, it is on my mind. But don’t worry, I’m fine, just a tad disappointed I won’t be translating this author again, probably.

I’ll go back to work on my completely down to earth knitting book now. The editing phase, sigh. Wishing you a lovely weekend with a pic from ‚my‘ spot by the lake around Easter.

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P.S: My next post will be about my great pride and joy, the Dotty Blanket, which I’m about to actually finish. Take a peek:

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Obsessing

When it comes to liking something, I have a tendency to go a bit off the deep end. I’ve been known to re-read books for as many as 10 times (Lord of the Rings!), and whenever a piece of music leaves an imprint on my soul, I just need listen to it over and over and over again, to the great annoyance of my environment, no doubt. To me, it’s like whenever I find a thing I love, I latch onto it and then I kind of take it with me wherever I go, whatever I’m doing.

I grew up an only child, and I probably spent more time than the average kid in my own headspace, which was not a lonely place anymore after I learned how to read. I’ve been escaping from reality that way for as long as I can remember, and if that makes me an addict, hello world, my name’s Johanna and I’m addicted to ­– well, I guess, emotion is what it really comes down to.

I have neither time nor inclination to enumerate everything I’ve been obsessed with over the decades. But a few things come to mind for which (addict or no addict), I cannot help but feel particularly grateful, for they helped me or made me happy in challenging times.

In terms of music, oh my, there’s a lot. Bach’s organ toccata and fugue in d minor. Turning up the volume when nobody was home and letting it hit me is a distinct memory.

After having seen Amadeus in the early Eighties, starring wonderful Tom Hulce, Mozart’s unfinished Requiem was a perfect soundtrack for coping with grieving for my Dad who passed away a year or two before.

It was a bit later that I discovered one of my favorite albums of all times, The Velvet Underground’s banana album. It was already almost 20 years old then, and to say I was cursing the cruelty of late birth would be a vast understatement. Poor Nico was already dead by then.

I loved many of the bands of the Eighties and early Nineties, and was faithfully following some of them when in high school (as I feel necessary to point out in this digital day and age, following in a very literal sense, as in driving a car down to other towns to see several shows of a particular band’s over the course of one tour). Oddly enough, my obsessing never went as far as my becoming a groupie. When any of the musicians would notice I kept showing up at the concerts and tried to put the moves on me, I was appalled. What the hell?! From today’s perspective it doesn’t seem that unreasonable for a guy to think that if a girl is coming to see all of your shows wearing your band t-shirt, she’d probably be interested, but at the time I didn’t really see their point and told them to fuck off ;-).

Anyway, to me, it was never about meeting these people, or having sex with them to prove what ever it is that makes fans do that kind of thing. Listening to the albums and seeing the shows was more than enough for me, and again, everything happened mostly in my own head. Also, those guys in their twenties were, um, old people to me, so not even registered on my radar. Later on, my first two boyfriends were in bands, though, whatever that has to do with anything.

In terms of movie actor crushes, I’m probably more a fandom person than anything else, meaning that it’s the character they play I care about, mostly. (Good thing for everyone, too, for I won’t go and stalk anybody, like, ever. I imagine that aspect of being such a public figure, the endless autographing and being asked the same questions over and over again every stop of the promo rally must get so old!) But is obsessing over the characters really any better than stalking people’s social media and real life? I’ve read my fair share of fan fiction and Live Journal entries. There’s some seriously good writing going on there (and, as everywhere, a whole lot of bad). I have to say I find it comforting to find fellow obsessers to whom discussing at great length a character’s behavior on a show is a completely reasonable thing to do. One of the most talented (IMHO) writers of the Queer as Folk fandom was doing this brilliant episode by episode analysis for the first two seasons. For whatever reason she stopped there, to my chagrin, for I could have gone on reading forever. She had a few cool stories to tell, and she had so much insight on writing for a TV show; she was discussing character development, story arcs, meta and screenwriting on such a profound level that I learned a lot about the whole creative process that goes into making a TV character who they are. Very interesting stuff (to me, anyway).

TV shows are a great place for obsessive fans, I think. Everybody is saying how we live in the great age of TV shows that try to tell epic tales, show in-depth character portrayal and are really pushing this formerly sneered at format to an art form. When Breaking Bad wrapped 5 years ago, as you may remember, Sir Anthony Hopkins actually sat his highly esteemed butt down to write Bryan Cranston/Walter White the sweetest fan letter any actor could ever wish to receive.

So, if you’re like me, and see an identification platform in a TV show character, you’re probably going to feel stranded when the show tanks, or ends, unless you find a kind (and in my case, talented, for I can’t really accept bad syntax and lame storytelling) soul in the fandom willing to tell you how things went with your beloved characters afterwards. To me, that has been the methadone I need until I stumble across my next obsession 😉 a few times.

At the moment, I’m living in the enchanted realm of Call Me By Your Name, which is a sublimely written stream of consciousness told from the perspective of a 17-year old boy, who is testing out the boundaries of his sexuality and opening his heart to another person for the first time, with a limitless generosity not all of us ever get to experience in our lives. The novel is vexing to read at times in its intensity, but it sure makes a brilliant case for obsessing (thereby validating my own perspective, so I guess, thank you, André Aciman!). The movie is a bit easier to stomach than the book, and obviously equally touching and beautiful. By now the two have sort of melded in my head, and never will the protagonists wear anybody else’s features than the two extraordinary leading actors’, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, who have given the world a great gift by lending themselves to this love story. Also, the movie pays greater attention to the compassionate and wise monologue young Elio’s father gives at the end of the movie – it was Michael Stuhlbarg who made the lines I had read but not really understood in the book before really resonate with me. I feel every parent in the world should be made to watch before they’re even allowed to bring up children of their own.

So that was on my mind this fine Friday. What about you? Who and what are you obsessed with? Can you relate to that kind of thing at all, or do you think I’m a bit cuckoo? Don’t worry, I won’t be offended. I know I’m not alone ;-).

I’m rushing back out today with a little something my fellow crafts aficionado N. made for me last week:

It’s a sleeve for my e-reader, which was until now mostly carried in one of my daughter’s old knit hats. What a sweet gift, thank you so much N.!

I have little time for crafts right now, but plan to finish the Dotty Blanket once I’ve submitted my current book manuscript next week, insh’Allah.

Have a great weekend, and enjoy your own private obsessions, whatever they may be :-).