Non-fiction day

So, what virus have you had?  You must have because everyone I’ve run into lately has a virus-story.  I swear it’s a biological smorgasbord out there.

I could understand catching more than one bug per season if I worked in a school, or if I regularly met the general public, but I don’t.  I sit in a room, typing, usually with the door shut to keep out the cats, well, one cat in particular.  He’s a jerk and so’s his sister.  Thank goodness she lives with her foster-mom. Two of them would be too trying.

But back to disease. I’m a virtual recluse, so how do the blasted germs get in?

Not only am I a recluse, but I have a thing about my hands (not OCD, but enough so that a son-in-law noticed).  Anything gets on the digits and they get a tubbing, then a massage with lotion or cream.  I’m not weird about it, or anything, just …, well, just reliable.  You can safely shake hands with me (and I won’t even immediately adjourn to a wash-basin.  I wait at least a couple of moments.)

I’m surprised that my hands don’t look like they belong to the Pillsbury Dough Boy because they’ve absorbed at least a metric ton of moisturizer.  I discovered Jergens hand lotion when I was 10 — I remember the event** — and I haven’t (voluntarily) been without hand cream since.

But back to disease.

I have a theory on how germs spread so easily — they’re like honey.  The moment you touch honey, even if it’s not obvious that your finger touched it, it’s all over the place.  On the handle of the knife.  Then on the handle of the fork. Then on your sleeve.  The stuff’s a mess.  (tasty, but a mess) Germs are like that — sticking onto everything.

But, how do they get into my sanctum sanctorum, the back room?  My daughter even noticed our special status because she came down with the most recent bug the very day before I did.  Given incubation periods, we had to be simultaneously exposed, but we don’t frequent the same places.  She goes out in the world, but she’s even more fussy about her hands, especially during germ-season, but she comes by it professionally: she’s a doctor, a veterinary surgeon. Scrubbing-up is second nature to her and she (and I) are not huggers or touchers. We stay here, you stay there, everyone’s happy (except her huggy sister & aunt/my huggy daughter & sister, but they’re used to us).

So the doctor and recluse both get the tummy-bug, and we’re damned irritated about it.  The only up-side I can see is that it gave me a subject for a blog post, but only after way-laying me so that I sat here for the entire month of January, often staring at the blog, but not wanting to type anything at all. So I got a blog post out of it.  Whoop.  Make that a Big Whoop.

I can’t wait for these blasted bugs to go away.


** Meeting Jergens Lotion: Ladies’ room of the Family Services office where my mother volunteered.  Pink walls and ceiling decorated with painted black poodles.  Very 1950s chic.  For me, the lotion was love at first sniff & touch.

2014 11 Nov Family Veterans Day picture

A collage of photos of our family members who have served, from the Civil War to Desert Storm.

I can only mention the father and son who served in the  American Revolution.

Twenty-five years ago, not only was the Berlin Wall breached, but also, by extension, was the Fence along the Inner German Border separating East Germany from West Germany rendered an anachronism. Even in the time after the (accidental) opening of travel from East to West Berlin, getting past the Fence wasn’t quite as easy as much of it was protected by land mines planted in the ground around it.

I took this picture in 1979, 10 years before the beginning of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.  During my husband’s assignment to the American military community near Fulda, we lived about twelve miles away from “the fence.”  Had there been hostilities, the front lines would have, again, overtaken the homes, gardens, driveways, farms and fields of ordinary people.

A view near Fulda of the inner-German-border fence constructed by the East German government.

A view near Fulda of the inner-German-border fence constructed by the East German government.


Other links:

I and the family are not particularly happy that the Royals were shortchanged last night on their World Series tying run.  One base away, that’s all it was.

This morning, I was very happy to watch a televised celebration for the Royals at Kauffman stadium. The 10,000 fans packing the lower level of seats changed their usual “Let’s go, Royals!” chant to “Thank-you, Royals!”

The team gave the fans a splendid post-season ride and now we’re all looking forward to spring training.

Let’s go, Royals! (after your well-deserved rest)

Watching the first Royals post-season game since my dad was around.

1982, Maryland Dad with (almost all) the grandkids, plus me and my sister

1982, Maryland
Dad with (almost all) the grandkids, plus me and my sister

Hoping, naturally, that the Royals win.


Edit:  And that would be — a WIN!!!!!!!!!

Dad would have enjoyed that game so much.

1965: Planes in the backyard U.S. Air Force plane over St. George's Harbour, Bermuda, taken from our backyard on Kindley Air Force Base.

1965: Planes in the backyard
U.S. Air Force plane over St. George’s Harbour, Bermuda, taken from our backyard on Kindley Air Force Base. This plane is the same type as one involved in a crash I heard.

Regardless of the era, military service can be a dangerous line of work. Many military jobs involve either work with dangerous materials or vehicles, or living in an area in which one’s country’s efforts are not appreciated, and it has been this way during the decades following World War II. On one hand there is the point that many of the military actions seem to be imperialistic in nature — “Americanization” — and that we shouldn’t do that. We should stay home, tend to our own knitting.

The flip side to that, from an American viewpoint, is that some country, somewhere, is going to be the ‘leader,’ or perhaps a less domineering view would be the ‘trend setter.’ In any case, one country, or a treaty-bound group, will be the dominant nation. Which country is best suited for that role? Since the top slot will always be ‘there,’ If you don’t want the U.S. to be spending the money, the time, and the people to support the U.S.’s position, which other country do you see as best filling that niche?

Even without a ‘hot’ war in progress, staying alert or supporting other missions have their own dangers, and given the role assumed by the United States of being one of the top dogs in the field of (usually) supporting the downtrodden in many places around the globe, and in the wake of seeing continued deployments to Afghanistan, I was reminded by an article in the Bermuda Sun newspaper of the dangers faced by service members during the Cold War as the newspaper covered the 50th anniversary of an air crash near the island.

Bermuda air disaster, 50 years on, The Bermuda Sun

I well-remember this tragedy because I heard it. I was walking home, probably from the beach on Kindley Air Force Base in Bermuda, and an uncharacteristic boom sounded, as if someone had shot off Anzio Annie, one of the Krupp K5 railway guns used in WWII by the Nazis.

Everyone who lived on Kindley was accustomed to hearing planes as the base was built parallel to the joint military-civilian runway serving Bermuda. We heard everything from Pan Am jetliners, to B-47s, to C-130 Hercules cargo planes, to fighter jets, as well as aircraft whose names I don’t know, and whose job was probably secret. We heard all manner of machines with either propellers or jets, and the runway was so close to everything else, that people could walk along a sidewalk and find themselves behind fighter jets being hit by exhaust. In school, our teachers would pause during lessons when the scream of jet fighters could be heard as the planes hurtled down the runway. Our teachers would wait to continue the lesson until they could once again be heard. Planes were as common, or perhaps more common, than birds.

1965: Kindley AFB, Bermuda Seeing off friends at the MATS terminal, the place where many of us arrived and departed.  In this picture, we're all being blasted by propwash from a Coast Guard plane on which our friend was leaving.

1965: Kindley AFB, Bermuda
Seeing off friends at the MATS terminal, the place where many of us arrived and departed. In this picture, we’re all being blasted by propwash from a Coast Guard plane on which our friend was leaving.

For me, hearing the crash of the two planes, one of which was the same type as the one pictured at the top of this piece, was a reminder of another crash two years before.

U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker crashes near Spokane, killing 44 airmen,

I didn’t live near Spokane, where the crash happened on Mount Kit Carson, but rather at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, the place where the flight originated. The fathers of the families of the neighbors directly behind our house and directly in front of our house were both on the plane. The son of the plane’s captain was in my class. Of all the 44 men on the plane, only something like 3 or 4 were single, not that this was any different for their parents and siblings, but only that one or two fewer people on the base were devastated by the tragedy.

The crash at Ellsworth was the first one I remember. It came on the television with no warning and the families had not yet been told. It obviously wasn’t the last one I remember, given the crash in Bermuda, as well as other crashes during our time there. My time with my career-Army husband has contributed more tragedies, such as the Ramstein Air Base airshow Flugtag ’88 disaster that is recent enough to have footage on YouTube, the horrific Lockerbie terrorist attack on Pan Am flight 103, as well as multiple terrorist bombings in the 1970s and 1980s in West Germany.

The effect of the United States military services is far too complex, for better or worse, to be even glossed over in a blog post. All one can do is mention them. The subject is far too complex probably for entire books to sort out. Despite the bad, there is still good, and I hope the people now wearing military service uniforms, and especially the people who continue to be deployed to Afghanistan, are as protected as they can be, that they make the best decisions possible, and even with the odds against this happening, that they all return safely home.

1978: Me, in the red dress, and my son, on the right, with friends, looking across the Saale river into East Germany, near the Bavarian town of Hof.

1978: Me, in the red dress, and my son, on the right, with friends, looking across the Saale river into East Germany, near the Bavarian town of Hof.

German filmmakers are making films depicting life during the 40-year existence of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the DDR, East Germany.  Apparently, it’s a space that has been left vacant for the most part.  To quote an NPR review of a recent film, Barbara, a German entry for the Oscars,

“The West kind of got there and said, ‘Now you can be happy.’ … I mean it’s 40 years of their lives. … They can’t be in vain. And no one asked.”

I’ve seen two films about life in the former East Germany after it was “former,” when the life was the life after the fall of the totalitarian Communist regimes in Eastern Europe:  Schulze Gets the Blues and Goodbye Lenin.

Barbara is the first film I’ve watched from the Eastern point of view about how people managed during those 40 years on the other side of the fence.  At the time, no one on this side of the fence imagined they’d ever be a former enemy.

This Friday is my youngest grandson’s sixth birthday. It will be his best birthday yet, at least according to him, because it will be 13 December! Of course, all his other birthdays have been on the 13th of December, but at the end of this week, it will REALLY BE 13 DECEMBER!

He’s jazzed about Friday as only a six-year-old can be about his birthday.

For his present I’ve bought a few toys, of course. No child’s birthday is complete without toys. The present he probably won’t be expecting is a story, a birthday-adventure story about himself featuring his favorite color (blue), his favorite outdoor game (disc golf), with the story set in his favorite place (Wuhu Island from the Wii Sports Resort game).

In addition to all that, the illustrations are by his 10-year old cousin. I printed out a draft of the story that she read, and then she drew six pictures from the story in one of her sketch books.

2013 12 Dec 08 Drawing for Ems's book 01

In this part of the story, my grandson is working at the Swordplay Colosseum on Wuhu Island. The swordplay game is one of his favorites.

In order to get my granddaughter’s pictures to me, and because our schedules are busy, her mom left the sketch book outside their front door in a Ziploc® bag, and her Poppa swung by to pick it up. I scanned the pictures and saved them to my hard drive so that I can print the pages on photo paper. I’ll mount them back-to-back with spray glue to make strong pages, and then bind them into a book with comb-binding, just like my dad used to do for our family photo albums. It will be a production, but I think the little guy will be pleased with the book.

My grandson reads, but he doesn’t read his grandmama’s blog, so this will still be a surprise, as his birthday is in the story.  Just know that on Friday his cousins and I will be wishing him a very happy birthday.




My grandson is thrilled with the story — he can’t believe how many people he knows in the story.

One of my pet peeves is stories, whether written or performed, that have incorrect military information.  Some of the wrong information is simple, such as my current peeve, and some of it is illogical made-up-stuff.

Tonight’s irritation is with an episode of “Unforgettable.”  In the story, a Veterans Administration doctor has been asked by Unforgettable’s main character about a veteran who is a person of interest in a murder (the Crazed Veteran is always a popular character if you need a military person in your story).   The veteran in question would be fluent in Pashto, a language in Afghanistan.  The doctor replied to the detective that it would take several tours in Afghanistan for a soldier to become fluent in Pashto, and then says that she does have a client in counseling who fits the description — a corporal.

Insert rant about ‘if you plan on writing about something, learn the basic information about it.’

In the Army, a corporal is an E4, a junior enlisted rank.  If this person were a corporal he wouldn’t have had enough time in service to easily become fluent in Pashto, unless he’d been demoted multiple times.  Pashto is a language that the Foreign Service Institute rates as a level 2 or 3 language, levels that take between 34 – 48 weeks of full-time study for basic proficiency. Unless a person were being trained as a linguist, it is unlikely that the Army would invest the time for the training.

Which brings us to another point.  The photo of the uniformed ‘person of interest’ shows a relatively long-haired white-bread man (for today’s military) in an Army uniform, wearing infantry brass backed by a light blue disc.  An infantryman in Afghanistan is not surprising, however, an infantryman wouldn’t have linguistic training.  If an infantryman had acquired fluency in Pashto — either from multiple tours in Afghanistan or from language training — he would have been in the Army long enough to be more than a corporal.  Still, for story-purposes, a Pashto-spouting bad guy is more menacing than your average veteran.

Then there’s the fiction that he’s a corporal.  In today’s Army, very few military occupational specialties (MOSes — ie, ‘jobs’) use the rank of corporal.  An E4 in the infantry would be a specialist unless he were filling a leadership position.

Specialist is a designation retained from when the Army had ranks from Specialist Fourth Class up to Specialist Seventh Class alongside the NCO ranks of the same pay grades.  In today’s Army, and of the specialist ranks, only the E4-Specialist rank remains.  I’d say this story character wouldn’t be a corporal because, as I said before, if he’d been in the Army long enough to be fluent in Pashto, he was probably demoted more than once and wouldn’t be leader material.

Now if this service member were a Marine, then the corporal rank is appropriate — although, as a Pashto-speaking-E4, he still would be suffering from the time-in-service problem concerning the language fluency.

The holes in this one story point are large enough to drive a truck through.

Writers — and producers and directors — if you’re going to use the Crazed Veteran character in your stories, at least do the poor guy the honor of getting his backstory straight.

When you’ve collected lots of books, it helps to have a system for organizing them — if you can’t find what you’re looking for, what’s the use of having it? I often sincerely wonder how people who live in very large houses find things — who keeps track of all the *stuff* that goes into furnishing large spaces?

In organizing my books I chose not to reinvent the wheel.  Someone had already done the groundwork of sorting-subjects, so why not use an existing system?  As for which system, I chose the one most familiar to me, the Dewey Decimal system.  I’ve read that it isn’t as detailed as the Library of Congress system, but as I’m unfamiliar with that system (no college for you, little girl!), I stuck with what I know.

The entire house isn’t rigorously organized as a library — I like to know where things are, but I’m not a rigid purist by any means.  Still, I have them all sorted: mysteries are in the bedroom, writing books are in the writing room, nonfiction is in the three large bookshelves in the basement, general fiction is in the entryway, children’s fiction is in the spare bedroom, cookbooks are near the kitchen, religious studies are under the knickknacks (no connection intended, it’s just where there was room), cartoon books are in the bathroom, and the Agatha Christie collection has a place of honor alongside the Junior Deluxe Editions children’s classics my parents collected when I was a kid.

Thanks to Mr. Dewey, I have a general idea of where to shelve books, but every once in a while a book stumps me.  Years ago a friend gave me a Dewey Decimal Classification book, but working through it to figure out where a book belongs when the classification isn’t obvious can take some time because, in a microwave/Internet/text messaging world, divining library classification entrails is something to be undertaken on a grey, slushy winter day with a cup of cocoa, and that isn’t today.

The book that flummoxed me this morning was CID: Army Detectives in Peace and War.  The press that published it didn’t add the classification numbers I usually rely on (thank you, modern publishers!).  This led to an Internet search — long story short, good old OPAC has it listed at the Ft. Leonard Wood library.  I haven’t regularly used OPAC since we lived in Belgium, so that was a fun trip down memory lane.  I now have the book classified at 355.1, which will put it at the far left end of the shelf of writing books with their 800s numbers.

Sorting books may not be everyone’s cup of cocoa, but if you want to find what you’ve squirreled away, having the books organized is the way to go.

It also gives the kids something benign to share as their penance for having been born into this family.

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