Is it 2013 or, well, 1984?


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R5 Bismarck-spotted






I’m not paranoid. Really. I’m just very wary, chary, leery, and highly caffeinated. I take after my Big Brother that way. He feels compelled to spy on me all of the time because you just never know about those older teachers who live in the Midwest and teach English to foreigners. Foreigners who come from foreign countries and are foreign. And since you never know about those Midwesterners or other Americans or other people in the world, based on super-secret, too-critical-for-anyone-to-be-told-so-don’t-ask national security reasons, highly trained cryptologists need to monitor e-mails, phone calls, and Internet usage of all users, including LOL cats. (There’s a special clause that covers cats.)

L6 U.S._Army_Command_Sgt._Maj._Scott_Schroeder,_left,_with_the_International_Security_Assistance_Force_Joint_Command,_looks_through_binoculars_during_an_Afghan_National_Army_field_artillery_call_for_fire_training_130529-A-XM609-153

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Of course, text messages also can and must be intercepted. So specially trained agents spend hours reading texts from potentially dangerous teenagers who write indecipherable messages like: wuzup…your L8!!!! NGL im bord…this moveez a wot! WUWH1


By now the NSA (National Snooping Agency) knows more about you and me than our own mothers or even than we do about ourselves. Remember that story you told about your boss? Oh, you forgot already, well, not to worry, it’s all been recorded and soon to be stored away in Bluffdale, Utah. I am not bluffing. Real name, real story.

L2 US_Navy_030316-N-3783H-709_U.S._Navy_Ensign_Katharine_Poole_watches_through_binoculars_for_any_surface_contacts_from_the_bridge_aboard_the_guided_missile_cruiser_USS_Shiloh_(CG_67)

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Meanwhile cryptological experts sift through all our data looking for snarky references to Big Brother’s clubs like the NSA and the TSA (Touch, Scan, Annoy). Then they flag you. And the you I’m referring to is me. The me that reported a theft by TSA agents in New Orleans who kindly recycled my iPad because they knew it was time for me to get a new one. Now when I fly, I get body-scanned. Often.


Earlier this month on my trip to Texas, I was scanned three times: once in Wisconsin and twice in Texas. According to the TSA agent in Houston, I moved. Actually I think it was because I asked why I was selected to be scanned again. The whole procedure is something out of Star Trek: Stand still and don’t say a word or we will radiate you! And yes, I realize I could opt for groping instead, but that too is something out of Star Trek: To boldly go where no man has gone before….except my husband and not in public.

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Afterward I complained to the agent, fully expecting to be taken away, have all my body cavities searched, and be put on a no-fly list. It didn’t happen, but you’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I speak to a NSA representative.


Hi! How are you? I didn’t mean a thing by my comments to the TSA officer. Really. And I love my new iPad. Please pass my thanks to the officers in New Orleans. By the way, could you do me a favor? Last month, around the 4th or 5th I deleted an email with Aunt Edith’s secret fowl sauce. My goose is now cooked, and I need something to cover it ASAP. It was the only existing copy of the recipe. Sadly Aunt Edith died last week, but of course you already knew that from the email that Uncle Willard sent me. Thanks a bunch, and remember I’m nothing if not patriotic.


Now, where were we? Oh, yeah, once upon a long time ago, reasonable people drafted a reasonable document called the U.S. Constitution. Just to make things perfectly clear and reasonable, they included amendments. The Fourth Amendment mentions that U.S. citizens have certain rights:


…the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.


Since the U.S. government can access all of my personal and professional information and everything I say or write electronically, what probable cause do its representatives have that warrant searching my person? Like the great majority of people, I present zero threat. I know it and the government knows it. In order to appear fair, TSA must consider all of us as potential terrorists: guilty until scanned.


Are you bugged by all of this? I am, and I bet you are, too. In fact, I know you are. All us of are bugged now, continually, and by our very own government.


This is a rant.

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1Translation: What’s up? You’re late. Not gonna lie, I’m bored. This movie is a waste of time. Wish you were here.

Want more wary, chary, scary, leery stuff? Read this New York Times opinion piece or  this story on AOL.



A child after my own brain


Brain disorders run in my family. People are often surprised to hear this because they didn’t even know that we had any brains to disorder.


I diagnosed the disorder, Foerster’s Syndrome, after reading about it in a book. As a diagnostician, I rank up there with the best – probably a full colonel or possibly a general. Once I am given the symptoms of a disease, I have the uncanny ability to discover it in either myself or my loved ones. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve saved my life by catching a disease early.


Just last month I narrowly escaped a serious problem after reading an article about a man with a runny nose who mistakenly thought he had allergies. My nose happened to be running when I read the story, so I realized I probably had whatever he had. And what he had was a leaky brain. Every time he blew his nose and even when he didn’t, brain fluid leaked out.  Please stop for a minute and re-read that last sentence.  Brain fluid! Leaked out! Of course, the first thing I did was tell my husband that I loved him but I wouldn’t be able to do anymore housework. I needed to spend my last days savoring life and the box of dark chocolate truffles in the cupboard.


Miraculously within a week and most of the box of truffles, I recovered. My brain stopped leaking and I went back to finding excuses not to mop the kitchen floor.


I’ve diagnosed a number of family members with Foerster’s Syndrome, which causes compulsive punning: my husband (moderate), brother (severe), brother-in-law (chronic) and me (egregious). Due to excessive exposure, both of my children are allergic to puns, which thankfully does not cause their noses to run. When the punning becomes excessive, they themselves run, taking their noses with them, but that is a different problem, one I’m still trying to diagnose.


My despair over not having a child who can put up and pun up with me vanished last week, however, when we visited family in Texas. Three conversations, all with my grandchild, convinced me that the brain disorder would not die with me.


The First: My grandchild discovers that Uncle Harley’s grandchildren call him Pawdaddy.


“That’s because his dog has paws!”


The Second: My daughter mentions to the child that the eggs are excellent.


“That’s because they’re eggs—cellent.”


The Third: My niece shows the child a picture of a tarantula taken at their ranch.


“It must be a ranchula.”


My daughter is still trying to recover from the pain and shock. I, however, feel delighted. A child after my own heart. A child after my own brain.


Photos: Paw Egg Tarantula

Deep in the spleen of Texas


Now and then a person’s ears need some loving, so this week I took both of them to Texas for a vacation. They are now happier than a dog with a dead skunk. Everywhere I take my two ears, I hear people using Texas’ most personal pronoun, “y’all,” which like the humdrum pronoun “you” can be either plural or singular. (Note to you grammarians  and punctuationists out there: I know some of you write the possessive for Texas with an extra “s” as in “Texas’s most personal pronoun.” However, I don’t like it and if I see it I’m likely to ask you to move your “s” elsewhere.) My heart’s been soothed hearing people speak proper and without those accents the Yankees are so fond of.


I have been traveling with my daughter and grandchild visiting family in Houston, basking in hot and humid weather and enjoying every minute of it. That’s what Wisconsin’s 9-month winters will do to a person.



Houston is a great big old city built on a bayou. Unless you are from the South, you may not know that “bayou” is a fancy name given to rivers and ditches to make songs more interesting. Just imagine if the refrain in Hank Williams’ song Jambalaya “Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou” were “Son of a gun we’ll have big fun at the ditch.” It just don’t sound right and kind of makes your toes stop tapping right in the middle of the song. And yes, that “don’t” is there on purpose, thank you very much.


Our last few days of vacation, we have been staying in Katy, Texas which is just down the road from Houston. We were able to make a run up to San Antonio, but we never made it to the heart of Texas, which approximately 5500 people swear is Brady, Texas. (That’s the population of the city and please don’t tell their mommas about the swearing.)


Houston has set up home near the Gulf of Mexico and southeast of the heart of Texas, so I believe it’s appropriate to consider it the spleen of Texas. Spleens store and filter blood, and Houston does the same with oil, which is pretty much the blood of our nation, so the analogy seems to fit.


I have never lived in Houston myself, but if I did and if I had a son, I would name him Billy Rueben just because it would tickle me every time I thought of my sweet Billy Reuben living in the spleen of Texas.


Today we return north. I sure do hope they didn’t have summer while we were gone. I’d hate to miss it.


Photo: Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

Planned fascination


According to my husband, I plan to be fascinated at 9:30 a.m. this morning. I’m going to be vaccinated, but since he heard “fascinated,” I’m sticking with that. So, in a few hours, a shiny, sharp needle will be sticking in my arm transferring some of the varicella zoster virus (VZV) into my system.



It won’t be the first time I’ve had VZV in my body, although I have no recollection of that first encounter. Sometime before age eight, the crazy chicken that carries the virus got inside my house, pecked me all over my body, made me itch like crazy, and forced my mother to cover me in pink dots. It also left a small scar on my forehead as a memento. That’s what my mother told me. (Not exactly the part about the crazy chicken, but the part about the itchy sores, dotting me with pink Calamine lotion, and the scar.)



Almost everyone my age (calculate 114.71 Fijian dollars into U.S.) had the chicken pox as a child, due to the fact that we all breathed. Those that didn’t never got the disease. The rest of us inhaled and exhaled everywhere we went and then hung out with friends who not only snorted milk through their noses but also coughed and sneezed at will without covering their mouths or noses.



Now all of us (yes, we put the “us” in “virus”) are at risk of reactivating the VZV that has been lurking in our bodies all these years. The virus is like a tiny egg that the crazy chicken laid in our bodies all those years ago, just waiting to hatch and peck us again, only this new crazy chicken can cause extreme pain and nerve damage.



The CDC reports that the vaccine can cause redness, itchiness, soreness, and headache – much like watching reality TV.  But I will not chicken out or scratch my plans. (Forgive the puns; I’ve been cooped up all week due to the 50-degree weather in Wisconsin.)



Once I’m fascinated, I have a 50-50 chance of avoiding shingles and/or reducing nerve pain and damage. I think it’s worth a shot.


Needle & Chicken

Slices of my heart: In the year I died


We rent a third-floor apartment and drink coffee from mismatched cups. The coffee pot costs  fifteen dollars. It is temporary. We must make do; we are temporary too.


I sleep on a mattress on the floor. I am alone for now. The man I share my bed with is away. He will be back. Someday. We don’t have furniture in the bedroom. We are waiting.


She comes into my room at night after I’ve gotten to sleep and kneels by my bed. Sorrow takes her breath away, leaving her speechless. She tries to form words, but they sound as if they are wrapped in cotton, so none of the sharp edges of the consonants can be heard. All I can hear are vowels stretched out like a dirge.


The sobs begin softly, but soon come louder and quicker. Tears flow down her face and onto my shoulder as I put my arms around her to comfort her.


“I hate … ,” she says.  Him or it, I think she is trying to say. “I hate him,” I hear at last. “He took everything.”


We are stranded in this unfamiliar room, empty of all but us and the bed, a raft carrying us into an unknown future. I rub her back and say, “I know.”


“I hate him,” she says again and again, doubling over and putting her face down on the ground.


I hug her and hold her, but she cannot stop crying. We cry together and I tell her how sorry I am that it happened. If only I could go back and change things for her, but the past is permanent. Only the now is temporary.


I fumble with words hoping to say something of comfort. I pray for her and whisper my love.


“I’ll never be the same.”


I know and yet I cannot tell her what I know. Death changes everything it touches, but not every death is fatal.


I ask her if she would like to lie down and try to sleep. I get pillows from her bed to make her comfortable.


She lies next to me and says, ”After this, I’m not going to have any strength.”


“I will give you strength; God will give you strength; strength will come.” I speak the words aloud and then repeat them to myself, arranging them like furniture in my empty heart.


We are silent, floating, carried out to the sea by grief, hoping to drown ourselves in sleep.

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