49% Europe East (Latvia)
23% Europe West (France and Germany, mostly)
28% Other regions (England, Wales, Scotland)
The half Latvian side is what I expected. Lots of farmers in my family over there, and they didn't move around much. But considering the number of times Latvia has been invaded and occupied, I was wondering if some DNA from farther east might have wandered into the bloodline. Nope! My dad's side of the family seems to have avoided that.
The other half did surprise me, but it was the lack of surprise that was the surprise. The Drakes and Bacons (my mother's side) have been in North America for centuries and at least one Drake owned slaves--plenty of time and chances for African and Native American genes to enter the family. But nope! Nothing there. The web site gave me some more specific information, too, which said my mother's half mostly arrived in New York and Connecticut, which I knew already.
It's interesting and shows a number of teachers who have different approaches to solving the problem of students who can't write well. But, as the article notes, people complaining of a lack of writing skill in America dates back to at least 1874. The article also fails to point out the two biggest reasons we have that many students don't write well, and I'll address them here.
1. Student Motivation A lot of students--the majority of them--just don't care if their writing sparkles and zings. They really don't. They only want to know what they can do to earn a certain grade. For some, this grade is an A, and for some it's a D, and some don't even care about that much. Only a tiny handful actually care about learning how to be a better writer. This describes the vast majority of the population, really. Ask a thousand people on the street how many of them enjoy writing and want to improve their writing skill. You'll come up with a vanishingly small percentage. A teacher can only teach what the student wants to learn. A student who puts in minimal effort will see minimal improvement. In my own classroom, I use a number of techniques and activities to cheerlead and motivate and attempt to persuade that they should work to improve their writing, but in the end, they have to want to do the work. I can't force them. No one can. It has to come from the students.
2. Class Size A glaring omission from the article is the impact of class size. Teacher A talks about identifying a great sentence in a student's work, and Teacher B talks about having all her students read their writing aloud in class. Very nice. Then I look at my class lists. 35 students. 34 students. 37 students. How the hell? I simply can't go through my students' writing and look for "great sentences." And having my students read their writing aloud to the class? I do that with ONE assignment per year, and it takes three full days, plus one make-up day for students who were absent. I can barely provide feedback on essays by circling responses on a rubric. I agree that teacher feedback and student rewrites are important to improving student writing, but when you have 34/35/37 students in class, with a third of them special needs, you just can't do it. Back in the days when my classes were 21/22/19, I gave a lot more feedback, and my students did a lot more writing. Now? I scrape by with the minimum because I can only evaluate so many papers at once.
You'll notice that the above two situations aren't within the teacher's control. Motivation ultimately has to come from within. Class size is dictated by budgets. If you really want to improve student writing, parents need to set an example for their kids to provide the motivation and vote to improve school funding to help with the budget.
There's simply nowhere around our house to ride a bike decently, so we have to drive to a trail to ride with our bikes on the back of the car. The section of trail we usual ride, however, has a long, long section with no shade on it, which is fine in the spring or fall, but miserable in summer. I looked up a section of the trail a little farther down and we drove down there to start our ride.
This turned into a miniature Afternoon Outing.
We rode along a nice, shady biking trail, which eventually took us through the town of Orchard Lake. I'd ridden around the downtown area years ago and knew Darwin likes exploring downtowns, so I suggested we leave the trail and go exploring. He liked this idea.
The first thing we saw off the trail was a sign for a real estate open house, and it pointed toward a huge 19th-century brick mansion.
"We should go look inside!" I said.
"Let's!" Darwin said. He parked his bike and strode up to the door.
Darwin and I love old houses, so this was fun for us. The real estate agent probably knew we weren't serious lookers, but he had literally nothing else to do, so no one minded.
The house was empty, and I think the owner was down-sizing. It was built in 1860, and very well kept--and updated. Everything was wood floors and crown moldings and grand fireplaces. A staircase curled up the front hall, and I found a servants staircase going down the back. The second floor had a master suite and a guest suite and servant's quarters (off the master suite). The basement was room after room of fieldstone and ancient wooden doors, and included a small safe that looked to be original to the house. But the place was updated to include a gas furnace and AC and a huge modern kitchen. And it had several hundred feet of lakefront across the road. Asking price? $999,000. Whew!
We left the house and biked into town, where we found a diner called the Early Bird Cafe for lunch. Darwin adores diners. I hate them--their menus are always exactly the same. (I think that's why Darwin likes them.) But he went on the ride with me, so I went into the diner with him. This is marriage. And we had a very nice lunch.
Afterward, we rode back through lovely Michigan summer weather.
STEP ONE: Spy Protagonist learns of an object he needs to get hold of in order to save the world or himself (called "the McGuffin").
STEP TWO: Spy rushes from exotic location to exotic location in search of the McGuffin while various Bad People try to kill him. Various vehicle chases through crowded cities ensue. Much time is spent on Magic Computers.
STEP THREE: An Evil Person within the Spy's own organization, who is secretly employing the Bad People, tries to sabotage the Spy's efforts and nearly succeeds.
STEP FOUR: The Spy gets the McGuffin, kills the Bad People, and kills the Evil Person.
We want to look at the Magic Computers.
Goodness me, computers can do anything these days! Especially in a movie. According to the movie Darwin and I watched, in fact, a computer and its attached hacker can:
1. delete a thousand files from another computer in a split-second
2. shut off the electricity to a single building in a foreign country with less than a minute's work
3. track down a single person whose face appears on a traffic camera anywhere in the world seconds after his face shows up
4. grab control of a landline telephone and use that phone to take control of an unconnected laptop sitting a foot away from it (I shit you not--the movie actually had a CIA hacker do this)
5. enhance a distant, blurry photo of a woman into a photo clear enough to use on a magazine cover in less than a second
6. hack into one of the most secure mainframes in the world while the owners of said mainframe watch helplessly (why they don't simply unplug their modems goes unexplained)
7. instantly toss video and photo files to huge, Star Trek-style screens on a wall without anyone ever saying, "Hold it . . . hold it . . . dammit, the system is really slow right now . . . a couple more seconds . . . okay, here we go . . . "
8. instantly notice when a particular person even touches a computer anywhere in the world or accesses a particular file saved on a flash drive, but CAN'T TRACK A CELL PHONE!
Not one of these things is remotely possible today. Number 4 had both Darwin and me in an outrage, it was so stupid. And this movie (one of the Jason Bourne flicks, if you have to know) isn't in any way unusual.
Hollywood computers and computer operators can find out literally anything, in seconds, in ways that bear no resemblance to reality. If you need to know it or find it, a computer will do it for you, no matter how outrageous. All you need is a character who is supposed to be a "brilliant hacker." ("Brilliant hacker" is code for "magician.") Hackers and computers are basically witches with crystal balls.
It's become a bad trope. True hacking or other computer ability takes years and years of practice. You need to study code, spend weeks writing programs, make friends with other hackers and learn the seamy underside of the Internet. It's an extremely precise field. If you make a mistake, you'll get caught right quick, with dire consequences. The field also changes every day, sometimes every minute, and you have to keep up.
But Hollywood treats computer work like musical talent. You can sit the right person with the right talent down at a computer, and BAM! Instant hacker who can get you exactly what you need to know. It gets so bad that on SUPERGIRL, Winn went from low-level IT guy to having the ability to take down an alien computer system--with a virus he wrote in the nineties! Because . . . talent, right? Because there are people who can sit down at a piano and turn out amazing work with almost no experience, so it must be the same with computers, right?
No. It doesn't work that way. All the computer talent in the world won't grant you knowledge and precision. Hollywood is just using a cheap trick. As a writer, I can understand wanting a quick tool to push the story forward. The Magic Computer will do that. The problem is, Hollywood does it so often, and so badly, that it's become a bad, BAD cliche.
And have you noticed that no one ever touches a mouse? It's true! Hollywood is all about fingers chattering on the keyboard. In reality, of course, everyone--including hackers--spends most of their time with mouse and cursor. A clicking keyboard is more dynamic on the silver screen, though, so Hollywood runs with it. Except we've noticed. (Now that I've pointed it out to you, you won't be able to help but notice it!)
Please, Hollywood--end the Magic Computer. We know better.
We rented a cottage up near Harbor Springs for a week. The cottage overlooks Lake Michigan in the northern LP. The cottage was very nice, but not situated as well as we had hoped. It didn't have much a lake view, and to get to the lake, you had to go down many, many wooden steps, which were picturesque but serious work on the way back up! Also, that far north, the lake is still cold and not very swimmable. The beach itself was beautiful, though, and private, with only the occasional bear to keep us company.
It was a relax-acation. We slept late and drove to nearby towns for window shopping and movies and walks on their piers. I picked up some books at a used book sale at the local library and turned down an invitation to appear at a local book festival. (Forty other authors were going to be there, so I'd be one face in a huge crowd, and anyway I've never known book festivals to even pay transportation and hotel costs, let alone noticeably boost sales). We ate a lot of ice cream and I cooked local foods in the cottage's well-appointed kitchen. My mother and her husband Gene came up for an overnight visit as well, and we played euchre well into the night. Later, we hit Mackinaw Island, which is one of our favorite day-
Darwin and I explored a tiny local cemetery at one point and had a misadventure. The cemetery hadn't been mowed a while, and I stepped backward onto what I thought was level ground. It turned out to be a collapsed grave with grass that had grown up to ground level. The unexpected level change made me lose my balance, and I reflexively snatched at a pillar-style headstone in front of me. But the pillar turned out not to be fastened down to the base by mortar or metal bars and it tipped right toward me. I felt my ankle give way. I managed to twist a little, and both I and the pillar, which weighed several hundred pounds, landed in the collapsed grave with a thunk.
Darwin thought the pillar had landed on me. It had missed me by a hair. But my ankle was sprained. I couldn't get up at first. We were a gazillion miles from nowhere, and Darwin had visions of trying to carry me to the car. But I managed to stand. My ankle was weak and sore but functional.
The pillar, which was shaped like the Washington Monument and for an 80-year-old grandmother who died 100 years ago, still lay in the indented ground. Darwin and I tried to lift it, but no way. Too heavy, and my ankle was an impediment. Feeling bad about it, we left. What choice did we have?
But a couple days later, we were driving around and passed the graveyard again. My ankle was much improved and Maksim was with us. The pillar was still down. We decided to see if the three of us could right it on its base. And lo, we did it! Granny's grave was restored!
At the end of the week, we came home. It was a nice break!
The AA Art Fair is going on 30 years, and is a sprawling affair that runs over many, many city blocks in downtown Ann Arbor, with food, music, street performers, and miles and miles of artists displaying their work. We had our bikes with us, and we parked on a side street a ways from the fair and pedaled the rest of the way in, which avoided the usual $20 parking fees. We chained our bikes to a lamp post and started browsing.
It was a hot day, and clouds came and went. I thought to bring an umbrella with us, though, and I put it up for shade when the sun came out. This made Darwin unhappy at first--he felt it was strange, and he was afraid I would hit someone--but he very quickly discovered the huge benefits of portable shade, and his objections quickly vanished.
We wandered through the fair. I found a potter's booth and bought a matching spoon rest, liquid soap dispenser, and sponge holder for the kitchen.
At one of the many food areas, where a collection of local restaurants set up wagons and trucks, I got some delicious Korean noodles while Darwin ordered a plate of food from a Greek place. At the last minute, the cook plopped tzatziki sauce on top of it all before Darwin could stop her. Darwin doesn't like tzatziki, and told the woman so. She shrugged and made him a new plate. "Do you want this one?" she said to me. "I'll just throw it away otherwise."
"Sure," I said. She wrapped it in foil, and I took it. Darwin and I headed for a shady patch of sidewalk to eat. I actually had no idea what to do with the plate of food. I couldn't put it in my backpack without making a mess, and I couldn't carry it on my bike. It seemed a shame to toss it, though.
We were just about done eating when a homeless man--unkempt white hair, unshaven, thin, dirty clothes--shambled up to me. He looked at my noodles, and then at me.
"Hi," I said.
"Can I have some?" he rasped.
"As it happens," I said, "you can." And I handed him the wrapped up plate. He thanked me and wandered off with it.
"That worked out," Darwin observed.
Beer, art, and karma, all in one day.
As a high school teacher of 22 years, let me explain how this works--and what to do about it.
First, schools have the legal right to create dress codes or even force students to wear uniforms. The Supreme Court has ruled, it's law, and that's the way it is. Read Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District for full details, or look here: http://education.findlaw.com/student-
Second, school dress codes are written to set a basic standard of appropriateness. The school board decides, based on community standards, what is and is not appropriate for students to wear in school. This isn't new, it's not strange or bad. There are certain outfits and articles of clothing that are inappropriate for school, just like there are inappropriate outfits for worship services, a funeral, a wedding, or a job. My youngest son recently applied for a job, for example, and he was handed an extremely strict dress code. Our entire society dictates what you can wear and when. Schools are no different. Dress codes are NOT written to body shame girls or to stop girls from wearing clothes that will "distract boys." I'm not sure where this idea got started.
Proper dress codes, such as the one in the district where I teach, spell out what clothes are allowed and which are not. My district does not allow spaghetti straps, sleeveless shirts, off-shoulder shirts, visible underwear, "muscle" shirts, tank tops, or shorts above a certain length. The sex of the wearer is irrelevant. Both boys and girls cannot wear tank tops or short shorts. If a boy showed up in spaghetti straps, he'd be sent home, though he'd be allowed to wear a skirt that came down to at least his fingertips. A school that DOES mention girls not being allowed to wear Thing A and boys not being allowed to wear Thing B is asking for trouble and needs to change its code to focus on the clothes and not the wearer.
Third, students are not allowed to use clothes to "express themselves" and "be comfortable." I'm not sure where that idea got started, either. A student's primary job at school is to learn, and anything that interferes with that job must be removed. The Supreme Court has also ruled on this (see Tinker above). A school may, at its discretion, allow a certain amount of self-expression, but this is solely the district's choice, and not the student's. That's the way it is, and you won't have much luck in changing a Supreme Court ruling. Save your energy.
Fourth, it's absolutely true that dress codes are often enforced unevenly. That's just the nature of the animal. This is because the main enforcers are teachers, and teachers are wildly different as people, and circumstances vary from class to class. Here's what happens:
Linda wears an inappropriate outfit to first hour. The teacher notices, but doesn't see enforcing the dress code as important, so she lets it go. Linda's second hour has 37 students in it. Linda slips into class and sits down while the teacher is dealing with 42 other problems, and the teacher doesn't even notice the outfit because he's so busy. Linda's third hour teacher notices the outfit, but also notes that Linda only comes to class one day in four, and if he sends her out, she'll miss today, too, and he'd rather have her stay in class, so he says nothing. Linda's fourth hour is gym, and she changes clothes for that one. Linda's fifth hour has a sub who doesn't understand the dress code and says nothing. Linda's sixth hour teacher says, "Your outfit isn't appropriate. You'll have to go down to the office and change or go home." "That's not fair! I've been wearing it all day!" Linda protests.
So yes, the codes aren't always enforced fairly. Such is life. If you want to ensure the codes are fairly enforced, you could volunteer to the district to be a dress code monitor. Call today!
What do you do if you run into dress code problems with your student?
First, per-emptively make sure your student has a selection of appropriate clothes. Teenagers push back, yes. Welcome to parenthood. Your job is to be a mom or dad, not a best friend. Remove inappropriate clothes from their wardrobe. Also be aware that even well-behaved teens will sometimes rebel, and a common tactic is to change clothes at school. If this happens and your student gets in trouble with the office, let them deal with it without support from you. Don't leave work to rush over with a new outfit. Let them wear the ugly set of school sweats all day or sit in the office until the end of school. It's a learning experience.
Second, understand that posting a rant on Facebook or Instagram about your daughter being "body-shamed" isn't anything but a bid for attention. You're just fishing for people to say how wronged you were and how lovely your daughter is, and you're secretly hoping the district will get deluged with emails or phone calls so they'll make changes without any work from you. The district won't cave to random phone calls and emails from strangers outside the district. Experienced administrators know that all they have to do is wait a week, and the outrage will die down. Nothing will change, though you may have duped a few more people into following you on Instagram, and it's pretty shitty to drag the school into your scheme.
Finally, if you think the dress code is unfair, get a group of like-minded parents together and talk to the school board. (Not the principal--the principal generally has no control over the dress code.) Going in a group will give you more clout. Outline what changes you think should be made, without yelling. If the code mentions the gender of the student, lobby to have it reworded to focus on the clothing instead. Have a list of reasons. Avoid things like "she needs to feel comfortable" or "he wants to express himself." Those won't go far. Instead, focus on things like, "These clothes are acceptable in our community," and "This is accepted public dress around here."
We have dress codes at work, in worship, and yes, in school. Having them in school gets students ready for dealing with them in adult life. They aren't going away, though you can have an impact on them if you do it right.
This drove me and my siblings crazy. Mostly it was that it never made the slightest bit of sense. Every time we went to the beach, we'd eat lunch, and my mother--or grandmother--would say, "You have to wait an hour before swimming! So go play."
"Play what?" we'd demand.
"Go play on that playground over there," she'd say. "Or play hide and seek. Or tag. Or whatever else you want. But go play."
In other words, we could use all the muscles we used during swimming AS LONG AS WE WERE ON LAND?? How was it that running and jumping on land wouldn't kill us, but swimming would? How did our cells know we were submerged? "Hey Fred! The body's underwater! Cramp time!" What the hell?
And why an hour? So at 59 minutes and 59 seconds, we'd die if we put a toe into the water, but one second later, we were safe? What?
On top of it all, my mother was a NURSE, and should have known better.
No, swimming after you eat isn't harmful in any way.
We also had this little rhyme: "Step on a crack, and you'll break your mother's back!" It meant if you stepped on a crack in the sidewalk, your mother would die, so you had to watch where you were going. A variant of this was "the devil's back," so you were supposed to step on as many as possible. No one I know seriously believed either one, though--it was just a silly chant and an excuse to dance around on the sidewalk--so I don't know if this counted as a superstition.
The Mid-Atlantic states also have a superstition that says if you eat dessert after a meal of seafood, you'll DIE. Literally keel over and die. The sole exception to this rule is a dessert of lemon custard pie with a saltine crust. Many people believe this superstition to this day, apparently. This is another that falls apart if you look at it closely. What does "dessert" mean? Anything sweet? Does yogurt count? A soda? How long after supper? Midnight? Not until dawn? What if you have an early seafood supper and get hungry around 8:00 and snack on a pudding cup? Will you die? Seriously, people.
What superstitions did you grow up with?
Anyway, the Historical Library archives has a file on the FSCoY, and the archivist cheerfully handed it over to me for perusal. It's a hanging file about four inches thick, stuffed with a pile of papers, transcripts, orders of service, century-old pamphlets, and other memorabilia. One object in the file is a heavy, punch-bound book of transcripts. I paged through it and realized someone had typed up all the hand-written notes from weekly church meetings from 1832 until 1875. This had to be a monumental task--the original pages were included in the file, and the handwriting old-fashioned, spidery stuff done with a dip pen, barely legible. This historian had meticulously read and typed up hundreds of pages, and for this I was grateful.
The church meetings were mostly records of who had joined the church (lots of people moved to Ypsilanti from other areas, and they seem to have brought with them letters of recommendation from their previous ministers, which helped matters), who had been baptized, and who had left the church, either by moving away or dying.
There were several references, incidentally, to the church calling various members up in front of the council to defend themselves for drinking, either beer or hard liquor. (Temperance was a hot social topic in Michigan during this time period, and apparently the First Presbies landed on the "alcohol is evil" side.) One member confessed to the drinking, but said it was "for his health." The council rejected this argument and banned him from attending church until he could prove he had made proper penance (which wasn't specified). This sort of thing seemed to happen fairly often, and you would think the church would give it up as a lost cause, but the council showed continued enthusiasm for alcohol's punishment and penance.
The last page truly caught my eye. It seemed to be random notes. It said:
Mr. Hammond's Testimony - that Mrs. G. admitted he got in a passion - was sorry that it had happened - cross examined - Mrs. Hammond - Talking hard of her Mother Octavia - could live in this way -
Mrs. Hyde - choked - threw potatoes -
- - pushing his wife
- - pushing his Motherinlaw [sic] - ordering her out the door -
William Glover -
What the heck? "Got in a passion"? Was this anger? Sex? Who threw potatoes?
I paged through more of the book. In entries dated April, 1835, my eye flitted across another reference to Samuel Glover. There were several references to him and to Mrs. Hyde over several weeks. Eagerly, I paged over them, flipping backward until I found the earliest one--and the beginning of the story.
From what I could gather from Church Clerk Ezra Carpenter's cryptic notes, Samuel Glover was married to Virena Glover, and they had a son William. Virena's mother Lucy Hyde lived with them, and she and Samuel did NOT get along.
According to Virena, the two of them fought quite often, mostly because Samuel beat Virena. One day, Virena was carrying in a heavy basket of potatoes, and she asked Samuel to help her. He refused, and she became upset with him. He shouted and cursed at her and threw several potatoes at her head, until Lucy intervened and told him to stop. This didn't make Samuel very happy.
Another time, Samuel was arguing with Virena and shouting at her in the front yard. A neighbor saw Lucy trying to get him to stop.
Another tidbit says Samuel called a neighbor a "God damned Frenchman." Someone else testified to him shouting "J___ C____" in public. (Ezra Carpenter refused to put "Jesus Christ" into a transcript as a curse, though he readily put the word "god" down as one.) Someone else testified to hearing Samuel use the word "devilish" to describe his children, and also calling them "little devils."
Another time, Lucy Hyde testified that Samuel whirled an ox whip over Virena's head and swore he would beat Virena "by J____ C____." She also said she saw Samuel choke Virena and push her to the floor more than once.
Then Samuel got really mad at Lucy and one day literally shoved her out the door, ordering her to never "darken his doorstep" again and "if I rotted above ground he would never bury me." She went to a friend's house, and the next day various people persuaded her to return. Samuel allowed that she could as long as she was nice to him. Lucy reluctantly returned.
The pastor asked if Samuel was nice to Lucy after that, but (according to Mr. Carpenter's terse prose), Lucy wouldn't answer directly, which speaks volumes.
Samuel claimed he had witnesses who would speak to his good character, but none of them showed up at any of the hearings, which also speaks volumes.
In the end, the council rendered its unanimous, terrifying verdict: Samuel was guilty of violating the church's covenant in multiple ways.
No church for three months.
That's it. And there were no more references to Samuel Glover or Lucy Hyde in the rest of the book.
I doubt Samuel stopped abusing Virena and Lucy. I suspect he just got better at hiding it--or of terrifying them into silence. Lucy was already uncertain about testifying this time. I hope they eventually left him, or threw him out, but I doubt it. The church couldn't even bring itself to censure Samuel for more than 90 days, let alone grant a divorce.
And you'll notice that despite several people testifying that Samuel was guilty of assault many times over, there was no mention of legal involvement. None. Virena and Lucy went to the church for help, and barely got any. (The testimony took place over several weeks.)
Domestic abuse. It ain't a new idea.
Incidentally, I did find the date of the spire, but it was from a secondary source, and it's still unconfirmed for me. Sigh.
A little digging turned up a bit more information elsewhere. Samuel and Virena (whose name may have been Vinera--records disagree) had a total of twelve children. The last two were twins, born on February 14, 1847 in Osceola, Michigan, which means the Glovers moved. The twins died two weeks later. Virena died the following March at age 44. So Virena stayed with Samuel another 11 years and died, worn out from giving birth over and over, and from the beatings he gave her. (Another Glover child, Sarah, died two years later, by the way, at age 24.)
And Samuel? He left Ypsilanti and slunk back to New York, where his parents originally came from. By 1850, he was married to a woman named Maria, who had five children of her own. Only TWO of Samuel and Virena's children came with him--Alanson and Daniel. What happened to the others?
Three--Sarah and the twins--had died.
Four were adults by 1850 and didn't need to live with their families. None were living in Ypsilanti. It's telling that they moved away from their father.
Samuel Glover, Jr. (age 15) went to live with a merchant named John Cody and his family.
Vinera Josephine Glover (age 10) is unaccounted for. She is not with her father or any of her adult brothers or sisters. Where did she go? She marries William P. Paine in 1857 in Ionia County, Michigan. She would have been about 17 then, though the question is, how did she get all the way up to Ionia and meet him?
George W. Glover (age 8) vanishes entirely. No records of what happened to him exist.
The 1860 censucs shows Maria Glover (Samuel's second wife) Census living in Webster, New York as a widow, but Samuel is still alive at this time and living a little ways away in Rochester, New York. He died in 1870. Did Maria divorce him and lie about her marital status? What happened there?
Having a blended family that's a hot mess isn't anything new!
Battyany, a Millennial, had never heard about this part of his family history. He started digging, and discovered that lots of people knew about this, and the incident had been widely reported in the local news at the time, but no one talked about it. He wrote about his findings and the impact his search had on him and his family.
Battyany wrote in German, and the book isn't available in English until October. I downloaded the sample chapters in German to my Kindle to see what they were like for myself.
I wasn't interested in another book about the Holocaust itself. It's been covered extensively, and I teach MAUS every year to my seniors. I was more interested in this book for the outsider's perspective. What do you do when you learn your family was involved in something terrible? Especially something most of your family knew about but never told you? How do you live, knowing just a few miles away from your house, an entire population is being tortured and killed?
My own family has at least one dreadful person in it. While researching the Drake family tree, I found the will of a cousin or uncle who owned slaves in the 1800s. His will stated that although he had promised one of his slave women her freedom upon his death, he had recently changed his mind because of her "uppity ways" and he was instead willing the slave to his daughter. It makes me sick to think we're related.
So I was interested in Battyany's findings and reaction.
However, German books are hit-or-miss for me. German is a difficult language for non-natives to read, more difficult than Spanish or French, partly because of the structure of the language, but mostly because of the attitude of the writers.
English gives you the sentence in pieces. In general, we start with the subject (who is doing something), then go to the verb (what happens), then we go on to other bits like prepositional phrases that tell us where and when things happen. As an example, take Jimmy should go shopping for his mother in the the city tomorrow. We build a slow picture. First we see Jimmy, then see what he'll do (should go shopping), then who he'll do it for (his mother), then when and where (in the city, tomorrow). We can mix things up a bit, but we still build the picture of what's happening in pieces.
German, however, is a big-picture language. You have to get the whole sentence before you know what's happening. The example sentence above would read in German Jimmy soll morgen in die Stadt fuer seine Mutter einkaufen gehen. This literally means Jimmy should tomorrow in the city for his mother shopping go. Notice the word order. Although we know Jimmy SHOULD be doing something, we don't know what it is until we get to the very end of the sentence, though along the way we learn his mother and the city are involved. In order to understand the meaning, we have to hold the entire sentence in our heads until we get to the end and CLICK! We get the whole picture at once.
This takes some practice, if you didn't grow up doing it. It's like being used to seeing a picture by assembling jigsaw pieces and then suddenly being expected to see it by having it snap into existence on the table.
German writers take an almost malicious glee in creating long, tortuous sentences in which you have no idea what's going on until the last three words of a 100+ word section. In order to get my German degree, I had to read a lot of German literature, most of it written during the angst-ridden post-war years, and it was indeed tortuous to read. It put me off reading German literature for a long, long time.
German newspapers and magazines are equally difficult. Unlike their American counterparts, who keep to a simple, straightforward style meant to be easy for all readers, German journalists deliberately use an awful, long-winded, twisted style, complete with eye-wrenchingly (or jaw-crushingly) long words that no sane person uses in everyday conversation. I don't know where this got started, but it needs to stop. It annoys native Germans, in fact, but journalists keep it up anyway.
And there's the fact that I'm not fluent in German anymore. I used to be, but years of being away from the country and lack of constant practice have rusted me. My understanding is much better than my production, but German is still a greater challenge than it once was.
All this is a roundabout way of saying that I approached Battyany's book with a wary eye. I could wait until October for the English translation, but that felt like cheating. Besides, translations are never as good as the original. So I downloaded the sample chapters in German to my Kindle and cracked it open.
To my delight, I could read it with ease. Battyany, a journalist, avoids the awful German newspaper style and writes in a more conversational style, and I'm having no trouble following him. I stumble across the occasional unfamiliar word (it took me longer than it should have to untangle a reference to semen donation, for example), but like I teach my students to do, I breeze past them unless it's clear I need to know the word or phrase to follow the passage--and in that case, the Internet gives me the translation in seconds. I'm reading slower than in English, but faster than I expected.
Battyany's story is compelling, and when I reached the end of the sample chapters, I downloaded the full novel. A little light reading for vacation! :)
Aran loves it there. He's been going for four years now. They allow people to continue going even into adulthood, since special needs people so often have no place to take a vacation.
Aran is able to pack for himself. He could also drive himself, really, but the camp has no parking facilities for campers (it's generally not an issue), so he has to get a ride. On Wednesday, he and I drove out in perfect weather.
At the camp, Aran greeted most of the counselors by name, with enthusiasm. We registered and got his suitcases into the cabin, said our good-byes, and I left.
Next week, Darwin, Max, and I are going up to Harbor Springs for OUR vacation. (Aran wanted a deliberately separate vacation from ours, as a way to have his own grown-up space, which is why he went to GCB at the same time we planned our up north vacation.)
Aran's grandparents are picking him up when camp ends next week, and he'll have a few days at home by himself before we get home. Let the parties begin!
It took them a long time because it kept raining. They finally were able to come out and wash the deck one day and two days later come out and stain it. The last time we had it done, the worker used a roller. These guys used an air gun. They got it all and did a nice job!
Darwin's ring is faceted tungsten. It slipped off his finger while he was swimming in a river and vanished.
We bought a replacement from the same jeweler. A few months later, this second ring simply vanished without a trace. Darwin noticed it wasn't on his finger one day, and it wasn't on his dresser or his nightstand or in the bathroom. We turned the house upside down. I even got out the metal detector and ran it over the lawn. Nothing.
We bought yet another replacement ring, and the jeweler noted that Darwin was his best repeat customer.
About ten months passed.
I already mentioned that we traded in the truck and got a mid-sized SUV instead. We also wanted to trade in the Ford CMAX Darwin drives for a newer model, but the dealer offered a rotten trade-in price, and we declined. Instead, we opted to get the CMAX detailed so it would LOOK like new.
The detailer kept the CMAX for a long, long time, but when he returned it, the car was thoroughly cleaned and restored, inside and out. Even the engine compartment and tires were shiny and new-looking.
Darwin was going through the car and put his hand in the pouch fastened to the back of the driver's seat. He made a strange face and pulled out his ring.
He has no idea how it got there. Best guess is that he put his hand in there and the ring was swiped as he pulled it back out, and he didn't notice. Thoroughly strange.
Here's the other thing: this particular ring was a tiny bit large for Darwin (which is why it probably slid off his finger in the pouch). He'd been intending to have it resized. However, it happens to fit me.
So now I have two wedding rings--one that matches his exactly, and one that doesn't.
We are Lords of the Ring, my Precious.
The last two weeks have been a relentless dive into the 60s and 70. Yesterday, we didn't even make it to 70, and today we're expected to hit 72 at the most. And it's been rainy. What is this, Ireland? Michigan summers by now are regularly in the mid- to upper 80s, and we're heading for the beach. Nope! Not now!
I know--the 110 people are ready to punch me. But this unusual weather is, in its way, just as frustrating as the super hot stuff. It's COLD at night, for one thing. Last night, it got down into the 40s, and we woke up with our teeth chattering. Should turn the furnace back on? It's almost July, for frig's sake!
Now the global warming deniers chime in. "See? The globe can't be warming! It's cold!"
Fuck you. The reason it's so cold is all the extra energy--heat--in our atmosphere is pulling the jet stream south, and like a giant fan, it's blowing arctic air down our way. This is the epitome of global warming. And did we mention 120 in Arizona?
Electric cars can't come fast enough.
We've been talking about it for a long time. I love Ireland and have visited before. Darwin has always wanted to go. He was uncertain about going this summer, and I pointed out that for the first time in years, I'm not under contract this summer, meaning I can go without worrying about a writing deadline. So he decided it would be a good idea.
The first part was settling on a date. After some finagling, we choose the second and third weeks of August. And then when we had the dates all set, I played with the ticket buying program and discovered if we stayed one more day, the plane ticket prices dropped by over $200 each. That would more than pay for an extra night in Dublin, so we happily extended the trip.
Then we had to figure out where to stay. After more finagling and discussion, we decided to do what I did last time--spend a few days in Dublin, move to a rural cottage for several days, and then come back to Dublin for the end. In fact, I discovered the same cottage I stayed before at was available! Clonleason Gate Lodge is an easily driveable distance from several archaeological sites we want to see, and there's a bog and a ruined castle nearby, so it's a perfect place for us. We booked it.
And we ran into problems with finding places to stay in Dublin. Man!
Darwin and I don't like hotels much. (Who does, right?) They're sterile, the amenities are limited, they're small, and if you're tired and just want to hang out for part of a day, you feel foolish sitting in a hotel room to do it. That's why we like renting cottages or flats. You have all the amenities of home, you have more space, and if you want to zone out for a day, you feel like you're doing it in your own living room.
Like a lot of people, we use Airbnb to book places and have had wonderful results in the past. This time, though, the places that turned up were too expensive or badly located. When we were looking for a place to stay at our arrival, two times we tried to book places and the host turned the booking down, once because the host said she was looking for people to stay for at least a week, and another who just didn't answer. At last we managed to find a nice flat.
But the REAL challenge was for the few days before we left. We needed a place Friday through Monday, and the number of places dwindled sharply, or were REALLY expensive. In the end, we gritted our teeth and booked a place that was quite a distance from the center of the city and still more than we wanted to pay.
And then . . .
I was surfing around the web site for Trinity College. TC houses the Book of Kells, which we'll want to see, and I wanted to find out what the College's museum hours were. Quite by accident, I discovered Trinity College rents out its student rooms and apartments during the summer. (!) The location would be perfect, of course, and the prices were startlingly low. In fact, booking a two-person apartment for three nights would cost about $200 less than the flat we'd found, and several hundred less than any hotel.
I canceled the flat and booked the flat at Trinity. My only regret is that there wasn't an apartment available for when we arrived--they only had rooms with a single bed.
So now we just need to rent a car!
This is us.
The refrigerator won't stop running. Or rather, it mostly won't. It runs, then clicks audibly off for a second, then clicks back on, then clicks off, then on, then off, then on. It still keeps food cold and merrily makes ice, but clearly there's some kind of problem.
Meanwhile, the dishwasher went on strike. It operates with pushbuttons atop the door, and abruptly none of them worked. We were forced to wash dishes in the sink. (Oh, the humanity!)
I called an appliance repair place, and they dutifully sent out a repair technician the next day. After some rummaging around with both appliances, he said some wires had burnt out on the dishwasher and needed replacing. An easy fix. But the fridge had problems with its circuit board.
"The factory that made the boards was wiped out in the Japan tsunami," he said. "So the part is really hard to get. We're talking $600."
So he fixed the washing machine, and next we have to hunt for a new refrigerator.
Salt potatoes are basically new potatoes simmered in heavily-salted water. Once the potatoes are done, you pour most of the water off and bring the remaining brine back to a boil, rolling the potatoes around in it all the while. When the water is nearly gone, you take the pot off the heat and keep rolling until the water is gone and you're left with a salty crust that forms on the potatoes and makes them look wrinkly. You eat them plain or dip them in butter or an herb sauce.
I served them with plain chicken and a fruit salad.
The boys were dubious. What the heck were these things? Even Darwin "Salty McSaltSalt" McClary, who once salted a slab of bacon, wasn't sure. But once they tried them, all doubts melted.
You can't eat salt potatoes timidly. The salt crust is very powerful, and you have to bite all the way through the potato to bring the mealy inside into contact with the outside salt. But when you do . . . they are delicious. And heavy. Boy, are they heavy! Two pounds of new potatoes--a weensy bag--was more than enough for two adults and two teens.
The recipe is a keeper, but it's a once-in-a-while treat, not a regular dish.
But then I found out a high school friend of mine, Brian d'Arcy James, was in it as the father of the suicide victim. Brian mostly does stage work on Broadway (he's currently playing King George in HAMILTON), so I rarely get to see his work. Most recently I saw him in the movie SPOTLIGHT, and it's always fun to see him perform. So I decided to give 13 REASONS a look.
I lasted about five episodes.
I suppose I should warn about spoilers in the following, though the show has been out for months, and I don't see it as my job to protect anyone from plot spoilers after that long. But I'll be nice. SPOILERS.
The show was absolutely awful. Part of it, I'm sure, is that it does cater completely and unabashedly to the teenaged crowd, and there's really nothing in it for adults. That's okay--I can enjoy a teen show on its own merits. But . . .
The premise: A teenage girl commits suicide (and the show was bad enough that I can't remember anyone's names, so I'm reduced to giving them epithets), and a few days after her death, a set of cassette tapes appears on the doorstep of the main character. The tapes are an audio diary from Suicide Girl explaining, in detail, how thirteen different people drove her to kill herself, and, she says on the first tape, if you don't listen to all of them all the way through, something awful will happen. "You're being watched," she says (feeding into the adolescent feeling of being the center of the world and that everyone is always watching you).
Okay, we all know suicide doesn't work this way. Netflix was even pressured into putting a little disclaimer at the beginning of the first episode to this effect. But a disclaimer doesn't stop me from thinking, "This would never happen" and "That would never work" and "This isn't remotely possible," which yanks me constantly out of the story and reminds me that I'm watching a fake for fake fakey-fake TV show. I can't even pretend it might possibly somehow be a little bit real, which wrecks the viewing experience.
Suicide girl, you see, goes through some world-wrecking bullying at school which culminates in graphic sexual assault (I didn't get that far, but I read about it) that is so bad it drves her to kill herself, but she somehow manages to hold it all together long enough to formulate and execute an extensive, Machiavellian postmortem revenge plan with dozens of moving parts that hold together without input from her. She narrates the tapes in a chipper, snarky tone with no sign of being upset or unhappy.
Seriously. I have an easier time believing in an magical island full of warrior women created by Zeus, or a skinny kid from Brooklyn being transformed by a mysterious drug into a super-hero than this. If Suicide Girl is so smart and savvy and together while putting this plan off, why doesn't she ask for help? Or get her revenge while she's alive to see it? Hell, why not just run away and leave the tapes behind as 13 Reasons Why I Ran Away? None of it makes any kind of sense. Easier to believe in giant apes living on an uncharted island than this.
The characters are also unlikable and uninteresting. Every one of them. There's Football Boy (the eventual rapist) who heads up a coterie of friends who hang out in his rich parents' pool house (which is bigger than most people's houses) and is for some reason worshiped by the entire student body (in reality, most students at a high school can't name the quarterback, nor would they care). He drinks, does drugs, and beats up smaller students. We also have Suicide Girl's Bitchy Best Friend, who gets into a fight with her over a boy (of course) and slaps her in the cafeteria. We have Camera Kid who peeps into windows and takes pictures of Suicide Girl while she's dressing. We have Asian Lesbian-in-the-Closet Girl who is being raised by two dads but is somehow too closeted to admit she is herself lesbian. (WTF? So being adopted and raised by two men turns you both gay and closeted. I was ready to punch the fucking screen at that one. Or just knock the writers' teeth so far down their collective throats that they could chew their own shit as it came out their asses.) We have Miscellaneous Teens who spread half-naked photos of Suicide Girl around with their phones and make fun of her about it. I wouldn't have wanted any of them in my classroom, let alone in my life--or on my iPad.
And we have Doormat Boy, the viewpoint character. He receives the tapes and starts listening, but can't bring himself to listen to more than five seconds at a time before anxiety takes over and he has to stop. Here's where things become even more unbelievable. Doormat Boy, we learn, is something like the ninth or tenth person to get the tapes. The tapes have been passed around from teen to teen, and everyone keeps asking Doormat Boy if he's listened to "his" tape yet (the tape that talks about his role in Suicide Girl's death). When he says he hasn't, the asker always shouts, "What are you waiting for? You have to listen!!" But Doormat Boy can't do it. And why? Because if he did, the show would be over. The show needs him to listen to one tape per episode. So, against human nature and every bit of reason in the universe, Doormat Boy listens to one bit at a time.
Doormat Boy always does what the person next to him says. Suicide Girl orders him to be her friend, and so he does. Football Boy's friends pressure him into drinking, so he chugs a beer. And, of course, Suicide Girl orders him to listen to the tapes on the first cassette, and he does. I heard that later he starts standing up for himself, but I wasn't willing to wait for it.
Suicide Girl herself is a nasty little bitch. She's mean and snarky to her friends. She walks all over Doormat Boy. She calls him names (the fact that she calls him by a series of demeaning nicknames instead of his actual name turns into a running joke). Whenever she asks him for advice and he gives it, she says something cruel to him in return, and when he finally gets up the gumption to protest about it, she simpers at him and walks away. She starts arguments with her friends and parents over inconsequential matters just to have drama in the episode. Bitchy, nasty, unlikable. If I was supposed to feel sorry she was dead, by Episode 5 I wasn't.
I also couldn't swallow the idea that no one tells anyone else about the tapes. Ten-odd teens have gotten hold of these tapes, and they've told their friends about them, but NOT ONE PARENT has learned of them? No. Just no. Someone would talk about it to an adult. Or an adult would find the tapes by accident and give a listen. Or they'd stumble onto their teenager listening and demand to know what's going on. ("Why are you listening to a tape?") There's no way something like this would remain a secret when this many people know about it. I've seen it in action. Just last week at school, a kid kept spraying stink bomb aerosol in classes as a prank. It was supposed to stay a huge secret who was doing it. But within twenty minutes, someone ratted him out. Someone ALWAYS talks. Always. The tapes would be public knowledge in a matter of hours.
And why DOES everyone do what Suicide Girl says on the tapes? Sorry, hon, but you're dead. You don't get to reach out of your grave and tell other people what to do. If I got a bunch of cassettes from a dead person that said, "Go to Spot A in town and listen," I MIGHT continue listening, but I definitely wouldn't go to Spot A to do it. My overall instinct would be to return the tapes to Suicide Girl's parents, untouched, or maybe to erase them and throw them out. I certainly wouldn't obey orders from beyond the grave, if for no other reason than a feeling of "Fuck you." Yet on this show, every single person follows orders. Another point of disbelief. No one erases the tapes or throws them away or says, "Fuck this!"? Sure.
And Brian's role as Suicide Girl's father? Well, he was barely given enough screen time for me to form an opinion. He's an adult in a teen drama, so he'd shown up in maybe four scenes by the time I stopped watching. I'm glad he got the chance to be on what's inexplicably a hit show, though.
When I got halfway through Episode 5, I realized I was watching the show out of a sense of duty more than any enjoyment, and that I actively disliked bringing it up on Netflix. There was nothing redeeming in the show, nothing fun or interesting to watch, nothing that made me look forward to more. The show actively pissed me off, in fact. I decided to remove the show from my queue, and you know what? I felt a strange sense of relief.
No more banal adventures of Doormat Boy and Suicide Girl.
After we dropped Sasha back at his place, Darwin and I decided to drive to Belleville, one town over, and check out their annual Strawberry Festival. I'd visited it once about 15 years ago and remember liking it, and it sounded fun. Street fairs are usually kind of cool, and we could get some strawberries and/or strawberry treats.
When we arrived, we got parking at the local high school, which was right next to what we assumed was the Strawberry Festival. It turned out to be more like a county fair, with rides and games and animals and such. What we didn't see were strawberries. Finally Darwin found a building labeled FOOD BARN, which was selling strawberry-themed items: strawberry sundaes, shortcake, shakes, and so on. They also sold hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and other foods.
That seemed to be the extent of the strawberries.
Eventually, we realized the carnival was separate from the actual festival, and it was a bit of a hike toward town. Gamely, we struck out and, after about a ten minute walk, we found the real festival. It was a lot of booths selling arts and crafts, and LOTS of churches who wanted to convert passers-by, and local businesses who wanted to re-do your gutters, and food trucks selling barbecue and junk food and lemonade and smoothies.
No strawberries. I mean, NOTHING.
I was thinking we'd find strawberry pies and jams and salsas and gelatins and ices and strawberry-themed crafts and . . . well, you know. But, nope! Not one strawberry anything in sight. Why they bothered naming it a strawberry festival, we couldn't tell.
We also noticed that downtown Belleville is . . . dumpy. Almost all the buildings took the worst of 1954's blocky, dull brick and lumped them together into a string of boring offices, with a few liquor stores and tattered bait shops mixed in. The city hall, which stands on the corner of the downtown, should be an arresting piece of architecture, since it's the first thing people see when they arrive in downtown Belleville, but it's nothing more than a dull pile of brown brick. A good chunk of the main street sweeps past a magnificent lake, which begs to sport a boardwalk and a boat rental place and some delightful pub/restaurants and at least one night club. Instead, we have a guardrail, a dead parking lot, one bored-looking restaurant, and a run-down liquor store that looks like it deals heroin out the back door. What a waste!
We did score a few burping cloths from a craft booth for the upcoming baby shower, and we had supper at an antique A&W, which was giving away free root beer floats in honor of the strawberry festival. And I got to spend an afternoon with my dear husband and see Sasha. So the day wasn't a total loss!