Grace in Small Things

  1. Pseudoephedrine.  Wow is it ever worth taking that stupid little plastic card to the pharmacy counter and showing your driver’s license and signing whatever the hell it is they make you sign to get your hands on a decongestant that actually kind of WORKS.  Yes, pharmacy tech person, I know I probably DO look like a meth addict, but seriously, it’s a head cold.  That moment of being able to breathe through your nose again?  Like…well, a drug.  The cracked-out sweaty-palmed feeling is just a bonus.
  2. Hot, hot beverages.  Tea.  With honey.       
  3. Riiiiiiiiiiicoolaaaa!
  4. Ibuprofen
  5. That I hardly ever get sick like this.  I’m not a very good sport about it.
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Floored and Free

I may have never laughed so hard as when showing pictures from the cruise and the island to my friend’s four year old son and we came across this one (please excuse the blurry):

Who is that guy?  Is that…Grimace?  He looks kind of…scary.  Is he scary?  –  Yes, buddy, he’s pretty scary. Don’t worry, though.  He can’t get to you.
(Disclaimer – I’m not 100% sure he said Grimace, as apparently I was still too high on blue skies, sunshine, warmth, and little-kid-cuteness to retain that now somewhat critical detail.  Anyway, whoever he thought it was was so far from Jesus it wasn’t even funny was hilarious.  I guess you had to be there.  In fact, I wish you had been there so you could have remembered the crucial part of this little anecdote for me.  Oh well, let’s go with it.)
I took pictures of all kinds of silliness in the seemingly never-ending booths in the straw markets.  
And again with the blurry:
Who buys this stuff?  Let’s see, I need something really PINK.  Should I get…Hello Kitty…or the Holy Bible?
I’ll admit to being tickled that my little buddy had no recognition of Jesus.  Even though I’ve never known her to have any religion to speak of (other than a general affirmation of belief if pressed), my friend has said for years, oh, I should really find a church and start taking the kids…but it’s never happened.  I wouldn’t encourage it, for one because I remember going to church being the cause of plenty of stomped feet and whiny voices when I was a kid (and what parent needs more of that?), and also because her kids question everything and I love that so much.  Most kids do.  Until they sometimes learn to not, because nobody else is questioning it and people don’t like it, so I’d better just play along.  That’s pretty much how I remember it.  Looking around during Mass thinking…really?  All of you people believe all of this stuff?  Really?  Umm…okay.  So I tried.  For a long time I tried pretty hard to believe.  At times I probably did really believe, at other times I was close to believing, but most of the time it seems I was just trying to convince myself I believed.  Fortunately social conditioning kept me from standing up and yelling ARE YOU ALL CRAZY?  THIS MAKES NO SENSE!!!  Though apparently one Sunday when I was really little my parents had gotten seats in a front pew and in a quiet period during the Mass I did shout MOMMY LOOK!  THAT MAN HAS NO HAIR!! referring to the bald priest.  So that had to be kind of funny.
Ahem.  But this is supposed to be serious.  I’ve started to write about this so many times, though until now it’s always ended with me not even bothering to save the draft, because I freeze…I can’t write about this.  But of course I can, and I don’t have to think very hard or google very much to find a myriad of reasons why I should.  I don’t even need to retrace the ancient abuses of power by the Catholic church (but see this for an excellent perspective on the religious side, via the always thought-provoking suntzusays on the secular side), there have been so, so many very recently, in my own lifetime.  Even if I were a believer, why would I want to associate with any of that?  I’m not and I don’t, though that’s never been something I’ve gone out of my way to share with those in my life that might be somehow offended or put off by that.  However, I’m lucky enough to have at least one of those kind of friends to whom you can say just about anything.  The kind of friend who will also in turn tell me what I need to hear, even if it means saying things that might not be well received or are not necessarily nice things to say, and I of course try to do the same for her.  You don’t stay friends for fifteen-plus years with people that only constantly blow smoke up your ass, right?  So at some point during the conversations we had in the three or more hours it took to drive down to get on the cruise ship last week, I came out, if you will, as an atheist to my best friend.  I was shocked that she was shocked.  It was funny and awesome and I really don’t know why I never just came out and said it to her sooner.  It seems to be the kind of thing that needs just the right set up, so if you’ve ever had anything even tangentially to do with religion, you can’t very well just out of nowhere say, hey, so…yeah….I’m an atheist, right.  Cool? to most people, anyway, and expect them to have a reserved reaction or not require some type of explanation for what they perceive as a rather extreme change.  But somehow she or we had set it up just perfectly…I can’t for the life of me recall what we were really talking about, most likely commenting upon the hypocrisy of some side of some issue (maybe abortion…the Tim Tebow Superbowl ad thing, I bet!) and she must have said something to the effect of “Even if you believe in God…” as a hypothetical from the devil’s-advocate side, allowing me to just throw out “Um, by the way, I don’t anymore.”  Too easy, how could I not?  I still find it funny that she was so surprised by this, but she of course didn’t challenge me on it or try to convince me to change my mind.  (And to be fair, I always refrain from telling her how much country music sucks and how she should really not ever listen to damn near all of it.)  She kept saying she was floored, and she was curious, so I talked about it some.  In fact, I couldn’t quite shut up about it for a little while.  In the middle of this we stopped to run into a drugstore for beverages but I didn’t stop rambling on – the cashier definitely looked at me a little oddly; that was fun.  I was on a roll, as she’s the first friend I’ve said this to who really knew me well even way back when I was a guilty-kind-of-recovering-Catholic-ish girl.
For me, it wasn’t a painful process, even though I thought it might be very hard to walk away from faith, or my nearly lifelong attempts at feeling like I had faith.  Turns out it wasn’t difficult at all.  I just had to give myself permission to acknowledge as perfectly valid the natural doubt and skepticism I’ve also had my whole life.  Agnosticism, I guess.  Then I went through a phase in which I truly just didn’t care at all one way or the other about it.  When I finally got back around to thinking about it again, I realized I’d crossed the line and probably wouldn’t be crossing back.  I just don’t need it, whatever you want to call it, be it faith, belief, religion, etc.  It’s not that I choose not to believe in your God, it’s that I don’t believe there is a god.  So simple and reasonable, yet strangely so hard to say, or to write.  To a certain extent, I can sincerely appreciate that it brings joy and peace and comfort to many people’s lives, and I’d never want to take that part away from them individually.  But looking at the big picture, and the overall balance of the good things the church may have done for people versus the horrible, awful, unimaginable things that have been done in the name of religion…I want to imagine no religion, too.  It would be better if there weren’t so many people in the world whose lives are lived in such awful circumstances that it really logically does sort of make sense that they’d better hope for a better life to be waiting for them after this one, otherwise what is the point of all their suffering, but that is of course not the case.  I have no answer for that question, I just know I’m incredibly fortunate to have my basic needs thoroughly met in order to even have the time and resources to consider the kind of questions that led me to atheism.  For me, there is more peace in just being free of it altogether.  I bet a lot more people could come the same conclusion too if they would just let themselves try to be free of it.  This will be mostly preaching to the choir (ha), but you should try it.  It’ll make you feeeeeel gooood.  

More Tales of Travel, and a Happy Homecoming

So, where was I?  Oh yes, just about at the point where I pretty much didn’t know where I was, who I was, what time it was according to either a clock or my body, or what the hell was going on.  The first time I went to Germany back in September, we flew on a Saturday, arriving Sunday morning, so we had that day to adjust a bit before going into work.  This time jet lag kicked my ass.  Likely because we flew on a Monday, arriving Tuesday morning, then went straight to the hotel (okay, not straight.  We somehow got rather lost and to compound things I completely lost my ability to read a map, assisted by the fact that German freeway signs don’t indicate which direction you’re heading, only confirm that YES, I KNOW I’M ON THE EFFING A3 or whatever, and even knowing your vicinity on the map, I swear the little cities or towns on the signs were not in fact marked on the map!  Also, driving in circles on zero sleep does nothing for my already nonexistent sense of direction.  Stellar combination.  GPS would be a must if I ever have to do this trip on my own.), dropping bags, and going directly into work.  Disorienting to say the least.  But after slogging through that day I did reset pretty quickly, thankfully.

The hotel we stay in has a little recreation room in the basement with a self-serve bar (you just write in the book what you drink, so innocently quaint) and a pool table and a kitchen the guests can use, so for Saturday night we had invited the guys from the lab over and had asked Walter, proprietor of Allegria, our go-to Italian joint in town, to cater the affair.  Good, good times.  The hoteliers and a couple other international guests (British and Brazilian coworkers, their Swiss counterpart had already departed) joined us, making for a raucous evening lasting until nearly 3 AM…knowing I had to get up by 6:30 at the latest to not rush to make my flight out.  We’d procured for the night four bottles of red from Walter, plus a white from Seligenstadt, plus the president of our host company brought another bottle of red, plus the pony keg of local brew the Brazilian and Brit had purchased when the places for sledding they tried to patronize since the Brazilian had never seen real snow were closed due to too much snow (?!), and we went through all of it but the sad bottle of white, to my very fuzzy recollection.  I definitely overindulged, and apparently they were talking about the things I said the whole next week (my coworker stayed another week after I left).  I broke every rule of things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company.  Sex, drugs, rock and roll, politics, religion….oh, it was SO fun!  Incredibly refreshing to meet and converse intently with non-Americans willing to believe that not all of us are ignorant cowboy-hat-wearing-Bushies.  Also, lemme tell you (and then stop using lemme as a word), inebriated packing the night before an international flight makes for hilarious what’slefttowearbecauseIknowbetterthantoevenunzipthatthing options the next morning as well as a great guessing game of whatthefuckispackedwhereinhere when you get to your destination.  Though I actually managed to leave nothing behind in Germany that I’ve missed yet.

But yes, the destination!  A couple of days before I left for Germany, I got a call from my best girlfriend.  She and her husband had sat through one of those nightmare timeshare spiels where you get the free two-day cruise to the Bahamas, and at the last minute he couldn’t go, and it was supposed to be for her 30th birthday celebration.  Since I was already flying back to the US the day before the cruise departed, I figured, hmmmm, let’s see what the cost is to change my destination on the return flight…would be a crazy last minute vacation for which I’d be burning a few to several vacation days this early in the year, but this is pretty much the one friend I have in the world I’d totally inconvenience myself for, because I know it would mean the world to her, and she’s probably one of only a few people on earth that would do the same for me, so again, eff it.  Let’s do it!  I changed my flight to arrive in Orlando instead of Dayton and thanks to Airtran was able to get a flight home the day after the cruise for less than $100 – and oddly enough did NOT get tagged for extra security investigation due to booking a one-way flight.  I guess borrowing and checking her gargantuan suitcase so as to not have to ship some stuff back home was a good thing after all.

In addition to the ridiculous amount of cold-weather clothing I’d crammed into my tiny suitcase for a week in Germany, I had Mike ship a couple boxes of shorts, goofy T-shirts, sunblock and flip-flops down to my friend’s house in Florida.  She picked me up at the airport with a smaller suitcase for me already packed with my stuff and headed to her Granny’s house in Tampa for the night.  This additional stop was due to her not having a passport and not being able to find her birth certificate, one of which is needed to go to the Bahamas.  Angel that she is, she got up at the butt crack of dawn to go to the Vital Statistics Office in the county of her birth to procure her documentation and left me to sleep a bit AND left me a hot cup of coffee to wake up to on the counter.  She rocks, lemme tell ya.  Shit, stop that.

So we truck it down to Ft. Lauderdale to get on the cruise ship.  The cruise itself was…tacky, to be diplomatic about it.  I think they run these two-day-ers just for the poor saps who get the free trips, and you definitely get what you pay for.  The food was pretty bad, and there certainly weren’t mounds of it available at all hours as you typically hear about cruise food.  In fact, we didn’t realize that you had to make “reservations” for dinner, so the first night both places tried to turn us away.  This was patently ridiculous.  Two restaurants open, and they know how many people are on the ship, but you won’t seat me because I don’t have a little yellow ticket?  Time to bust out the evil eye (thanks, Mom!).  We got seated.  You still had to go pick up your own appetizer, soup, salad from the buffet, but then they brought the entreés.  Neither of us even took a bite.  Her prime rib looked like gelatinous leather, and even though I was up for trying the oxtail on my pasta, I somehow don’t think that would have been its best representation.  We walked away and called it a night.  After I went down to the other restaurant and made sure we had reservations for the next night, as absurd as that was.

The other absurdity of the cruise was that they were filming a reality TV show on this ship.  One of the crew finally (they acted as if there were actual celebrities involved, or some real need for secrecy) told us the name of it:  The Booze Cruise.  To be seen on something called Tru TV.  Thankfully, not the footage from this actual cruise; this is all just for the pilot.  Phew.  Glad there was no accidentally signed waiver that’d get my face on TV association with that!  So there are a couple dozen early-twenty-somethings in huge dark sunglasses and crooked baseball caps (pet peeve, pet peeve!) doing everything imaginable to prove just how cool they are.  So cool.  Girls in teeny tiny dresses and five inch heels falling into walls (drunk or not, this wasn’t a huge cruise liner – you could definitely feel the motion of the ocean.  Yes, I said that), crew meetings in the ice cream shop, directing these fools where to be at the appointed times, confessional interviews, the whole nine yards.  We got a good laugh or six out of it.  This guy was apparently the “star.”  I’ll spare you the video of him and his buddies doing the Electric Slide.  It must hurt to be so cool.

Finally, we get to the island.  Originally we were supposed to go to Nassau, but they’d apparently changed the itinerary without telling any of the guests, and we went to Grand Bahama Island instead.  Freeport and Lucaya, specifically.  We could not have cared less, but there were some people that had paid to swim with dolphins and whatnot in Nassau, and they were PISSED.  Can’t say I blame them, but again, you get what you pay for.  I’d have paid a lot more than a plane fare change fee for this:

Color not altered.  It’s true what they say!

I could wax rhapsodic for days on how divine it was to have a day of this in the midst of an Ohio February, but it still wouldn’t do it justice.

I’ll eventually get to an aside about the crazy deep conversations longtime friends who don’t see each other very often get into on road trips (saw more of Florida on this trip than I ever likely will again), but to wrap up I will just show you this:

Awwww.  He bought me flowwwwers.  And cleaned the howwwse.  Kind of funny, because after my first trip to Germany, I kind of got a little (okay, a lot, a metric fuckton) bent out of shape when he suggested that he not park the car at the airport and just pick me up at the door.  OH HELL NO.  JUST NO.  I JUST GOT OFF A TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHT PLUS GETTING HERDED THROUGH CUSTOMS THEN ANOTHER DOMESTIC CONNECTION, COME INSIDE TO BAGGAGE CLAIM AND CARRY MY HEAVY FUCKING BAG AND DON’T MAKE ME ASK YOU TO DO IT!!!!  Yeah.  I was a real bitch about that.  But I guess it’s a fight we won’t have to have twice.  I learned him good.  He even got me a super sweet corny and sappy (my favorite kind) card for Valentine’s Day, which we don’t really even ever celebrate.  Smooches.  It’s very, very nice to be home.

Welcome Back

Ahh, it feels so good to be home.  Since I never took time to even say here that I was leaving, lemme recap for the record – though, what a sad, lacking record this has become.  We’ll just blow right past that.  Again.

First, a week in Germany for work.  And it was definitely work.  It’s hard to imagine having lived amid different circumstances in which I’d be employed in actual sweaty, physically exerting labor most days of my life.  I think I might snap.  Even though there definitely is something to be said for the feeling of satisfaction you get from working up a good sweat with a hard day’s work (yes, I hear the same can come from a good workout.  Exercise and I are not really tight.), it’s a little disconcerting where my mind can wander when I don’t really have to think much or at all about what I’m doing.  Terribly amusing at times, but people there probably think I’m crazy if they noticed me hunched over a floor drain wearing a hairnet and my ridiculous yellow polka-dotted rubber rain-boot-esque safety shoes that don’t do a damn thing to keep me from slipping all over the oil and water covered floor, scrubbing enormous lab vessels and various equipment in 80°C (that’s 176°F!  That will scald you.  A lot.) water with an enormous goofy slash guilty smile on my face.  What’s with this girl?  She’s enjoying that way too much.  Seriously.  Good thing I have to think about my day job.

Of course we managed to cram in some fun.  Since I didn’t fly out until Sunday this time, we did have Saturday to goof off.  We checked out the Everything’s-a-Euro Store.  Typical dollar store stuff, except that Germans are just not prudish Americans.  I love it, the sheer tackiness.  Right next to the toy aisle, a bunch of novelty stuff you wouldn’t see in an American dollar store:

Hot for Hours.  The way to the body is through the stomach.
An apron…for your manly midsection…dripping with…strippers?  Don’t cook without one.
There were also naked lady ice cube trays.  I admit to buying one.  
And these. Glow in the dark love dice. Love is a sensual game! One die has has kiss, touch, lick, suck, massage and tickle. The other has lips, neck, breasts, ears, nipple and a question mark. On the back of the package: Playful and erotic…bring more fun to bed. Drop the dice, because they determine where to go.  Adults only.  Most people’d come home with a beer stein. Not me. I don’t know why it’s funnier in German, but I just couldn’t walk away and leave them unpurchased.
Some things just don’t translate right.

Then we took the ferry into Seligenstadt.  It’s impossible to come near to accuracy in describing how old and beautiful it is.  I took almost 200 photos, most of which are on facebook already, but here are several of my faves:

Flood levels.  Highest (top of the doorway), 1342.
Herb garden inside the monastery
Apple tree gardens

Dogs must remain outside. Of the fancypants coffeeshop. That put my latte in a glass-glass without a handle, rather than a mug. Good thing my hands had already been scalded all week to insensitivity.

Eve and Adam

Phew. That’s enough for now. I’ll come back for the second leg of the trip later. If I blog it all at once I may never blog again. And we wouldn’t want that now, would we.