Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A Profile of Pufi (by Edward)
A thoughtful Pufi and her best friend Negruzi (by Edward)
At night: Pufi, Negruzi and Petunia (by Edward)
The photographer - first selfie

This is the first Christmas in which we are constantly followed by the closest relative of the T-rex. The moment they see one of us outside, they come running, jumping and flying over all obstacles. Pufi is, generally, the first one to come. Above is a profile picture of Pufi  (photographed by Edward). She always appears innocent, but she and Petunia can get into the kitchen and drag the whole bag of fresh bread outside. Then, on the right,  Pufi and Negruzi can be seen walking on the wooden balustrade. They sleep high up on a contraption built for them by Andy and the children.

Edward took lots of pictures of every one of his pets. We still have to take a family picture under the Christmas tree. We bought a tree that will be planted in the yard later. In the meantime, below is a picture of Coditza and some of Piki, Kiki, Otto, Fifi, and me and the children.

Coditza (by Edward)

The other photographer - David - first selfie

Me, David and James (by Edward)

Me, James and Edward (photo by David)

Edward, Otto and Fifi (by David)

Edward, Piki and Kiki (by David)
James - one month old

Monday, December 19, 2016

Stories from the past

 I was walking my children from school one day when a beautiful, well-dressed lady came from the opposite direction. The children recognized her immediately as our most dear family friend, Tanti Mia; it took me much longer because I had forgotten my glasses at home.  She is in her 70s and tells unforgettable, true stories that make me feel better than any movie I have ever seen. Last week we heard the love story of Eliza, her mother in law.

I know I cannot do it justice. My grandparents were wonderful story tellers, too. I miss them very much and I regret not writing their stories while they were alive. I would then have more tiny pieces of them left behind. This time I decided not to make the same mistake. What I fail to capture, is the funny side she induces in all her stories - I cannot write the many laughs we get or Tanti Mia's expressions and charisma. I somehow have to write in my own voice.

While I do not remember meeting Eliza, I know she was Tusa Tavi (my great aunt)'s friend. My mother remembers a portly, kind lady with a lovely face with well-proportioned features and a keen sense for beauty. She used to make dresses for my mother when she was David's age. 

Years before she met us, a young Eliza had been crowned "Miss Cluj". She had been stunningly beautiful. Her favorite sport was dancing on ice. Her dance partner was a young, Hungarian man, and the love and admiration in his eyes shined through to be seen by all as they skated together. However, Eliza was afraid to marry him. He seemed too intransigent, and she thought their love might not be enough to make them happy. 

She later fell deeply in-love with a young Jewish man. His family did not want them to marry. On a New Year's eve in the late 1930s, he promised to defy them and run away with her. Eliza convinced her family that this time her love was worth fighting for. Her mother even helped her prepare a feast to celebrate their wedding with the beginning of the new year, but he never came.

Many tens of years later, he visited Lugoj from Israel to meet Eliza's family and thank her for saving his life. He had been the only one in his family to survive the Holocaust. He explained that his family drugged him for weeks to stop him from running away with her, and that he was too proud to ask for forgiveness then. He, however, thought of her often and had been carrying her picture in his pocket since. The man in charge of sending him to his death was Hungarian. Upon the demand "empty your pockets", the picture of Eliza fell out together with the rest of his few belongings. The man's expression changed. His features softened, and for a moment he looked young and wistful again as he exclaimed "You loved her, too! ...  and could not have her either.  Come and clean this office every day!  I promise you will be safe as long as I am here. I cannot guarantee you will live beyond that."  Some weeks later an opportunity arose for escaping to Israel.

Back in the 1930s, Eliza was very upset when her fiance did not show up. Her mother encouraged her to visit her grandparents in Topita to lessen her depression. On the way there, she met and married an officer in charge of the railway. They moved to Lugoj and had two children: a boy and girl. Even though her husband married a woman who's beauty and kindness inspired a love that saved lives, he cheated on her quite frequently. One of the women involved with him was known to say that the bed sheets in Eliza's house were not clean enough - this was to insinuate she was not a good wife. In spite of all this, Eliza and her husband found ways to get along and raise their children. She was also able to retain her kindness and good nature in the process. In her spare time, she created dresses that embodied some of her grace and provided a source of independent income. My mother was always proud to wear them.

Her children and their spouses loved her dearly. They all met the Israeli man upon his visit to Romania. As he was leaving he looked at Eliza's daughter, Sandra, and said: "you are very beautiful my dear, but ... like Eliza ... no!" - meaning Sandra was beautiful, but did not come close to Eliza's beauty.

Today ... I keep my children close, and wonder what kind of stories we will leave behind.

I try to retain my good nature as I turn around to listen to the third team who is "fixing" my central heating system. They do not want to install a filter for the water because the lead person has not told them to do that and he does not have one at home. They do not need to read the manual for the furnace or discuss their installation, but aggressively ask for money and there are four of them, and me holding the baby. They represent the kind of people who succeed.  So, I just gave them the money they wanted, which is 3-times more than the previous team asked for + the price for the pump. When I told them the pump was broken, they insisted this was not the problem, and then acted very surprised when they "found out" it could not work - surprised enough to charge even more money. Both pumps function for now, and the heating system does appear to work slightly better than before.

When I read the news, I often cry. The tragedies in Syria, the elections of the pro-Russian parties/entities in the US and Europe who spread hatred under the umbrella of nationalism, the various terrorist attacks and followup retaliation through more rockets/bombs are all heart-breaking and scary.

One of the many whys: we forget to promote capable people and instead argue we have no room for them. The hackers in Russia are speaking English and many of them have been educated by the world's best institutions. We could not employ them for our security because, of course, there was/is no room, and, yet, we act surprised when they go elsewhere.

 I have worked with some of the world's brightest minds, and it is sad to watch them being pushed out of their field because "there is no room" and/or constantly sabotaged by the endless bureaucracy in their own institutions. Institutions and collaborations faithfully obey CIA's rules of sabotage and this causes a lack of time. Talented people spend too little time doing important things.

Do we have room? Most houses on my street are empty and mine is not the only street like this. There are not enough children to form a play-group with, and, yet, Romania has no room for refugees or more exactly we have room for a bit over 1000 in the whole country - all placed in designated centers.

Should we have refugees in the first place? No, we should not. We should only have economic migrants. Ideally, we ought to elect leaders who build sustainable economies and do not need to destroy other countries through wars to increase/keep their power. Are my views utopic? Yes...for now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Life at the (chicken) frontier

David (age 9): "I do not have time for labor. I solve lots of maths problems instead."
Edward (age 6): "But when a wall will fall down in your house, David, you'll have to call me up. I'll come and fix it for you."

I am not sure that I want walls to fall down in David's first house, but Edward has a point. It is good to have some knowledge of practical things.

I totally freaked out when the furnace almost blew up the other day. However, Ioji (the person I pay to build and repair things around the house) took a big stick and went to fix the furnace. We had identified that the pump had failed. So, he hit the pump lightly with the stick, and plugged it and unplugged it a few of times and it got unstuck. What was wrong? Well .. there is no filter on incoming the water. So, some impurities could have gotten the pump stuck. The second pump was not connected in the right place in the installation and it never started. So, then without a pump to push the water through the system, the water kept heating increasing the pressure and temperature in the furnace. While I have somebody who will come to check the installation this week, the furnace has been working since this incident without trouble.  Of course, I should have understood the installation before it was turned on.

w. Pufi, Petunia and Negruzi
Edward and Negruzi
Ioji has become a sort of hero for Edward who spends a lot of time "helping" him. They are turning two sheds into rooms for the summer, have re-plastered one, built a new fence around the garden, put tiles in one bathroom, and are now finishing a second one.

Edward is at times taking things too far for my taste.  When it was suggested that he might be interested in reading some of the old books in the house (he has read/been read to all the books we had in Switzerland), he said "I used to like books, but such things will be for James now. I am busy either with Ioji or with the chickens". Even after such declarations, he likes being read to every night.

Preparing for an uncertain tomorrow
 To prepare our minds and hearts for the decisions taken by our just elected leaders, we are supporting a chicken army manned by 17 chickens.
In September, we got 15 hens from a factory farm. Then we received one from a family friend, and another two came as baby chicks from a different friend.  At first, most of our chickens were sad and lacked feathers. Now there are still 2 or 3 balder hens, but most are very pretty. When Edward talks to them he is very careful with their feelings: "You are my favorite hen, you know. Yes, you are bald, but you are still so beautiful and lay the most eggs."

Naming scheme
Negruzi is a dwarf rooster. He crows many times a day and sometimes  wakes up at night, and crows some more. He reminds us that the sun is or will be up.  Pufi is a white chicken, and Petunia, a red hen. The others are reddish egg-laying chickens. The factory farm hens are so far labeled with numbers.

Since we have raised Negruzi and Pufi, they are more spoiled than the rest.   They sleep on the veranda and prefer to lay down on soft materials like the carpet or clothes. Petunia befriended them to enjoy some of their privileges.

 We fight for our eggs with Codita, the dog. When the dog is in the kitchen or in the garden, we find up to 5 eggs a day, otherwise, at most two. Since the oldest woman in the world says she survived this long by eating two to three eggs a day, my theory is that  Coditia simply desires to become the world's oldest dog. She is 117 and still alive. Codita is just a few months old.

Andy does not find chickens a necessity, but appears very fond of them. In fact, he was the first to call them his army because they like following him around. A recent discussion between us was along the following lines:
Andy: "I was chopping wood, and one of the children came to see me".
Me: "Was it Edward or David?"
Andy: "No, it was Girl Number 5. One of the pretty ones."

Why do we have chickens? When did Edward's fascination for chicken start?
Edward, David and I were walking home from school one day. We saw a man who was throwing chicken out of his car like potatoes. He was bringing them to a person living on a nearby street. The children quickly asked if they are for sale. He said they cost 10 lei/chicken (this is about 2 euros), but that we have to buy at least ten. So, we bought 10 and then 5 more after a minor misunderstanding. He had 80 chicken left, and had received them for free or close to free from a nearby factory farm.

It is to be noted that Edward's love for chickens turned on long before we had any such pets. It just happened one day at around the age of 5. He did not want to eat chicken anymore. He would walk with Andy and see chicken in the store aisle and ask: "how can people eat something as beautiful as a chicken?". Andy, who had eaten chicken most of his life, did not quite follow the argument, but agreed to switch to soy. Since we've had chicken, Andy says eating chicken would feel like eating a friend. [He does eat them sometimes when he eats out]

The future and the past
It turns out we have genes in common with most of the animals and plants we eat.  We even share 50% of our DNA with bananas, and 60% with the chickens. This is because of evolution. Mary Schweitzer dipped T-rex bones into acid found blood cells and soft tissue remains that link it most closely to the chicken. Humans, of course, came much latter.

 My chicken army is manned by the closest living relative of the T-rex, and is mostly female.