Friday, April 28, 2017

And Now for the Pills: Ten Tips on Estrogen-Blockers

You're done, right? Twelve chemos down, two operations, twenty-eight radiations. You've been bald as a peeled egg, lived through a prickly hairdo following male-pattern baldness, worn an itchy wig that fooled the secretaries, but not the gay men, at work, and now have a curly chemo-do that makes you look like an intellectual dyke, which you're not, having always favored long, flowing tresses. The plus: now your earrings show. You're wearing big ones. Even bigger ones! Louder lipstick, too. 

The other fact: As your skin dries, your wrinkles deepen, you need bigger jewelry and louder lipstick under the best of circumstances. Which do not include the breast cancer--it's no fun! It's even unpleasant!--you've just spent a solid year fighting off. 

And now they want to take away your estrogen, which you've always counted on to stay young. And feminine. You'll be on those estrogen-blocking pills a solid five-to-ten years. How will you do it? Here's how.

(1) Invest in state-of-the-art tweezers to pluck the hairs now sprouting, with depressing regularity, on your chin. I can highly recommend the Tweezerman slant tweezerette, which you can find on Amazon.

(2) Invest in state-of-the art lipstick. The kind that doesn't evaporate from your no-longer dewy lips. The kind that makes even your children say, "Gee, Mom. You actually look better with that stuff on."
I can recommend Victoria's Secret Velvet Matte Cream Lip Stain. I also like Victoria's Secret "extreme plumper" Knockout Red--even though it does make your lips itch a bit--and Victoria's Secret Bombshell Pink lip plumper, which tingles pleasantly on the lips. L'Oreal's a great old standby--I love their British Red (#350) and all their bright red shades.

(3) It's okay to wash down the Tamoxifen or the Letrozol (aka Femara) with a glass of red wine. Yes, it is. While enjoying Grey's Anatomy and holding hands with hubby. 

(4)  Stay sexy. If you're older, so much the better. Your kids don't require round the clock service. They sleep through the night. In fact, since they're now teenagers, they sleep through the morning, too. Lock your bedroom door. Enjoy your husband.

(5) Try the Mom Belly Diet (see my blog entry). Those estrogen blockers--they slow down your metabolism. Short version of the diet: cut those carbs in the evening. 

(6) Exercise. If you never tried it before, now's the time to start. If you've exercised all your life, now's the time to step up your efforts. Weight-bearing efforts. They'll be giving you bone scans, those doctors, as long as you're on those estrogen-leeching pills. So keep your bones as strong as you can. Stomp through tap class. Jump through ballet. Walk.  

(7) When (not if--because you will) get the blues, buy a pet. A doggie. A cat. I have guinea pigs. They sniff at you, they stand up and squeal when you hand them carrots, and they generally show more affection than children. Invest in a pet.  

(8)  Take vacations. Preferably with your husband, but you can try them with your kids, too. I just spent a wonderful ten days in New York with my younger two. We had a blast, and I forgot all about cancer. 

(9) Talk to your doc. If you're experiencing joint pain, bone loss, bone fractures, lowered libido, hair loss/thinning, weight gain, hot flashes and sleep issues, the more common side effects of all three major estrogen blockers, you can probably switch to a different pill. 

(10) Take chocolate. Preferably just a square or two of the very dark, 90% cacao kind, but you can, occasionally, gobble a bar of milk chocolate. Feeling good is important!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Flying With Teenagers

Expect to be scrutinized. The security lady in Düsseldorf called me over and I reached for my bag, which I thought she wanted me to open. She grunted no, whipped out what looked like a torn scrap of paper, and wiped it against one of my thighs, then the other. With a wave of her hand, she dismissed me.

What was that stuff she wiped on my pants? My husband thinks I was being randomly checked for explosives.

At Heathrow, the kids and I hunted for the gate to our next airline, finally going down some stairs where we saw American Airlines personnel. 

"Yay!" We're saved! said my son.

"What is the relationship?" asked the airline representative, staring at me intently. 
"I'm the mother and these are the kids," I said.
She turned to the kids. Where did they go to school? Did they like that school? Did they have a favorite subject? Did they have a favorite teacher?
My kids had the good sense to answer politely, and in detail. She turned to me. What did I do? I was a teacher? Where did I teach? How many students did I have?
"It depends," I stammered. "A seminar might have six. A lecture could have one hundred." After this very intense small talk and more penetrating stares, I offered to show the other passports my kids have and my German residency permit. Silently, she declined and waved me onto the bus that would take us to our gate.
What was she looking for? Was I suspected of abducting my kids?
On the way home, at the very large Zurich airport, I lost the kids. They were ahead of me getting off the plane, and I said, "I'll come when I can," and nodded to them to go on, since a large man in front of me had stopped moving. I thought they'd be standing by the plane door, but they weren't. I waited. A long time. When I thought they must have gone ahead, I went ahead. Then I went back. Then I went forward to the train, where I asked the guard to help me find them. With a big smile he told me not to worry, to go ahead to passport control, because they could only have gone in that direction. I waited for one more train, and when I didn't see them, I took the train. At passport control I found no sign of them, and since I had their passports, I knew they had to be behind me. Could the guard make an announcement? No, he said, sounding bored, but go ahead to Information--it felt a mile away--and they'd make an announcement. I went ahead. They announced, in what seemed a very soft voice. 
"Oh, they'll hear that all over the airport," the woman assured me. I asked her to make the announcement again. She did.
She insisted I stay there. Ground Control would find them and bring them to me. Finally, after ten minutes, she said I might take a look at passport control. 
There they were, my daughter in tears, a policeman ready to check me out again.
Zurich airport: they never did hear the two announcements. They speculate that they were on the train by then, but I think you need to make those announcements more loudly.
All's well that ends well. My son said, "How about my Hollywood moment!" When my daughter got upset, he said, "Don't worry! I'll find Mom for you!"
We had a great reunion before boarding our last flight and were so delighted to see my husband.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How To Cope With Con Edison When You're Only In New York Two Weeks Per Year: Ten Tips

(1) 800 numbers cost a fortune if you're dialing from outside the continental United States. Sometimes you can just replace the 800 area code with a 212 code and reach the same representative.

(2) If you've tried the 800, the 212, the 888, the website form, and all of them keep clicking off on you--and if you're on hold to the tune of over 19 cents per minute, listening to the worst Muzak you've ever heard, for thirty minutes, hang up.

(3) Next option: call much earlier in the day--if you're in Germany, call at noon, German time, which is usually six a.m. New York time, and you'll get a representative. Don't call during regular American business hours--you'll get the wait. The gruesome, soul-destroying wait as the kids scream downstairs and the dinner dries out.

(4) If you find your blood pressure too high after dealing with the@#$%^&*(O)P!! representative, never cuss him or her out (i.e. when you've told them the Con Ed website just clicks off on you and they say, "Ma'am, you can get to it through Google or Bing"--yes, the woman really did say that.) Just thank the representative and hang up.

(5) Go to Get Human
They do have Con Ed numbers. For a nominal fee--$30, last time I looked--they will call Con Ed for you and "resolve the issue."

(6) If you don't want to spend the thirty bucks because your Con Ed bill is already outrageous (a refrigerator in an uninhabited apartment racks up over $634?) call again with a script in hand. Slow down when the representative says, "Ma'am, you're talking too fast." Don't talk when she cuts you off as you explain how they didn't send your paperless bill. Let her yell, "Let's go forward, Ma'am." When she says, "As a courtesy, I will remove your late fee," Don't scream, "As a courtesy, you behemoth?" Just say thanks. 

(7) There's always the option of writing to the CEO. A useful website to know is this one,
which gives you the email address of John McAvoy, CEO of Con Edison, among many others, along with tips for how to write to him, starting with "be polite." Yeah! And I was! Here's a similar useful website: 

(8) Notice when the CEO writes back, and when she or he does not. I had an issue with, because I felt they weren't clear on the fact that they can't send you your genetic predispositions if you live in Europe. I didn't go for the answers I got on Customer Service, but when I wrote the CEO, she was very responsive, polite, and helpful. I hasten to add that I have not heard from Mr. McAvoy.

(9) Be persistent. I'm going to write him again

(10) Do stay polite. No matter what. But if Mr. McAvoy is reading this, I'd like to know why it isn't easier for New Yorkers living in Europe to get service, and get billed easily, without the time-wasting efforts I've been through over the last weeks--not to mention the loss of sleep.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How To Finish Breast Cancer Radiation: with a Leap and a Skip and a Whoopee!

My friend Georgia tells me that at Sloan Kettering you get to bang a big gong when you are finally done. I'd love to do that. But when the Technician at my German radiation treatment center gave me a patient satisfaction form to fill out, and I remarked that the Sloan Kettering ladies got to bang a gong, the techie seemed startled. Why would those American women want to do that? Why would anyone? The form asked me to comment on the amount of time I'd spent in the waiting room and whether I wanted to complain about that, and the amount of pain my skin had endured as a result of treatment (not all that much) but I wanted to talk about my need to bang a gong.
My breast looks like it forgot to put on sunscreen, and got French-kissed by a cheese grater.  It feels like a bunch of mosquitoes have been pecking at it but if you didn't know, I console myself, you might mistake its rosy glow for orgasmic flush.
Meanwhile, I figure I can pass off my chemo-curls as a perm when I see my mother. I managed to get through breast cancer without her detecting that I was ill. Why wouldn't I tell her? I wanted to avoid the avalanche of anxiety, followed by her theories of why I came down with cancer in the first place--theories that would involve whatever she thinks I should or should not do or be. Then we'd have had another round of the avalanche of anxiety, concurrent with sudden, unwelcome contacts from doctors she thought I should see, or faith healers, or friends she'd met on the street who had reported they battled cancer with herbs and I should stop all that nasty chemo and radiation and try herbs instead . . . . it was so nice not having to deal with Mom while I went through all this. 
Here's how to finish radiation: tap dance out of the office singing "I Did It My Way."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Rules and La La Land

Up front: I've always considered Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider's The Rules a feminist statement. The idea that a girl might as well ask a guy out is usually dumb, assuming the girl wants the relationship to lead to wedding bells and babies. That's a "Rules" idea, not one that many feminists accept.  Also not an idea La La Land coddles: the Emma Stone character does talk to the Ryan Gosling character first, and the movie seems to want to say this is fine. Normal. Completely acceptable dating practice.  Still,  one of the critiques of La La Land has been its supposed anti-feminism: we see his jazz playing, but not much of her acting, although I'd say her numerous auditions show plenty of acting. He doesn't come to her one-woman show. He gets her to go to the audition that makes her career--this has been seen as anti-feminist in the sense that the Emma Stone character relies too much on male authority to believe in her acting abilities, while the Ryan Gosling character doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks of the kind of jazz he wants to play: he's going to open his own kind of jazz club and damn the torpedoes. But when he hears the love of his life chatting with her mother, who wants her to have  boyfriend who can support her, he takes a job he hates with a band just to be that kind of a guy. It's the Emma Stone character who talks him out of that, just as he talks her into going to that last audition. By this time, the two of them are certainly best friends. Romantic mates for life? Well, he doesn't follow her to the city where her career is taking off, which happens to be the most romantic, terrorist-free Paris you can imagine, except in her long fantasy-sequence that we see after she and her husband wander into her former dreamboat's jazz club when freeway traffic is too much to take. If she didn't have an adorable toddler at home, the movie's whispering, she'd vault up to the stage to fall into Ryan Gosling's soulful jazzy arms. But she does have the cute little girl sitting home crayoning on the sofa with the babysitter, so Dreamboat just locks eyes with her and plays their song, which is a lame one, if you've seen Singin' In the Rain, West Side Story, Les Miserables, or even Guys and Dolls. Emma Stone has beautiful eyes and Ryan Gosling has soulful ones. But neither can sing or dance, and I can't for the life of me figure out why, if they loved each other, they couldn't have flown back and forth to see each other. Each has the idea that art takes all, that there's no room in life for true love while a career is being formed. 
Here's another reason, and a Rules one: She talks to him first. And he slams right into her, not hearing her, because unbeknownst to her, he's just gotten fired. Maybe that wouldn't have been so very bad, except that when they meet up accidentally again and again, she talks to him first to him again and again, requesting, during one party scene (actually raising her hand!) that he play "I ran." Yeah, he did run, Emma Stone character. You should have said, "Next!" and moved on. But no. She keeps talking to him every time they run into each other and when he's on tour she calls and says in the neediest tones imaginable that she misses him. Then, surprise! He's in their tiny grungy apartment making dinner for her. But not so surprising, they argue. The moral of this story may be that she got bored with him because she chased him. He didn't chase her. Not in the beginning. Into which the end is rolled. 

P.S. This is what I wanted to see instead of those lame tap sequences in La La Land: 

This kind of originality--not to mention philosophy--is another thing missing from a film styling itself as paying a tribute to Singin' in the Rain:

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Look Merkel Gave You Know Who

Why aren't reporters commenting on that nanosecond of horrified disbelief? Or resigned disbelief. The fake president, dog-with-bonelike about his wiretap claims, turned to the distinguished German chancellor and cracked, "At least we have something in common," apparently referring to Obama supposedly tapping Merkel's phone. 
Merkel's head swiveled: she glanced at Fake Prez as if really seeing, for the first time, how low he could go. 
She double-taked: shaking her head. Like the mother of a serial killer who is wishing things were different. 
But oh, they are not. 

I couldn't help thinking of a happier version of the double-take by Sara Teasdale:

“Stephen kissed me in the spring,
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Stephen’s kiss was lost in jest,
Robin’s lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin’s eyes
Haunts me night and day.” 

 If we were re-writing that for Merkel and Mr. Fake, we'd get something like: 

Donald flicked his eyes my way
With a creepy look
But Barry only looked at me
He never tried that gook.

Donald's look was lost in rage
Barry's lost in play
So the look in Barry's eyes 
Haunts me night and day.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Geert Wilders--The Dutch Donald Trump?

Is Mr. Wilders a racist spewer of hate speech? How can you even ask, most readers will say. Look at his hair. Not for nothing were German carnival floats of right-wingers filled with slogans like "Blonde is the New Brown"--Marie Le Pen, the American fake president, and Mr. Wilders all do have that hair thing going. 
When I read what the NY Times, the Guardian, even the Telegraph, say about Wilders I wonder that I consider defending him. But I don't think he's Trumpesque, even if his rhetoric gets scary. What gives me pause is that he was a colleague of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's in the VVD, the Dutch political party that describes its purpose as to further the free intellectual and social development of each individual, without making distinctions according to religious or ideological conviction, nationality, sex, race, colour of skin or language. Central to its beliefs is freedom of choice for everyone. He left that party because he thought its policies could no longer hope to provide freedom for everyone without restricting radical Islam. Both he and Hirsi Ali came to believe that too many devout Muslim immigrants would not accept Dutch or Western values of freedom of speech and equality of men and women, because the Koran does not do so. In her writings, Hirsi Ali advocates a reformation in Islam. Catholics no longer burn people at the stake or break them on the rack for saying the pope is a fool or for subscribing to another belief system. Radical Islamists, Hirsi Ali points out, will not stop beheading people or cutting girls' genitals out or forcing young women to marry or be killed until they stop believing in their version of Islam. Her own choice, to renounce the religion entirely, has earned her death threats. Now, if she'd renounced Catholicism as publicly as she abandoned Islam, a lot of my nice Catholic in-laws wouldn't want to invite her to dinner. But they'd be shocked and horrified at the idea of killing her. 
That's the big difference between a certain kind religious belief and the values that Hirsi Ali, and perhaps Geert Wilders, are trying to make people see. Integration isn't about "Can't we all just get along?" anymore. Integration really is about retaining freedom of speech and equality, and the folks who don't accept that need an education. Or they need to be excluded. So is the real issue with Wilders racism and hate speech? Or is he really struggling to preserve civilization? Readers, weigh in.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Antibiotics and Me

I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan during the sixties, when ear infections paid the pediatrician's rent--as our old family doctor told me when I brought my son to see him. Whenever I, as a child, had an ear infection or a strep throat, I took penicillin (Pen Vee tabs) for ten days. I remember the little white pills and I remember watching the infected yellow blobs on my tonsils go away after ingesting the little white pills. Flash forward to my thirties: a university health service doctor discovered a "heart murmur" on a routine exam and told me Never To Drink Coffee Again. I had no symptoms, and greatly missed my coffee, so I shelled out more than I could afford to see a cardiologist with a private practice on the East side. He told me I had "mitral valve prolapse" and "no problems" and could drink coffee all I wanted--but I had to take antibiotics every single time the dentist cleaned my teeth, or whenever I had minor surgery. Said this Park Avenue specialist. Thirty years of popping antibiotics every time the dentist cleaned my teeth . . .  and when I wasn't sick, too. Then I wanted to get pregnant, and our fertility specialist prescribed boatloads of antibiotics (which did result in my getting pregnant, by the way!) 
But now here I am at age sixty, generally healthy, except for the breast cancer that's almost been irradiated out of existence, and except for my lungs: every time a cold goes to my chest and I start coughing up green gook, I can't seem to get well without antibiotics. In December I had a bronchitis and wanted to get better before the lumpectomy. I tried for a week with ginger root tea, vegetable broth by the bucket, and healthy plant-based decongestants. No deal. A three-day antibiotic worked like magic and I was fine--until now, two months later, when another bronchitis has suddenly turned up again like the proverbial bad penny. I guess this new illness isn't surprising. My students arrive at office hours coughing and feverish; my kids and my husband have had colds. So I've been lying in bed drinking fruit tea and all that other healthy stuff I just mentioned. I went to the doctor who said what I had was viral and I went to the Web, where it says the green and yellow crap I'm coughing up isn't always bacterial. I'd like to get over this illness by resting and drinking tea. But if that takes three weeks (would you like to see my house after three weeks of me not doing laundry or cleaning the guinea pig cage? Not to mention cooking?) then I'd rather have the three-day antibiotic again.
Do I have any readers who are doctors? Whaddya think, docs?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Irradiated: Breast Cancer and the Kinky Tanning Salon, Part 2

About a third of the way through your radiation treatment, you've gotten used to lying on the table with your hands stretched, bondage-style, over your head while technicians yell at you not to move and insist you play dead while they haul you around getting you into the right position. Once you're there, they whip out their Sharpies and draw in the most ticklish areas, all the while insisting that you not move a muscle. 
Then you get to see the doctor. You're done with the five-minute tanning bit (it feels like that, as long as you can tune out the grunting and clicking of the huge mechanical arm over your head) and you dress and enter the office of Dr. I'm-in-a-hurry-I'm-so-cool. He fingers the underwire of your bra. 
"Oh, this is no good! You shouldn't wear this! Metal on irradiated skin!"
"Oh, okay," I said, "I didn't know."
"Besides, you are small! You are about an A-cup, right?" He doesn't pause for a reply. Big grin. "So you don't need a bra. You can just wear an undershirt."
"Oh," I say, as he whirls out with a big smile, saying, "It's all normal! To be depressed is normal!"
"I'm no more depressed than usual," I say to his retreating figure, which is already halfway down the hall to inspect the next patient.
Except that actually, after that conversation, I'm not exactly cheered up.
Nine radiations down, twenty-one to go.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ten Things Barack Obama Heard When He Tapped Trump's Phone

(1) Heavy breathing
(2) "Yeah, babe, give it to me! Yeah! (Repeated several times)
(3) Yes, mistress. Yes mistress. Yes!"
(4) Loud groan of pain or pleasure.
(5) Champagne cork popping
(6) Get him onna phone, now! Jeez!
(7) Muttered expletives
(8) Sell! Sell, dammit!
(9) Buy, you !@#$%^&*()!!! BUY!
(10) Melania, baby, just do it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Tips for Getting Along With Breast Cancer Radiation

(1) Be sure to have ten years of ballet or gymnastics under your belt so that you can hold poses for extreme lengths of time.
(2) Practice holding your arms over your head until they go numb. Hold them even longer.
(3) Don't be ticklish. 
(4) Don't be ticklish, part two: the technician is drawing permanent marker lines all over your boobs and side and you're supposed to avoid twitching or giggling.
(5) Your foot is not allowed its involuntary twitch while you're lying on that radiation table.
(6) Sun. Feels like sun. Sun zinging into the side of you. 

And that was just the FIRST radiation. One down, around twenty-seven to go. Think of the experience as going to a very kinky tanning salon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My Post-Wig World

Once your hair really starts to grow after chemotherapy--not the horrible tack-like prickles, but this kinky, Little Orphan Annie hair, Little Orphan Annie after she stuck her finger in the electric socket, the wig starts getting itchier. When the weather's cold, you can stand wearing the thing, but on a warm sunny day, you'll feel as though a nest of lice was bedding down for a long season. 
So on the last day of the semester, I stopped at my friendly neighborhood hairdresser--hadn't seen her since early last summer, but she's been getting credit for the wig ever since I started wearing it. I told her she'd been getting credit for my hairdo and she looked puzzled, since she couldn't remember that style on me. I whipped off the wig and watched her eyebrows go up and her mouth go into a round "O" of shock.
I gestured to the poodle-gray mess creeping over my scalp like Kudzu over a landscape and asked, "Can you do anything with this?"
Fortunately, she laughed and asked to try on my wig. And yes, improvements could be made. I emerged from the salon an hour later with auburn hair, a shade too dark, but the gray is gone--slightly trimmed, too, so that it doesn't bush over my ears like a tonsure on an old monk. I can't say my current do is the fashion statement of my choice. But it's better than bald, folks--better than bald. 
To go with it, I have magic-markered lines and  few spiky little things with pentagram-like markings that I just got today from the technician who is arranging my radiation. I will get zapped along the markings, apparently, and I am not supposed to take a shower, so I will probably soon smell as creepy as this design looks (although I'm allowed to sponge off areas un-decorated by magic markers). Sid Vicious would be proud of me. At least I am on the home stretch: in five weeks I should be done with treatments, except, of course, for the pills. Buckets of 'em, over five years. On the bright side, I got to keep my breast, which has always been a big part of my fashion statement and many other statements.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Trump Hiding In Plain Sight

Even when Fox News is interviewing her, she's unbelievable. OH, and somebody keeps taking that video down, the one in which Conway is caught calling lies "alternative facts." I'm going to try to get this video back up. And you all know she said that. But oh, Saturday Night Live, thank you for supplying us with this:

But no matter how much fun it is to watch the original and the parody that feels so real, the RUSSIAN thing and the TAXES thing are still getting buried. Today's illegal plug for Ivanka's clothing line is yesterday's grab-'em-by-the-pussy. The SNL stuff is fun to watch, and the constant needling gets to Trump and his toadies, but I want reporters and comedians to devote all their spare time to uncovering Trump's ties to the Russians and Trump's tax returns.

Because he'd much rather we get angry about Kellyanne's latest illegal vulgarism than remember his ties to Russia or his taxes or whatever else, by the time I finish writing this sentence, will leave us all slack-jawed with disbelief and horror.

THE RUSSIANS. THE TAXES. All else is vanity.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ways To Stop Trump: Six Tips

This is not my guarantee that we can. Just a vision of how Americans might escape the anaconda grip of this heartless snake.

(1) America's rich have to unite in rejection of him. The very thing they won't do, since he's making them lots of money.

(2) Reporters have to stop asking "Is that appropriate?" when he says a respected jurist is a "so-called judge" or "disgraceful." Instead, they should say, "That language is not appropriate--and not allowed." No one sets limits with Trump. They question him. Set boundaries instead. The way the debate moderators should have set boundaries.

(3) Ramp up the ridicule. Saturday Night Live, good for you, but do more. Oh, much more. 

(4) Publish his old report cards. I want to see them almost more than I want to see his taxes.

(5) Wikileaks, where are you on those taxes? Roll 'em out. Yesterday!

(6) When all else fails, bite his tail. Wouldn't it be nice if Melania took care of that?

Monday, February 6, 2017

German Teachers of English and Native Speakers

My children--who have been talking to me, Mom, from Manhattan, all their lives, and listening to me reading them everybody from Harry Potter to Rick Riordan--got 2s on their report cards in English (the American equivalent is a B.) They bring home stories about their English class almost daily that have us all in stitches or in open-mouthed disbelief . . . and now their report cards tell me how much the teacher resents their command of the language. Yesterday's sample: My daughter's Nigerian classmate, who, like her, grew up in an English-speaking home, pronounces "three" as "tree."
"No, that's wrong!" said their teacher. "The word is pronounced 'Sssssreeeee!'" Now, I could post a You-Tube video tailored to native speakers of German who want to know where to place their tongues in order to pronounce the "th" sound in "three." But the point is the teacher ought to be doing that herself. She also ought to have some idea of Global English, and the wide range of pronunciations that appear on CNN and BBC. Nobody's doing "RP" or "received pronunciation" anymore except . . . well, the Nigerian father of one of my kids' classmates who said he wanted to learn American black English because people were telling him his British English sounded "affected." 
I did tell my daughter that if she wanted to get in even more trouble with her teacher she might toss around linguistic terms like "interdental fricative." 
But my kids never wanted trouble with the teacher. They just can't help rolling their eyes when she says the word "thrice" doesn't exist. 
Not that these gals speak English badly. They're teachers, after all! They'd get along fine in airports and restaurants anywhere in an English-speaking country. 
But they're also Germans. They like the feeling of authority when they believe it's due. They like to be sure of themselves, and they like the sound of the pronouncement, American English sounds like chewing gum, even though they all must know that just ain't so. I've heard 'em get all their pronouns wrong ("Children, look TO my mouth," pronounced "mouse") and I've heard 'em pronounce "lettuce" as "Let-oooose" (to rhyme with moose.) I admit to speaking German much, much worse than they speak English. But I do like to learn, and I do use You-Tube, and I do go to other Internet sites to at least try to get my pronunciations correct. I sure do wish the English teachers of Germany would do that. I also wish they'd enjoy students who already speak the language . . . even the ones who speak it much better than they do. Or especially. You know, teach, you'd have more fun that way. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hear Trump Yell (to the tune of Three Blind Mice)

Hear Trump yell!
Hear Trump yell!
See him flip the bird!
See him flip the bird!
He's always flailing his carving knife
He slices and stirs shit and rustles up strife
Did you ever see such a sight in your life
As Don's hard sell
As Don's hard sell . . . .

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Top Six Alternative Truths You Didn't Know About Donald Trump

1. His real name is Dawid Thaman"Donald Trump" is an Americanization.* 

2. He lives up to his original Arab name, Dawid, which means "Prince," and "Thaman," which means price or worth.

3. His real dad was a Saudi Oil executive who had a little trouble with, oh never mind who, I promised not to tell.

4. Little Donald, or rather Dawid, arrived on American shores a thin, undernourished refugee child, quickly picked up the Queens accent for which he is known, adopting rep ties and suits with padded shoulders, and shed his past like a snake his skin. 

5. A Presbyterian church sponsored him, but the pastor has begged me not to identify it ("We're so afraid he'll start banning Presbyterian immigrants!") 

6. Trump's traumatic childhood accounts for his tendency to forget his origins--let's make allowances. Send him love, adoration, prayers! All faiths welcome. We think you should get back to your true self, Donald, and recognize the faith into which you were born. Don't be a self-hater, or a self-inflater! Remember your origins. 

*Sources: two intrepid reporters, Deeper Throat and Deepest Throat, who moonlight as world championship fellators.

P.S. Here is my favorite European comment on our Trumpesque world:  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Trumpauguration: Made in America? Really? Three Things to Remember

I watched this strange performance under less than ideal circumstances--post-operatively, sitting on a hospital bed, gazing up at Trump's mouth, words emerging from it being simultaneously translated into German. I thought, when I heard him say he'd be building "Railways! Bridges, tunnels, roads!" that I was still too gorked out from the anesthesia. What planet were we on? Planet 1860-something? Those eighteen-sixties, they were good for "I Been Workin' On The Railroad," published 1894. Amtrak's been declining for years, Donald. But presumably you know that. So what's going on? Was I really hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Not that they don't sing well . . .but the point seems that they were made in upstate New York, not some foreign country--and the lobsters served were Maine lobsters, shrimp from the Gulf, the steak--apparently from Virgina, not New Zealand.  Of course Made in America extended to religions, too: a Jew, A Christian Evangelical, and a Catholic bishop, but no Imam. Never mind that Thomas Jefferson's bill establishing religious freedom was meant, in his words, "to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination." Could Trump not have brought in an Imam to speak of the value of human life? Could we have had more than one nonwhite person onstage? That we will never forget the day is correct, but not for the reasons Trump stated. That the people now have the power was the worst lie. Why were so many of the women--Ivanka, Tiffany, Hillary--wearing white? They are, comparatively speaking, the virgins. He's the whore. Remember the following:
(1) Isolationism has never worked: American history is immigration. 
(2) Economy is global.
(3) Never give up. America will be sane again. It may take a long time, but Trump, like Voldemort, won't last forever.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Consumer Genetic Testing: The Road Unfortunately Not Taken in Germany

Breast cancer patients should be as informed as possible about the causes--often myriad, often unknowable--of their illness. Although cancer can theoretically be caused by things as random as an accidental genetic mutation or consumption of sugar and wine, several known genetic causes can be determined with a simple saliva test (spit in a tube, pay a nominal fee, and FedEx the sample to a lab). For fees ranging from $149 or less up to around $500, American and British citizens can find out whether they have a statistical likelihood of developing cancer and a range of other ills. Personally, I'm interested in the $249 offer from Color Genomics for the following genes known to be involved in breast cancer and other ills:

PMS2**, POLD1*, POLE*, PTEN, RAD51C, RAD51D, SMAD4, STK11, TP53 

The thing is, I live in Germany, a nation devoted to rules and regulations. I can buy the Color Genomics test, or the 23andme test on the Internet and send back a saliva sample, but I can't get the results as long as I'm physically present in Germany. If I want a BRCA gene test in Germany, I have to pay a lab between three and four thousand dollars, because my health insurance company  pays for such tests only when two other female relatives have breast cancer. I'm statistically unlikely to have a gene that causes cancer because I'm the only woman in my family who has it. But I'd like to know for sure, and I'd like to be able to inform my twelve-year-old daughter whether we're free of cancer-causing genes. She'd like to know, too.
I sent emails to the German Federal Minister of Health, Hermann Gröhe, ccing my physicians, and to the Deutschkrebsforschungszentrum (German Cancer Research Center) detailing my reasons for wishing to be able to buy an inexpensive test. The Cancer Center replied at length, including many websites I've already toured, but here's the meat of the message:
In Germany, predictive genetic testing may only be performed by specialized physicians qualified in human genetics after a thorough adequate information and counselling of the patient. 
For more information, please see the German Genetic Diagnostics Act (Gendiagnostikgesetz): .

For a qualified counselling, patients can refer to one of the centers of the German Consortium of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (GCHBOC):

Contact details of the center in Düsseldorf are directly available at: 

There are special contracts between these centers and the health insurance companies concerning reimbursement of the costs for an interdisciplinary consultation, and, if applicable, for extensive genetic tests for identification of BRCA mutations.

The German Consortium of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (GCHBOC) urgently advises against so called "direct-to-consumer" tests which are offered for example in the USA because there is no neutral non-directive counselling of the patients and such tests are usually focusing on frequent BRCA mutations (i.e., rare mutations can be overlooked resulting in a false negative test result).
In other words, Germany likes to regulate. Why? The reasons given fall into one of two categories:
(1) Paternalism, as in doctors feel they are better qualified to receive and give information. They don't want patients to receive information that may lead to decisions doctors find unwise. 
There are always people who jump out a window or arrange for a body part to be removed when they get medical information they don't like. But that unhappy fact should not determine social policy. Just because some women choose prophylactic mastectomies doesn't mean that genetic testing should be restricted.
(2) Protectionism. Labs make lots of money selling tests. They'd make less money if companies like Color Genomics, 23andme,  Invitae . . . oh, there are others, too . . . were in on the game. 
So what's a girl with breast cancer who wants answers to do? Make an appointment with Dr. So-in-So at Hotshot hospital in New York. That's what.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Unexpected Side Effects: Four Tips for Breast Cancerians

(1) Chemotherapy curls your hair! After you lose it, that is, and after it starts to grow back as hard little stubbles that hurt when you lie down. One day you realize your hair's gotten soft again. Then comes the moth-eaten nun look, or the determined dyke or the Roman-emperor do. Then comes the curls. Or the cowlicks. Remember Tintin's big old cowlick? Lots of those, plus tight little curls.

(2) You start watching Grey's Anatomy. There's an episode somewhere in the fifth season that saved an Israeli woman's life. She'd found a lump while breast-feeding and her doctor said it was just a clogged milk duct. A character on Grey's Anatomy was told the same thing, had second thoughts, and got a second opinion. The Israeli woman got her own second opinion after watching that episode. TV saved her life. Besides, the spectacle of interns kissing attending surgeons in stairwells, anesthesiologists dozing off on duty while drunk, nutcases getting shot on purpose as performance art, is all so distracting that I hardly think about my own cancer. When I do, I'm more clearheaded about what to do next.

(3) You make a will. And it's about time, Sweetie.

(4) You learn to take one thing at a time. When you panic, as I did the other day upon learning that I had to have another surgery, you tend to do many things at a time, or to think frantically about doing many things. Now's the time to slow down, make a list, and focus on the first thing before moving nervously to the second.