with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Letter to an Old Family Friend

Dear Dona:

Mom told me that she really enjoyed your T-Day dinner. How fun. We kept things quiet here, just a dinner for two other couples, and only done out of obligation. We needed to pay back some dinners from ages ago, so we invited them over. It wasn’t much fun, but we tried.

How wonderful to have Joseph and Carrie up for Thanksgiving. I can’t believe he hadn’t been up before. Did you get much of a chance to take him around Seattle?

As for the quilting shop in the market, I found that when I was there last time and was actually good and spent less than a hundred dollars…okay, kinda good. What is the final story on your mother’s quilt? Did you get it fixed? Can’t remember if you told me. My head has been so filled with my writing, I keep forgetting what someone told me yesterday. It’s a strange way to live, but part of my hermiting that I’ve been doing since I got back here. Focused on the creative and staying out of the social circle as much as possible.

It is so weird to be here in the land of no Christmas. On a phone call to my mother before Christmas, Lindsey asked me about all the things I was going to do for Christmas, after insisting on knowing when I was going to “come down for Christmas.” I kept telling her I wasn’t coming down and explained to her that I was still in Israel and there isn’t any Christmas in Israel.

“Why?”

“Because Israel is a Jewish country and they don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“Well, that’s stupid.”

I did explain to her that they celebrate Hanukkah, and she thought that was great because she had heard it involved a lot of candles and stuff. I explained to her about the miracle from God to keep the oil lamp burning in the temple for 8 days on only an ounce of oil while the Jews worked overtime to crush new oil to keep the eternal flame going and replace the contaminated oil, and she said, “Wow, you are so smart!” It’s the simple things that impress the youngsters.

I’m starting to slowly get the news about the presidential race in the states. I guess it is starting to heat up. Here in Israel, it is illegal to publicly campaign until three weeks before the election. No posters, signs, handbills, nothing. Within those three weeks, you had better let people know who you are and what you are for or you won’t get the vote. It’s a mad house of campaigning, and then, three weeks later, it is over. Done, finished. Lovely!! I think the US should have the same rule.

Hey, if your reputation hasn’t preceded your campaign, then what are you doing running for office anyway. I guess it is easier being in such a small country. Did you realize that at the widest point, Israel is the width of Edmonds to Lake Sammamish…or Tacoma to Lake Stevens…maybe that might be stretching it but it is about two hours drive to cross the country. It takes an hour to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem 0 minutes if there were no hills) and then maybe a half hour to an hour to go through Jerusalem and down the hill to the Dead Sea/Southern Jordan Valley and Jericho to the Jordan border. Barely two hours across. Amazing. All this fuss over such a little place. A couple weeks ago a campaign of evil was started when the EU published some uncredited report that stated that “survey results say” the European public believes that the number one threat to world peace is Israel. We’re in a pimple on the butt of the planet and it is the MOST SCARY country in the world. Really. I’d think after the US got through doing their evil pounding on Afghanistan and Iraq (whose next? Syria, Saudi? Libya has taken a dive to come up smiling through the poop so they’re safe for the minute.) for reasons we are still trying to figure out, I’d say that the world had more to fear from the US than Israel. Leave Israel alone and they won’t bother anyone. Trust me. Spend a little time here and you will see a country that honestly just wants to be left alone by the rest of the world.

Oh, the news from Israel is so weird it is hardly to be believed. Let’s see, Sharon has basically said that Israel is pulling out of the West Bank areas (not all but most) and that Israel will “reward quiet with quiet”. After a huge speech a couple weeks ago, he has drawn a huge line in the spinning sands that says there will be no messing around any more. He wasn’t clear on what the consequences were going to be, but if the PA doesn’t get its act together within 6 months, he says he is going to do it for him or totally cut off all negotiations, dealings, everything. Close the door. Kinda the “don’t play nice, we’re kicking you out of the sandbox” routine. The terrorist groups are pretty much devastated by the past year’s campaign of targeted assassinations and arrests, and they are having a hard time recovering, but they are still, with Arafat’s help, holding the PA’s new government (such as it is) hostage and unable to DO anything. Now, here comes the really bizarre stuff.

On a visit to pray at the Al Aksa Mosque (Temple Mount), the foreign minister of Egypt was attacked with shoes by Palestinians also at the mosque. Two PA security teams had been assigned as escorts to him, and four Israeli security guards (part of the government’s official security folks) went along to make sure everything was okay. When the attack happened, and the shoes started flying, the PA security teams (something like 14 or more men) stood by and watched (we joke that they probably passed shoes to the attackers) while the minister was pummeled, his forehead being cut open and other wounds from the shoe bashing. The four Israeli security guards moved in when they saw nothing was being done to protect the minister and rescued him, pushing through the crowds and getting attacked with more shoes and fists, and rushing him to the nearby hospital where he was stitched up and mended. Egypt was pissed, to say the least. Attacks with shoes, especially shoes taken off because of the filth on them before going into the mosque, is one of the most humiliating things that can be done in the Arab world. They were yelling that Egypt was a traitor and other things, but Egypt is now seriously ticked. They were the last real friends of the Palestinians. Egypt has now totally closed their borders to anyone with Palestinian papers, and ejected out the terrorist group heads who have been free to live and roam through Egypt gathering support, money and weapons. For the first time every, they are working IN COOPERATION with Israel to close down the tunnels dug under villages along the border for the delivery of weapons and explosives. Before, they would stand there and insist that there were no tunnels and that Israel was making it all up, siding with the Palestinians about the horrible deeds of the Israelis for destroying homes along the border. Now they have bulldozed down homes on their side of the border and blown up the imaginary tunnels.

With Saddam gone (he was paying $25,000 a head to the family of every suicide bomber who succeeded) and on the hate side of Egypt, the PA is really hurting for Arab support. I didn’t know this for sure, but I’ve finally verified it that people who call themselves Palestinians (or their parents called themselves that) are not permitted legal papers, passports, or land ownership in any Arab land. Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, etc. With the permission of Israel, for the first time ever, Jordan has given permission to about 100,000 “Palestinians” to get legal papers that give them a “round trip” one time only visit to the West Bank and back to Jordan. Sharon has agreed to this and insisted that Jordan do this as part of some agreement that we all don’t know about – a “people for land” exchange, they are saying. It is scheduled to happen soon, we’re all just waiting to see the results. Israel is the only country that gives Palestinians legal papers and rights to land ownership, business ownership, and citizenship status, either as an “Arab/Israeli” or PA resident. Interesting.

Anyway, the bizarre isn’t over. Just after Christmas, Arafat cleaned out the PA treasury. Totally. The PA has only had an independent government bank account for a couple of years. Before that, everything was in Arafat’s name, and a lot went into his Swiss accounts. The government account is now totally for the government, but Arafat obviously has signing rights on it, because he cleaned it out. January 6 was to be pay day for 80,000 PA government employees and there is no money to pay them. The past couple weeks the new prime minister has been begging for money from the international community who has said, “Throw shoes at Egypt’s foreign minister and expect money from us? Who are you kidding?” and saying no. The last new prime minister lasted four months. This one, Quieria or whatever his name is (we’re learning not to remember them as they don’t seem to last), has been around for two months and he is threatening to resign so he won’t get the flack for the empty bank account. We are waiting to hear the word any day.

Israel’s government has been on strike for over three months. This had made it impossible for us to get Brent’s work permit renewed, so we can’t leave for a vacation. Now head of the treasury, Netanyahu is trying to crush the government monopoly on shipping, customs, port facilities, post office, telephone, and other government agencies. Now, in theory, this is great. The “padding” of the government officials and the leeching of the government funds to pay for luxury homes and “essentials” needs to be tackled with a vengeance. The cuckolding of the port authorities overcharging for import fees and running a mafia operation also needs to be put down. BUT the government still has to function, and they still have to work within a budget, so he is trying to strangle them down while still keeping a viable government. It’s a tough job and while I don’t agree with all of his tactics, I understand the need to be brutal. So the country is living on postal service from 8am to 2pm. If you need to call the phone company to pay a bill or get information on a phone number, only call between 8am and 2pm. After that, you get a recording. Waiting for stuff coming in from outside the country? Well, some of the private, household stuff is coming in, but Office Depot, Ace Hardware, and other major importers of stuff have been waiting for months while ships sit off shore battling mice and other watery ills. Shelves are partially empty and not being restocked. Garbage pickup comes and goes when it pleases, so it is typical to find the streets cluttered with overflowing trash bins for weeks at a time, and then cleaned up and nice for a couple of weeks and then overflowing again. Meter maids/men or Parking Enforcers have been introduced for the first time to Tel Aviv, and now people are accumulating parking tickets by the drawer full. No one is paying them, but they are kept well occupied with the task. Strange stuff.

I just got an email from a friend of mine who works for the city in Everett and she just got her 2004 pay contract. She is pissed off and trying to figure out how she will live in 2004 on 1990 wages. Rental prices in Israel and property have dropped to their lowest in decades. Apartments that used to rent for $1200 are now going desperately empty for $800 and less. If you have the bucks, its probably a good time to buy property here, but few are selling because they can’t afford to take the loss. It’s a strange time and place to be here in.

Strange doesn’t seem limited to Israel. I just finished listening to the NPR radio debate (what – the first one since Truman?) of the Democratic folks and it left me wondering. Dean “sounds” brilliant and I know he is the “talk” of the Internet, but I am so used to masters of spin, I have to admit that he sounds extraordinarily rehearsed, prepared, and coached. Like he is saying all the right things all the time to attract attention and “sound right” but I don’t feel like it goes below the skin or is just rehearsed. I’ve not been exposed to any of the stumping by anyone, so I’m just gauging it on the debate. I have to admit that Carol Mosely Braun (is that how it is spelled?) also attracted my attention. What the US really needs is someone who KNOWS international stuff and the rest of them haven’t a clue, really. Understanding domestic stuff is fine, but really understanding the whole world and how the international community works is better for today than isolationism. The fact that she comes from “the people”, a real representative of the United States (black, woman, been poor, been rich) combined with her travel and ambassador experience, that really appeals to me better than a bunch of stupid white men.

Yes, I’m reading Michael Moore’s book, Stupid White Men. I downloaded it off the net. Whew! I thought I was surrounded by conspiracy here! Goodness. Have I learned a lot about the unelected president of the United States. So what do you think about the politics in America?

Brent and I are still recovering from the loss of our little fuzzy boy, Dahni, and being really sick. I was down for almost three months with some viral/throat infection thing. I’d think I was fine but tired all the time and then I’d find my throat all coated white with little yellow spots again. I went through two bouts of antibiotics. Finished those up finally two weeks ago and the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Then a friend’s cat was hit by a car and I went to help her wait for the vet (they make house calls here) and the normally cuddly kitty (only 3 years old but a swear 400 pounds of lazy cat) bit me solidly and viciously twice on the left thumb. Went through to the bone both times. He was in such horrible pain and we were doing the best we could to keep him calm and quite. Broken back. Had to put him down. It was really bad, but we’re all hanging in there. After the vet we spent the next three hours in clinics getting Maureen repaired (she had her arm opened up with a four inch gash from teeth and numerous cat bites and scratches from carrying him up the stairs to her apartment from the street) and then trying to find someone who would give me a tetanus shot. After the whole evening trying to find someone who would 1) accept my insurance, 2) accept cash, and 3) give me a tetanus shot – I went home and tried again in the morning, my thumb the size of a baseball mit. After visiting two pharmacies and more doctors, I finally ended up in the hospital emergency room. Ridiculous. With more fuss (ball-ah-gone – Russian for “big mess”), I learned that NO ONE in Israel can give me a tetanus shot any more. In the past couple of months the only place that has the shots is the big hospital emergency room. Can’t get it anywhere else for some hoarding reasons that no one knows. So I stood in the emergency room for 2 and a half hours (chairs filled with slimy bleeding and broken people who smelled like cigs, grease, garlic and arm pits – emergency rooms in big cities around the world are all the same) with my back aching from standing still on the hard floor for so long, until I could finally get enough attention to get a shot and get out of there. Totally ridiculous.

And now I’m back on antibiotics…something called Augmentum for bites and baterial infections associated with stuff like that. Side effects: diarrhea and constipation. What? Can’t make up its mind, I guess.

Three different kinds of antibiotics in three months. Think I’ll build up some immunity or resistance?

On the brighter side, (is there one? I’m looking and not finding one lately) my mother, as you probably know, has a herniated disk in her back, maybe two, and is taking 13 different kinds of medication including methadone (we’re allergic to pain medication and so far the methadone has done nothing bad to her and she likes the “sleepies”) for pain. I’m calling her in a couple of hours when she wakes up to find out what the newest report is. If she requires surgery and it will put her down for a couple weeks, I’m flying home. Have you talked to her lately? If you’ve seen her, let me know how she is “really” doing because I’m not getting a good “picture” of the shape she is really in. I’d appreciate the insider knowledge.

My dad picked up the phone a couple of days ago and thought it was broken. Couldn’t get a dial tone. He banged away at it and kept trying and nothing. Pissed off, he slammed it down, walked away, and then decided to give it one more try. It worked. Later, when he tried again, it wasn’t working. Trying to get it to work again, he switched ears. Dial tone. Switched back to the other ear. Silence. Yep. Through infection, clogging, or the final straw, he is off to the doctor to get his ears checked for hearing loss. He’s had terrible problems with his hearing (blames it on his shipyard days) for years, cranking the television up to 4000 decibels) for years, so we knew it was just a matter of time before it got worse. We’ll find out how “worse” it will get soon.

I’m working hard on redoing the underlying structure of the web page and having a great deal of fun doing it. It is really creative work when you get down to it, though it just looks like a lot of code. The new pages will be streamlined and much easier, I hope. Faster loading at the least. Then it is back to that damn book. Got to get to it. I’ve been hacking away at it for too long and not getting it done.

I’ll let you know when I know if I’m coming home.

We had a really quite – well, actually it was a really busy Christmas with Hanukkah stuff and Christmas stuff. I actually went to two Christmas parties. I usually go to one or none, and it just all felt like too much. We’re really into being quiet this year. It’s safer that way for us. We just like being together alone, and yet it really feels like we’ve been with too many other people lately and we’re tired of it. Scrooges, aren’t we.

Well, we’re trying to get out of the country for SNOW but the government is on strike again (for three or more months now) and we can’t get our work permit renewed, so we can’t leave until that is fixed up. What a pain. Been through this so many times, it’s old, but it is still a pain.

I sound like a whiner, but there is one good thing. While it was over 75 degrees yesterday and I was walking around in a tank top sweating, it has been storming all night and all day and Lake Dubnov is outside my window again. I went upstairs to check on our roof top swimming pool (forms during rain storms only) and the new resurfacing of the entire building for months and months last year paid off and all the water ran out and down the drains so I may get through this winter with only one leak in the sliding window by my desk (comes in through the rails and will require complete ripping out of the whole sliding glass window sliding glasses long) to repair – so I just put towels out and change them all the time). That beats the buckets I’ve had for the previous four winters.

Four winters in Israel. Bizarre. Anyway, the storm is fabulous and the trees are blowing sideways and the thunder shakes the cement buildings, echoing on and on and on and on, rebounding off the cement everything. The rain comes in sheets not drips, and we actually had pea-sized hail last night. I opened the windows and let it beat on me. I loved it. Miniature snow balls. I threw one at Brent but it melted before it hit him and he just got lightly splashed.

It will only last for a day or so, but I want it to be like this for MONTHS.

Heard there was tons of snow in Seattle. Lusting!

Love you and hope the holidays were and are wonderful!

Tel Aviv, Israel

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