31 December, 2006

Quilt Of Dreams


This collage is the result of today's quiet meditations on the near future. It is a quilt of dreams, wishes, and humble aspirations. This will be a year of change. May the gods be merciful and kind.

Stormy Sunday

Oh, how exhilarating stormy weather can be. We have had the full monty today: storm force winds, hail, lightening and thunder, pelting rain, and darkened skies. Even though it has been years since I’ve sailed regularly, such weather initially fills me with dread and then inevitably with pure joy; knowing I will witness the storm’s course from the inside of my warm, dry, and safe (halleluiah safe) living room.

Not only do I feel joy; I also feel rather smug. Smug for being smart enough to be standing in front of a double-pane window and not huddled in a boat when the storm hits. Smug because I‘m so lucky to be comfy and cosy as can be at this moment, and not scared out of my mind and wondering about the different theories concerning the advisability of attaching lighting chains to the hull or not.

(Though, after seeing a boat hauled up from the bottom of a mooring, with a huge hole burnt out of the hull where the lightening chain had previously been attached (that is before lightening hit the boat), I have my preferences.)

One of the worse storms I ever experienced was with my father, brother, and sister-in-law, delivering a boat from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. I remember it as two days of hell, but it was probably only twenty hours or so. It’s amazing how time stops when you are having fun.

The weather was so bad we ended up having to heave to, which means setting your sails in such a way as to stop the boat. Actually, you can’t stop a boat; the whole time you heave to, the current drags you back in the direction you came. As you can imagine, no one makes a decision to heave to lightly. You don’t know how long the storm is going to last and how far you will have to retrace your way back once it’s over.

The waves were square mountains. The boat literally did this neat elevator trick of “falling” off each wave three-quarters of the way down. This made doing anything (eating, sleeping, peeing, dressing) impossible. We found this out the hard way, when a large pot of pumpkin soup jumped up from the stove, flew across the galley, and landed into the clothes hanger on the other side of the cabin. Sleeping was difficult, since every time the boat fell off a wave, our bodies would, for a millisecond, detach themselves from the bunks. What happened once the boat jolted and smashed down at the bottom of the wave can’t be described.

There is no sense in telling you more; it was a battle of sorts and we eventually did arrive in Halifax harbour. To survive such a storm is to experience bliss. Yet, given the free choice between experiencing bliss after a storm or smugness when indoors while a storm is rages outside, I’d choose smugness every time.

Not all people are so (here) and thank heavens; we need those who chose bliss over smugness.

Life in general is not that simple. When you think of it, life is not often a choice between A and B, but A and A. I’m doing what I usually do on New Year’s Eve and that is, contemplate the recent past (A) and meditate on the near future (A). What a whirlwind it has been.

This year has brought everything imaginable into the lives of family and friends and thus into my own life and heart: the birth of a lovely, healthy child: a new job after an extended period of unemployment: the unexpected and merciful remission from an aggressive disease: a new career opportunity: flying off on an adventure on the other side of the world: a new medicine diminishing the chronic pain of a child’s illness: the anxiety and worry of looming unemployment: the disappointment when yet another medical procedure, in a long line of procedures, does not change the course of a terminal illness: the shock of someone dear unexpectedly dying: the loss of someone dying after a long and courageous battle, and so much more.

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, nor do I feel in the least bit qualified to offer any advice or insights to others. Yet, I’d like to wish you all much health and happiness in the coming year and leave you on a hopeful note. After reading Pamela Slim’s ezine today (here), I thought it the perfect list to pass on to you. Do enjoy.

Her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation (here), is always very upbeat and life reinforcing. Give it a read.

29 December, 2006

Touching Base

One of the nice side effects of this holiday season is hearing from old friends. We still receive a few Christmas cards. Then there are the electronic Christmas letters sent as an attached file in emails. And, this year, a friend sent me a link to a website with electronic photo slideshows of their family outings, travels, and domestic scenery.

The photo slideshows were wonderful and very much my favourite of the three communications. The cards are nice, but since they are Christmas cards, they tend to be cluttered with well wishes etc. and not enough about family gossip or personal news.

I must say that my very least favourite form of communication is the serial family newsletter. Can’t say why. Maybe it is because they seem to all be a bit too upbeat or jolly. Or, maybe it is because it is such a difficult task not to sound as if you live a picture-perfect life, or you are bragging about your or your children’s accomplishments, or you are living a fanatically active life. I tend to get weary reading these serial letters. They do not appear to be address to me.

I can very well see how useful they are at keeping everyone up on your life. But, in the end, I think that it is impossible to sincerely relate your experiences by writing a year’s summary. It is such vast passage of time and how insignificant are words to express the enormity or nuances of these journeys.

27 December, 2006

Winter Wonderland

This collage is an homage to my Canadian childhood winters. Maybe my children will experience such a winter in the future.


Even though we didn’t move to Montreal Canada until I was eight or nine, in the ensuing years we truly lived outdoors in the winter: building forts, snowmen, and igloos, tobogganing, skating, skiing, ice-boating, playing very poor street hockey, getting our tongues stuck on icicles, our toes frozen in wet boots, our legs numb by not wearing (fat) snow pants, and numerous other national winter activities. I have many wonderful memories of Canadian summers (sailing, sailing, and more sailing), but it is the winters I am most fond of.

Nomad Son is going off for two weeks with the rest of the 10th graders (over a hundred of them) to some ski resort in the Austrian Alps in a week’s time. We are frantically trying to work on the list of all stuff he needs. He’s been given a long list from the school. The problem is, that the list becomes longer and longer, once you start to read between the lines: e.g. enough food provisions for the journey down (19 and 1/2 hours). (Do you have any idea what a sixteen year old can consume in solids and liquids in a 24-hour period of time?)

The problem is that Luebeck lies near the Baltic Sea, and therefore the weather is of the damp, rainy, miserable weather so fondly associated with eighteenth century London, Oliver Twist or Sherlock Holmes, and Jack-the-Riper weather. We just do not do the minus 30 degree Celsius mountain weather of the Austrian Alps. Nomad Son has Nothing in his sparse winter wardrobe that could even remotely serve him in this adventure. For heaven’s sake, the only piece of clothing he might remotely find applicable is his new skater’s sweatshirt with a hood on it: unfortunately, the hood is a statement of style and not fur-lined.

No, no, I mustn’t lie, the situation is not as hopeless as I paint; he does have a large summer T-shirt and pair of shorts for the traditional Hawaiian fete for the last night of celebrations.

The rest is a disaster. He doesn’t even have two weeks of underwear. Does anyone have two weeks of underwear? And socks, and long johns, and shirts, and gawd, soooo much more! Is there any way he will survive this escapade?

Rediscovering the Art of Scrapbooks

My grandmother, of Irish decent, used to make scrapbooks. I had completely forgotten about scrapbooks until I discovered Francine’s blog, Callaloo Soup: A Little Bit of Everything (here). I originally went to the sight because of the word callaloo in the title. (Callaloo is my favourite vegetable besides pumpkin and red beet). Yet, I’ve stayed with the blog after the initial experience of nostalgia had diminished, because of Francine’s recounting of life as a foreigner in France and her creative passion as a scrapbook artist.

This Christmas I gave Nature Girl a slew of folders, binders, cutting knives, glitter stuff, material and paper scraps… a whole scrapbook starter kit as it were. It is amazing that children, and perhaps even adults, do not have to know anything in particular about the history or art of scrapbooks to actually do it. Maybe there is an intrinsic or instinctive form that some people tap into when they first start out. In the same way we tell story much in the same way Aristotle told.

Did any of you ever make scrapbooks? Or did your mothers or grandmothers?

25 December, 2006

Family Visit

My favourite sister-in-law (I've six and two brother-in-laws) and her family spontaneously decided to drop by today. We managed to eat our way through all the food in the refrigerator. What a lovely time it was.

All the stores are still closed tomorrow. So, I will have to bring out the ship provisions (canned goods) and try to make due.

I once provisioned an ocean crossing (Atlantic) with canned red peppers instead of tomatoes. Disaster. Three palettes of mushy red peppers and not a tomato in sight. Here we were, faced with three or four weeks of sailing, sans tomatoes. As is so often in life, once the reality sunk in, I turned to Plan B and somehow managed to shine with culinary improvisations.

As an after note, the three palettes of peppers (minus two tins) found their way to an orphanage once the boat arrived in Grenada.

24 December, 2006

Ghosts Of Christmas Past

My children have never celebrated Christmas in Canada with grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. We were either down at my parent’s home in Grenada keeping the fires warm for my parents’ return from Montreal, or at home in Luebeck. All of our Christmases have been simple ones. No fuss, just a few chosen gifts, good food, and time in between to go beachcombing in Grenada, or playing the newest computer game in Luebeck, or sit on the couch reading anywhere. Nothing particularly spectacular, but very much Ours; to do with as we wish.

The Christmases from my childhood can only be described as a horse-drawn wagon gone out of control. One of those old Western movies, where the pioneering family wagon barrels wildly down a hilly path after the horses have shied away from a rattlesnake or some other wild beast.

To do the above-mentioned analogy justice, you must imagine that our Christmases (wagon) were weighed down with a huge load of traditions, expectations, predictable choreography of behaviour, well-meaning intentions, shopping lists, last minute errands, unpredictable weather fronts, unavoidable bouts of flu, pre-arranged topics of conversation to be avoided, sibling jealousies, and a massive amount of work and preparation on my mother’s side.

Once the relatives arrived, we children were aware that some unforseen Incident loomed underneath the surface of the joyous glittery Christmas Day celebrations. And we knew that, eventually, when it burst forth, it would transport us all in another direction than was intended or wanted.

And burst it did. Tears. Quick retreats behind closed bedroom doors. Dismal disappointments. Hysterics. Loudly whispered critique.

You might say that it was all Nothing. And you are absolutely right. I wouldn’t change those Christmases one bit. They were as they were, and thus, they were perfect in their special way.

The ghosts of my Christmas Past are bright and colourful, with a lot of laughter and tears. They are not at all like the memories some friends have to tell: the one friend whose father bought everything on an overdrawn credit card and they had to give the presents back, or another friend who really did get coal in her stocking because she was having trouble with wetting her bed whenever her parents had drunken fights at night, or even the complete chaotic loud festivities of my dear Limpet’s large Italian family. How easy it is to forget that many people do not celebrate Christmas, but endure it. For all of you who have experienced such disasters, may you find a grandness of spirit to forgive.

Yes, looking back, the best of my Christmases were those spent quietly. Those, whose end was not accompanied with tears and exhaustion, or built up resentment, or forced elation. They were ones, like today*, spent in the company of family and friends in pursuit of simple pleasures. How thankful I am this evening: for the tender mercies of this day.

I send you all my very best and warmest wishes that you may have merry festivities. For those of you, who are not able to be with your loved ones, I send you my loving thoughts. For those of you who are ill and suffering, may the gods be with you.

*In Germany, Christmas Eve is the big day of celebration and gift giving and feasting.

All The Very Best To You!

23 December, 2006


A few weeks ago I suffered a serious bout of nostalgia and went out and rented some old films. Films my parents used to watch and love. Films we used to watch as a family.

I can’t even remember which films I specifically rented because I was so terribly disappointed in them all. I thought they would bring about a great surge of wasn’t-the-world-whole-then feeling in my heart and thus wash away all my nostalgia.

The reality was, that watching the old films didn’t do anything to dispel it. Actually, I found the storylines rather long and tedious. In particular, I found Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant a very irritating couple. I’ll give it another try sometime in the future, but what I’ve discovered so far, is that when it comes to old films, you can only go so far back before it’s dead.

Tonight, Nature Girl and I went out and rented a slew of old movies to watch together over the holidays. We don’t have a television (ok, four computers, but no television) at home, but we are all movie lovers. I decided to rent some “old” movies from the seventies, eighties and nineties. (Ugh!) Movies like Local Hero or Victor/Victoria, or Romie and Michele or Ghostbusters: films the children have never seen before. It will be interesting to find out what they think of them.

I’m hoping to add a few of new movies to their favourite lists, which holds such classics like the Blues Brothers, Bella Martha, Strictly Ballroom, and the old Pink Panthers amongst the Harry Potters and Star Wars group.

Sometimes, I wonder how Other World our two children are in comparison to their Canadian cousins. This whole Canadian, Italian, German, Grenadian influence has got to produce something wild and wonderful, don’t you think?

On the 23rd Day of Christmas

On the 23rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

22 December, 2006

Keeping Company With My Father

A while ago I met a woman whose mother had died recently. Her mother owned a holiday apartment not too far away from here. This woman had gone to the apartment for the first time since her mother’s death, to see how things were and try to decide what to do with the things in the apartment.

During our conversation we talked about material possessions of a deceased person: how it is difficult in times of mourning to differentiate between things that have material value, sentimental value, possible further practical use, and how, in the end, things are really just things. We also talk about how perhaps the only good thing about someone dying, is they are no longer bound by the material world, and thus, they can be with us anywhere, at any time.

In this manner, my father lives in my heart. He no longer just emails me from Grenada, or calls from some tiny port on the west coast of Canada. Instead, he witnesses all of my family’s daily struggles and joys. He laughs, in that manner he has, at the funny occurrences that transpire, the curious encounters that happen, and the wonderfully crazy people who touch our lives.

His presence makes burdens easier to bear; for he points out how rich I am in love and spirit. This is due in part to his continued presence in my heart, in part to the love and joy my husband and the children bring into my life, and also, in part though my own intelligence and creativity. He is not my guardian angel as much as my constant companion.

In this festive season it is possible to lose sight of why we are celebrating birth and reflecting upon death. I spent a few hours yesterday visiting little Lina in the hospital. What a precious gift she is to her mother, sister, and papa and already such an integral part of the family. My heart sang with happiness. I’m also going to spend some moments in the days to come, to visit with my father, my constant companion, in quiet contemplation. Moments spent thanking him for the strengths he gave to me, and for ignoring all (most) of my weaknesses.

On the 22nd Day of Christmas

On the 22nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

21 December, 2006


Christmas is looming near. Presents have to be wrapped. Food bought. Wine ordered. Decorations placed. Christmas tree brought in and decorated. Music played. Oh, the list goes on. Crazily, I am in the midst of making up a (digital) photo journal for a good friend of mine in southern Germany, which she wishes to give to a friend of hers.
Yes, you got it: the photo journal is not even mine! Yet, I love the fact that this journal is something between friends and is a tribute to the many trips they took together over the years. Just one or two days more and I think the first draft will be finished…

And then surely, I will get into the swing of things. Promise.

On the 21st Day of Christmas

On the 21st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

20 December, 2006

On the 20th Day of Christmas

On the 20th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

19 December, 2006

On the 19th Day of Christmas

On the 19th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here or here).

18 December, 2006

Designer Christmas Cookies

Nomad Son and Nature Girl spent yesterday at a friend’s house making batch after batch of Christmas cookies. The ultimate of cookies. Designer cookies.

I think I will sneak a few off to work for the colleagues today. Maybe one or two of them, those that do not know me well, might even think that I baked them. Yes, low, almost, criminal behaviour. Something the Grinch would have done as a teenager, but not any self-respecting mom!

It is just that there are sooooo many of these beautiful, tasty morsels sitting right there on our kitchen counter. If I end up eating them all, I’ll have to drag my hips through the doorway. So, actually, passing a few of the cookies to my colleagues is a gift I am giving to my hips.

On the 18th Day of Christmas

On the 18th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here from here).

17 December, 2006

Snowflake Makers

For all of you who enjoyed this snowflake maker, you will probably find this one even more fun.

Thanks to Charlotte for Charlotte’s Web for the tip. Nature Girl has made up a storm of snowflakes already.

On the 17th Day of Christmashttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif

On the 17th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

16 December, 2006

On the 16th Day of Christmas

On the 16th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (for parents of children).

15 December, 2006

On the 15th Day of Christmas

On the 15th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

14 December, 2006

Ambassador of Christmas in Germany

It’s been a long day. I attended a large event concerning education, industry, and politics. It was a journey into the foreign world. Much more interesting than I thought it would be.

It is late in the day. I’m feeling slowly as if I can shed all the stress of the last months and just enter another time zone for the next three weeks.

Mama Scrooge was not able to go and buy the Christmas tree today because she was off somewhere else. Therefore, the task was accomplished (very well I might say) by Nature Girl. She picked out a tree as tall as her mighty eleven-year-old self. It’s a tad bit lopsided, but me thinks lopsided well suits our family. We certainly wouldn’t know what to do with a perfectly formed tree.

Christmas trees are traditionally decorated on the fourth Sunday of Advent. We don’t tend to wait that long. I like looking at the lit-up tree at night and so we will probably do it this weekend. Most Germans take down the Christmas trees by Epiphany (January 6th). So, they really only have the trees up for two weeks.

(I just tried to verify these facts with my dearest Limpet. He said that I shouldn’t pretend to be the ambassador of Christmas in Germany. I hold absolutely no qualifications and run the risk of making a lot of mistakes. If this is so, I apologise right now.)

13 December, 2006

On the (almost) 14th Day of Christmas

On the almost 14th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

Oh, hopefully you are all not as superstitious as I am. My laptop battery is running out. My charger is in the shop being repaired. And I am off tomorrow on a business trip, so I don’t know if I can post this tomorrow; so I’ll post this this evening.

I helped give a workshop today on a mobile learning system we developed for schools. It was one of those rare, but ever so appreciated, effortless affairs. The participants enthusiastic and bright-minded. What a delight it can be.

Went out walking at noon under sunny skies with a colleague/friend... talking about nothing and everything all at once.

Lighting candles for friends in need of divine intervention or tender mercies (of which there are sadly quite a few) as well as a three friends who are expecting babies or good news in the next days. If is for them (and me as well) that I’m giving today’s “gift”.

On the 13th Day of Christmas

On the 13th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

Letting finding websites up to chance. You’d be surprise how many great sites you can find through this (intelligent) random search engine.

12 December, 2006

On the 12th Day of Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (my very favourite site).

I wrote about this website in the Red Tent blog a few times (here and here). Every few days or so I randomly click on the poem of the day link and rarely is the poem any thing less than wondrous.

11 December, 2006

On the 11th Day of Christmas

On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

10 December, 2006

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

For those minutes when you are waiting for your tea to draw, you coffee to cook, or the timer to go off... (here).

On the 10th Day of Christmas


On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

09 December, 2006

Homage To The Feastive Luebeck

The city we live in, Luebeck, is one of the loveliest cities in Germany. And never is it more so than during the holiday season. This UNESCO city is old (founded around the 12th century), situated on an island, and has much culture and flair. I’ve lived here over eighteen years, and yet, rarely a day goes by without something stunningly beautiful happening or some strange, wonderful and quirky encounter makes me break out in a smile.

This morning outing into the city to get groceries presented me with three such situations. There is a storeowner down the street from us, who also plays bassoon in a classical brass orchestra. Every second of Advent, the band gathers in his living room, opens up the windows and serenade the passing pedestrians with a diverse selection of Christmas music. It is so charming to window shop or walk in and out of the small shops accompanied by their warm and golden music.

Then, as I excited the grocery shop, I came across this organ grinder playing a organ that is over two hundred years old. I fear the photo doesn’t do him justice; it is a little wiggly. After I asked him for permission to take his photo, he broke out in the most robust song for me and started to attract quite a bit of attention. Since the serenade was directed towards me, I quickly took the photo and ran.

When I went to put some money in his tin cup, he pointed regally to the stuffed perch head. I kid you not!
Just before I arrived back home the Santa motorcycle entourage passed by. I didn’t manage to get a good shot, but still wanted to show you something of what it looks like.

On the 9th Day of Christmas

On the 9th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here and here).

You can use the photos on these sites, mostly without restrictions, to liven up your blogs or presentations. I use them to make up my collages.

A few years ago, I came up with the notion of creating collages again. Again, in the sense that I had taken an almost fifteen year break from any sort quiet artistic endeavour. All my artistic energy had been invested into developing coping skills for raising small children.

Yet, once the children were in both in schools and my brain had time to explore other things than the health, wealth, and happiness of toddlers, I remembered how much pleasure I used to get making collages. So, I went out to the local bookstore and bought a huge selection of illustrated books from the discount table. Then I went to the stationary shop and bought all sorts of supplies (e.g. paper cutters, pens, markers, glues, glitter) and set up a little corner in the living room.

I showed the first results to a marvellous graphic designer friend of mine and she was very gracious in her praise and suggested ways to overcome some certain technical difficulties. She also asked me why I didn’t create the collages digitally using Photoshop. I promptly replied that I needed the feel of the paper, the smell of glue, etc. in order to create.

Then I went home and scanned in the collages and “repaired” some of the irregularities. Surprisingly, it turns out that working with Photoshop has, in its own way, an element of sensory pleasure. I went from the physical to the digital or virtual. I don’t know what to call it.

Making collages in this way has become a delightful pastime over the last years. I usually listen to some audio book (at the moment Jane Eyre read by Juliet Stevenson) or podcasts while dabbling away. I hope that you enjoy the collages; they are the results of many hours of quiet occupation.

08 December, 2006

On the 8th Day of Christmas

Ritmo Latino

On the 8th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

07 December, 2006

On the 7th Day of Christmas

Maira Kalman

On the 7th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

Maira Kalman creates, amongst other artwork, the most marvellous art/commentary pieces for the NYT in their Times Select program (unfortunately, you have to pay to access this service).

Every month towards the end of the month I start looking to see whether, for some strange reason, she’s decided to publish her next month’s piece early. Every day, sometimes a few times a day, I check. And then, sometime in the first week or so of the month, never early, but oh so anticipated, her new piece is published: the most splendid, intriguing, capricious, wise, yet whimsical, artful article. I adore this artist.

And I am not the only one: hundreds of adoring fans sing her praises each time she publishes something new. I even shed a few tears today reading the beauty of the praise. Sheesh! Crying over such a silly matter. How can you tell I’ve the Irish blood flowing through my veins?

06 December, 2006

On the 6th Day of Christmas

On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (for children and adults alike, here and here).

Today is Saint Nicolas Day, a wonderful feast in Germany, when children get an extra dose of sweets and loving attention. Therefore, I’ve put two “gifts” in the song. If you want to know about Saint Nicolas check here. Charlotte has written a lovely description of the Christmas season honoured and celebrated all over Germany.

05 December, 2006

On the 5th Day of Christmas


Picasso triggerfish

On the 5th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

04 December, 2006

What a Thrill!

Oh dear, what a thrill! I won a lovely Holiday CD music mix from Kyran in the NaBloPoMo contest. I told my two colleagues this morning and they, wrongly, thought it was because I had won the prize on merit. When I told them that a random generator picked me, they both seemed to think it less of a prize.

Can’t figure out that at all. Yes, a rags-to-riches story is very interesting, but so is a big lottery winner story. This lottery winner is going to listen to the CD over and over again because I feel happy for winning the draw and because I love Christmas music.

On the 4th Day of Christmas

On the 4th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

03 December, 2006

Sunday’s Titbits

All you got to do for the Radio Deliro site is click on the power button or, if what you hear wets your appetite, then subscribe to the playlist on iTunes or some other RSS aggregator. This playlist hardly ever goes wrong.

Sometimes it does come upon the same songs again, but rarely. If I let a week or two go by, then all of a sudden I find I’m listening to a whole new group of new songs. I’ve been listening ot Radio Deliro for a half a year or more, and, if anything, I am more a fan now. There’s not many things that I can say that about.

We’ve had one of those weekends of waiting for the children (relative) to come back from parties and outings. The Limpet and I spent a quiet time together: nice after the craziness of the last weeks. The kids were nicely occupied.

Nature Girl is onto the next round in the elocution contest.

Nomad Son is busily making up a ppt presentation for school tomorrow. He is involved in a young entrepreneur program. The group is creating a company to give help, advice, and workshops about the uses of digital media. Their target groups are high school students and senior citizens. I suggested they offer their services to teachers as well, but the students forming the company don’t think teachers would be willing to sign up for help. Sad really, considering so many of them are technologically illiterate. (I have worked with his teachers and others at various local schools the last three years, so this is not an exaggeration.)

Just finished watching the movie “The Remains of the Day” with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Excellent. Nature Girl couldn’t believe that Mr. Stevens couldn’t tell Ms. Keaton that he loved her. Her only observation was, “Is that it?” when the last scene came to an end. There is no way to explain the (old) British mentality to her; I've never quite understood it myself.

On the 3rd Day of Christmas

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

02 December, 2006

On the 2nd Day of Christmas

On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… (here).

Just discovered the fact that my children and husband do not know the song "Partridge in a Pear Tree". So for those of you who also do not know the song, each day in December I will give you a “gift”. They will be links to programs, websites, blogs, video, audio, podcasts that I hold dear for either their ingenuity, beauty, or because they are just plain fun.

01 December, 2006

Defying Gravity and Time

Been thinking you what to buy Nature Girl for Xmas. Her wish list has three items on it (Sims2, pretty wrist warmers, and earrings) and so there is a bit of room to buy one or two other things. When I was out buying Christmas music the other day, I bought her a DVD with the Paris National Ballet performing George Balanchine’s Jewels ballet.

When I was a ballet dancer, thirty years ago, Balanchine was more or less the god of (neo)-classical choreography. Nature Girl’s never seen any ballet before. I thought it would be a good introduction.

After taking a peek today, I am so surprised at how much my view of the Balanchine’s choreography has changed over time. Modern dance, movies, CGI, pop culture has changed how I see things. The music is so dramatic and I keep on expecting the dancers to soar across the stage ala Matrix, or to pirouette with such speed that the ballet dancer blurs with increasing velocity. And all they do is lift a leg, or extend their arms in beautiful aesthetic, but rather unspectacular ways.

The thing is, the art of ballet dancing, or maybe dancing in general, is attempting the impossible: making the complicated, difficult steps look effortless. Ideally there is almost a suspension of gravity and time. A good dancer can make the extraordinary unnatural poses, steps, jumps, and postures look natural. Much in the same way actors try to make William Shakespeare prose fluid and understandable to a modern day audience. Yet, seeing the ballet today was a bit like looking appreciatively at a Zen rock garden.

Then I remembered a story I heard many years ago from a fellow attending about attending his first (and only) ballet. He, a sign maker (i.e. store signs), had never seen a ballet before, but this “classy” woman he’d met invited him to the Kennedy Center in New York to see a ballet with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov entered the stage (I believe it was Giselle) by doing a series of leaps across the stage. This fellow was so astonished by the mastery of movement that he let out a loud and long “Wooowwww!” He said that a few of the nearby audience turned and looked at him with daggers in their eyes. But, the elderly woman sitting near him said, “Exactly!”

And that was the thing about Baryshnikov, as a young man, his leaps defied gravity and time: he would go up quicker and then slow down on the way down.

Kung Fu Master

I was walking down the street on the way home and as I passed a bus stop, I came upon a schoolboy (perhaps 2nd or 3rd grade) pushing and shoving and punching a girl; basically he was just being a bully. Not in horrible way. Just in a look-at-me-I-have-a-penis-am-so-strong way. The girl was taking it rather well, trying to avoid this Tasmanian Monster without being panicky. She was obviously just hoping her bus would arrive soon and the whole incident could be over. I just cannot stand seeing children pushing and punching.

So, I quietly walked behind the boy. Said, hello. The boy turned and I gave him the Kung Fu master “don’t move or I will pick you up, spin you around, and fly you across one hundred yards” look. The boy froze. I held the look. And then a funny thing happened. The tension in his body completely melted away. As if he just woke up out of a nightmare. He gave me a smile and then went and stood beside the girl and they continued waiting for the bus.

Am I ever glad I’ve watched all of those Asian movies over the years! Not that I can really watch them. Once the one opponent gives the above-mentioned Look, I tend to close my eyes and stick my fingers into my ears and hum, until hubby tells me that the fight scene is over. Still, since I’ve obviously learnt The Look, maybe I should consider looking during the fight scenes, just in case I can lean some of those moves too.

30 November, 2006

Mama Scrooge

Yesterday afternoon, during our lunchbreak, a friend/colleague and I talked about the up-and-coming (already arrived) Christmas season. She loves Christmas and is already reading her two-year-old son Christmas stories and singing him about twenty Christmas carols every night before he goes to bed. Christmas is a very serious business in Germany. There is just about something for everyone: religion, tradition (music, food, drinks, rituals, decorations, literature, etc.), family, celebratory rituals… oh, heavens, don’t get me talking.

The Christmas season begins around the eleventh of November (St. Martin Day). All the little children go out on “Lantern Trains” late afternoon when darkness comes. They carry (usually) homemade candlelit lanterns and prance along in the dark singing traditional St. Martin Day songs. It’s lovely.

And it goes on from there. Can you imagine doing justice to a holiday that has a seven-week build-up? Talk about not being able to live up to the expectations.

I’m a bit of a Mama Scrooge, though with a bit of a difference. I’m all for people celebrating Christmas as they want to, but I would, if given a free choice, prefer to not to celebrate it. I respect the religious significance; yet, I do not feel any personal connection. I abhor the commercial abundance, gluttonous feasting, and the other overwhelmingly sentimental aspects of the season. My favourite Christmases were spent, as an adult, reading Jane Austin, eating Swiss bitter chocolate, listening to wonderful music, drinking excellent tea, and, very importantly, they were spent alone.

Now, my secret is out. Can you imagine how difficult it is to reconcile this idyll, with the expectation of my children, my large family of Italian in-laws, dear and treasured German friends, and all of the hype of this season?

As Mama Scrooge, my restricted repertoire during this season is light, preferably candlelight, and music. I just love Christmas music: ancient, choir, instrumental, traditional, jazzy, rocky, R&B, everything-and-anything. So, keeping with tradition I went out yesterday and bought two CDs (Christmas for Lovers, and last year’s Diana Krall). Candlelight, little chains of light on Christmas trees*, the decorative lightening along the streets and in the store windows, they all bring a deep sense of joy. But, that is more or less it.

The children’s tactic is to nurture and seek more reliable sources of Christmas spirit amongst kindred souls. Yesterday, one of our friends brought over two lovely homemade Advent wreathes for us to enjoy during Advent, which starts this Sunday. Nature Girl and a friend and her two little boys are off to a children’s Advent tea party tomorrow. Next week, my son and daughter are going over to another dear friend’s place to bake Christmas cookies. Then there is a traditional visit to the Christmas Market with another…yes, you guessed, friend. You notice a pattern here? They are our friends, relatives of choice, and thus we are so thankful for their continued warm, kind, and heart-felt holiday gestures.

Undoubtedly, my children will be visiting therapists in years to come recounting all the details of their confused and strange Christmases (amongst other things). I hope dearly they will be able to use the genius of their humour, their special intelligence, and a portion of Christian charity to forgive their Mama Scrooge and her severely limited Christmas spirit.

And finally, all the best to you of NaBloPoMa. It’s been a delight. It’s been interesting. It’s been fun. And, it’s been a heck of a ride. The gods willing, till next year.

* Many Germans use real candles to light up their Christmas trees. Having once seen a dried tree go up in flames, I’d never have the courage to use candles. Whoosh!

29 November, 2006

The Ol' Birdwatcher In Me

It was a spectacular sunny crystal clear autumn day yesterday. Looks as though the good weather front is over today.

I left work early yesterday afternoon on my bicycle and took a long luxurious roundabout route home. The route takes about forty-five or fifty minutes to ride, but it passes through a nature park on the periphery of the city. Ducks, swans, and various (for me) unnameable birds populate the river’s water edge, the empty-leaved trees and wooded areas.

It is just a delight to ride there now, because there is just no one to be seen. What a rare thing this is indeed, especially somewhere so close to a city.

My friends, T., an environmental and bird scientist*, and K., an avid birdwatcher, are probably shaking their heads in astonishment and disbelief at my complete incompetence at naming bird life. The only four birds that I can identify reliably are: a) Fried Chicken, b) Thanksgiving Turkey, c) Christmas Goose, and d) Nasty-tempered Swan. When trying to identify anything else I either say: a) oh look, a bird (honest answer), or b) if that isn’t a double-breasted triple-thigh wobbling shrill beak, then call me uncle (UNCLE!).

* I don’t know how to spell the name of this science and, after looking in the dictionary I’ve only come up with someone who puts braces on your teeth or a foot doctor. Why did they give us dyslexics a name for our disorder (don’t start on spelling and reading challenge… no PC need in this department) that none of us could spell? Why did my parents always answer, look it up in the dictionary, every time I asked them to help me spell a word? That’s like telling someone who is lost in the woods to use a compass, even though he has no idea where he is!

28 November, 2006

A Promise To Myself

I started writing this blog over a year ago. The initial reason I choose to become a blogger, and not just remain a reader of blogs, was through the influence of people like Will Richardson and David Warlick. They are educators, advisors, bloggers, writers, presenters and many more things as well. They made me realise the necessity of learning to talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to new Internet technologies, Web 2.0, or whatever you want to call it.

Here are four quotes, when put together, clarify my motivation to blog, create podcasts, make collages, do IMing, place comments, and Sype my way through the present day Internet.

David Warlick (2 Cents Worth)

“... certainly our children are natives and we (teachers and parents) are immigrants to the technical world.”

“Most of the kids in our classrooms today have absolutely no conscious recollection of the 20th century: the century that raised us (the teachers). For many of them the only connection that they have with the previous, the last century, is happening in their classroom. That’s where they’re supposed to be learning about their future!”

Will Richardson (Weblogg-ed)

“We teach teachers to teach, we don’t teach teachers to learn. Even in professional development, we teach them stuff they need to be better teachers, but do we give them the skills they need to be better learners?”

Ken Robinson (TED Talks 2006)

“… we must see our creative capacities for the richness they are, and see our children for the hope that they are.”

Kevin Kelly (TED Talks 2005)

“You can delay technology but you can’t kill it.”

As a parent of two children, I need to know they’ll receive proper supervision and guidance in the uses of digital media. Unfortunately, their education system does not think it is part of their responsibility as educators to help the children learn how to use this media creatively or constructively or, even, responsibly. So, as with other aspects of their upbringing, in part to compensate for the lacking of foresight of the education system, I set out on a journey a year or so ago to learn how to walk the walk of Web 2.0, as it were.

It was a very tentative start; I produced a few sound seeing tours for family and friends, created this blog and motivated some women friends to set up the Red Tent Blog. All of this was done, more or less, in semi-privacy (i.e. only friends and family knew the blog address). This is because I was shy, sceptical, and distinctly lacking in confidence; I didn’t think I could ever produce something of interests to others.

Participating in NaBloPoMo has sort of been a coming out of the closet for me as a blogger. I didn’t realise until now that there are complete strangers (still; who knows maybe that will change) out there interested enough in what I write to comment on the content. That is rather thrilling, isn’t it?

Since NaBloPoMo is over soon, I thought that I’d publicly state a promise I made to myself yesterday. This promise came to mind after attending an interesting seminar at our research institute on the psychology of Web 2.0 social networks. In particular, after reading this quote on one of the presentation transparencies:

A. Dix (source info later)

“Many people assume that because they can make information available on the web, they should. Unfortunately, because it is very easy to publish information, much less care is taken with the actual content.”

So, my promise to myself is, to pay an equal amount of attention to producing good and interesting content as I do to fiddling with all the new and free web gadgets.

27 November, 2006

Skipping Generations

If there is any one person in our family who has their life under control, it’s Nature Girl. Not something you would expect of an eleven year old, but it is true. She manages her school work on her own, she has a healthy and lively social life, she tells us how she feels, she makes her likes and dislikes noticeable, and, for heavens’ sake, she already bought all of her Christmas presents for family and friends. It’s not even December yet!

And, most surprisingly, to me, is the fact that she bought the gifts with her own money; saved from her weekly allowance (2 Euros/week) and babysitting money (noticeably more). Now, I don’t know what you were like as a kid or teenager, but I was not a Noble Soul, I would never have thought of spending my own money on Christmas gifts for others! Nooooo, any money that found it’s way into my wallet, was spent exclusively on my own person. And then, whoosh, something happens and I have two children who spend their money on themselves as well as others.

What a novel concept. Where does it come from? Could come from some distant relative I never had the pleasure to meet?

26 November, 2006

Prevention Is The Best Medicine

If prevention is the best medicine, why do I find it so difficult to effectively and consequentially introduce new changes into my day-to-day existence? Is it my particular difficulty, or do human beings in general find it difficult to live healthily?

When you think about it, we all know how. We know about healthy organic food, exercise, reducing stress, increasing the natural morphines in our brain (sorry, don’t remember what they are called), heart rate through aerobics, lowering our cholesterol, blood pressure, anti-toxins, anti-aging, … the list is endless. Basically, the health gurus, the women magazines, even Oprah can stop giving us any new information, because, when you come down to it, we reallyreally know everything there is to know about living well.

The one thing I don’t know is, and I hope I have some company here, how to actually change my daily health practices to reflect this vast wealth of knowledge and good intentions. In comparison to many folk, maybe I do live rather healthily, but I’m really not interested in comparison. What I’m talking about is conviction, consistency, and the faith to change fundamental practices (e.g. eating, sleeping, exercises, mediating) so they become an integral part of my lifestyle.

Some say tender loving care and others, iron discipline. I feel I have a good proportion of both in my personality. What is the ingredient I am missing? Gratitude, clarity, motivation, desperation…

25 November, 2006

The Red Tent Blog

About seventeen years ago, Mr. G., the head of human resources department, of the large German corporation I worked for, was asked to give a speech about “Women: Job Equality and Career Perspectives” at a prestigious meeting of business hotshots.

Since Mr. G. didn’t know anything about the topic, he sent out a questionnaire to all the professional women of the company and asked us our views or experiences concerning pay equality, possibility of promotion, work conditions in general, and working almost exclusively with men (it’s an engineering firm) in particular. The accounts returned made him blush, he told us at a later point in time, in their frankness. Basically, the women painted a very grim picture of what it was like to work in the company as a female engineer, computer scientist, etc. This did not stop him from going to the meeting and presenting glowing accounts about how the company he represents, a family company, is doing their very best to encourage women in the engineering profession.

To do him credit, the moment he returned from the meeting he offered the professional women in the company the opportunity of forming a professional women’s group. The group was to work out some viable solutions for problems related to women’s issues, such as lack of proper day care facilities, the right to extended periods of leave for women raising small children or caring for ill parents, lack of women in management positions, and networking. We were to act as advisories to the head of human resources department and the company union policy makers.

The group accomplished wonderful work for about six or seven years. We managed to make some fundamental changes in the company policies, as well as form a parent initiative day care and kindergarten, and change a few union policies. All in all they were exciting times, which made the group’s eventual demise, through internal bickering, a painful experience. Afterwards, I more or less decided not to get politically involved in women issues again. I felt that if I were ever to do anything at all, it would have to be on personal and understated level.

Then, about six years ago, I read the wonderful book, I Know Just What You Mean, The Power of Friendship in Women’s Lives, by Ellen Goodman and Patricia O’Brien. The story is about women friendships. The book is very well written, the ideas and thoughts behind the writing intriguing.

Sometime before or after reading I Know Just What You Mean, I read The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. An absolute must read.

The concept of women’s friendships being equally significant and powerful past and present, overwhelmed me. These two books inspired me to come up with a concept for a website, and outlines for a short film and play. Once done, unfortunately, I just put the documents away and hoped eventually Something would happen, which allowed me to realise my vision.

Red Tent Blog

Last year a few friends and I started our own virtual Red Tent. The idea behind it is to create a place for women to share their thoughts and experiences in a safe and welcoming atmosphere. We don’t have to be friends, just friendly, and curious to know about the challenges other women face in this day and age.

If you’d like to write a post entry please feel free. There is a Topic Of The Month page, but I don’t think any of the writers have necessarily kept to it. If you write something, just send the text to virtualredtent(AT)yahoo(dOt)com. At the moment the entries are in English and German, but we welcome other languages.

24 November, 2006

Trying Out New Things

I’ve wanted to try out some new things for a while now. So, knowing there’s never a better time than the present… TaTa!

This album is powered by

Ok, no great work of art, but it got me thinking about how some school art and language projects could be made interesting veryvery easily. Learning curve: instant (ok, if you’ve never used Flickr, could be 5 minutes), spontaneous combustion, easy, way easy. Have fun!

My Losing-The-Keys Gene

Oh, it’s just so discouraging; I’ve inherited my father’s losing-the-keys gene! I guess I knew this all along, but in the last years, by diligently, frantically trying to cover up this disability, I almost convinced myself it was not so.

You have to understand… My father was so predictably without-keys that the moment he announced it was “Time to go” and walked out the door in the direction of the car, the rest of the family would disperse themselves in different directions throughout the house in search of the car keys, house keys, boat keys, whatever. A few moments later my father would re-enter the house with a puzzled look on his face and announce the surprising fact that his keys were not in his bag. Gosh, do I miss him at times.

Yesterday though, after a trip to the post office I came back home and discovered that I lost my keys along the way. We are talking about a five-minute journey here. Fortunately, I managed to take a circular and convoluted, but ever so scenic, tour through many crowded city streets on the way there and back, thus guaranteeing the task of finding the keys impossible.

In a moment of complete honesty, I had to admit to myself, and to my husband (who neverever even momentarily misplaces his keys because he as an Ironclad System that he neverever wavers from), that I am a pathetic key-loser. Oh, what a sad and miserable thing this is. If only it was possible to add a tinsy tiny chromosome onto my losing-the-keys gene and thus render this fault of nature distinct.

When I mentioned this dream of mine to my ever so patient Limpet of Luebeck, he said that maybe it would be better just to invent a key-dispenser and hang it in the entrance hall wall. Sort of like the coin dispensers the bus drivers have. What do you think, could that work?

If you were able to magically change one or your boy-is-this-ever-annoying genes, which would it be?

23 November, 2006

End Of A Workweek

It’s been one of those difficult workdays. Nothing went right, except that it came to a thankful end.

The Last NaBloPoMo Stretch

By my reckoning we are on the last stretch of the NaBloPoMo project/contest. What an interesting experience it has been so far! I hope they will do it again next year. This time I’ll prepare better in respect to possible topics to write about and also by setting up a sign which says “Gone Fishing” for family and friends.
Basically, I feel as if I have been “away” in a very essential, hands-on way over the last three weeks. Mentally I ‘m on a creative vacation or perhaps an intensive workshop. Let me say to you, my dear ones, that I promise to start writing emails, making phone calls, dropping by for a cup of tea, as of December 1st.

So, what have I learnt the last three weeks? First, I’ve developed a blogger’s eye; I am constantly looking at people around me, or situations I’m experiencing, in context whether they will make a good blog entry. A blogger’s eye in much same as a camera eye. It can be a very interesting state of mind to move in, but it is a distraction to a living-the-moment philosophy.

Secondly, I’ve come to realise that the more I blog the more I like it. The more I like it, the more I want to try some new topics, create collages, and perhaps change the format of the entries (e.g. maybe I’ll try to do some interviews soon).

Thirdly, some of the technical changes I’ve been avoiding or procrastinating about doing (e.g. changing from blogger to word press, learning to use comic life, bubbleshare, and finetune) are now a high priority now.

Fourthly, and most importantly, I’ve discovered some new blogs and have contact with some bloggers and feel more a part of the blogsphere than I did before NaBloPoMo started.

I hope that the lessons learnt over the last weeks will qualitatively find their way in future blog entries. Maybe I will not be writing as frequently as I’d like, but at least I can strive to make each entry worth reading.

22 November, 2006

Homage To My Kitchen Office

In this month’s Brigitte Woman (for women over 40) magazine (in German) there is an article about women choosing to have room of their own: either as a place to go to work far from the intrusion of home life or a place to escape to from the stress at work or home. This reminded me of my treasured kitchen office cum writing atelier that I had a while back.

When the children were really small, I did my writing (scripts for women computer games) on the computer in our guest room. That worked out very well. Eventually, the children grew older and more mobile and Nomad Son moved into the guest room as a permanent resident. The fact that they could or did interrupt me all the time (now on the living room computer) made me feel very closed in creatively.

I yearned for a room of my own. My usually very patient, indulgent, and sympathetic husband (aka the Limpet of Luebeck) could not understand why I wanted to physically remove myself from the family to write. Hang up a sign, close the door, wait till the kids are in bed, it’s a luxury we can’t afford, were the arguments he used whenever I started on the topic of finding a writing atelier. And after arguing the matter over the years, I really wasn’t sure whether what I yearned for was to be physically separated from the family and in the womb of my own solitary room, or just permission to be emotionally distanced and intellectually removed from the banal draining day-to-day demands.

Fortunately, I found out the answer to that question and it is the physical distance and a solitary room I was yearning.

A good friend of mine, a management consultant and business coach, had an office in an old (1678) building with a sunny back courtyard. She offered to give me the use of a kitchen she had across from her office that she didn’t use. She didn’t have to ask me twice before I was moved into her kitchen in no time flat.

It was the most beautiful room: a monastery cell with a computer, a small stereo and a view onto the courtyard. I loved it. I worked tremendously hard and well there. No phone. No Internet. No communication with the outside world: except a cell phone for emergencies that only Limpet, Nomad Son, and Nature Girl knew the number of. Occasionally, my friend would come in to make a pot of tea in between her appointments. We’d chat about her work or my work and then, ping the water boiled, the cookies were finished and she’d gracefully retreat back into her office.

A few years later I discovered that I no longer needed the physical distance, for the children were old enough not to worry when I am intellectually removed; they knew I’d “come back” in a good and beholding mood once I had written what I needed to write. And, so I gave up my kitchen office.

While I had it though, it was heaven, my creative oasis. I can highly recommend such a retreat to anyone working from home or with young children. It doesn't really matter whether you want to work or just curl up and read a good book, we all deserve a bit of peace and quiet.

21 November, 2006

Slow Living II

The other day I was bemoaning the fact that we just don’t seem to have enough time to do all the things we so dearly like to do. For a year now, I’ve been trying to think of ways to slow down my life. I believe the trick to doing this lies in finding positive methods. Unfortunately, instead of doing this I often slow down only when I’m suffering stress-related illnesses. (Let me take this moment to thank my body for telling me in undeniable terms last year that slow living is the new route for me to take.)

I mentioned a few possibilities in the first post and then a reader sent me the suggestion of walking and bicycling everywhere.
Fortunately, since we live in a relatively small German city (215,000 pop.), do not own a car, and everywhere (schools, work, stores, friends’ homes) is in relatively close proximity, we cycle or walk everywhere. I forgot that walking or bicycling is, in many countries, not the norm or even possible. For instance, you read all the time how in L.A. they don’t have sidewalks or the city is a labyrinth of overpasses. I don’t know if this is true, but there must be something to the stories.

We live in an old (1894) building, divided into five apartments. The downstairs entrance area, where once the carriages and horses rode through, houses anywhere from twelve to fifteen bicycles; more bicycles per capita than children. Everyone in our building rides a bicycle to work and walks everywhere in town.

It is one of those nice things of living here and I’ll try not to take it for granted in the future. Oh, yes, walking and cycling are wonderful ways to slow down life.

P.S. Nature Girl shinned in her elocution yesterday. She came back home one happy girl.

20 November, 2006

Public Reading

Nature Girl just finished practicing reading a text passage out loud from Philip Ardagh’s book, House called Awful End (in German). She has to read it out loud in school today. Her sixth grade class is participating in the regional public reading contest. Which, eventually leads to the national contest.

Her father, an Italian immigrant, managed to make it to the national finals in his school days. It’s lovely to see how the tradition carries on.

I know they have spelling bees in the States (see recent films, here and here), but what I’d be interested to know is whether public reading contests, debate clubs, and spelling bees are still popular in other countries.

Originally, weeks ago, Nature Girl chose a passage out of the German translation of Margaret Atwood’s Princess Prunella and the Purple Plum fairytale. Nature Girl is an absolutely brilliant reader and she reads this particular piece beautifully. She practiced diligently for the last four weeks. Then she comes home on Friday in tears and tells me that she can’t possibly read the piece out loud because the guys in her class will mock her. The piece is too baby-like. Arrrrggghhh! Her friend, M., read out of a children’s book and the boys laughed when she was reading the text, even though the text wasn’t funny. (Oh, how I despise these mean and vindictive boys (it is always the same three boys in her class) who posses no talent but that of being able to mock bright and intelligent girls.)

So, it was Friday, and Nature Girl had two days to pick out a new text, practice it, and feel confident enough to shine on Monday. Talk about a drama (she is part Italian). I won’t go into the trials of our weekend. There were many tears of frustration (mine), defeat (hers), and, did I mention frustration (the whole family really) until a good alternative text was found.

I would like to express my thanks to Philip Ardagh and the translator, Harry Rowold, for writing such a wonderful series. The four books of this trilogy (go figure) are each in their own right brilliant. And even though it was difficult to decide which passage from which book, once done, Nature Girl did shine.

Cross your fingers that she will read well and feel she managed to do her best.

19 November, 2006

Beautiful Autumn Weather

It’s a sunny Sunday! What a lovely occurrence that is.

Just looked out our living room window and saw a group of homeless making their way to the cathedral around the corner from our place. The eleven o’clock mass is nearly over. When the congregation leave the church, the homeless are waiting with their hands held out asking for money. The first time I saw this I was rather surprised. I don’t know quite why; after all, the homeless are asking for Christian charity, something they’ve been doing for centuries. I wonder whether this also happens in front of churches in other countries.

I have to return my friend’s BBC Pride and Prejudice DVDs today. So, you guessed, I watched it again in its entirety yesterday. Even on second viewing it was a delight. Sigh! Colin Firth was (is?) very good looking, wasn’t he?

Have you ever noticed what a real test of manliness is to get dress up in the trousers of that time and not look disadvantaged? If you can look good in them, then you can really look good in anything. Wickam had terribly skinny spindly legs and no butt, and Mr. Darcy’s friend, Fitzwilliam, was quite hippy. And, rather disconcertingly, there were these odd dangling bits to be seen at times. I guess men didn’t wear jockstraps then. (Maybe it is the old ballet dancer in me who prefers everything a bit better packed.)

Sorry, it’s Sunday, must think of more sober things. Or do I mean spiritual? Whatever. So I will now spend an hour in thoughtful occupation and go take a long walk along the canal with a friend and breathe in the beauty of this fine autumn day.

18 November, 2006

Pick Up The Phone

Saturday morning has just arrived. Time to go to sleep. Time also to put in the collage I’ve been working on the last few hours into my blog. Topic of the collage doesn’t make any sense; it is just a patchwork of images. Doesn’t really have to work, does it?

Spent long hours talking to family and friends in far off places and in between I just dabbled with Photoshop. I think I have to go beyond the quiet meandering I’m doing at the moment. It’s time to study some good tutorials.

Have you ever noticed how far off places make communication sometimes difficult? My sis and I figured out that email doesn’t necessarily make the grade. Our laborious attempts to make ourselves understood in emails, or with skype (I’m still too self-conscious), or IM-ing, remain just that, laborious. None of these media work as efficiently as just picking-up-the-darn phone. Ironically, this is something we figured out at the beginning of the 90’s, yet we somehow have to figure it out fifteen years later.

P.S. Do you remember when email was separate from Internet services?

17 November, 2006

No Time

Time: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.

Does this definition make any sense to you? Do any of us know what time is? In the last years, I have the feeling that most of the people that I know, myself included, only know what No Time is and not what Time is. Which is odd when you consider how many expressions of time there exists:

Father Time, allotted time, available time, time used, need more time, a waste of time, doing time, the first time, a good time, a rough time, in time, time planned, scheduled time, timed to go off, perfectly timed, to be timed, about time, against time, ahead of time, ahead of one's time, all the time, at one time, at the same time, at a time, at times, before time, behind time, behind the times, for the time being, give someone the time of day, half the time, have no time for, in (less than) no time, in one's own good time, keep good (or bad) time, keep time, lose no time, no time, in no time, on one's own time, on time, out of time, ran out of time, pass the time of day, time after time, time and again, time and tide wait for no man, time immemorial, time is money, the time of one's life, time out of mind, time was, (only) time will tell, ahead of time, ahead of one's/its time, all the time, at one time, at the same time, at times, behind the times, for the time being, from time to time, in good time, in time, many a time, on time, time after time, ofttimes, spare time, free time, part time, full time, scheduled time of departure, estimated time of arrival (ETA)…

More and more we are living our lives with a sense of having absolutely No Time on our hands. Last year, I reread the delightful novel, A New Kind of Country, by Dorothy Gilman. It is the story of Dorothy, a middle-aged newly-divorced American suburban woman, who move up to a small village on the Canadian east coast to reassess her life and priorities. Somewhere in the book she contemplates this idea of time and writes a long rich list of words focusing on time.

In her list she used the word “spare time” and I registered a flash of mental recognition; in the sense of – I once knew what that word meant and even used it myself in normal conversation. But that was before I had Nomad Son sixteen years ago, the first of two children. Since then I don’t think I’ve used the words, spare time, once. Which is a shame.

As far as I can gather, this whole concept of having No Time has evolved in the last twenty years or so to a degree that is utterly idiotic. We all doing so much, working so hard and so many hours, running around like a chicken with its head cut of, burning the candle at both ends, desperately trying to meet deadlines, sleeping less, being stressed out, burnout... What message are we sending out to our children, family, and friends? Most likely, that we have no control over our time; we are not the masters of our time on this earth… pathetic really.

It takes courage to reflect upon your day-to-day existence: stand naked with all your mismanagement, disorganisation, false priorities, and unrealised resolutions. It takes courage to invest time and effort in learning to Live Slow.

We have to gather our inner resolve and go on the offensive. The first step towards claiming our time for ourselves is to stop saying expressions such as “Sorry, no time, I’m terribly busy, etc.”. There was a time when, “Sorry, I have no time” was considered a rude response. Did something change along the way? Has it really become socially acceptable to say such phrases?

The second step I’ve started to take is, what I call, the “Lower Your Standards” step. Don’t laugh. I am very serious! There are so many things that we feel we have to do, but in reality if they don’t get done, our world, or our family’s world, will not fall apart. So, given the choice of clearing up the messy hallway or chatting with Nature Girl (my daughter) or sharing a cup of tea with a friend, I tend to chat or drink tea. And I don’t stay up later that evening and clean up the hallway; which means our hallway is pretty messy all the time. Lower your standards.

The next step I am learning is the “Learn to say No” step. This is a hard one and I am nowhere near being able to do it, but I think it will be a great time saver. Don’t you?

Can you come up with other steps I could take in this journey towards living slow?

16 November, 2006

My Bad

Last week, during a meeting at a women’s club I belong to, I got my fingers slapped by the club president. Another member, who lives in Hamburg (over an hour away) sent out a general invitation saying, if anyone felt like it or had the time, she was giving a brunch the next weekend and she’d love to see us. I didn’t respond to the invitation because we get general invitations from various people or other clubs all the time; other than going to our monthly meetings, I am not interested in attending other activities.

It turned out that not directly responding to the invitation was a nono. During last week’s meeting, the president spoke sharply to us all (looking the whole time directly at me), basically saying the invitation warranted a response and “even a child would know better”. I reacted as I always try to when I make a mistake; I apologised and said I hoped it wouldn’t happen again. Then I dismissed the matter. The fact that the president was quite bitchy about the situation didn’t concern me; it was her problem after all.

Last night, a good friend of mine (who was not at the meeting) said another friend of ours (who was at the meeting) called her up and ranted on to her for two hours about a situation. It seems that this ranting friend assumed I hadn’t registered the insult and she was really upset at the president for using such bitchy tactics. This resulted in our ranting friend carrying around her upset for the last week and having to talk herself blue before letting it go. I am not sure what is more of a insult, the bitchy critique on the part of the president or my friend’s underestimation of my language competence.

P.S. I've just reread this story and it does seem wandering and convoluted.
P.P.S. After living and working in Germany for nearly 25 years, my German is fluent, though grammatically inaccurate. Unfortunately, my command of the English language has diminished abysmally over the years. Oh, how I wish it were not so!

15 November, 2006

Almost Halfway Point

Well, we are almost at the halfway point with the NaBloPoMo project/contest. I decided spontaneously to participate in NaBloPoMo because I hoped that an intense writing spurt might stir up new ideas and steer me away from just writing mundane uninspired entries in this blog.

It’s harder to blog than I originally expected it would be. I’d written a diary relatively regularly for upward of twenty years and I’d also written and read quite a few ship logs. When I heard about blogs, I thought it would be like writing a ship’s log with a personal flair.

My blogging experience has been more like living a day-to-day relationship than the above-mentioned mental exercise: it takes a lot of love, patience, kindness and tolerance. Those rare moments of lightness and effortlessness have to be wrestled out of the domestic tedium. I’m surprised at how effectively writing everyday is helping me to get the creative juices moving.

Yesterday, snoskred of Life In the Country wrote about (here) how she and her friend/partner, Sephy, are trying to go through as many of the NaBloPoMo blogs as possible and leaving behind comments. What a lovely idea this is. It’s a way of encouraging others as fellow shipmates and not competitors. I’m going to try and read through and comment on a few blogs as well.

14 November, 2006

Wonderful Trailer

Just saw this trailer to the movie The Painted Veil with Naomi Watts and Edward Norton in the main roles. What a fantastic trailer it is. Or can it be a good trailer to a fantastic film?

Certainly making good trailers is an art from in itself. I’ve seen good trailers for bad films: where all the noteworthy jokes are comprised into the trailer making the task of viewing the film superfluous. And, I vaguely remember seeing trailers that didn’t do the film justice. What I’d really like to know is which great films had great trailers?

Becoming Invisible

The other day I mentioned my mother’s theory of Mr. Wart-and-All. Now, I’d like to mention a phenomena my mother told me about growing old. She said, about the time she turned 60, she started to get the impression that she had become invisible. A special type of social invisibility: lack of notice, lack of inclusion, and lack of interest in her wellbeing by her fellowmen. When she walked down the street, people rarely looked at her; when standing behind a store counter, salespersons often ignored her; flight attendants began to give her looks of impatience or even a gesture of general rejection when she requested a drink; and, in particular, young doctors’ eyes spoke out blatantly “Well, what can you expect?” whenever she resited symptoms of an illness.

She felt the change didn’t so much have to do with the people themselves, but with a society that obviously finds elderly people unattractive, uninteresting, annoying, or financially undesirable. She said at first she was very annoyed at the fact, but as time went by, she just turned sad and discouraged.

I’d love to be able to tell you that she discovered a wonderful and useful method of attracting attention and is presently living happily ever after. No, this didn’t happen. Instead, the sadness and discouragement slowly wore away at her self-confidence. She resigned herself to the fact that other than people she knew, others didn’t acknowledge her existence, and then she started becoming invisible to herself. Now, fifteen years later, she doesn’t want to be photographed, she never ever looks in a mirror, and she does not welcome any attention or complement about her appearances.

This is a sad and discouraging development. And so I’ve been contemplating what sort of alternative strategies I can use in the years to come, which might produce another outcome. For instance, last week I stopped looking at younger women and concentrate instead on women my age or older. It’s amazing how much I’ve discovered in this short period of time. What “works” when it comes to being attractive and elegant and fashionable when you are older is accessories, accessories, and accessories.

If your glasses, shoes, purses, and scarves are (relatively) new, attractive, and elegant, then so are you. It’s not about age or figure, but more about presenting yourself authentically. Oh, I forgot haircuts. Go and get a haircut at a chic salon where you can count on them giving you a beautiful modern cut. Also, I saw some coats and jackets which were made with really interesting material, and not bought off the rack at the nearest department store. They made the women (and one man) very stylish looking.

My dearest wish, given the opportunity to grow old, would be to learn to experiment with my wardrobe. Something I haven’t managed to do up to now. So, I am going to adopt a you-never-know-until-you-try attitude, instead of a can’t-teach-old-dogs defeatism.

13 November, 2006

A Discredit To Womanliness

I spent the whole day watching the 1995 BBC TV mini series of Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Frith and Jennifer Ehle in the main roles of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. What a completely silly indulgence this was. And, oh, how I enjoyed it!

What I really enjoyed beyond Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle’s performances, the performances of nearly every other cast member, the costumes, the photography, the sets and locations, the dancing, the music… have I missed anything? What I enjoy beyond all these major artistic merits, is the fact that the only female actor who was a skinny was Mary Bennet a decidedly miserable, unattractive, doomed for spinsterhood, younger sister of Elizabeth. All of the other women in the series were nicely formed and nicely featured… young women possessing womanliness.

I do not want to do Keira Knightly any injustice, but her retched (Freudian slip, I mean wretched) skinniness should have disqualified her for the role of Elizabeth in last year’s movie production. It is as if a producer for historical movie about the famous Ethiopian long distance runners decided to cast Anthony Anderson for the part of Abebe Bikila.

The only women who were so thin in Jane Austin’s time were overworked, grossly undernourished, sick, or dying. No one during those times (and a majority of us in these times) would have found such a skinny person attractive.

When will Hollywood ever get it? If a woman’s rips are showing both from the front as well as the back, if her collar bones can act as ski jumps, if her hands are red from lack of circulation, the woman is not fashionably thin, she is sick and dying. And if she says she eats like a horse, don’t believe her; she’s lying. No matter how good these women are at acting, get them help, but don’t cast them in a role of an intelligent, feisty, womanly woman.

12 November, 2006

Mr. And Ms. Warts-And-All

Many women, in their middle-years, when looking in the mirror are often, unpleasantly, confronted with an aged stranger: their own bodies… Ms. Warts-And-All. Once confronted with this stranger, we look the other way: much in the manner of looking the other way in a bus when someone begins to rant and rave in an un-seemingly manner. Or we have a jerk- knee reaction in a cover-it-up-and-it-will-go-away sense. We cover up the grey hair with dye, our thinning hair with artificial curls, our sagging breasts with armoured bras, hide our expanding waistlines underneath long potato sack linen blouses, the list goes on.

When I mentioned this fact to a friend a few weeks ago, she said we have to learn to accommodate ourselves to our changing body. This notion of accommodating something or someone reminded me of something my mother told me many years ago.

My mother, now 77 years old, said, in her generation a woman married one man and then woke up in bed with another. The Canadian women of those days tended to marry their Prince Charming. Their Hero. Someone who promised to save them from being an old maid; swept them away from their restrictive parental homes; promised them that they would never have to go out and work; make babies with them; and basically assured them a happy and contented life.

Eventually though, they’d wake up one morning and there lying beside them was Mr. Warts-And-All instead of Prince Charming. Then they were faced with the task of getting to know and, hopefully, love this new person. Sometimes the women were lucky, sometimes not.

My mother said they learnt to “accommodate” themselves. She would say this as if I, a young single woman at the time, could understand what this meant. (I assumed it had something to do with sex, and, like most young women, did not want to think of my parents having sex, or any other middle-aged people either.) Now, thirty years later, I still don’t quite know what she meant with “accommodating”. Did it have to do with fitting in and compliancy or more with adaptability and willingness?

The children of these marriages were very conscious when their fathers, Mr. Wart-And-All, didn’t measured up in the eyes of their mothers. They made their resentment known about how their Prince Charming vanished and left an unwelcomed stranger behind.

And knowing this made me realise that I do not want Nomad Son or Nature Girl, and especially Nature Girl, to think that I carry any resentment towards my aging body. What I’d like is to learn is how to accommodate my new, evolving pre-, post-, right-in-the-midst-of-things menopausal body. Is it impossible for me to look at Ms. Wart-And-All and say, this is exactly as I would have it? For, no matter what type of body I might dream of having at this point in my life, I wouldn’t change one little detail of my being… it is a dear old, wise old, cranky old love of mine.

11 November, 2006

Growing Old Gracefully

Did you ever wonder why western society makes “growing old gracefully” a difficult task? If you ask practically any adult, whether young or old, what this expression means, they probably don’t have much positive to say. Which I find so odd, since the alternative, not having the opportunity to grow old, is such a daunting prospect.

Let me break down this commonly used expression a little:

Growing: grow into (result of a natural development), grow on (gradually become more appealing), grow up (advance to maturity, arise or develop)
Old: having lived for a long time, long-established or known
Gracefully: having or showing grace or elegance

Can you explain to me why we are doing everything (emotionally, physically, cosmetically, artificially) possible to avoid, prevent, or delay this journey? Isn’t this a great disservice to those people who have served society in general, raised families, and survived many decades of constant change?

No, I am not stupid. I know how difficult, arduous, painful, sad, tragic old age can/will be. Yet, does this excuse us from freely partaking on the journey? If you read any women’s magazines you would think aging naturally must be avoided at all costs.

It’s discouraging, with first page titles such as: “10 Tips to looking 10 Years younger”, “Today’s 40 is Yesteryear’s 20”, “Botox Brunch, the latest Hollywood Trend”. Or some such nonsense. Why shouldn’t a 50 year old want to look 50? And isn’t Botox considered the most poisonous naturally occurring substance in the world? (Wikipedia)

Over the lasts months, I’ve contemplated ways of creatively and constructively celebrating the transition from middle age into old age. I’m not quite sure what form this creative endeavour will take as yet.

Stay tuned…