31 December, 2006
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.
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
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
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?
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
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
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.
23 December, 2006
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?
22 December, 2006
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.
21 December, 2006
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.
20 December, 2006
19 December, 2006
18 December, 2006
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.
17 December, 2006
16 December, 2006
15 December, 2006
14 December, 2006
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
13 December, 2006
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”.
12 December, 2006
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
10 December, 2006
09 December, 2006
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.
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
07 December, 2006
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
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
04 December, 2006
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.
03 December, 2006
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.
02 December, 2006
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
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.
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.