27 February, 2006

Scrooges at this year’s Winter Carnival

I just witnessed the most delightful start to this year’s Winter Carnival. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the parade started off with the “Princess Carriage”, containing probably the most un-princess (translate as ugly) princess I have ever seen. Still, she was throwing out wonderful candy to the spectators, so I guess beggars can’t be choosers.

There was, as is so often the case in these provincial parades, a noticeable disparity between the level of regimental rigor on the part of the parade participants. Some manage just fine…

And others do not know the meaning of a straight line…

Yet, considering the minus ten degree (Celcius) weather, hats off to all.

The funniest scene I witness were the city workers (notice bright orange uniforms) grabbing up the candy from under the children’s noses who were standing nearby (can't see the children in the photo). The parade participators throw candy from the floats or from bags on their waists into the crowds. Initially, I thought the city workers were going to hand the candy they pickup up over to the children. But, no, they scooped the candy up and snuck it down the front of their coats. What a hoot. What a bunch of Scrooges! Still, it’s not as if children really need any more candy then they already have…

26 February, 2006

Sometimes a Gentleman, Sometimes a Bozo

Years ago, a friend of a friend explained how she was walking through Macy’s department store in NYC and she saw Richard Gere standing at a tie counter looking at some ties on display. She became so flustered at seeing him “Right Before My Eyes!” All she could think of was how desperately she wanted to find a way to make contact with him. On the spur of the moment, she decided on the Canadian Moose Maneuver, barged ahead, and literally rammed into him.

Now we are talking about a Big Gal here. I remember hearing that she played defense on a mixed basketball team. So, when she said she rammed Richard Gere, you have to think male moose during the mating season, not cute kid goat at his mother’s teat. Apparently, after the collision occurred, she breathlessly apologized to Richard Gere for bumping into him, and he said, “Not at all, the fault was all mine”.

Gosh, wasn’t that a graceful gesture on his part?

Then there was this article in the BBC news about Richard Gere accepting Havard University brass pudding award. To explain why he even came to pick up the award Mr. Gere said, "We're really all bozos on the bus. All of us, especially in this world and this country right now, when the biggest bozo on the bus is actually driving it."

Maybe he is not always the gentleman, yet he still manages to get things right.

25 February, 2006

The Red Tent Blog

Years ago, I read the book, “The Red Tent”, by Anita Diamant. Here’s a part of the Amazon’s book description:

The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider's look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah.

What I was most fascinated by in this book was the concept of women retreating collectively into a place for a few days each month; relinquishing their day-to-day duties and spending the days with other women in conversation and contemplation. The days, in my imagination, must have been spent giving voice to their opinions on a wide variety of topics, or medical or marriage advice, or telling stories about their personal remembrances or tribal history. After reading the book, I wrote up a concept for a web platform, a virtual red tent as it were. After discussing the project with a few women, who were full of ideas, but had no technical capabilities to offer, I gave up on the idea. I didn't want to be the sole motor in the project.

Yet, recently, I reconsidered (reread) my concept and I have the feeling the time is right to execute the project. Particularly because I have been both witness and (humble) participator in various new trends that are currently taking place on the Internet. They excite me in their technical simplicity, as in their extensive accessibility.

I have always believed that once the Internet underwent an evolution that transformed it from an information medium into a communication medium, as once happened with the telephone *, a revolution would occur. In this revolution the “small people of the world” will finally be given a voice. Politically, economically, socially, and in the world of media, there are definite indicators (I’ll try to find a few links at a later point in time) that we are at the cusp of this revolution.

So, I have talked to a few friends about setting up “The Red Tent Blog”. This will be a virtual meeting place for friends, friends-of-friends, or just interested women to exchange ideas, express opinions, give advice, recount past experiences, reflect upon lessons about how to survive or thrive present social or economical challenges.

Stay tuned. The gods willing, “The Red Tent Blog” will be launched May 8th 2006.

* My convoluted recollection about the development of the telephone goes as follows … The telephone was originally produced as a substitute for the telegraph because many of the post office employees could not decipher Morse code. It was the female post officers using the new telephone services, with their insatiable curiosity for news, and their talent for spreading gossip, that instigated the change from the telephone as a device to send news rather to talk to any person on the face of the earth. What would our world be without telephones!

24 February, 2006

Busy week. Busting heads.

Busy week. Busting heads. Bruised bladder. Begging for a return of balance.

Interesting pieces on the TED conference. One of my favourite bloggers (admittedly I do have a long list of them) is there and also writing a daily synopsis.

17 February, 2006

Discovering Berlin with Maria

Just to underscore Sara’s impression that her mother (that’s me) is always wanders around lost in the Big City (any city), Maria and I managed to make a simple excursion into the interior of Berlin into a true comedy of errors, mishap, and misdirection.

At one point we burst into uncontrollable laughter, suspecting we were part of some “hidden camera” program, because every person we asked directions from up to that point in time, gave us false or incomplete information. This included an employee of the subway company in a information kiosk, as well as a fellow passenger on a subway train we were thinking of taking.

After following the instructions we ended up, each time, juxtaposition away from where we were intending to go. The crazy thing was, each time we realised we were astray, we chose a new destination to go to; something that lay closer in proximity to our current position. Finally, after nearly five hours (I kid you not, though there was a break for lunch at a café inbetween) of erring, we finally entered our first museum. We did not go to the Hamburger Bahnhof- Museum of Modern Art, the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection, the House of Cultures, or the Pergamon Museum, as we intended. No, instead we visited the Ancient National Gallery, which never was on our wish list.

I would have resigned myself to a day of aimless wandering after the first hour or two, but Maria comes from Frankland, an area in Germany which breeds a more resolute we-can’t-possibly-give-up-now type of person. Thank heavens for that because the museum visit was absolutely delightful. My favourites were paintings from Renoir, Monet, and Max Beckmann.

I have never seen so many, and such a variety of, security guards, as there were in that museum. There we often two or three standing around in each tiny side-room.

The enjoyment of the visit was heightened by an excellent audio guide included in the price of the entrance ticket. At one point, as I was sitting on a bench listening to the audio guide explain some aspect of the painter's technique, I began to wonder what the audio guide would be like if bits of conversation from the security guards were dispersed between the audio recording sequences.

For example, if one security guard gossiped with another guard, telling him that the crazy art lover was over in room 4 was swaying in front of Casper David Friedrich’s, Gartenterasse, again. (This truly happened, not the security guard’s conversation, but the swaying/dancing art lover communing with the painting). I mean the security guards must have a million minuets to tell over the space of time. Then other museum visitors would forever associate Friedrich’s Gartenterasse, as I will, with the dancing observer.

The idea would be for the audio recording to draw the museum visitor’s attention not only to the historical details of the art exhibits, but also into their present environment. Does that make any sense?

16 February, 2006

Gal's Weekend

Off to Berlin for an extended gals' weekend away. Nothing planned! Just an inclination to enjoy, relax, laugh, eat well, look at art, sit in cafés, and people watch.

I love travelling. Most particularly, I love travelling on fast German trains. There is something about sitting on a fancy train that makes my mind boil over with ideas.

15 February, 2006


Just finished printing out my contribution in the family journal with the new layout. One hundred pages including text and one hundred graphics (photos and collages), what an audacious endeavour this has been? It’s beautiful. Oh, yes, it does look reallyreally fine. I still have to do the journal’s cover and the chapter inserts, but it is unbelievably satisfying to see the document in its present form.

There are still three more documents to rework into the new layout: my uncle’s, and two from my sisters. My sister, in Montreal, has agreed to scan in some photos of the “older” generation on our mother’s side of the family. These photos will go into my uncle’s wonderful document of his, his parents, and his grandparent’s family history.

12 February, 2006

Learning to Recieve

One of my favourite bloggers, Guy Kawasaki, wrote a blog entry with the title “How to Be a Mensch”. Though thoughtful and interesting, his ideas do tend to follow along the lines that a true mensch is someone who learns to give freely and generously, which is certainly a very admirable thing to practice. Yet, I don’t think the hardest lesson we have to learn about the precarious nature of our humanity is learning how to give, but rather learning how to receive. Especially, in times (e.g. life-threatening illness, war, famine) or in circumstances (e.g. a car accident, flood, snow storm) when we know at the very moment we are receiving, that we will never be able to give back, I believe that we feel what it is to be a mensch.

In North American or European societies, giving your time, money, charity, road directions, information, etc. to others, though often altruistic acts, presume that you can “afford” to give what you are giving. In a very subtle way, an act of giving is a demonstration of strength, and there are even people on this earth who feel superior when they give to those less fortunate. Sorry, wandering…

What I really wanted to say was that a true mensch is someone who knows how to receive, embrace even, the altruistic acts of others in a moment of personal need, even though they know that they might never be able to repay the gesture. We should ask ourselves not only what we have given but what we have received, and did we do it graciously.


About two years ago, I had the idea of writing a family journal for my children. Not a chronological history of my family, rather a whimsical storytelling tapestry of past incidents, present challenges, and future dreams. Since my children were born in Germany, and have extended family on the east coast and west coast of Canada, grandparents on two islands in the Caribbean and family in Sicily, Italy (to all the uninformed, don’t ask for details), most of whom have died in the last years or whom they have only met sporadically, it seemed like a good thing to write this journal so they could brush up on what sort of extended family they have, or had at a future point in time.

Then I had the idea of involving my siblings, their children, my mother, and my two uncles. Their homework was to contribute Anything (e.g. favourite recipe, family joke, interviews, etc.) to the project. Oddly, or perhaps not so, very few members of my extended family contributed to the project, even though they seemed very enthusiastic at the beginning.

Still, I finally decided not to wait any longer and set a deadline last fall for submitted material, and I have been working diligently trying to make the documents I did receive into some sort of well ordered document ever since. Not only are the writing styles very (understatement) different, I have a long document (approx. 60-70 pages) that is solely text, as well as another which consists of 18 photos of my sister’s embroidery work. Who would have thought that a nice layout would be such difficult thing to achieve? Though maybe the real challenge is trying to make a cohesive document which such a variety of content and writing styles.

I finally hit the bookstores last week to see what the experts have to say about document topography. I quickly became overwhelmed by the onslaught ideas from the “experts” who can not agree about even the most fundamental matters… So, I ended up buying one coffee-table-book about some family’s memoirs with a large selection of photos, which I liked, and I am using its layout as the layout on my own journal.

05 February, 2006

Fishing for Compliments

A rather hilarious situation occurred this morning. I received an email from a good friend in the States. She mentioned her daughter (perhaps eight or nine years old) has become very timid about doing things on her own, and shy about being in places or around people she does not know. Some of this has to do with all the “safety” talks she is getting at school, which scare her silly with their insidious perpetration of bogeyman mythology (material for a later blog post). The other part of her problem stems, in her daughter’s opinion, from a trip she took last summer with her father and younger sister to New York. She was so overwhelmed by the crowds and noise that she was unable to enjoy the trip, terrified that she might get lost.

I was formulating an email to this dear friend in the States, along the lines of “how do we teach our girls to become independent, confident, strong adventures”, when I remembered a trip I had taken with my daughter to London about a year and a half ago (she was nine years old at the time). I asked my daughter her opinion about what my friend’s daughter experienced when she was in New York in comparison to her (my daughter’s) experience in London. (My heavens, imagine us country pumpkins raising daughters who travel to NYC and London at such an early age? Sorry, digressing).

Back in London a year and a half ago… When we arrived at the airport, late evening, we had to take a long train ride into the centre of the city and then walk to my friends’ house, where we were going to stay. As we were waiting for the train to arrive at the airport station, my daughter began to cry because it was all so strange, there were so many people, and it was dark (way past her bedtime), and… it was all too much.

Trying to show her that she didn’t have to worry because, hey, she was with her mom and a world traveller to boot, we had a discussion, which didn’t really seem to help, but at least calmed her to the point that she stopped crying. By the end of the journey (five days later), she had had such a Good Time, that she said she wanted to move to London when she grew up and study there in the university. Boy, halleluiah, my girl the adventurer… I was so proud of her for making that giant leap of faith over just a few days, and so smug about my mothering/guiding abilities that I decided to forego the normal means of air travel back home to Germany, and flew home under my own wings instead.

So, you’re asking yourself, where this story is leading to? As well you might. We are back in the living room this morning. I am asking my daughter what happened during the trip which changed the adventure from being scary to being fun and something she wanted to go on forever. She contemplated the question for a few minutes. I was thinking she would say something along the lines of “you gave me such a feeling of security”, or maybe “together we can rip trees out of the ground, climb any mountains”… yes, fishing for compliments. Instead, she said, “I think it was because I realised that despite the fact that you were lost all the time, we always managed to get to where we wanted to go. You would ask all sort of people (strangers) for directions (admittedly I can’t read maps) and the people were so friendly, and so helpful, and we had such interesting conversations, that I realised being lost can be a lot of fun”. Talk about out of the mouths of babes. Gosh, I am so proud of my daughter, but I am not longer feeling the least smug. No, rather, I feel so humbled to have such a smart daughter.

01 February, 2006

Off to Visit one of my Favourite Teachers

Just about on my way to visit a teacher. Her class did a blogging/ podcasting project project, which has to be wrapped up.

I want to see whether I can interest another teacher at the school in a geography project, “Navigation over the last 300 Years”: from compass to GPS, from antique maps to smartphone navigation guide.

This is one of those schools which is suppose to be advanced in its pedagogical policies, but practically, the teachers don’t seem concerned about using digital media in classroom learning situations. They have a computer room in the school (Linux) and that is supposed to be enough.

The teachers I have dealt with do not see that their students have a great deficit when it comes to media literacy. Some of them are not even aware that there is a difference between media literacy and computer literacy. It’s an ongoing battle to make the teachers aware that they are responsible to teach their students in such a manner that the acquisition media literacy is intrinsic in their teaching methods (sorry very convoluted sentence).

I’m off to the school.