31 December, 2007

30 December, 2007

Language

A few weeks ago my daughter and I travelled down to visit friends in southern Germany. A train official in Hamburg was announcing the departures and arrivals of the trains every few minutes over the intercom system. At one point I turn to my daughter and ask her what other language the official is speaking besides German. In my ears, it sounded like Dutch, but I couldn’t figure out why the woman would be speaking Dutch.

My daughter looked over at me and rolled her eyes, “It’s English, mom.” How could the language be English if I didn’t understand a word of it? My daughter patiently explained that it was the type of English she is taught every day in school.

A friend of a friend’s daughter, who speaks perfect English at home with her British parents, apparently speaks German-school-English when she is in the classroom. “Tvinkel, tvinkel, leetil star…” her daughter sings at home, rehearsing for the Christmas concert. The girl’s mother runs out of the room suppressing a scream and laughter; she doesn’t know which.

Most, nearly all, English teachers in the schools are German. Some of them studied decades ago and have not immersed themselves in an English-speaking culture since. Some teachers, especially grade school teachers, teach English without being able to speak anything but the most rudimentary English. The school board introduced English into the grade schools without insuring proper instruction for the teachers.

The German train company and the grade schools should be commended for making an attempt to introduce English into their services. I shouldn’t laugh, but it is hard not to, when what comes out is undecipherable.

Yet, the train officials and grade school teachers should be commended; for they’ve been given a task they have no qualification for. Can you imagine being asked to read out a text in a foreign language, whose pronunciation you do not know? Daunting. Do the officials and teachers accepting this task do so because they have very little inhibitions, or do they overestimate their knowledge of the language, or do they just hope that practice will make perfect?

29 December, 2007

Trust: One Word, One Mission

oldwatch02

Christine Kane wrote an interesting blog post called, “Resolution Revolution: A Better Way to Start Your Year”. In brief, she feels setting up a list of New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t work in the long run. Something most of us suspect is true.

Instead, she suggests that we choose a word to guide us through the year. This word is then our focus and we can take the year to explore the endless possible meanings.

My word for this upcoming year is trust. I am going to reflect, contemplate, and meditate upon the meaning of trust. I wish to find out where or when I lost my trust in myself: especially, the loss of confidence in and reliance on my ability to meet life’s challenges. I plan to read, write, dance, do yoga, laugh, cry, dispute, and discuss about what trust is and rediscover that jewel my spirit once possessed.

28 December, 2007

On This Dark Winter Morning

mosiac

On this dark winter morning, I drink a cup of tea while looking out at the bare city street. Occasionally, a bus passes: lit up in side, with only a few passengers huddled down in the corners.

Now is time. To pack my bag for a day trip up north. To shower. To leave with an empty stomach on this full adventure.

26 December, 2007

Days Of Quiet Occupation



The last week or so I've been working on the following yoga collages. This is in preparation for WoYoPracMo. I've also been doing some yoga at home. First time in years. I am exploring why it is that I can amass so much knowledge and translate it into so little action.

Piece of Art

graffitti_bicycle

My daughter bought a secondhand bicycle and decorated it herself. It was one of the first projects she did on her own from start to finish.

25 December, 2007

24 December, 2007

Cartoons With A Bite

My son just sent me a link to the site of the United Nations Correspondents Association Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Awards. If you like cartoons with a bite, please do look at the winners of the last three years.

My favourites are,

In 2005,

(larger format)
By David Pope
http://lurieunaward.com/2ndplace_2005.htm

In 2006,

(larger format)
By Jeff Stahler


http://lurieunaward.com/cfe3_2006.htm

And, in 2007,

(larger format)
By Christo Komarnitski

23 December, 2007

Merry Christmas One And All



Merry Christmas one and all. For those who are celebrating alone, please know there are many with you in spirit. For those celebrating in the bosoms of family, embrace the good and appreciate the craziness of them all.

22 December, 2007

Clearing Out My Meme Cupboard

Before the holiday madness hits full throttle, I would like to clear out my meme cupboard (sorry about mixing up my metaphors). I’ve been tagged by a delightful trio of bloggers (Charlotte, Susanne, and Nola). I would like to answer them and be meme-free into the New Year.

So with no more ado:

Charlotte’s meme

List one fact, word or tidbit that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your first or middle name. You can theme it to your blog or make it general. Then tag one person for each letter of your name.

L: Lackadaisical… when it comes to housework, remembering birthdays of family and friends, respecting bureaucratic formalities, and visiting the dentist regularly.

I: Ingenious… when it comes to finding time to sit in a café, optimising the amount of holidays I get in a year, and finding ways to avoid or make excuses about all the items mentioned in L.

A: Ambitious… when it comes to the amount of time and money I am willing to spend on travels, in my efforts to keep friendships alive and lively, and, unfortunately, the amount of work I plan to finish in a day, but very rarely succeed at.

To put a twist on this tagging thing, I tag back Charlotte, Susanne, and Nola with any of the memes in this post.

Susanne’s meme

These are the following rules:

Link to your tagger, and also post these rules on your blog (done).
Share 7 facts about yourself (random or weird) on your blog.
Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs (skip).
Let them know they are TAGGED by leaving a comment on their blog (skip).

  1. I’ve only ever been to one pop concert in my life. Cat Stevens. Montreal in the 70s. Before he defected from the pop music industry.

  2. I once rode six hours to a jazz concert in the States from Montreal. Keith Jarret. He played on some amazing private mansion terrace overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Keith got quite spooked by the bees, but, he played magnificently.

  3. I have no sense of direction. I can’t navigate myself out of a tunnel. This fact quenched all fantasies I had of becoming a captain of my own boat.

  4. My one big party trick used to be taking a match out of a matchbox and lighting it… with my toes. (I studied electrical engineering. In my days, engineering students had low standards about what was considered entertainment.)

  5. I’ve had more botched surgeries and medical procedures than any human being should suffer. It started with a botched operation when removing a birthmark on my arm as a child and has continued over the years up to the birth of my daughter by caesarean. These dramatic difficulties mean that any time I’m in an operating room waiting for the anaesthetist, I shake uncontrollably throughout my whole body, even though I appear calm and rational in my speech.

  6. I have been a vegetarian since I was a teenager and a ballet dancer. I stopped eating meat because I couldn’t afford to eat it: neither the costs nor the calories. I feel like such a hypocrite because, at least in Germany, most vegetarians are such out of political conviction. I’m not.

  7. I have this great talent for loosing my wallet and having people return it, with all the credit cards and money in it. Thus I have learned the art of being honest and reaching out a helping hand to strangers. Today, a large department store delivered our Christmas groceries and they delivered an extra case of soft drinks that I didn’t pay for. My family’s and mother-in-law’s reactions were “free present”. My reaction was, next time I go to the department store I will pay for the case of soft drinks. For, I know there is someone Divine Being leaning over their cosmic balcony looking down on me tonight saying, “What’s she going to do with this one?” What goes around comes around, or whatever the expression is.

Nola’s meme

Here are the details:

1. Mention the person who tagged you and create a link back to them (done).
2. Copy-paste the traits for all the twelve months (see below).
3. Pick your month of birth (see below).
4. Highlight the traits that apply to you.
5. Tag 12 people and let them know by visiting their blogs and leaving a comment for them (going to skip this one).
6. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve done it (done).

My birth month is AUGUST and in bold are the attributes that fit me:

AUGUST: Loves to joke. Attractive. Suave and caring. Brave and fearless. Firm and has leadership qualities. Knows how to console others. Too generous and egoistic. Takes high pride in oneself. Thirsty for praises. Extraordinary spirit. Easily angered. Angry when provoked. Easily jealous. Observant. Careful and cautious. Thinks quickly. Independent thoughts. Loves to lead and to be led. Loves to dream. Talented in the arts, music and defense. Sensitive but not petty. Poor resistance against illnesses. Learns to relax. Hasty and trusty. Romantic. Loving and caring. Loves to make friends.

Well, that's it. Swish. Swish. I wash my hands of them. Feel rather virtuous at the moment. Time to go and clean up my google reader list of unread posts...

JANUARY: Stubborn and hard-hearted. Ambitious and serious. Loves to teach and be taught. Always looking at people’s flaws and weaknesses. Likes to criticize. Hardworking and productive. Smart, neat and organized. Sensitive and has deep thoughts. Knows how to make others happy. Quiet unless excited or tensed. Rather reserved. Highly attentive. Resistant to illnesses but prone to colds. Romantic but has difficulties expressing love. Loves children. Loyal. Has great social abilities yet easily jealous. Very stubborn and money cautious.

FEBRUARY: Abstract thoughts. Loves reality and abstract. Intelligent and clever. Changing personality. Attractive. Sexy. Temperamental. Quiet, shy and humble. Honest and loyal. Determined to reach goals. Loves freedom. Rebellious when restricted. Loves aggressiveness. Too sensitive and easily hurt. Gets angry really easily but does not show it. Dislikes unnecessary things. Loves making friends but rarely shows it. Daring and stubborn. Ambitious. Realizes dreams and hopes. Sharp. Loves entertainment and leisure. Romantic on the inside not outside. Superstitious and ludicrous. Spendthrift. Tries to learn to show emotions.

MARCH: Attractive personality. Sexy. Affectionate. Shy and reserved. Secretive. Naturally honest, generous and sympathetic. Loves peace and serenity. Sensitive to others. Loves to serve others. Easily angered. Trustworthy. Appreciative and returns kindness. Observant and assesses others. Revengeful. Loves to dream and fantasize. Loves traveling. Loves attention. Hasty decisions in choosing partners. Loves home decors. Musically talented. Loves special things. Moody.

APRIL: Active and dynamic. Decisive and hasty but tends to regret. Attractive and affectionate to oneself. Strong mentality. Loves attention. Diplomatic. Consoling, friendly and solves people’s problems. Brave and fearless. Adventurous. Loving and caring. Suave and generous. Emotional. Aggressive. Hasty. Good memory. Moving. Motivates oneself and others. Sickness usually of the head and chest. Sexy in a way that only their lover can see.

MAY: Stubborn and hard-hearted. Strong-willed and highly motivated. Sharp thoughts. Easily angered. Attracts others and loves attention. Deep feelings. Beautiful physically and mentally. Firm Standpoint. Needs no motivation. Easily consoled. Systematic (left brain). Loves to dream. Strong clairvoyance. Understanding. Sickness usually in the ear and neck. Good imagination. Good physical. Weak breathing. Loves literature and the arts. Loves traveling. Dislike being at home. Restless. Not having many children. Hardworking. High spirited. Spendthrift.

JUNE: Thinks far with vision. Easily influenced by kindness. Polite and soft-spoken. Having ideas. Sensitive. Active mind. Hesitating, tends to delay. Choosy and always wants the best. Temperamental. Funny and humorous. Loves to joke. Good debating skills. Talkative. Daydreamer. Friendly. Knows how to make friends. Able to show character. Easily hurt. Prone to getting colds. Loves to dress up. Easily bored. Fussy. Seldom shows emotions. Takes time to recover when hurt. Brand conscious. Executive. Stubborn.

JULY: Fun to be with. Secretive. Difficult to fathom and to be understood. Quiet unless excited or tensed. Takes pride in oneself. Has reputation. Easily consoled. Honest. Concerned about people’s feelings. Tactful. Friendly. Approachable. Emotional temperamental and unpredictable. Moody and easily hurt. Witty and sparkly. Not revengeful. Forgiving but never forgets. Dislikes nonsensical and unnecessary things. Guides others physically and mentally. Sensitive and forms impressions carefully. Caring and loving. Treats others equally. Strong sense of sympathy. Wary and sharp. Judges people through observations. Hardworking. No difficulties in studying. Loves to be alone. Always broods about the past and the old friends. Likes to be quiet. Homely person. Waits for friends. Never looks for friends. Not aggressive unless provoked. Prone to having stomach and dieting problems. Loves to be loved. Easily hurt but takes long to recover.

AUGUST: Loves to joke. Attractive. Suave and caring. Brave and fearless. Firm and has leadership qualities. Knows how to console others. Too generous and egoistic. Takes high pride in oneself. Thirsty for praises. Extraordinary spirit. Easily angered. Angry when provoked. Easily jealous. Observant. Careful and cautious. Thinks quickly. Independent thoughts. Loves to lead and to be led. Loves to dream. Talented in the arts, music and defense. Sensitive but not petty. Poor resistance against illnesses. Learns to relax. Hasty and trusty. Romantic. Loving and caring. Loves to make friends.

SEPTEMBER: Suave and compromising. Careful, cautious and organized. Likes to point out people’s mistakes. Likes to criticize. Stubborn. Quiet but able to talk well. Calm and cool. Kind and sympathetic. Concerned and detailed. Loyal but not always honest. Does work well. Very confident. Sensitive. Good memory. Clever and knowledgeable. Loves to look for information. Must control oneself when criticizing. Able to motivate oneself. Understanding. Fun to be around. Secretive. Loves leisure and traveling. Hardly shows emotions. Tends to bottle up feelings. Very choosy, especially in relationships. Systematic.

OCTOBER: Loves to chat. Loves those who loves them. Loves to take things at the center. Inner and physical beauty. Lies but doesn’t pretend. Gets angry often. Treats friends importantly. Always making friends. Easily hurt but recovers easily. Daydreamer. Opinionated. Does not care of what others think. Emotional. Decisive. Strong clairvoyance. Loves to travel, the arts and literature. Touchy and easily jealous. Concerned. Loves outdoors. Just and fair. Spendthrift. Easily influenced. Easily loses confidence. Loves children.

NOVEMBER: Has a lot of ideas. Difficult to fathom. Thinks forward. Unique and brilliant. Extraordinary ideas. Sharp thinking. Fine and strong clairvoyance. Can become good doctors. Dynamic in personality. Secretive. Inquisitive. Knows how to dig secrets. Always thinking. Less talkative but amiable. Brave and generous. Patient. Stubborn and hard-hearted. If there is a will, there is a way. Determined. Never give up. Hardly becomes angry unless provoked. Loves to be alone. Thinks differently from others. Sharp-minded. Motivates oneself. Does not appreciate praises. High-spirited. Well-built and tough. Deep love and emotions. Romantic. Uncertain in relationships. Homely. Hardworking. High abilities. Trustworthy. Honest and keeps secrets. Not able to control emotions. Unpredictable.

DECEMBER: Loyal and generous. Sexy. Patriotic. Active in games and interactions. Impatient and hasty. Ambitious. Influential in organizations. Fun to be with. Loves to socialize. Loves praises. Loves attention. Loves to be loved. Honest and trustworthy. Not pretending. Short tempered. Changing personality. Not egotistic. Take high pride in oneself. Hates restrictions. Loves to joke. Good sense of humor. Logical.

21 December, 2007

Craziness All Around

yoga07psd

There is a craziness all around. My friends have all gone crazy. One is giving a year's worth of parties in one week's time. Another is going off on summer vacations (NZ) with a camper full of teenagers (yeak!). Numerous others are working against the clock in Scrooge's office, trying to get the impossible done before being let out to celebrate Christmas with their families.

So, I am off to do some yoga and then, and only then, will I throw myself into the masses of other crazy consumers valiantly trying to do last minute shopping. Wish me luck. If you don't hear from me tomorrow, I got lost under the shopping crowds.

20 December, 2007

Really, I am not a baker

As some of you know, I am not a baker. Most Germans are.

A few evenings ago, a friend reminded me of an episode where I exposed my ineptitude for baking before my son’s entire 3rd grade class.

His teacher asked whether I could come and help her and the children bake traditional Christmas cookies. I hinted to her that I was “not much of a baker”, which I hoped would translate as “not at all”, but she interpreted my message as “I’m a whiz, but a modest one”.

On the appointed day, she leaves me with a group of boys, a table of “stuff” and a recipe, a very complicated recipe, for making Lebkuchen. These are spectacularly delicious spice cookies covered in chocolate icing; a specialty from Nuremberg.

The boys and I struggled valiantly with the recipe, while all the other children, under the supervision of their teacher, produced one cookie rack after another of cinnamon stars, oatmeal crisps, almond-sliver vanilla trees… on and on and on…

The cookies racks were stacked high, waiting for their chance to go into the oven. This was somewhat discouraging for my guys. We were obviously not keeping up with the others. The more cookies the others produced, the more hectic the efforts at my table became, and the more ruffled I got under the collar (sorry, I can’t remember the correct form of this expression).

The boys sensed I was about to sink into a mire of a baking defeat. So, they rallied together and managed to make up two cookie racks of Lebkuchen blobs. The teacher came over to see at how we were doing. She expressed surprise at the (lack of) form and consistency of the unbaked cookies.

I assured her that once we put the icing on the cookies and put them in the oven to bake, they would come out perfect. The teacher looked at me and dryly replied, “It sounds as if you are hoping for a Christmas miracle. Here’s a tip; icing goes on after the cookies come out of the oven, not before.”

Here’s
a wonderful story, Shame of the Snowman, written by Rebecca Front in the in the Guardian today.

19 December, 2007

Public Decorum

One of the things visitors to Germany remark about is the fact that Germans don’t mind their own business in public. They do not shy away from telling you, a complete stranger, what they think about your behaviour, right to your face. For example, if you, as a pedestrian, happen to cross the street on a red light, or walk on a bicycle path, you are bound to get a subtle, or not so subtle, lecture on your lack of public decorum.

If you cross on a red light, you are being a bad example for children. Even if there are no children in sight as you run across the red light to catch your bus… here, they believe that children the whole world over will know you are a jaywalker.

Bicycle paths are often indistinguishable from the pedestrian side of the sidewalks. Left-hand-side of the sidewalk is a bicycle path. Right-hand-side is for pedestrians. In between, a white line. Simple. Equally, it is simple to step over from one side to another. Eah gawds! You run the risk of both cyclists and pedestrians taking you to task for doing this.

This paying attention to your fellow persons’ deed or misdeeds also has a flipside. To illustrate this I’d like to tell two stories. The first story occurs one evening as a friend and I are walking.

It’s late. It’s a Friday. We are walking along the road down on the harbour. We have on our woolen hats, winter jackets, and neon safety vests. (Am I hearing you comment, “How sexy?”) A muscle car from out of town, full of young men pulls up next to us. The passenger in the front rolls down his window and proceeds to ask us for directions to get to a certain disco. My friend gives them the instructions and off they go.

I told my friend that that situation would probably not happen in too many other countries. She looked at me puzzled; a group of young men asking two middle-aged women for road instructions; two middle-aged women giving instructions to a car full of young men along a dark harbour road.

The second story occurred last week. It’s night-time again. As I’m coming home, yes, once again from an evening’s walk. I notice an elderly woman slumped on a public bench near our apartment building surrounded by an elderly man (her husband) and three young women. One of the young women is holding the slumping woman’s hand. Rubbing it back and forth, while talking to the elderly man.

I walk up to the group and ask if I can be of any assistance. The woman has fainted. The group of three women stopped to help the couple. They’ve just called the ambulance. I go upstairs and get a blanket for the woman. Another pedestrian, a medical student, stops and offers his assistance. The ambulance comes. The medical student helps them and the husband get their patient into the warm ambulance. The three women go off on their night-on-the-town. I take the blanket back upstairs.

What I am trying to illustrate is how not minding your business is a good thing when it comes to living in a civilised society. Yes, it can be irritating when someone yells after you “Don’t cross on a red light. Think of the children”, but it can be ever so comforting have someone hold your hand when you are need.

Later...

As fate would have it, I watched this excellent TED Talk video a few hours after posting this article. Please take the time listen to Daniel Goleman talk about being a Good Samaritan. It is interesting that the two stories I mentioned above occurred while walking. This would support his premise that we need time to look at others in need.

P.S. I no longer run across the street on a red light. Because, as every mother knows, children posses a canny sense of knowing if their mother is a jaywalker or not.

18 December, 2007

Yoga Story

A year ago, a dear friend of mine gifted me a year’s subscription for a yoga course. It was a very generous gift motivated by the knowledge that 2007 would bring various trails.

The foremost being unemployment. My friend believe the best way to combat the ensuing strain would be through yoga, thus her generous gift.
Ying and yang
Slideshow of my recent yoga collages

I found a yoga teacher who I absolutely adore. She is also a ballet teacher and dance therapist. Her yoga courses are a joy to take. They are helping me to discover (and learn to accept) this changing menopausal body of mine.

As a form of recognition to my dear friend’s gift and my dear teacher’s efforts to communicate her love of yoga, I’ve decided to participate in Yogamum’s world yoga practice month event (woyopramo) in January.

The goal is to practice yoga every day in January at home. This is something I have considered doing for years now, though it has not translated into practice. Now, is the time to do so.

17 December, 2007

Pedestrians Walking By



One of the café I like to visit (it is the only non-smoking café that I know of) has this wide stripe of murky glass along the length of the glass front. This is probably to give the people sitting in the café the illusion of privacy, while offering the maximum of light.

For those of us who are people watchers, we only get a glance of pedestrians walking by from the waist down. It’s actually very entertaining, and smoothing, in a surrealistic way.

I spent all of yesterday working and reworking this photo slideshow, so please take a look and tell me whether or not it shows the appeal of looking the bottom-halves of people.

16 December, 2007

Dream

xmas_downsouthpsd

Dreaming of Christmas in Grenada.

15 December, 2007

Scenery

scenery

My grandparents lived on a river outside of a small town called Oxford Mills, Ontario. The riverside scenery was much like this collage.

14 December, 2007

Crazy World

ducks
Today, I was walking down the street and I saw a businessman coming towards me talking to himself. He looked agitated: gesturing with his hands, talking loudly and then softly. My body tensed up a little. I was considering crossing the street. Then I saw that he was talking into a small Bluetooth mobile telephone earpiece.

As he passed, I was really tempted to say, “You know what, you do not look cool. You look like a bloody idjut!”

Coincidentally, I had just passed another fellow earlier on, who was in that “Hello car. Hello bicyclist. Hello streetlight! I wish to pass on my joy and hilarity to you!” phase of inebriation. And, except for the sway to drunken fellow’s waddle, he looked exactly like the businessman with his Bluetooth earpiece.

I wish that I could have filmed both of these fellows and superimposed the sequences of them walking down the street side-by-side.

Isn’t it a crazy world where people feel no inhibitions about walking down the street having a one-sided conversation with the voices in their heads or earpieces?

Note: my daughter response to this story, “It isn’t cool to use an earpiece, but it is modern.”

13 December, 2007

Breakfast Atheist

breakfast toast

What is the most important meal of the day? Breakfast. This is something everyone knows. What is my least favourite meal of the day? Don’t even have to think about it. No weighing in. It is… breakfast.

I keep hoping that by some marvel, a scientific study or religious dogma somewhere in the world will prove that breakfast is a thoroughly unnecessary event.

You might say, “That will never happen”, but just think about red wine, coffee, bitter chocolate, tea, eggs, etc. Think about how many “unhealthy” things have been proven not only delectable, but they are even good for our wellbeing. And, than think about how so many “healthy” things have come under severe critique: carrots, spinach, mushrooms, etc.

I know it is a lot to ask, but how can breakfast be so important when it means eating before I am hungry, and eating substance that are often contain masses of sugar and gelatine, or they are sugar-coated (most cereals) or taste like sawdust (the other sorts of cereals)?

This video show what my inner feelings about matters concerning the importance of eating breakfast are.

12 December, 2007

Walking

road

My paternal grandfather was a walker. He and my grandmother lived out in the country, where there were no sidewalks, no asphalt roads. Yet, he would go out for a long walk every day. I wish I had gone out with him on those walks. I was too young and too blind to the pleasures of walking at that time.

He did ask us to go with him, but never appeared disappointed when we didn’t go. He did not try to make these walks attractive to us. When asked what he “did” during his walks, he dryly answered, “walk”. The concept that there wasn’t some alternative motive, or sideline activity, or calculable benefit, made walking seem a very boring thing to do.

It was only when I was away at university, after my grandfather had died, that I started going out walking on stormy nights with one or another of my friends. The setting fit my (then) need for the dramatic. The stormy weather also guaranteed that we were the only ones out in the streets or wandering through the parks. Our solitary aimless wanderings were filled with speculation, philosophy, and stories of our past. Sometimes, we just bitched about the day-to-day worries.

It took coming to Germany to learn the joys of walking in good weather. There are pathways along canals, sidewalks throughout every city, town or village, and quiet country roads begging for walkers. Like my grandfather, I do ask if anyone wishes to come along on a walk. If they say no, I’m not disappointed because “walking” doesn’t need company. It doesn’t exclude it, but it doesn’t require it either.

11 December, 2007

10 December, 2007

Seven Things Meme

Shannon from ZoKai tagged me to do the meme asking for a list of seven things most people don't know about me. Since it is the holiday season, I’ve decided to write seven things that happened at this time of year.

  1. When I was a young girl of six or so, I was a compulsive liar. The only way to “wipe the slate clean” was to go to confession. The problem was, our local priest insisted on numbers: I used the Lord’s name in vain 10 times sort of thing. Since I lied in confession about how often I had lied during the week, I figured the slate of my soul was blurry but not clean. It was only when I realised (imagined) that God would be talking to Santa Claus about “naughty and nice” that I swore off lying altogether. Life is just too complicated otherwise.

  2. I spent most of my Christmases as a teenager dancing in the Nutcracker ballet in Montreal. We started rehearsing the ballet in September and started preforming a week before Christmas right through the holidays. As a result I am a Scrooge about the Nutcracker. When anyone ever mentions the ballet, if I ever hear the music, I want to shout out, “Bah Humbug”, or something must less Victorian.

  3. The moment I “grew up”, I more or less discarded Christmas. I spent Christmas either alone at my parents’ place in Grenada (they were in Montreal with the rest of the family), or alone in my apartment in Germany. I found a way of riding under the radar of feeling obliged to accept invitations of family and friends. Instead, I spent blissfully special days indulging in celebratory solitary pursuits.

  4. One of those Christmases in Grenada, Spike Lee wanted to rent my parents’ house. I was really excited about it; figuring I could at least drop by, as the house owner’s daughter, and ask if everything was to their liking. My mother decided against renting the house out because she confused Mr. Lee (and family) with some wild Hollywood types. She had images of wild parties and people falling off the cliff that their house sits upon.

  5. If there is one thing that pleases me like punch, it is the fact that my two children are humble in their wishes (expectations) for Christmas presents. They actually put down titles of books and items of clothing on their lists. Those things would have never found their way on my Santa Claus wish list when I was a child: clothing, books, and practical things were non-qualifiers.

  6. I cannot get through any school concert or Christmas concert without crying. Even though I am not a member of any church, I find the music indescribably touching.

  7. My favourite New Year’s Eves are spent quietly. Part of this is because I believe it is beautiful to spend this day in reflection and meditation. And partly, this is because I dislike alcohol-induced hilarity.

09 December, 2007

Mario

Mario owns a restaurant around the corner from where we live. It is a restaurant par excellence. One of the best in the city.

Mario is a very temperamental Italian, living and working in this cool northern German climate. Mario is either sun or storm. Northern Germans emotional climate changes range from a refreshing drizzle to relentless rain.

Mario loves making excellent food. He cooks for northern customers southern delights. What he ask for in return, is for those who eat at the restaurant to be seduced by good food and drink.

As long as you come to the restaurant for the food, and not for its reputation of being one of the best restaurants in the city, all is well. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, how much money you have, Mario is only concerned about your taste buds: how curious and adventurous your culinary Geist is. He can detect a connoisseur ten yards away, a fraud from twenty yards.

And, Mario being Mario, never one to make compromises, thinks nothing of subtly and not so subtly, letting his customers know which category they belong to.

With those customers of discriminating tastes, he jokes and charms his way into your heart and belly. He tells tales about looking far-and-wide for this evening’s meat, searching for the freshly picked strawberries served with the to-die-for mascapone sauce. The more you enjoy your meal, the happier Mario is. He doesn’t talk much. He certainly never fawns over you. Yet, his gait becomes light: he almost dances back and forth between your table and the kitchen.

He watches the expression on your face, the attention you give to the food, the lingering over the wine… this is the praise he seeks.

08 December, 2007

Cold Winter Day

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Snuggling down in my bed. Nurturing a terrible cold and a case of acute disappointment for having to cancel this week's journey to southern Germany to visit friends. Prickles of frosted slivers cover my thoughts. My fantasy to wanders through a winter's landscape. A hot ginger drink to clear my brain.

07 December, 2007

It’s Christmas!

Christmas came early this year. I just came back from the university with a new two-year research project contract under my arm! The project will concern schools (grade 1-13) use (or lack thereof) of digital technology. I couldn’t be happier.

The company who funded the last project has kindly agreed to finance a new project. Something they usually do not do, for there are many people standing in the lines needing funding for social, cultural, educational projects.

06 December, 2007

Happy St. Nikolas

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Today is one of the first official Christmas celebrations in Germany. The children put their polished boots outside their front doors last night. This morning, the boots are filled to bursting with candies, chocolates, mandarins, and cookies.

In our household, both Mr. and Mrs. St. Nikolas arrived to shower the children with sweets.

Mr. Nikolas was a bit uncertain whether his constant reminders over the last few days, had actually sunk into the mush brain of his ever so loving, but ever so confused wife. (Granted, it has been known for Mrs. Nikolas to rush off to the local gas station in a pinch, when she forgot the up-and-coming St. Nikolas Day.) So, the children have now received enough sweets to keep them on a sugar high throughout the next four weeks, which is our official Christmas season: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Even, New Year’s Day, and onto Epiphany (when the three kings bring gifts).

Happy St. Nikolas to you all.

05 December, 2007

04 December, 2007

The Children of Friends

There are certain taboo topics between friends. Topics, near-and-dear to our hearts, which are difficult to introduce into our conversations, easily misconstrued, and often avoided. Anything to do with child rearing is one. Another is, the ease or awkwardness of our children’s struggles through various development phases. The biggest though, which is almost impossible to discuss, is what do you do when you don’t like a friend’s child or when their child’s behaviour is so unacceptable, you don’t really feel comfortable in the child’s company?

In my experience, it is hard to hold onto a friendship or develop a new one, if the friend has a child, or children, you find unsympathetic. A friendship might survive a husband or wife you don’t particularly like, but not a son or daughter.

This weekend, I met the children of a friend of mine. We’ve only developed a friendship in the last year and, even though I met her in person before, I had not met her children until now. She has great kids. Thank heavens! Halleluiah!

I didn’t realise how nervous I was to meet her children, until after I’d met them and realised they were bright, funny, quirky, mischievous little munchkins. And, then a wave of relief washed over me.

Last summer, I met a woman that I quite liked. She is a very interesting person. She has a very different personality to my own. Lives a very different lifestyle. In hindsight, it probably is all these differences that make her interesting to me. She is a kind, gentle, intelligent woman, in an Annie Hall sort of way.

When I went to her apartment the first time and met her three boys, I nearly did an about-turn inside of the first half-hour of the visit. The boys behaved loudly, disrespectfully, jealously, aggressively, and showed a collective meanness of spirit. I was thrown off-balance.

The contrast between her gently nature and the boys’ persistent aggressive behaviour was starling. It made me wonder whether my first impression of her, my assessment of her qualities were wrong.

Once this thought popped up in my mind, I couldn’t lose it. Subsequent visits have done little to rid me of this niggling thought. So, even though we have met relatively regularly, I doubt any friendship will arise.

Has this ever happened to you? Is it difficult to broach this topic, or is it just a figment of my imagination?

03 December, 2007

Advent Surprises For Kids, Teens, And The Young-At-Heart

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Here are a few links you might like to look at or share with your kids:

Making flowers or snowflakes

Something about geography

Teaching a child about money

And something every teenager knows

02 December, 2007

Unsung Heroes

When we were living in Venezuela, Fina (Josefina) was our live-in housekeeper. She originally came from a small farming community Negreira, Negreiroa in northern Spain.

My parents had three girls ages three years and one day apart of each other. (My oldest sister’s birthday is on August 11th and mine (the youngest of the girls) on August 10th. It was years before I could understand why, if I my birthday was before my sister, she was older than me). I was born in Caracas just after my parents had moved there from California. My mother was overwhelmed with the new culture, language, and having three little girls all wearing diapers. And so Fina became my ersatz mother.

My parents would each take one of the older girls when going out and leave me with Fina. When I had nightmares during the night, I would run to Fina for comfort. Fina loved me as her own child, and I, as most children do, accepted this as my due.

When my oldest child, Julien, was a baby and I was raising him alone, I had to find a babysitter to keep care of him while I was at work.

First, a neighbour in my apartment building took the job. She, her husband and their two small children, literally lived next door; in an apartment on the same floor as Julien and I. Her husband worked for the fire department and they seemed like such reliable and competent people.

Julien was about six months old when I went back to work part-time. The idea was that Julien could sleep in his own bed for his naps and I didn’t have to bring any pampers or a change of clothes; I could give the neighbour his baby phone and the keys to the apartment.

What appeared an ideal situation, turned out to be awful. Every time I called the babysitter’s from work, I could hear Julien crying in the background. The milk used to leak out of my breasts at the sound of his inconsolable screaming. Fortunately, Julien and I moved to another apartment soon afterwards. The decision to change babysitters was made easy.

Beate, the next babysitter, was the daughter of my yoga teacher. She was in her mid-twenties and she had MS. She and Julien fell in love at first sight. Beate truly loved Julien and this made it a joy, a delight to leave Julien with her in the mornings.

It was because of the intensity of their bond, that it was all the more painful for us when Beate had to cancel her babysitting duties from one day to the next when she came down with a bad bout of MS.

The third, and last, babysitter was Danni, the wife of a colleague. She and I had nothing in common: our views about what constitutes a nutritious meal (e.g. salami and processed cheese on white bread), or a pedagogically enriching outing (e.g. a walk to the corner grocery store) differed greatly. Yet, she was a kind and caring person. To put it simply, as long as Julien and (later) my daughter, Sara, were under her roof, they were part of the family.

All the children were treated the same: not with martyred patience, but equally. They all had the same food on their plates. They shared and fought over all of the same toys: there was no mine or yours, just everyone’s. There was also a collective “Schimpfen” (bout of bitching) if the children had messed up the living room.

Danni was Danni. All in all, I think the children were going to her house for nearly seven years. This is the span of time from Julien starting at two until Sara left when she was three or four years old. I will be forever thankful to Danni for giving the children stability and constancy.

I am equally thankful to Beate for loving Julien so much. It was a lonely time for me, as a single parent and with no family around. Beate’s adoration of Julien was a balm to my soul. It strengthened my resolve to be a better mother.

But, most of all, I will ever be thankful to Fina. After meeting her as an adult, I realized that she had loved me unconditionally; the greatest gift to give any child.

01 December, 2007

Llamas

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My parents brought back various things from the years of living in Venezuela: furniture, angels and nativity figures for the Christmas crèche, and a llama skin wall hanging. It was a soft as soft can be. I hated, was haunted by the thought, that llamas were killed to make the wall hanging. Still, I luxuriated in caressing the soft wool every time I passed it.

30 November, 2007

Salut NaBloPoMo 2007

The university research project I work in helps teachers and students (grade 1-13) the creative and constructive use of digital media for indoor and outdoor learning.

Yesterday, I worked with a 5th grade class. The learning material concerns identity and orientation. German high schools start in the 5th grade. That means the 4th graders are struggling for a position with 18- or 19-year-old seniors. As you can imagine, this is often an intimidating process.

The goal of the 5th grade project is, first, for the student to get to know their follow classmates better. Secondly, everyone should become better acquainted with the school as a whole and the surrounding neighbourhood in particular. Many of the students come from outlying areas.

The children are working on a “Who am I” collage. They use film, photos, drawings, and text to create an aesthetic biography (pedagogical term, don’t know if they use this in English). There is a long list of items they can/should choose from: place of birth, names (mother, father, siblings, house pet): favourite stuff (foods, friend, colour, pastime, sport): likes & dislikes.

Most of the information in the biographies is predictable: nearly all the girls favourite colour is pink: the boys favourite pastime is to play jump and run computer games.

I walk around the classroom glancing at their portraits. Jenny likes spaghetti. Robert hates doing homework. Gradually, I am lulled into the rosy-tainted world of their childhoods, their child-like enthusiasms, and their childish grievances.

Then I glance down at Darwin’s portrait: Likes: pizza, computer games, Dislikes: when people call me nigger or other bad names. My rosy-tainted glasses crack and then shatter. Inside, my heart cramps, and I wonder at the tragedy of these words, and the nonchalance with which Darwin writes them.

Darwin is not the only child confronting such realities on a day-to-day basis. Next to Jenny’s father’s name, she writes, “don’t know”. If you scratch ever so gently below the surface of various children’s lives, there are some heartrending facts there.

Even though I have reached an age where I should be accustomed to such things, I still don’t understand why any child should be called bad names because of the colour of his skin. Why can’t all children (at least) know the names of their fathers? It can’t be so difficult, can it?

All the best to those of you who have participated in NaBloPoMo this month. It has been fun to write for you and to read your entries as well. For those of you who randomly stumbled upon this blog, thank you for dropping by. I hope you will stay around a while longer.

29 November, 2007

Progress of Existence

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... put like that, why should we ever struggle with time?

28 November, 2007

False Flattery

My virtual fortune cookie came up with a doozie this morning:

Rarely do great beauty and virtue dwell together as they do in you.”

Sigh, it’s been a while since a virtual random generator, let alone a stranger sitting next to me, shamelessly tried to flatter me.

When I was younger, yes, way-back-then, I was told no matter who the deliver of a compliment is, no matter how dubious the intent was the only proper way to respond to any compliment or flattering statement, is to look the person in the eyes and say, “Thank you.” That’s it. Not one single word more. Do not reject, dismiss, or concur. Do not try to second-guess why someone says something nice, “Thank you” is all that is required. So, that is exactly what I did after reading my virtual fortune cookie’s message.

It doesn’t matter that the message was not written personally for me. It doesn’t matter that it is not true. It doesn’t matter that I don’t even know the individual who wrote that message into the random generator program “Thank you” is what I said.

27 November, 2007

Sins and Secrets

One of the darkest sins in my extended family, as in most families, is the keeping of secrets. We remain silent about mean or evil deeds done by those who sit across the table from us at social gatherings. We ignore the fact that these acts occurred or do not admit the consequences of how these deeds affected others, or do not make the persons involved accountable. In doing so, we unwittingly give exoneration to the doers.

Equally we diminish the heroic struggles of those who chose to swim against social norms. We do not acknowledge who they are or what they did and thus allow their deep personal struggles to disappear from the slate of our family history. They are referred to as the black sheep in the family, or the “young mavericks”. The details of their rebellion are often withheld from us.

Family is family. Everything is family. Knowing the secrets, we know the shadows of human nature - our own individual humanity.

It is within our family circle that we discover our own values of right and wrong: not through teachings, but through direct experience. Our value system is derived from the lessons we learn, we learn through experiencing situations or studying personalities of people we know and not just by reading the words printed in books, or observing characters in films.

To give name to the misdeeds or misadventures of family members, plants seeds in the garden of life’s lesson. Sometimes these seeds grow into lessons of forgiveness and compassion. We only have to live in an environment where freedom of speech encourages discussion about what family members think, do, or dream of doing.

The irony is, even though it is cowardly to keep secrets, it takes very little strength of character just to tell the truth. All you have to do is speak up.

26 November, 2007

Santa’s Robins

Charlotte wrote the following as a comment to a previous post:

Ever since the visit of an Irish friend two years ago, we have Santa's robins who keep an eye on behaviour our children. We have learnt to be very cautious around a robin.”

I’m oddly fascinated about and in abhorrence of all the possible acts of misuses these Santa’s robins might seduce parents into committing. Can you just imagine a Terrible Two refusing to get dressed in the morning, or a Ferocious Four screaming and yelling throughout the house saying he will not clean up his room? All you would have to do is place one of the Santa’s robins on the table in front of the child, and given them a knowing nod. Oh, gosh, that is too much power for any parent of misbehaving children to have at their near reach.

My mother had a whammy device to instill instant fear and trepidation in her three darling (devilish) daughters. It was the stove’s TIMER. Whenever we were taking too long to eat up our dinner (children ate at different times as their parents then), she would say, “I am putting on the TIMER”. Dadada doom. That was it. The TIMER was on and who knew what would happen if it went off!

The only thing we were certain of was, if the TIMER ever did go off then the disciplinary consequences would be more horrible, more menacing than our worse imaginings. And since our imaginings were rather dreadful, none of us was willing to tempt fate.

Year’s later, as an adult, I asked my mother about the TIMER and what punishment she would have inflicted upon us. She had no idea. She never mentioned what the punishment would be; yet that was what made it so horrible. She admitted to me that she would slip into the kitchen and advance the timer, for she lived equally in fear and trepidation of it going off.

25 November, 2007

Peeking Thomasina

Christmas was probably the most important holiday in our home during my childhood. My mother would start weeks beforehand to go out shopping for gifts. She would hide the wrapped presents in her and my father’s clothes’ closet and under their bed.

When she came back from a shopping spree, she’d close their bedroom door while she was wrapping the presents. If we stood outside the door, we could hear the paper rustling. My mother would get annoyed if she came out of her room and found us standing there.

I must confess that I was a professional (obsessive) present-peeker. While my mother was off foraging the shopping malls for more presents, I developed various refined techniques to peel off the scotch tape without damaging the paper and peek inside to see what was within those presents she had already wrapped. I would put the presents back in their original form and position in the closet with a thief’s cunning and precision.

The first year that I discovered my innate scotch-tape-peeling talents, I opened all the presents: mine as well as the rest of the family. This resulted in a Very Flat feeling of celebration on Christmas Day morning because I knew the content of all my gifts even before I was handed the packages.

From the next Christmas on, I only looked at other people’s presents and revelled in the fact that “I know what you’re getting, but I am not telling you!” Not that I would have actually taunted my siblings with this knowledge. Oh no, not me!

24 November, 2007

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Busy day today... my mother-in-law is moving into the small bachelor apartment across the hall from our apartment. A huge pot of chili con carne simmers in the kitchen. Coffee and tea are brewing.

Fortunately, the sun shines and her numerous son-in-laws (she has six daughters) and sons are all in good humour.

Last night, after she pickup the keys for the apartment, she placed salt, pasta, water, and rice on the windowsill. Apparently, this Italian ritual guarantees a happy home. It is important that these gifts are in the home as it stands empty, in wait for the move to come. Isn't that a good idea?

23 November, 2007

Good Behaviour

My children might not have been angels, or perfect children when they were younger, but they were, in my modest estimation, good children. They were not mean, malicious, or cruel. They did not steal or lie (or, at least I never caught them at it). They were the type of young children other children liked to play with and the parents of other children like them as well. This is why the story my daughter told me last night about her first chocolate Advent calendar threw me for a loop.

Apparently, when she was six, I bought her her first chocolate Advent calendar. Previously she had the traditional paper calendars with drawings behind every window.

When she went to open up the first window, there was only an empty space behind the window. No chocolate was to be had.

She assumed this was because she hadn’t been a good girl. She didn’t tell me about it, because then I would know she had misbehaved. Isn’t that a sad thought?

She believed that Santa Claus didn’t put chocolate behind the calendar window, as a warning, “I know you’ve been bad!”

It took five or six days before she hit upon the window with all the fallen down chocolates in it. Then she thought she was being rewarded for good behaviour because she had given a boy in her class her recess snack the day before.

It took her years, and a few chocolate Advent calendars later, to discover that these calendars did not contain magical powers. She really believed them to be Santa Claus’ behaviour barometers.

22 November, 2007

The Last of the Outdoor Café Season

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I always thought that the locals in Luebeck were a hardy punch. They are out sitting on terraced cafés early in the spring until late autumn. When the weather is brisk, there are always portable gas heaters to make sitting outdoors somewhat pleasurable.

I always thought the locals here were hardy, that was before I went to Scotland. A few years ago, we went to Glasgow and north east Scotland on vacation. It was a cold early summer. They hadn't experienced any weather above 15 degrees C the whole year through. And it had, apparently, rained the whole time.

While we were in Glasgow, the rain went away. And, after a lot of persuasion from the gods, the sun shined a weak and pale face. It was still sweater and jacket cold though.

Did that stop the locals from dawning short sleeve t-shirts and spaghetti-string cocktail dresses? It was still 14 or 15 degrees C, but everyone was out in their open-toed sandals, the lightest of summer attire, the pubs and restaurants' doors stood open, and there was this general feeling of warmth and gaiety. Except in the winds and temperatures.

21 November, 2007

Friends Old And New

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There are often tentative gestures:
A smile, shared laughter, common interests.
That is, sometimes it is so. Other times,
Inspite of an unfavourable first impression,
Or life being busy, a chance encounter
Leads to friendship. Against all odds.
Or, who knows, maybe because the odds
Are stacked against us. For whatever
Is friendship but tenacious perseverance?

A battle against the sirens of
Eminent business deadlines, jealous lovers,
Small children’s constant demands,
Teenagers’ turbulent assertion for adulthood,
Grown children’s trip, stumbles, and falls,
Ailing parents ail, failing marriages…
Only the warm and loving gestures
Of enduring friendships show how truly
Blessed we are in living the life we do.

20 November, 2007

A Healthy And Happy Life

Today’s topic of meditation:

We all dream about living a healthy and happy life.

After being on this planet for fifty years, I know that the pursuit of health and balance is not rocket science. Nevertheless, I constantly flounder. I know about daily exercise, drinking lots of liquids, eating a balanced and diverse diet, the need for sleep, and how to avoid stress. In fact, I know a lot more of then that, yet, does this translate into concrete, consistent, irrefutable action? Alas, no, not really.

And when you think of it, the pursuit of happiness is, at best, a precarious goal. It could well be that, in our society we invest too much time and effort trying to obtain the unobtainable.

Even the definition of what happiness is, tends to be prickly. If you asked someone what is loyalty, respect, courage, perseverance… most likely, we’d all, more or less, agree to common-based meanings. Yet, happiness; it appears to mean something different to each and every individual.

Mornings like this morning, I wish I could find the wings to fly the course of this day as I believe it could be done. All’s I need is a bit of courage and perseverance, don’t you think?

19 November, 2007

German Culture vs. Chinese Culture vs. Canadian Culture

My teenage son sent me this link, which graphically highlights some of the differences between German (blue) and Chinese (red) cultures.

As many of you know, I’ve lived in Germany now for over twenty-five years. Just before I came to live in Germany, I went on a six-week trip to China. This was at a time when tourists were allowed in, but the government did not encourage interaction between tourists and locals. Since tourists were relatively new phenomena, many Chinese would just come up and touch us or talk to us. The trip truly changed my life’s horizon and, to this day, it was one of my five favourite trips.

I don’t know whether the points of the Chinese (red) culture are correct, but the German (blue) ones are spot on. Can any one say whether they think the Chinese ones are good?

Looking at the German points I realise that there are a few that I’ve adopted over the years.

Opinions (German (blue) vs. Chinese (red)):

chinesse-german-opinion

One being, that I’ve adopted the German way of just saying things straight. It gets me in trouble with my family all the time. I’ve learnt that opinions as being words. If I express my opinions honestly, clearly, and without qualifiers, then my opinions are just opinions.

I’ve been thinking about what some of the differences would be if this were a depiction of German and Canadian cultures, or German and American cultures. Here are a few that I’ve come up with:

The boss (German (blue) vs. Chinese (red)):
chinesse-german-boss
Canadian boss: the boss is the same size as the other employees, but a slightly different colour.

Sunday on city streets (German (blue) vs. Chinese (red)):
chinesse-german-sunday
Canadian Sunday in the city: some trees, people throwing Frisbees, and a dog or two.

Handling problems (German (blue) vs. Chinese (red)):
chinesse-german-problems
Canadians handling problems: I’d draw a pretty scenic picture to cover up the problem.

Parties (German (blue) vs. Chinese (red)):
chinesse-german-party
Canadian party: If I was to remember what parties were like when I was younger, people were always dancing.

Is there anything I missed? Can you suggest others?

18 November, 2007

Impermanence

The following is a Sunday Lecture that I’ve written for my children:

We should not be lulled into thinking there is a permanence or consistency in our bonds: in our family relationships. Instead, we should fight fiercely to assure that life is flowing through the veins of our kinship. We must strive to be alert to new nuances or shifts in sentiment.

It is not enough just to ponder why we were born into our families. As a matter of a fact, a friend of mine once advised me to erase the question “Why?” from my spiritual/emotional vocabulary. For the answer to “Why?” is fickle and forever changing.

Instead we should concentrate on the what, when, how, or where of our interpersonal relationships. We each have to ask what is happening, how do I contribute to the situation, when do I aggravate it, where are we when we are the happiest, etc.

Take each situation as a possible synopsis of the whole. Philosophise about the whole; peel away the layers of onionskins of personal and family dynamics. If we pose these questions, the answers might possibly illuminate the dark corridors or dead ends we have taken or take in our journey towards truth and clarity.

Don’t avoid conflicts, nor accept that certain problems never change, or believe it is better not to speak out when everyone is playing blind man’s bluff with our family’s dysfunctional elements. To do this, is practising a form of moral cowardliness: not wisdom.

This is my appeal to you, my children, “Speak up, speak out, stand tall, search fearlessly for your truth!”

17 November, 2007

16 November, 2007

The Danes Are So Smart

Living in northern Germany has its perks (no, we are not talking about the weather). One of which, is the close proximity to Denmark. Wonderful country, wonderful folk… I’ve known this for a while.

I didn’t know how smart they were, until a dear friend of mine explained the Danish words for grandma and grandpa:

  • farfar is father’s father
  • farmor is father’s mother
  • morfar is mother’s mother
  • mormor is mother’s mother

This way, every grandparent has his or her own distinct claim to a name. How smart is that?

Does anyone know if this is the case in any other language?

15 November, 2007

Holiday Motifs

The holiday season is coming up. I’ve made a few festive motifs for cards.
xmas03.jpg
If you like any of them and would like to make up Xmas cards with the motifs, just give a shout.
xmas02.jpg
I will make up the motifs to the right dimension and resolution that your online printing site requires and send the jpec files on to you.
xmas04.jpg
My experience with my mypix has been very positive, but that would only work for Europe.
xmas01.jpg
If you are from Canada or, the State, or Australia…
xmas05.jpg
You might want to try another online printing company. Hee!
xmas06.jpg
Though, now that I think of it, for those of you on the equator or below, interested in sunny holiday motifs, I’d whip up something for you as well.

14 November, 2007

Shrinking Timelines

My twelve-year-old daughter asks me what it is like to use a manual dial telephone. How does it work?

I did not realise that she has never actually seen such a phone. A family we know still uses this sort of phone because they are worried about the waves radiating out of the cordless models, but my daughter hasn’t seen their phone when visiting.

So, I explain how a manual dial works.
telephone_dial
She becomes all nostalgic, “It must have been so much fun to dial a phone, then hold the one receiver bit to your ear and the other to your mouth.”

Next she will be asking what it was like to crank up the phone… I realise that, for a twelve-year-old, timelines shrink to the moment right before they were born.

13 November, 2007

I Still Can’t say Goodbye

The autumn winds roar outside our living room window. We are nested down in our warm and safe home.

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine about the times I was at sea with my father, when the weather was fierce and unwelcoming.

All those times, I felt willing to share my fate with my father: a lucky lucky fellow. We got through the storms (more or less in one piece) together. I miss him greatly when the weather roars like it does today.

Tommy Emmanuel singing, “I still can’t say goodbye” (written by Chet Atkins) captures this sentiment well. Most of the text is just too sentimental, but the essence, my inability to truly deeply say my farewell, holds true.

12 November, 2007

Oh! Praise to my Swim Ring

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Oh! Swim ring. Oh! Swim ring. What a wonderful thing you are. As a young girl with my swim wings and you, my dear swim ring, I was completely invincible. Unsinkable. I poodle-paddled my way around the pool in wonder and delight, or played catch-me-if-you-can with the waves on the beach.
swimring2
Later, I used you in all my fantastical acrobatic feats. I could jump through you feet first, headfirst, bum first, snap you with one arm… or just wear you as a crown. Oh! Swim ring, you marvellous thing.

11 November, 2007

Signs, Windows, And Window Shopping

My beloved city of Luebeck, Germany is a wonderful place to window shop. This city is a UNESCO city and thus has very strict restriction on public advertising; so that the oldness shines through.

In a manoeuvre to make retailer’s lives more difficult, the city charges rents from shopowners for hanging up signs. Many store owners etch signs onto their doors or windows to avoid these ridiculous fees. And, the window and door etchings add to the overall aesthetics of this city.

I’m not much of a shopper, but I do admire good window decoration, or shop sign.



This video is a homily to this city of wonderful shops.

10 November, 2007

Fun Time

Mage from Day Tripper put me onto this jigsaw puzzle site. With it you can make up a jigsaw for friends and family and send them in an email. It's a good alternative to sending e-cards.
Click to Mix and Solve
You can, if you are not so impatient or lacking in html code skills, embed the jigsaws into your blog. I’m leaving it up to you guys to figure it out. My puzzle went all over the place and I just didn’t like it.

Here are a few (1, 2, and 3) more jigsaws I made up for you entertainment. Hope you enjoy them. If you want me to make up another jigsaw with one of my collages, let me know. It’s easy as riding a bicycle.

09 November, 2007

Early Through the Finish Line

In the news this week, was a report that Germany will, in all likelihood, reach it’s Kyoto goal of 21% emission reduction this year: five years before the date agreed upon in 1990 Kyoto agreement. Yeah Germany!

Economic growth. Emission reduction. It is possible. What kind of statement might that give to American politicians who didn’t think necessary to participate in the agreement and seem reluctant to follow in the next one?

08 November, 2007

Sailing versus Cooking

There are a few professions that I would give an eyetooth for just to be able get a glimpse behind the scenes of the profession. Locomotive driver, crew on a European barge, stage designer, and, most particularly working in the kitchen of a fine restaurant.
diary_soundseeing
This week I am living out this later fantasy. I asked the chef at our favourite restaurant whether I could work in his kitchen for a week. He gave me this calculating look and then a quick nod of his head, and said I could work the preparation period (from three to six).

It has been a wonderful learning experience so far. I wish I could transform it all into some great story, but that is out of the range of my abilities. What I can say is that there are a lot of parallels between cooking in a restaurant and sailing in a regatta. Here are some of the parallels between sailing or sailors and working in a restaurant kitchen or chefs:

Most are males. (It turns out that I am the first female the chef has allowed in his kitchen.)

The guys are the right type of males: they can physically survive the rigors of working in the heat, in cramped spaces, under stressful conditions, and yet they have a fine, even sensual love for detail.

This reminds me of sailing when there is almost no wind and how the captain and crew coax every little breath of wind into the sails. There is something distinctly fine and sensitive about this, yet the guys also have the enormous strength needed to deal with gale winds.

They are very competitive. I get this underlying sensation that the guys are always trying to outdo each other.

They will compliment or recognise something well done, but such praise is hard earned and never lavishly spread. It can be expressed as a nod of the head or a grunt; and that is enough.

There is a clear hierarchy of who is to do what when. You do what you are told and try not to ask any questions. If there is a lull, then the chef or sous chef just might give you the chance to do something different. The moment things get serious, you are back to your proper job.

If the team works well together then everyone is moving quickly and smoothly. There is no bumping of elbows, not shuffling back-and-forth. You can tell the person who doesn’t quite fit because, no matter the size of his stature, they take up too much space.

There is an economy of space and movement practiced all the time. You don’t spread out your wares. You don’t travel through from the front of the kitchen to the back without something in your hands in both directions.

So that is what I have learnt so far. Here are few things I’ve learnt that are really surprising to me:

All the guys smoke. (Not in the kitchen, but one step beyond the doorway.)

They don’t use many (any) spices other than salt and pepper and next to no herbs, unless they are fresh. The only explanation I can think of is that it seems as if the food’s flavour should be brought out and not coated. Does anyone know if this is the case in other restaurants?

I couldn’t possibly stand the physical rigors of the job. After four hours I am pooped. It is impossible to imagine how people do manage to work ten to twelve hours a day.

This has been like a dream come true. Next I’ll have to do is figure out a way to work on a barge…

07 November, 2007

Creating Personalized Mini Cards

I just made up a selection of motifs to use as gift tags. There is an online printing company, moo, which makes fabulous mini cards. They can be used as business cards, bookmarks, or gift tags.
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The resulting product is just wonderful: 100 mini cards with as many motifs as you want, with great colours, good quality of cardboard, nice to handle, impossible to bend.

The cards are small (7 cm x 2.8 cm). In my first order, I printed my motifs on one side and my name and email address on the other. For the gift tags, I will leave the back blank.

Over the years I've printed, collected, and thrown out a wide collection of business cards. To be perfectly honest, I really don't like the things. The moo mini cards seem a good alternative. Now, when I meet someone and want to give them some of my personal information or set a date for an appointment, I just scribble the information on the back of one of these mini cards.
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Last week, two acquaintances asked me to make up some motifs for their business. One fellow is a blacksmith, and he wants to leave the cards with his customers on the horse farms he works on. (Horses' hoofs have to be cut back and shoed every six weeks or so.)
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The other person makes and sells Waldorf dolls. She sells them at Christmas markets and now she has decided to sell her mini cards as gift tags.

Gosh, this is getting long winded& All that I really wanted to say was, if any of you would like to make up gift tags for yourselves and you do not have motifs, feel free to use my selection.

Please tell me if you do because it would be nice to know.

06 November, 2007

Tornado Anna

Anna woke up this morning in a very bad mood. She remembers a big brown caterpillar, three small spiders, and a monkey scrubbing her face with a smelly old cloth. “That was a bad dream,” says Anna.

Her stomach is grumbling. “My tummy is saying, I’m hungry!” says Anna.

Anna opens the door to her parents’ bedroom. She pulls herself up onto the bed. “Daddy!” she cries, “I’m hungry!” She climbs up onto his back. “I want something to eat!”

Daddy mumbles “Good morning” to his pillow. “I’ll be right there,” he tells Anna. “Let’s let Mommy sleep in this morning.”

Mommy mumbles “Good morning” to her pillow, and adds, “Mmmm. Thanks, dear.”
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If you wish to read more of this story that I wrote and illustrated, click here.

05 November, 2007

Chocolate Delight

A friend of mine owns and runs the most excellent chocolate shop called, Armaro. Before I met Birgit, I didn’t know that the best chocolate, like wine, is not to be bought in exclusive department stores, but rather, in shops like hers.

Many of the best chocolatiers, even those who have been making chocolate for generations, only produce as much as they can guarantee their quality. They cannot supply large orders; rather they seek excellence over quantity. They are true artisans.
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I’ve spent the weekend making up some possible chocolate motifs for cards for the shop. I’ve worked hard, but I am not so happy with the results. I was hoping to make something that smelled and tasted of chocolate, coffee, and cacao.

If any of the collages does this for you, I’d really appreciate a comment.

04 November, 2007

Autumn Colours

Cynthia over at A Life Profound made up an autumnal drawing for her Circle Journal Swap group. The wonderful drawing includes a poem by Rilke and some autumn colours.

This autumn collage I made a few days ago also contains these colours. The two pieces could almost be part of a set.
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It is strange how normally, perhaps photographically, we often choose the brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows as autumn colours. Yet, when we depict the autumn of our inner being, the autumn of our life, the subtle tones emerge.

03 November, 2007

Dinghy Story #2

My daughter, son, and I went on my parent’s boat for a second time in 2001. My father had died the year before and, John, a friend of my parents was skippering the boat for my mother. The children got along well with him. My son would sit up on the navigation table and watch John navigate. John and my daughter would spend hours playing Uno while everyone else’s noses were buried in books.

Late one afternoon, John took the two children over to an island near where we were anchored. We were in a safe channel between the mainland and a small island. There was a strong current flowing through the channel, making rowing or swimming impossible.

Off they went on their adventure. My mother went down to her aft cabin for a read. I lay down on the starboard bunk in the main cabin for a little snooze.

A long while later I hear some cries for help coming from outside. I look out the window to a funny sight: John rowing furiously and the children sitting still in a rapidly deflating dinghy. (Some oyster shells had cut razor-fine slits into the dinghy).

Instead of running to their rescue, by throwing them a line (or something!), I took my camera and shot a photo. Needless to say, John was startled with my complete lack of she-bear instincts.

Though we did manage to get everyone on board without getting his or her feet wet. And, we pulled the dingy on deck before the outboard motor sank below the water surface.