27 June, 2007

Statistically Insignificant

I have no idea how I came upon Alex Faaborg’s excellent blog, User Experience Design at Mozilla, but I do very much enjoy reading it. Today’s post, for instance, presents some ideas that anyone working in a technical field can appreciate. What caught my eye was the subtitle “Your Mom is Not Statistically Significant”. What the author is stating is one person’s opinion is not statistically important. This is not what instantly came to mind when I glanced over the subtitle.

It reminded me of a graffiti artist (sorry forgot name) who placed the slogan “Mothers, don’t think you are so important!” on a massive LED board at the side of an expressway in
London. I just love the idea that even though many women believe motherhood is a very important and integral component of their/our existence (myself included), we should not live under the illusion that other’s think this. Yes, motherhood is a fantastic challenge. Yes, it might be the most important job we ever have. But, a feeling of importance must come from within, whereas a feeling of self-importance tends to come from seeking acclamation.

25 June, 2007

The Law of Give and Take

I believe in the law of give and take. Not the law of equal give and take, just the law of give and take. It is important to know where you stand on both matters. How easily do you find it to give to others? How graceful are you on the receiving line?

In the last few days I’ve given:

Creative energy
A shoulder to lean on
Professional encouragement
A well formulated letter of reference

… to friends, acquaintances, and even a few strangers. It is really amazing just how many things you can give. I particularly like to find interesting ways to give (modest amounts of) money, in a no-emotional-strings-attached way.

When I started working 25 years ago, I decided to donate, loan, or use a certain small percentage of my yearly income towards different originations, causes, or people. It’s been a learning process: knowing who, when, and how to redistribute this money.

I used to give money and not loan it. My father always said, don’t loan any money that you wouldn’t be willing to lose. So, loaning money didn’t seem an interesting prospect. I changed my thinking once I learnt about micro financing businesses.

It is very interesting to read the short reports of businesses asking for loans. What speaks of good business practices? Today, the businessman I first lent money to managed to pay back the full some of his loan: exactly six months to the day of his expected 6-12 month loan period. So this evening, my children and I sat down and looked at some new potential business we can give a loan to. It is wonderful to see their interest in micro financing grow.

23 June, 2007

25 Years Ago, When I Was 25 Years Old…

Charlotte, of Charlotte’s Web wrote a meme about what happened in her life when she was 25 years old.

25 years ago, I was 25 years old. It strikes me as a nice idea to write up my own meme…

When I was 25, I graduated from a fine Canadian university as an electrical engineer. I was older than most of my fellow graduates because I retired from my professional ballet career a few years after they graduated from high school.

When I was 25, I decided to fulfil a lifetime dream and travelled to China for six weeks. China had only recently opened up their borders to travel tours. It was not possible to travel as a single tourist. I chose a very small (10 person) travel tour and invited my mother to come along with me. Thus making the total number of strangers I had to accustom myself to, to eight. My mother was not only a good companion, she was a living library of knowledge about Chinese history, literature, and art.

When I was 25, I decided to leave Canada and try and find a job in Europe. I had a feeling it was either now-or-never. Many friends thought that I was crazy to give up the job offer at a company in Montreal and go off to where?… (nowhere specific) to what?… (no concrete job).

When I was 25, I realised that taking a leap into the unknown scares people and even though they only want what is good-for-you, they don’t really know what that is.

When I was 25, I found out that, despite of what others had told me, the working language in engineering departments at international corporations in Germany, was NOT English. It was not even German, but the local dialect.

When I was 25, I took my first job interview in German, even though I didn’t speak any German. I made up a list of fifty words or phrases (e.g. really!, how interesting, yes, of course, fascinating, very good, definitely) and then repeated them over and over again throughout the hour interview and tour of the production plant.

When I was 25, I discovered that the technical German language was COMPLETELY different to English. This fact astonished me; for French and English words are similar to the point of just using different accents (e.g. resistor/resisteur, capacitor/capaciteur, you get my drift?). Imagine my surprise to learn that resistor was Wiederstand in German, and it just gets worse from there on.

When I was 25, I found out what it was to be lonely. No spoke to me during my work day, I knew no one to speak to outside of work, and I only knew enough German to order a cup of coffee. That first winter was the loneliest in my life.

When I was 25, I discovered that the saying “books are your best friends” can be very true.

When I was 25, I learnt that desperation can be a wonderful tool for breaking down language barriers. A dear Brazilian woman, Cenira, who only spoke Portuguese, and I, who spoke no Portuguese, formed the most lively instant friendship possible. To this day, whenever I hear the expression “speaking with her hands and feet” I think of those first months of our friendship.

When I was 25, I learnt how rude people can be towards strangers (foreigners) looking to rent apartments. I also learnt about pure generosity from a near stranger (the wife of a colleague), who took it upon herself to help me find an apartment to rent, by posing as the potential applicant. (After note: she and I are still close friends after all these years).

When I was 25, I discovered my passion for sitting in cafés and passing the time away.

When I was 25, I planted the seeds to some of my dearest and closest friendships. Those seeds have grown and grown and they have spanned decades and geographical distances.

20 June, 2007

A Photo Without A Camera

As I was traveling home on the bus this afternoon, three students from the technical university came in and sat on the seats across the aisle from me.

One student took out her cell phone even before the bus doors closed, and started that maniacal SMS thumb dance on the cell phone keypad. The student next to her, spent some time circling through his 80-GB-up-to-20,000-songs-and-20-hours-playtime iPod to find the right song to fit his mood. The last student, a Ghanaian exchange student*, quietly took out his wooden bead rosary and slowly, methodically, unobtrusively prayed through the bus trip.

Oh, what a wonderful picture it was!

* I happen to know the exchange program he is involved in.

18 June, 2007

Writing Ways

Ronni of the Time Goes By blog recently wrote an interesting article about how her writing has changed in the years since she started her blog. Apparently, it has changed in diverse, subtle, and unforeseeable ways. When I read the article, I was a good part fascinated and a small part envious of her experiences.

Even though she spent a lifetime writing for others (she worked in television), she’s discovered her own personal writing voice through blogging. What a delight that must be?

In contrast, I’ve spent my lifetime jumping from one language to another: mastering none, unlearning a few along the way. My first spoken language was Spanish, at six I learnt English, late teens French, and the last twenty-five years I lived and worked in German. Sound exotic, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not.

I may speak German fluently, but, sadly, grammatically incorrect. My command of English diminishes from year-to-year. I now speak a miserable French. I only understand, but no longer speak Spanish. I love all of these languages, but neither speak or write any of them well.

Yes, it is interesting to learn, through language, the nuances, the humour, and the pre-occupations of another culture. It is fascinating to always be challenged, never feel complacent. It can be ridiculously rewarding bridging friendships with people you normally would never meet unless you move to another country.

The problem is, language is so much more than a means of communication. It is an essential part of our identity. It is our voice. Who you are, what you think, what you dream, are all expressed through language. I sometimes wonder if I can’t speak or write in a language proficiently, will I bit-by-bit lose my identity?

When Ronni writes, “… omitting unnecessary adjectives, figures of speech, excessive verbiage we use in speech - my writing got sharper, more focused and clearer.” I yearn to say the same. Yet, I am reduced to accepting the suggestions from the WinWord grammar and spell check program and looking up the definition of words in a dictionary every five minutes or so. Where do I go from here? I’d like to write in my post #1000 or #2000 my writing has become clearer, it’s up to me to figure out how to do this!

17 June, 2007

Late Sunday Evening

Just loved this video. Repetitive sure, but delightfully so. Mesmerising. Black and white. Fluidity. Innocence.

16 June, 2007

A Lark

My family and I live in the center of Luebeck. This is a quaint beautiful city, whose core is an island, yet it has extensive outlying residences spanning about 25 kilometers outwards. There are over 214 thousand residences total.

So even though Luebeck’s city limits encompasses a large region, the core is the island. This means, in a subtle way, an island mentality prevails amongst those of us living and working on the island.

When I go shopping or walk along the streets, it is a rare thing not to meet and greet someone I know. I might not know them as an acquaintance or close friend, but I know them by sight or through a friend of a friend, or some such weak link. Having worked in the two major employers (a medical equipment company and the university), worked in sixteen local schools in the research project over the last three years, and being a loyal supporter of numerous local shops and restaurants, etc., it is amazing how many people I know by glance. This is why I just love this video:

The video is so off the top that it is perfect. Just the notion of going through the greeting and farewell rituals of the video above, instead of the customarily curt nod of the head or a barely audible “’Tag” (liken to the Aussie’s ga’day), sends me into giggles.

14 June, 2007

One Brick After Another

Here is a slideshow of the collages I've made so far in my Elroy children's story. These are still just first drafts and they have to be joined somehow. Originally, I thought I'd make five to ten and they would, hopefully, magically, find some cohesive lacing, which I could use to create the other ones. That hasn’t happened as yet. I feel very drawn to continue on, even though they are all very different and work (or don’t) on different levels.

P.S. I've finished the series now and will let things rest for a while.

13 June, 2007

Lucky Day

This morning, the head of the university institute where I work, pulled out the bottom drawer of the institute’s funding and found me a two month extension. Oh, joy! This is wonderful not only because it gives me time to wrap up the present project properly, but it gets me over the German Dry Season for potential new jobs.

There are literally no job position openings in the summertime in
Germany. Everyone is on vacation. This includes the people in human resources who are responsible for writing up the ad for the new position, the potential candidates who should read the newspaper advertisement for the job position, the department head who has to give the job interviews, the company union committee who have to agree on final candidate, and the fellow colleagues who have to help you get started… You have to swim against the strong current of everyone rushing off on vacation if you want to get a job, and so it just doesn’t happen.

What a gift the two months’ extension is!

12 June, 2007


The university research project I’ve been working on the last years is sadly coming to an end at the end of this month. Can you imagine my surprise when I went and asked the secretary how many days of vacation I had (expecting three or four) and she says nine! This means tomorrow is my last day of work.

Well, at least officially tomorrow is my last workday. I’ll have to go in regularly for the next few weeks because of previous commitments made to some of my colleagues (e.g. co-writing a paper, working on a final presentation). On the good side, some of this work can be done from home or under the shade of a tree, which is quite wonderful, since my present office’s temperature is above body temperature by noon.

What is unbelievable is the fact that I had nine days vacation that I didn’t know about. This is completely unprecedented in my twenty-five years in Germany. How far the pendulum has swung!

When I first arrived in Germany, we had six weeks of paid vacation, ten days of statuary vacation (bank and religious holidays), one day off a month if you worked overtime beforehand, and the company was closed between Christmas and New Year’s. I thought I had arrived in holiday heaven. Don’t get me wrong, I love to work, but boy, do I love to travel. To make the situation appear even more surreal, at that time, vacation pay was 135% of normal pay because you need something to spend on vacation!

As you can imagine, I spent a lot of brain time devising an algorithm that concentrated on how to distribute the wealth of vacation time in such a manner that would maximize on consecutive blocks for travel opportunities. Unlike what I read in this article (US workers gave back close to 574 million vacation days in 2006), I am not a gal to look a gift horse in the maul!

So, what am I going to do with my nine days? Enjoy them. Unplanned, unexpected, unhurried, I will savour them with pleasure and then sit down to the challenge of finding myself a new job.

11 June, 2007

Our Thoughts & Prayers

Dear Fee has her last exam tomorrow and I wanted to wish her a clear mind and a warrior’s heart.

I met Fee years ago, as a baby. Her parents and older sister came from Germany to visit me in Grand Canary; where I was living on a sailing boat preparing and provisioning it for an Atlantic crossing.

Fee slept well in an improvised hammock, smiled delightfully when awake, and, as far as I can remember, caused us no worry and gave us a great portion of joy. It was her first trip on a plane and, if I remember correctly, the only one on a boat. She mastered it all splendidly. All in all, she has continued to master life’s challenges splendidly.

Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. Toi toi toi!

10 June, 2007

Sea Eggs Abound

This photo was taken of my oldest sister, Karen and me on Grand Anse Beach in Grenada. I must have been about two or three years old at the time. In the picture, I am leaping off the wharf into Karen’s arms: who is standing below with her arms extended up to catch me.
If you look closely, you can see that Karen is standing in about an ankle’s height of water. this foretells a collision of bodies and not a swooping, swishing, submerging dip in warm seawater.

There is a sign on the wharf that says: Warning To Bathers! Do not stand on Reefs or Dark spots, black Sea Eggs abound.

Even though I truly believe that my life is blessed, and I thank the gods daily for this, there are many similarities between what is happening in this picture and what I think life is all about:

  • be careful whose arms you jump into
  • not all landings run smoothly
  • intrinsically, there is joy in leaping into the unknown even though there are always very real dangers present

When I contemplate this photo, what I see in all of its wonderful graininess is a young girl’s ability to trust; something that I seem to have lost along the way.

As some of you know, the last eight years have been challenging ones in my life. My father’s death marked the start of a long journey into uncertainty and chaos. I wish I could report that I faced the many challenges bravely and gracefully. Kicking-and-screaming-all-the-way would be a better description of my utilised survival strategy.

Remarkably, mercifully, I did manage to learn some excellent lessons along the way:

  • anger and bitterness are cloaks for fear and loss. An important step to ridding myself of anger is to define and mourn what it was that I’ve lost
  • continual and constant success in plotting out my life’s course, is not a measure of a life well lived. Rather, learning to accept the failures as quietly as possible, and with as much dignity as I can muster, makes me the mensch I am meant to be
  • do not stop dreaming
  • learning who my authentic self is, starts with the knowledge that I am enough just the way I am

To be sure, these are all very important essential lessons to learn. Yet, only recently have I come to realise that without trust, I’ll never learn to take magnificent leaps of faith again, as I did all those years ago in Grenada.

This fact set me off searching (googling) for philosophical explanations about just what trust is. (This is one of the first times in my life I actually did a virtual search rather than read books, talk to friends, or just sit quietly mulling things in my brain.) What I came up with was fascinating. For instance, in this one article there were the following points:

“Trust is an attitude that we have towards people whom we hope will be trustworthy, where trustworthiness is a property, not an attitude.”

“One's attitude is conducive to trust if it conveys the following: an acceptance of risk, especially the risk of being betrayed; an inclination to expect the best of the other person (at least in domains in which one trusts him or her); and the belief or optimism that this person is competent in certain respects.”

Essentially, in order to trust someone, you have to believe in the person’s commitment as well as their competence. This explanation might be very obvious to many of you, but it has given me a whole new outlook on what it means to trust.

I, wrongly, believed I could implicitly trust anyone whom I love and care for. This assumption has lead to serious disillusionment. For instance, I trusted some of my family members to manage certain matters since my father died, which they subsequently failed to do. This does not necessarily mean they aren’t committed to our relationship, but rather, they did not possess the competence to manage the matters properly.

I am not sure what this all means at the present point in time. All that I know is that it does mean something. The reason that I sense there is an importance is because I have known people in my life who were trustworthy to the core of their being. My father was one of those.

Today is Father’s Day in Canada and the States. This article is dedicated to my dear father. He was someone I trusted implicitly with my life (literally), and he never failed me once. I hope dearly that my children will be able to say the same of me, when they (finally) grow up and question what trust is.

A Special Deal

It being Sunday and a very sunny warm one at that, I want to offer you a special deal. I have in the last months bought and read two very interesting mystery series:

The Maisie Dobbs mystery series (4 paperbacks), by Jacqueline Winspear


The Erast Fandorin mystery series (4 paperbacks), by Boris Akunin

The former takes place post WWI London and the later towards the end of the 19th century, in settings all over the European continent and beyond. I find the development of both protagonists many faceted and, as far as I can judge, historically authentic. I also enjoyed that all the books were interesting piece of writing in their own right.

If any one is interested in reading one of the series, please let me know and I will send you the four paperbacks by pony express. It doesn’t matter where you live, the books are light and if you are willing to wait for the package to arrive, I’d be delighted to pass them on. The only condition to the offer is you pass on the books after you have finished.

After note: Nomad Son has been sorting through his bookshelves yesterday and today. He is using the program GuruLib to aid him in this endeavour. He has just put in the first 100 books, but I think it sort of gives you a sense of why such a program might be nice to use.

08 June, 2007

Elroy’s Story X

This is a collage of Elroy's world Nancy and Bill's home.
Marylou goes to visit Nancy on Elroy's first day in their home. Marylou goes in part to see how Elroy was doing, part to see how Nancy and Bill were coping.
On the return journey to Hei-apshi, Marylou thinks about her impressions of the Ordinary's house. She is a bit uneasy about their conversation, though she cannot pinpoint what disturbed her about Nancy's words. Maybe, it is nothing more than the fact Nancy seems a bit smug about her marriage and how happy and stable it is. Or maybe it is just envy because she, Marylou, who is over fifty years old, has never been married, nor has she had the chance to be mother to a special child like Elroy.

07 June, 2007

Elroy’s Story IX

Friday morning arrives at last. A rainy day. One of those days which looks as though the skies will never clear. The milkman arrives a little later than usual. This surprises Bill tremendously. In the ten years the milkman has been delivering milk to the Ordinary's house, he has never ever been two minutes off schedule. A half hour goes by before the milkman rattles the milk bottles; announcing the milk is here. Bill has already showered shaved and changed into his business suit by then and so he goes downstairs to take in the milk.

Bill is met with a surprising sight. He stands in the doorway with the door open letting the rain pour in onto the hallway carpet. Elroy is sitting in a large crate on the top doorstep. The crate is filled with milk bottle tops (it is the only packaging material the fellows down at the dairy were able to find on such a short notice). A makeshift umbrella of cardboard is suspended over his head. On the side of the crate is a sign, which is colourfully painted with flowers, hearts, moons and stars and in the middle are the words, "Happy Birth Day! To you, Nancy and Bill Ordinary. Here is your special special child, Elroy. Your wish come true!"
A great uproar suddenly starts in the kitchen. Elroy has found the cupboard with the pots and pans and has started on the task of emptying all of its contents onto the floor. Nancy and Bill run down the hallway. Elroy is standing in the middle of the floor with the pots and pans scattered all around him. He has a big smile of satisfaction on his face, as if to say, "Well, that's a job well done!"

06 June, 2007

Plan B

I’ve been meaning to write a story the last day or two. In between times, while walking down the street or standing in a store line-up, I worked out how I’d tell the story. This afternoon, just as I sat down to write an email or two, I reminded myself that I should write the story about… it’s gone! I have not idea any more what story I intended to write about. I know my son was in it, but… blank. Oh, is that scary when it happens. Even at Almost Fifty, I really don’t feel that old!

So, Plan B, another story... My son was about two years old when, for the first time, I gave him some gum to chew. Two small pieces. Given to him just after picking him up at noon from day care. The whole way home, on the bicycle, he didn’t let out one peep. When we got home, I lifted him out of his bicycle seat and placed him on the ground. He stumbled and fell to the ground. He looked up quite disconcerted and said, “Oops, the gum is no longer apart”. He thought he had to chew each piece of gum on different sides of his mouth.

05 June, 2007

Elroy’s Story VIII

Hocpoi is given the news that a special child has been found for Bill and Nancy Ordinary. He must arrange for means of delivery. Hocpoi knows enough about these matters to realise that the normal sequence of pregnancy, baby shower, flight to hospital, birth, and flower bouquets will not do in this case - for Elroy is almost two years old and it would be impossible to hide him inside Nancy's stomach without someone suspecting. He therefore decides after some deliberation on the milkman, He remembers hearing somewhere, years back, that milkmen offer such a service for their customers. It seems the simplest of solutions.

Elroy’s Story VII

Marylou goes with him afterwards into the playroom to his favourite corner and sits him on her knee and reads him all his favourite books. In between each book she gives this special child a special hug and tells him how happy he is going to be in his new home - with a real set of parents. Once or twice she gave him an extra hug just for herself.

04 June, 2007

Elroy’s Story VI

The texts I place under the collages are just bits and pieces of the whole. They are there to portray a setting or feeling. One I get the text edited, I will make the story up into an ebook.
A large envelope arrives from Hocpoi in Hei-apshi a few days later. Hei-apshi is a village that is completely in keeping with the meaning of its aboriginal name - a friendly, jolly turmoil of a place. The main part of the village is built at the bottom of a small valley. A mixture of white-brick cottages, ornamental pagodas, straw-roofed chalets and buffalo skin T-pees create a colourful confused atmosphere to the village. The people who reside in town and its surrounding area are also like a jar of mixed-pickles. There is a large colony of garden gnomes, pink flamingos, orphans and senior citizens, which represent the crux of the population. There is also the seasonal fluctuation of lumberjacks in the winter and a large group of swans in the summer.

The area Hocpoi comes from is the fairy and garden-gnome neighbourhood, which is found at the far end of the valley on the border of a large pine forest.

03 June, 2007

Elroy’s Story V

"There are a hundred and one forms to fill out and in each of these forms there are another hundred and one questions to be answered. Detailed questions. What happens is, when it comes around to specifying exactly what characteristics and attributes the adopted child should possess, Hocpoi quickly becomes repetitive and then he gets a writer's cramp and then he simply leaves many of the questions blank."

Elroy’s Story IV

"One particular spring evening, Hocpoi stood amongst the snow bells, crocuses and dahlias, listening with half an ear to what is being said inside the kitchen. He is suddenly startled out of a reverie by a new tone in Nancy's voice; one of longing. She is saying, "It really would be so wonderful to be able to change the den into a children's room; for our child. I wish so much for a child, Bill. A special, special child. Don't you?"

Elroy’s Story III

Hocpoi laments that nothing really important or exciting ever seems to happen in the Ordinarys lives. He is thoroughly bored standing underneath the kitchen window, with his Shovel of Industry in his hand, year after year, waiting for something to happen. Hocpoi's only hope to be freed from his plastic form and to be able to return to Hei-apshi, the village where he is born and which he longs to see again is if he grants the Ordinarys a wish. No such wish has been made in ten years.

02 June, 2007

Elroy’s Story II

During the week, Bill and Nancy leave their home at seven-thirty in the morning. Each holding a briefcase which contains a lunch Bill prepared: one apple: a sandwich (tuna salad or cheese and tomato): a small can of fruit juice: and, last but not least, a muesli bar. They drive off together in their blue Pontiac. Bill drives, while Nancy reads the newspaper. When they arrive at the train station, Bill gets out of the car, fetches his briefcase from the back seat, takes the folded newspaper from Nancy 's hand, gives her a kiss and then walks off to catch his train into the city. Nancy buckles herself into the driver's seat and drives off to the nearby shopping mall where she runs a Young People's Fashion store.
Unbeknownst to the Ordinarys, they've been sharing their house with someone else besides each other and their cat. To be more correct, they've been sharing their backyard with someone else. This being who has been a part of their lives all of these years, is none other than a plastic garden gnome, Hocpoi, whom they inherited when they moved into the house. He has stood patiently all those years underneath the kitchen window in one of Nancy's perennial beds, with a Shovel of Industry in his hand. Garden gnomes are supposed to grant the wishes of their garden family with the Shovel of Industry.

Elroy’s Story

I started on the collages for my Elroy childrens story. Ill put the first drafts in the blog, with some of the text or a short description of the intent. I would really appreciate it if you can write comments or send in emails with your opinions.

If all goes well, Ill make 29-30 collages. I want to try and make up five or six collages and see what direction they take and then figure out how to develop some sort of cohesive elements.
Bill and Nancy Ordinary reside at 21 Elm Street, in Middletown, Ontario. Their house is red bricked with four windows at the front and four at the back. The doors and windows frames are painted aspen green; every two years Bills gives them a new coat of paint. The house has an elm tree by the driveway and two apple trees in the back garden. Nancy cultivates perennial beds and Bill tends a small vegetable garden - where he specialises in cocktail tomatoes.