31 August, 2007
30 August, 2007
My teenage daughter
Slips & slides around
Of prickly hindrances:
Exasperation, Aggravation, Irritation.
Emotions rising up
Before her, us… me
She finds it hard
Their prevailing influences.
They prick & sting.
She leaves behind
Of lost innocence.
Too close &
So far apart.
29 August, 2007
28 August, 2007
Her daughter is seventeen years old, and currently dislikes overt displays of emotions. In any case, that was the excuse my friend gave me, when refusing my proposal to press our noses and lips up against the glass wall separating us from her daughter in the luggage pick up area.
There was a man waiting with us in the arrivals area with two nervous, yappy, small dogs. You should have seen the scene the dogs created when the owner’s wife came out. They were barking, yapping, squeaking, and wagging their behinds so hard their rear ends touched their ears. The man barely managed to give his wife a peck-on-the-cheek; for the dogs were jumping everywhere.
It was hysterical. Many of the people in the hall looked on disapprovingly. My friend included. Tsk. Tsk. Too much noise. Too much hysterics.
I thought it was fantastic. What a display of joy and excitement. Wouldn’t you just give anything to be able to do that? To bark, and yap, jump up and down, waggle you behind in pure abandon at the sight of your loved one walking through that door?
27 August, 2007
Buying vegetables is always last on my list. I know the owner, N., of the shop. Actually, I’m not sure she’s the owner: she runs the shop. Her father does the product purchasing at the distribution centre at Hamburg’s harbour. Her mother makes and bakes Turkish specialities, which N. sells along with fruits, vegetables and a selection of Turkish and Arabic dry goods.
If N. is not busy, we sit in the corner of a storage room across the hall from the shop and drink a glass of tea or some “drink yoghurt” together. The storage room’s door is always open, so when someone comes into the shop, N. can wander over, serve the customer, and then come back and sits at the table with me without the slightest blip in our conversation.
Her sister, husband and young children live in one apartment above the shop. Her parents and N.’s younger siblings on the floor above that. N. and her teenage daughter on the top floor.
While N. and I sit and drink a cup of tea, her father comes in, and I am formally introduced to him in Turkish. I answer back formally in German. I must pass some test; for ten minutes later, N. younger brother comes down and mans the shop for a half-an-hour. N. and I luxuriate in some uninterrupted conversation.
After a half-an-hour, the brother quietly, wordlessly goes back up to his apartment. N. and I quietly, wordlessly get up and go over to the shop. I buy my vegetables, thank her for the tea, and stroll on back home under the late afternoon sun.
26 August, 2007
I love rowboats and dinghies.
My grandfather always had a red rowboat to row down the river behind his home. The boat was one of those heavy wooden boats, impossible to lift onto shore, but, on the plus side, no amount of rambunctious behaviour on the part of his three granddaughters could tip it over. So, we’d trail up and down the river on our afternoon Huckleberry Finn adventures in that lovely red boat. My grandfather puttered in his garden; safe in the knowledge that we were well capable of surviving the mutinies, treasure hunts, and lost-at-sea adventures and were bound to return when once we were hungry enough.
My father was a sailor. We didn’t actually own a sailboat for many years, but my father had an older friend, Frank, who was retired, childless and a lot of time on his hands, and would kindly lend us his boat for a few weeks in the summer. In payment, my father willingly skippered Frank’s boat (with Frank as crew) on all the spring, summer, and autumn racing series and weekend regattas. My father also did all of the spring upkeep on the boat.
When we sailed off for a few weeks, my father would bring along a dilapidated dinghy to trail behind us during our summer travels on Lac Louis, Lake Champlain, the Thousand Islands, or Lake Ontario. The dingy was used to transport us from our mooring in some quiet harbour to land so we could buy new food supplies.
We’d also float along the coastline with it, or row over and explore any nearby islands. Overall rather sedate occupations. Yet, there were the leaks, the lost oars, the unknown riptides, and the sea monsters below that occupied our imaginations and spoke of impending disaster.
25 August, 2007
It is hard to explain how I, a fan of Jane Austen, Victorian literature, and tea ceremonies (Japanese, Dutch, North Friesian) can be hooked on such a raunchy series as Deadwood.
How do they manage to televise the program in the US, since there is so much swearing going on all the viewer would hear are beeps?
24 August, 2007
We’ve just finished a video (here, sorry video quality not so good as yet) explaining how practically we did the work we did in the schools. There were other aspects to the job: e.g. developing educational software and hardware, carrying out evaluations, giving seminars and workshops, PR, and writing scientific papers. Some of these later tasks were more fun to do than the others, but working in schools was always an interesting learning experience.
Interesting enough, that I am going to pursue teaching (ESL) now that I’m closing up shop in this last career direction. I am a bit apprehensive about taking this new step, for I am more a problem-solving person than a social person. Yet, if the focus for this generation of teachers is to help students learn how to learn, to explore their world with the aid of technology, to discover context and create content, then maybe teaching can be an exciting profession.
This slideshow video on TeacherTube summarises very well what my thoughts about adopting relevant methods for teaching our children to prepare for their futures. It explains very succinctly how we, as parents and educators, can step up and give our children a helping hand. Help them learn to be creative and curious learners.
And, this slideshow video, "Did You Know 2.0?", explains why we all, every single person in so-called western societies, have to wake up when it comes to our children’s education.
Last but not least, please watch this inspiring talk given by Sir Ken Robinson during the TED conference in 2006. I don’t know how often I have mentioned this talk, for I watch it again and again every few months. Each time my spirit rises and my inner resolve to play some small part in educating children increases.
22 August, 2007
21 August, 2007
If there is one area where the European social systems are heading into trouble waters, it is our social pension plans. This BBC article highlights some of the difficulties.
Up until now, the social security, social medical insurance, unemployment insurance, and social pension plan worked, in my estimate, very well. Most pensioned Germans, or foreigners having paid into the pension plan, receive 65% and upwards of their last salary, as a monthly pension. This rate can obviously not be sustained in a country with the lowest birth rate in Europe. In 2030 there will be more elderly than younger people in Germany, unless people start producing like rabbits. Thus far too few people will be supporting far too many.
I sometimes wonder whether we will be the first generation since WWII who will not retire. We’ll just continue working in one capacity or another in order to exist. Our quiet serene Golden Years will be ones of measured toil. The gods willing, may we be mentally and physically able to meet the challenges.
20 August, 2007
I’m here in this small town for a university work term. This motel is apparently the only place I can rent for the duration of my stay. The lady at the desk is surprised at my request to rent a room for four months, when, “Heck, we usually get more requests to rent by the hour”. I am not certain how much enthusiasm I am supposed to show at this news, since it is not clear whether she services those pit stop interludes for the trickle of motley travelling salesmen passing through.
This is small mind small town Ontario. There is a one central road going through the town with a few commercial buildings, including the town’s diner, where I eat breakfast and dinner every day. It only takes one walk along that street, a five minute walk, to know the town and it’s history (a statue for war veterans) like the back of my hand.
I’m working at the town’s major employer, an electronics company. I am the only female working in the engineering office: a first for the other engineers. They are polite, but not helpful, and definitely not friendly. I can understand, really I can. I’ve seen it at other places I’ve worked. It’s that sandbox dilemma; if a boy offers a girl his shovel, the other boys tease him so relentlessly. He quickly regrets making the kind gesture, let alone having, for one crazy moment of time, contemplated making friends with the girl.
So, the other engineers just go about business as usual. One or two fellows offer me the use of their shovels, but strictly out of sight and sound of the other guys. Yeah, I accept their kind gestures, but we know, the guys and I, that no one else is suppose to know they did this. So, all the hoped for social invitations: being invited over to meet wives and children, a drop by at the weekly baseball game with the guys, coming over to the Sunday bbq, just do not appear.
Instead, I walk to work from the motel each morning, stopping for breakfast on the way at the diner. They make me up a sandwich for lunch. After work, I do the same routine, but in the reverse order. I always carry a book along, which I read at the diner until they close at seven in the evening. Then I head back to my motel room to read some more.
Eventually, after much humming and hah-ing, the three single engineers invite me over on the weekend to their bachelor pad, for beers and baseball. I can’t believe they actually call the place they live a bachelor pad. After a moment of hesitation (I don’t drink beer and know dit about baseball) I accept their invitation as gracefully as possible. Gracefully, not enthusiastically: I don’t want to give the impression I am too eager. Eager is not good in sandbox social situations.
The next months pass in perpetual tedium. Diner. Work. Motel. Diner. Work. Motel. An occasional beer and baseball date with the guys. I read. Oh, how I read! I escape into works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joseph Conrad, and Bruce Chatwin. Their spirited adventures create a stark contrast to my mundane solitary existence.
Late Sunday evening, the last Sunday of my long stay, I do something very foolish. Painfully foolish.
When I was younger, I turned off my bedroom lights, take a few running steps, leap over the rest of the room, and land with a boom onto my bed. It was my way of rendering the bogyman, who resided under my bed, unconscious for the night. How the bogyman got under my bed and why he could be made unconscious in such a manner, is another story for another day. Nevertheless, this was a nightly ritual most of my childhood and early teens. Once the bogyman was unconscious, it was easy to lie in the dark, think of good things, and fall pleasantly to sleep.
So, go ahead ten years or more, to my decrepit motel room… It rains the whole day. I’ve spent it indoors reading. It’s late. While getting ready to sleep, I think about the fact that this is my last Sunday in small mind small town Ontario. In a moment of glee, I turn off the light and leap across the room to bounce upon my bed.
Boom. Crash. Gurgle. Gawd! I misjudge the distance to the bed and practically strangulate myself upon the headboard. The pain. The hurt. The humiliation.
Monday morning arrives. I wake up and realise that I have this long diagonal bruise across the one side of my neck. The problem is, it doesn’t look like a bruise, but one helluva hickey. It being summer, I don’t have any turtleneck sweaters. It being summer, I couldn’t wear a turtleneck sweater even if I wanted.
So, I take myself off to work. The regulars in the diner do their regular greeting, see my hickey, and an embarrassing silence spreads. No one mentions the elephant hickey in the porcelain shop. Off, I go to the office. Not the same reaction from my fellow male engineers. No, they not only sight the elephant hickey, they shouted out its existence loud-and-clear, and then they swing about the porcelain shop with sledgehammers. Just for fun.
There was no way I was going to humiliate myself more than I had the night before and make a futile attempt to tell them the truth of the situation. A gal got to have some pride. So, everyone in the office spends the week before my departure making bets on who the Mystery Man is. I tell them nonchalantly, “just the bogyman under my bed”.
This story is dedicated to Birdie at BlogHer, whose wonderful writing lessons helped me to find my storytelling voice.
19 August, 2007
In Prickley Bay, near the mangrove, a great heron stands at dusk in stillness every evening. Always the same spot. The same heron. It does nothing but stand and occasionally, very occasionally, turn its head. The heron, the mangrove alight in fabulous colour are a dance, a poem.
18 August, 2007
I refuse to continue lamenting about the poor summer weather. My heavens, talk about a national obsession. In places where the weather is almost always perfect (think of Grenada, the home of my heart), people don’t spend their days talking about how wonderful the sea breeze is.
A day, like today, is perfect, despite the weather. There are books to read, conversations to enjoy, and, after a week of illness, a feeling of slowly renewed health. The water boils for a new pot of tea. Sunshine, bah humbug, who needs you? Totally, overrated.
This, this is bliss.
17 August, 2007
Once I understood this principle, I decided to enjoy the ride and start saving for couch-time for my two children. Yes, they do appear to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted young people, but bam, who knows what’s going to happen further down the line? I figure if I’m going to bear the brunt of blame later, I might as well act on good intentions and good will now, the devil may come.
The children stumble through the horrors of divorce, and, years later, despite numerous therapists and therapies, they still blame their mothers for their unhappiness. Which, in all honesty, I don’t quite get.
My father used to tell me “You have to give 100% of your effort to do 50% of your share”, and so I can’t figure how giving 100% of your effort to make a marriage work, and it stills fails, means you get 100% of the blame. Yet, this is exactly what happened in the cases of the adult children of my close friends. Doesn’t that give you pause to think?
15 August, 2007
Oh, has it rained this summer! It's rained the whole summer through. My beloved and I went away for a few days (here). The day we arrived it was sunny. Brilliant.
13 August, 2007
The work has consisted of creating cross-disciplinary, multimedia learning projects in all school grades (grades 1-13). Usually, I’d find a teacher or an interested teacher would hear of the project and we’d get together and discuss her or his class’ curriculum. The teachers would explain how they usually teach the subject at hand and what the students needed to know at the end of the term. I would try to come up with a new approach and useful technology to help the students do the work, since they are the persons having to learn.
For the most part, in Germany, the prevalent form of instruction is still the traditional frontal instruction form. Teachers stand next to the blackboards and yell above the dim of the non-attentive students’ heads. It is frightening to witness. I really do not know how the teachers manage to put up with this sort of behaviour.
Yet, I might just learn what this is like because I’m thinking of applying for a job as a teacher (English as a second language and media) when my present position finishes. I’m doing this in hope of helping the students to learn how to learn. That is one of my few abilities: finding the motivation and the methodology to learn new things. I don’t necessarily learn well or easily, but I do like to learn. I do like to keep those mental gears turning.
12 August, 2007
Not only is Natalie marrying a bear of little brain, she is also inheriting a large tea toddling Episcopalian family. At the head of this extended family reigns Dennis’ large bosomed domineering, if not plain terrifying, mother, Rachel. Basically, Natalie doesn’t stand a chance.
The bride and groom’s table seats twenty persons. My poor uncle is squished in at the far end behind a column, so I can’t make eye contact with him. The rest of the table is filled with Nancy’s new tea toddling relatives. Who, I kid you not, insist on toasting the newly weds with pink champagne (i.e., a 7-up and pink grapefruit drink mix). The bridegroom’s father toast runs along the lines of wishing his son all the best at keeping his wife barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, harharhar, which shouldn’t be difficult since the kitchen is his son’s favourite place to be (reaching over and patting his son’s wide girth), harharhar…
Sitting next to me at the table is my deceased aunt’s best friend, Anne. When Anne first arrives at the table and sees her name card sandwiched between two delinquent nephews of the groom, she exchanges her name card for the deaf uncle who is meant to sit beside me.
Anne is very tall, carries herself regally, and has a startling head of white hair… she’s a Katherine Hepburn without the annoying voice and her Spencer Tracy lover. In her time, Anne was called an old maid. She never married. She never even seemed to be interested in men. Instead, she spent a good part of her adult life nursing her aging parents until they died, and since then she’s continued living in the house on her own. She is an artist and bird watcher, like my aunt was. The two of them went on many outings, either to draw or watch the nature around them.
Anne is what people call “a real character”. Depending upon whom you talk to, Anne either “is not afraid to speak her mind” or “has a sharp tongue”. In general, in the Montreal suburbia where we live, both of these things are not seen as positive personality traits. It makes having small talk with Anne impossible. She either abandons the conversation if it is too trivial, or she fearlessly plunges into the meat of the matter if she finds you interesting. There is really no in between with her.
I’ve always been in awe of Anne, since the time she told me that she didn’t give a damm what people think of her, nor what they say about her. Since her parents died, she says what she wants, when she wants, and to whomever she wants. That sounds like paradise to me.
Over the years, during the few times I seen Anne at family gatherings, she’s taught me in her no nonsense way that life is a serious matter, but also about how intrinsically bizarre and funny people are. She does not abide by any social norms, but chooses to hold reverent any form of life, whether animal or plant.
I sometimes I wish I could muster up the nerve and tell her how much I adore her, but I fear she would scoff this declaration away as being benignly sentimental. And if there is something Anne dislikes more than anything else, it is sentimentality.
As we sit and listen to a long series of wedding toasts, one worse than another, Anne looks at me and says, “I don’t usually hold to drinking alcohol during the day, but why don’t you and I go out and look for a bar. I could sure use a drop of dry sherry.” She asks whether I would prefer it if she pretends to swoon, and I could escort her out to get some fresh air, or we just quietly leave the room without a fuss. I choose the former scenario, since I want to see Anne the Swooner.
My best memory of Natalie’s wedding was our dramatic exist during the wedding reception. The rest was a sad affair. I wish Natalie better.
Note: Four years after this wedding took place, Natalie went off with the best man. I often wonder whether this was Natalie’s way of divorcing Dennis, his large extended family, and society as a whole in one fell sweep. Natalie told me that she received a congratulatory Hallmark card from Anne, with a handwritten comment, “Welcome to the real world”, and her wishes that Natalie and her new beau would be happy.
11 August, 2007
Strangely, one of the quirky side-effects of having been a ballet dancer aeons ago, is I can still put my foot in my mouth, as well as behind my head. These are not party tricks I do any more, but let me assure you that "putting your foot in your mouth" does not, in real life, feel as humiliating and painful as the expression is supposed to convey. That is why the German expression, "ins Fettnaeppchen treten", with its implication of slipping in the grease and then landing painfully on your butt, is better.
I was completely incensed that his family and friends were still letting the man drive.
Apparently, the last time he drove to the corner store, he ended up a hundred kilometres away, and someone had to come and pick him up. My blood started to boil. My indignation peaked, and when I stated that I felt how this man’s family were all being highly irresponsible, I looked over at their blank, uncomprehending expressions and realised I had just slipped in a bowl of grease.
In Germany, you get your driver’s licence for life. You never have to renew it; once issued it is a permanent document. Whether it is reasonable to let people drive until they voluntarily decide not to, is one of those taboo topics, like the dangers of driving on highways (Autobahns) without speed limits. No one wants anyone interfering with their freedom/right to drive as fast or for as long as they want.
The next day, I went to visit a friend of mine in Munich. I told her about the incident with the man with Alzheimer still driving and she countered with a story of her aunt in Tuebingen. Her eighty-eight year old aunt takes her eighty-eight year old Mercedes for a drive twice a week, auspiciously to pick up some groceries, but actually, it is just a ritual, like many rituals her aunt has. Sundays she goes to church. Mondays she meets with the bridge group. Tuesdays she cleans her apartment. Wednesdays she drives to the shopping mall. Thursdays she bowls. Fridays she does her laundry. Saturdays drives out to an outlying bio farm to pick up fresh produce.
When I ask her whether she thinks her aunt is fit enough to drive, my friend responds by saying, "Other than the fact she tends to see double, she is quite fine". Then she puzzles over this phenomenon, "When my aunt sees four ears on someone’s head, she obviously knows there are only two, but I haven’t figured out she does when she sees two cars driving towards her?"
Is it only me, or does anyone else think there is something wrong with an elderly man with Alzheimer and a 88 year old woman who sees double out in their cars driving on our roads?
09 August, 2007
Here is a slide show of some of the photos I took while in Freising and the surrounding area. The two photos with people sitting on picnic tables were taken in a Biergarten (beer garden).
By the time I arrived in Munich to visit with an old friend I shared an apartment with in university (Waterloo, Ontario), my jaw was loose, some long-forgotten memories started bubbling up to the surface, and so we were in for a marathon talking session.
shop in St. George’s. The colours are still looking great after twenty years.
poster girl, happened to be traveling, but I know better.
06 August, 2007
She has an appointment at the doctor's, thus I have an hour to catch up on various emails and blogs on my google reader list.
Our conversation has been very lively so far and informative. In the course of one hour, she mentioned two essential matters concerning my citizenship and about my future career change.
Apparently, I might be at risk of losing my Canadian citizenship if I do not "clear up" the situation. It appears that Canadian citizens born abroad long ago ( in my case in Venezuela late 1950s), who have not been Canadian residence for a while (I've been living in Germany for 25 years), stand the risk of having their Canadian citizenship retracted. Don't know if this is true, but it is worth looking into.
Secondly, my friend explained certain points of the complicated German pension system, which will give me much more freedom of movement when seeking employment over the next twenty years. My present work contract runs out at the end of this month. The idea of reorienting my choice of career is daunting, yet, with this critical piece of information, a few new doors have opened up.
We could, though we won't, talk about nothing for the rest of this Munich tea party and my visit would be well worth the effort. It is not often that I am surprised (shocked) by important news and today it has happened twice.
05 August, 2007
The woman giggles a lot. The man, with the Clive Owen look, has a low sandpaper voice, and like sto hear himself speaking. He and the woman occasionally kiss. Passionate kisses. They speak of more to come, once they are home and their sidekick is gone.
Sidekick is the most dronk of the three. Beligerant to boot. While his companions kiss, he class up the people on his cell phone list and yells obcenities into the phone. He thinks this is funny.
The friendly waiter comes and makes a comment about it being time for them to put some food in their stomachs. The sidekick asks him if he can hear their stomachs rumbling. The waiter replies dryly that not only their stomachs can be heard over the whole market place. He chooses his words so well, they do not appear to be rude or condecending, rather, they cut through the dullness, the cotton padding of their inebreation. Suddenly, the three begin to behave civilly.
It is as though the waiter's words possess the magic ability to remind them how they normally behave.
04 August, 2007
Can you imagine travelling from the top of your country to the bottom in seven hours?
I raced through one of the two books I brought along for this four day journey. It was an oversight to bring only two.
03 August, 2007
- pampered (a fine cup of green tea)
- relaxed (head and neck massage)
- more enlightened (having philosophised about life with my hairdresser)
- more informed (granted, I take a peak at the gossip and not the politics, but hey!)
- and leave with the feeling as if a good bit of work has been accomplished and feeling more beautiful than when I walked in
Sounds like a very good deal, doesn’t it?
01 August, 2007
Aside from his advice on how to deal with the continual flow of incoming email, I felt many of his points apply to uses of other technologies or media. What he said made me reflect upon my blogging and the large range of associated activities that I participate in with the blogging community.
As some of you might know, I started blogging initially as an experiment. Then I thought it would be a nice way to allow friends and family to get a glimpse into my day-to-day life. Something made difficult by the fact all of my siblings and relatives and many of my friends are scattered across the world.
I have a serious aversion of serial letters of any sort. I hate repeating news in emails. I’m not one to chew the chat (or whatever the expression is). So, blogging is godsend. I can write about whatever is on my mind, without feeling as if I’m wasting my friends’ time: if they aren’t interested in what I’m saying in certain posts, they can skip over them. The plus side is that what I write is honest, current, and a true reflection on my humble existence.
What I hadn’t expected was very few of my family (hi, sis!) and very few of my friends (a handful) read my blog regularly. The fact is, as far as sitemeter tells me, most of the readers of this blog, have gotten to “know” me through other blogs or the blogging community.
I talked to Charlotte about this on our first rendezvous in Berlin. Her experience has been similar to mine. And this made me think that part of blogging is writing, of course, but also becoming a more active member of the blogging community. In the last months, I have been trying to make more of a conscientious effort to leave comments on other people’s posts and monitor whether people are reading my posts.
The problem is (and this is where I make a swift return to Mann’s presentation) I have been creating a bit of white noise with all the “ becoming more active” in the community. I have become so distracted with what people are writing, the comments of those bloggers’ readers on their blogs, who is doing what with whom, that my attention has been somewhat drawn away from the real task at hand: writing.
This distraction has to stop; in the same way that Merlin Mann says our ineffectual practices in (not) coping with our ever-filling inbox has to stop. There has to be a sensible way to create an empty inbox (i.e., reduce my preoccupation with the blogging community) and free my mind for the more important task at hand.
I feel as though I got a gentle slap in the face. It’s time to figure out how to be a more efficient, good member of the blogsphere, and, more importantly, a better blogger.