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.