31 July, 2008

Preaching to the Choir

Have you ever been invited to give a course or a presentation to a group of reluctant or resistant converts? It takes a certain type of person to survive such an experience. For the first twenty years or so of my professional career, I usually only preached to the choir when giving presentations or submitting project proposals. In the last years, since I started working in schools, I’m standing amongst the reluctant and resistant.

Originally, I was involved, one-way or another, in training technicians to maintain or repair complex medical equipment. The technicians wanted to do their job well, for not infrequently, lives depended on them. I wanted them to do their job well too, for exactly the same reason. Even the shareholder-pleasing corporate executives running the company were interested in us doing our jobs well. Then I went over to working in university research.

The projects I worked and work on are highly innovative. Or, innovative in the sense that the ideas we are trying to promote (i.e., creative and constructive use of digital media in schools (K-12 grades)), are not commonly practiced in the schools in our region. Even though many studies, in the last then years, state the importance of media literacy in our children’s development, the school system here ignores their responsibility to lead and guide their students in this learning process. The last three weeks have been particularly discouraging for me because nearly every meeting I have attended with teachers has been like swimming through toffee.

I am discourage not only because the teachers are so reluctant or resistant when it comes to introducing media in there classroom learning scenarios (e.g. grade 9 math teacher reluctant for her students to use Excel tables to record data), but also because I cannot convince them to change their Old World practices.

It does not help to point to the conclusive results of the studies, or to indulge in passionate rants. Before the teachers actually take the leap and use media in their classrooms with all the joys and sorrow this brings, no amount of talking will change things for the present generation of students.

Just in the last weeks I have heard the following statements,

“My students know if they want to reach me, they have to come and find me, for I don’t look at my email inbox for weeks on end.”

(from a dear friend and dedicated college English literature teacher)

“I have to study for exams, I don’t have time to waste on the Internet. Maybe in three or four years time, I’ll look and see what is offered there that I can’t find in books.”

(from a college occupational therapy student nearing graduation and who, like her other classmates was very resistant to use a computer as a learning tool)

“What is the pedagogical advantage of using media? It only causes confusion and trouble in the classroom.”

(from a high school math teacher)

“The teachers don’t want us to use digital media. They don’t even want to use it themselves. Why do you bother trying to convince them otherwise? You’ll only fall on your face if you keep trying to present them (the teachers) with new ideas.”

(from my 18 year old son)

I really question the soundness of my ambition to become a teacher in my next career. How can one person make any difference when the learning instructional forms are so rigidly planted in the past century? With this frame of mind, I listen to Geetha Narayanan keynote talk at ED-Media 08. She talks about the necessity for remodelling our educational system,

“It is my current position that contemporary forms of schooling do not sit comfortably with the potential of new media. Nor do they resonate with the needs of youth today. All of who need to live, and live well, and not just struggle to survive in today’s complex world.”

I sit in my living room and I am transported over to her inner city programs in India. I am a choir member listening and rejoicing to the sound of her preaching voice as she talks about her children and teachers and the wonder of learning. Maybe I will become a teacher, maybe not, but it is inspiring to know there are people out there not only with a vision of reform, but with the energy and influence to implement it.

29 July, 2008

Private Matter

cello collage

A few months ago, there was a weekend public art event held in private homes in Luebeck. The event is called PrivatArt, which translates as private art, or private matter, or private manner. Numerous homes opened their doors to the public so they could view art in various forms: e.g., painting, sculpture and music.

A dear friend and I attended at cello concert in a home that was also showing an exhibit of India inspired collages. The woman of the house performed the concert. She is, other than being a masterful cellist, also a grade school teacher. Thirty people or so squished into the small living room of their 17th century home, to hear her play old and new compositions.

It was a very personable affair. She explained the difference in music notation of old (leaves more to the artist’s interpretation) and new (detailed instructions telling exactly how to play the notes). Each notation form has its challenges, each piece its joys and frustrations. The cellist brought both the composers and their compositions close to her audience.

What surprised me most when I saw the cello played up close was how three-dimensional the bowing of the cello is. I had always presumed that bowing was similar to sawing, there being a back and forth, a long or short movement, but that is it. That is not it at all, for sawing is only a two-dimensional description. The third dimension occurs because the cellist can move the bow 90 degrees, from the side over across to the flat of the bow. On the side, all the hairs of the bow act as one taunt wire, and then on the flat side, each hair is acting practically as an individual, and thus creating another tonality of vibration in the cello’s strings. What magic!

Here is a video of Jacqueline Du Pré playing the cello, when she was young.

She and Yo Yo Ma were my inspirations when I was a teenager and young adult.

Luebeck is blessed to have so many artists living here. We are also blessed to have so many cultural events, like PrivatArt.

Next, is the Museum Night, where all true blue Luebeckers and visitors wander in and out of the museums and galleries looking at art exhibited and preformed of every form until mid-night. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing an actor read Gunther Grass’ erotic poems to tango music and seeing three couples dancing tango to the poems. Once again, it was magical.

26 July, 2008

Uncle Dear

My dearest uncle died last night. My sister and I talked today and we are both hoping his spirit is free of suffering and he is breathing with the lungs of the gods.

Keeping your cool in hot weather

This is a post I published in the ElderExercise blog. After all the positive experiences I had joining the yoga online-community, wopramo, last December, I decided recently to join the ElderExercise group as well. Both communities have been invaluable in helping me find some balance to my days. Thanks guys.

I’ve had the blessing of visiting and living in a few countries which are hot all year round. I’d thought I’d share with you some of the ways to keep cool in hot weather. These are the following practices I’ve observed, they are not perhaps scientifically proven, but they are green and they are well meant:

Seek shade and breezy

Avoid extreme temperature changes. Moderate temperature changes are better for regulating your body’s internal thermostat. So, if you must use air conditioning in your home, change it’s temperature throughout the day to be just 4-5 degrees Celsius different with the outdoor temperature.

Whenever possible, open a window or turn on a fan and create a draft, rather than turning on an air conditioner. Seek out shaded areas in a park or on a lake and hunker down for a read or a snooze. Quiet occupations in shaded areas helps your body to cool down. Escaping into a freezing movie theatre only produces temporary relief and adds strain to your body when you leave.

Cool feet

Dip your feet and lower legs in water whenever possible. We don’t have air conditioning at work (actually, we don’t have much air conditioning anywhere in Germany) and so whenever there is a heatwave and the temperature in my office is higher than my blood, I put some cold water into a plastic garbage bin and rest me feel and lower legs there until my body temperature cools down.

A friend of mine in Australia told me recently that when she gets too hot, she puts on thick wet socks, lies down in dark room and aims the fan at her feet.

Eat cold and drink hot

Most of the countries that I’ve been in that have extremely hot weather have this practice of eating cold (actually room temperature food) and drinking hot teas all the day through. Some of the countries eat a hot meal early in the morning or very late at night, but during the day they eat temperate food.

This is obviously because they don’t want to put the stove on during the day, but even so, when given the choice in restaurants or other venues, they still do not eat heavy hot meals.

Universally, people in those countries drink hot tea the whole day through. My two favourite teas for hot weather are sage tea and mint tea. Sage tea is, according to my herbalist, an old remedy for perfusive sweating and hot flashes. I mix up a large pot in the morning and drink it throughout the day. For mint tea, I just crumble numerous fresh mint leaves in a glass and pour hot water over it.

Move slow

Have you ever noticed that people in hot countries move with a slow swaying grace? Learn to replicate the walk and practice it diligently. Stop rushing.

Loose clothing and no underwear

Don’t wear tight fitting clothes. Try wearing caftans or loose tops and skirts. Try not wearing underwear when wearing a dress or skirt. Seriously, it works.

So, that is it for now. I hope you find one or two of the tips helpful. Do you have any tips of your own?

22 July, 2008

Restoritive Time

A time of escaping into books, spending time with family, and doing Nuting... perfect. I'll be back soon.

19 July, 2008

A Gluttony of Mystery

I just finished reading my fifth murder mystery this week. A crazy, but fun thing to do. Murder mysteries are my drug of choice when it comes to escapism. When I go on such a gluttonous bout of reading, it is usually my body and mind’s way of saying “time out”.

These last months, since February, have been too busy and I’m in need of time to waste time. I’m sure you have all been in such a situation. So, I’m off to read another mystery, and I just might throw in a fantasy or two, before I get back to writing stories and finishing off various creative projects that have been bubbling on the back burner since last year.

17 July, 2008

15 July, 2008

Summer Special

When it comes to intellectual stimulation and provocation concerning aging. I usually start with Ronni’s blog. Then I wander over to the blogs listed in her sidebar. When it comes to inspiration of practical nature, I tend to look towards my mother-in-law, older friends, and occasionally, to random strangers of a certain age. Last week, while travelling down to Berlin, I made three surprising observations about elders:

  • The new shopping mall construction site, across the bus stop from where I was standing, is employing a lot of elder construction workers. Of the twenty or so fellows I saw working on the site, over 60% were 50 years or older.
  • When I arrived at the train station and walked by the taxi line up, once again over 60% of the taxi drivers, both male and female, were 50 years or older.
  • This next encounter was not surprising, but delightful. While sitting in one of those café franchises, two elder women (one possibly mid 80s and the other one late 80s) were doing their best to drink a fancy summer special: exotic flowers, lots of foam, syrup, crushed ice, etc. It lightened my heart to witness these women’s obvious pleasure at trying out something so silly.

These observations got me thing about something I had noticed while staying in Toronto a few months ago. While there, I couldn’t shake off the impression that the majority of the people I saw were young. During the days, and into the evenings, I was often the oldest person sitting in the cafés and restaurants, buying goods in the pharmacy, or walking down the street. In the ten days there, I couldn’t shake off this feeling in a city of young(er) people.

I would be interested to know whether you think that there is a difference between the age span of people living in American cities and those living in European cities. Does anyone know where I could find out this information?

12 July, 2008

Poetry in Motion

Here is a treat...

The beauty of Desmond Richardson dancing is a wonder to be seen; the fluidity, the grace of his body, makes my spirit fly.

11 July, 2008

Berlin Day Trip

Yesterday, I had the joy of walking the streets of Berlin for the day. A long exhausting and exhilarating day’s outing.

I decided to try out the Google Map embedded function. It works quite simply, though I haven’t quite figured out how to add in photos and links to the various map markings.

Größere Kartenansicht

The highlight of the day was going to see an exhibit at the Remise, Jaeger Street 51. The Remise also holds public music events. If only I lived in the city…

09 July, 2008

Elder Man’s Zipper

An elderly man came up to me today while I was sitting at the bus stop. He asked me whether I would help him to do up the zipper on his rain jacket. It had just started to rain and he said he had forgotten his glasses at home and so couldn’t do his zipper. The fact that he was lame on the right side of his body, and his one good hand was clutching a bag and walking stick, was not mentioned as to the reason for his predicament. I certainly wasn’t about to mention it. Social propriety pure.


She looks respectable, almost meticulously so, if it were not for the smell of unwashed clothes and the wild look in her eyes. The dullness to her movement belies a mind that cannot rest on any one task for longer period of time. She works in isolation since no one willingly spends more time with her than absolutely necessary. How she manages to keep her job is anyone's guess. Yet, she is the one who remains at the company year-after-year, while others eventually leave to better jobs. She isn't even a splinter in their memories.

08 July, 2008

Social Day 2008

The children did not go to school today because they participated in a national “Social Day”. This is a day when hundreds of thousand school children spend their school day working in private homes, in offices, government or educational institutions. Their earnings go towards helping build schools, support youth projects, or run anti-racist projects in the Balkan States. This organization organises both the Social Day and the work in the Balkan States, and it is run by high school students.

Link: sevenload.com

Video titled “Heroes, please volunteer!”
The organisation is called Schüler helfen Leben (literal translation, students helping life) and they are expecting upwards of two million Euros in earnings from this year’s Social Day alone. As you can see from the video, whose goal is to get students sign up to do this voluntary work, the message is very clearly designed to appeal to its target audience. It doesn’t matter if the students help their grandmother in the garden, wash windows in a grade school, or work in a company on this day, collectively the children’s efforts create stellular results and each is a hero in their own right.

03 July, 2008


Sometimes people tell me stories that are interesting in how the story develops, or, how it concludes. Such is a story a friend told me recently and which I wrote up and submitted to The Elder Storytelling Place at the Time Goes By blog. For those of you, who haven’t read the story there, please take the time and read it now; for the story and surprise ending is pure delight. It is also a true story with a perfect ending, something rare these days.

Sometimes though, it is not so much the story as an image that sticks in my mind. Such happened this past weekend, when a friend of mine told me about a past lover of hers who used to do a comic synchronous swimming routine while lying in bed. He would lie in bed, demonstrating his swimming grace by waving his arms and legs around in the air in the typical synchronous swimming circular manner. All the while only wearing a nose plug and some very skimpy briefs. The final touch to this hilarious routine was the fact that he’d hum kitschy music while (supposedly) swimming on the water surface and then demonstratively hold his breath for the bits which were supposed to be done below the water surface.

Since hearing the story, I only have to imagine the scene to break out in a smile. I hope the same happens to you. My question is, if air guitar can be so popular, why couldn’t bed synchronous swimming become a hit?

02 July, 2008

Sunshine, Summer Nights


Oh, the beauty of the northern summer nights... It is ten o'clock in the evening and the sky is blue and the light has a rarefied golden quality that I've only ever known up in these regions. An evening to celebrate the quiet beauty of this day.

01 July, 2008

Hot Weather


Hot weather. Bright sunshine. Shadow dancing my way through the day.