29 December, 2015

At least one more year

So, it is official... I am committed to writing this blog one more year. Last year I didn't blog very much, this year has been even more of a struggle. Somewhere in between I decided if I didn't manage to meet last year's quota of posts or do even better, then I would discontinue writing my blog.

It wasn't something I wanted to do, since somewhere this fall I celebrated my ten years of writing yumyumcafe. Yet, if a blog is not active, it doesn't make sense to keep it alive. So, I felt a little bit of relief today when I managed to exceed last year's quota of blog posts by one .

My new strategy is to share with you some of the creative stuff I do on the side.

Maybe I will even get around to sharing some of the projects I am doing with the immigrants and refugees who have come to Germany on mass in the last years. These activities are really where my heart and mind are these days.

To all a Happy New Year!

28 December, 2015

What happened here?

It was a cold and grey day winter today. I took this picture of the deserted pumpkin on a terrace table at one of my favourite cafés. How do you think it got there?

  1. A wandering Halloween pumpkin left behind a baby
  2. Cinderella danced until dawn last night
  3. A sulky teenager ran away from its pumpkin patch 

What do you think? Send me your suggestion?

27 December, 2015

Stack of books

I've been doing a series of creative exercises these last months. The inspiration to do this came from working on Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist journal. It's absolutely fabulous way to spend some time in the morning.

I like the idea of doing some creative work every day because I believe creative solutions require creative thinking. And secondly, creative thinking does not necessarily stem from innate talent, but primarily grows from practice.

Thought I would share with you in the next while the results of some of this creative work. These exercises are simple, fun, mind-expanding and heart-felt. They will make me smile, laugh and sometimes wonder at my brilliance. Hope you enjoy.

This exercise from the Steal Like An Artist journal is fun.

I took a stack of books from my bookcase and drew a sketch of them. Then I made up a poem using the words in the titles.

What am I doing here?
On Noah's ark.., a lonely
Anthropologist heading to
Mars, or is it Gaglow?
I sit, on the black hill
Of some foreign land,
Innocent of the tiger
In the grass, seeing only
The angels and insects
All the while writing letters
To a young poet I met
A long country year ago.

(The source of the exercise is referenced to Nina Katchadourian)

26 December, 2015

Creative listening

In the last year I have been doing a lot of different types of creative stuff. It started out as occupational therapy during my recovery from a bout of pneumonia. Suddenly, there were endless hours of the day to sleep restlessly, sit quietly, and move around our apartment slowly.

I spent most of this time of recuperation listening to audio books and podcasts. I found it difficult to concentrate, which partially had to do with my sorry state of health, but it also had to do with my mind’s endless wandering. It’s surprising how long it has been since I just sat somewhere doing nothing, but listening to someone tell a story.

So what I did was buy myself a coloring book for adults. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. What I discovered about this (pre-)occupation was rather marvelous.

I used to listen to audio books or podcasts to make some mundane task (housecleaning, sorting paper, clearing out cupboards) seem less boring. Now I color books so I have an excuse to listen to something beautiful, fascinating, wondrous, and uplifting. It is a far more pleasurable way of creative listening.

25 December, 2015

Where am I...

Where am I...
Friend, Mage, asks
And it makes me wonder
If where I am can be
Found, described, shared
With those of you still
Here, the once and a while
Of my writing and
Dabbling in my blog

Part of me is still
So much the same as
When you got to know
Me ten years ago
Still, the nature-loving
Family-focused being
Whose on a journey
I know not where

Then there is the business
Woman doing absolutely
Everything it takes
To keep myself and family
Heads above water

It is all very simple and
Rather unspectacular
It definitely takes up
A lot of time and every
Ounce of energy I can
Give.. That's where I am
So glad you have you here!

24 December, 2015

Poetry kissing love into our mouths

I was just listening to OnBeing's interview with the Irish poet PaulMuldoon. Somewhere during this lovely conversation he says, “You are what you eat…” in reference to our soul’s ability to love and appreciate poetry. For some reason this hit me like a stone and inspired me to pronounce my one and only new year’s resolution; listen to one poem a day for the next 365 days. Starting today.

Today’s poem is a gem by Peter Boyle called “Of Poetry”. Do take a listen and read. Every word, every line takes you onto a journey of imagination.

06 October, 2015

Poetry in Motion

After my morning meditation, I tripped over this breathtakingly beautiful video of ceramic masters at work. Enjoy!

23 September, 2015

We are writing history right now

A must see. I liked the part in the video about the importance of cell phones and social media for the refugees. A dear friend of mine who fled Syria 25 years ago, was cut off from his family until two years ago when one of his brothers managed to get a cell phone with whatsup on it. For the first time in over 20 years he was able to talk with his family. He now knows who is alive and who has sadly passed, who left for Jordan, who are staying no matter how critical the situation remains... His life has been transformed through whatsup.

It is exciting and scary living here at the moment. It is as the video states, "we are writing history right now". It is the same feeling of fascination and trepidation that was present after the Berlin Wall went down. There is much good will around, but is there sufficient long term commitment, both individually and politically, for us to face the deep economical and moral responsibilities placed at our doorsteps?

13 September, 2015

Misconception #5: All German Men Love To Wear Lederhosen

Since I arrived in Munich in 1982 right in the middle of Oktoberfest, it was not hard to image why I got the impression that all Germans loved wearing Lederhosen and Dirndl.

Initially, I regarded men in Lederhosen drinking excessive amounts of beer with a feeling of anthropological curiosity. This quickly developed into a strong aversion. Then an outward snobbish dismissal. Like many of the local traditions I was exposed to, it took me a long time to come to terms with their strangeness.

It’s one of the odd things about life, it is so much easier to know who/what we don’t like, rather than recognise who/what we do like. It is also so tempting, as an outsider, to judge the locals and believe their shortcomings are responsible for our personal unhappiness.  

In the end, it is all about getting beyond the stereotypes. Yes, many German are sticklers for punctuality, they generally don’t practice the principle of “customer is king”, they are not the best of dancers, some like dogs more than children, and many men like to wear Lederhosen… But, equally, they generally do help their neighbours, they tend to know a lot about international news, they take pride in a job well-done, and they bake fabulous cakes. But, are any of these things true? Maybe. Maybe not.

Certainly, some of the Germans I know possess one, a few, or all of these traits. It doesn’t really matter because none of the traits makes the person what they are… a living breathing fine human being.

Anyone who goes and lives in a foreign country goes through various phases of transition: elation, resistance, transformation, and then integration. Depending upon what sort of experiences you have, the second phase can last a long time. This was certainly the case with me. The real learning experience starts with the third phase of transformation, when you actually start challenging and changing your beliefs. And the last phase, integration, is where the fun begins!

09 September, 2015

Misconception #4: Germans Love Their Rules

My sister visited me years ago and after going downtown shopping, came back very miffed and with this question, “Why can’t everyone mind their own business?” Apparently, no matter what she did…walk down the sidewalk (on the bicycle lane), cross the street (on a red light), or sat on a seat in a bus (those meant for the elderly and handicapped), people were always barking out instructions at her.

It is easy to see how she got this impression. People will generally speak out if they see you doing something wrong. For example, heavens forbid, you try to cross on a red light at a pedestrian crossing.

The other pedestrians will likely yell out “Vorbild!” (role model). This one word translates to “You idiot! There are slews of children here who saw that. An adult, crossing the streets on a red light! With that one act, you have given them permission to commit anarchy. You have potentially corrupted their poor innocent souls and now they will ignore the years of, “Stop and look both ways” and just march blindly across every red light they see in the future. What a horrible person you are. Completely lacking in any sensibilities about civic duties…” This message goes on in your head as long as it takes you to walk away from the maddening crowd of irate pedestrians who were standing at the light you just crossed.

Therefore, you have to watch where you step in this society of everyone minding everyone else’s business. It is usually about safety though and trying to act the role of an upright citizen.

Admittedly, the bureaucracy here is atrocious. But, where isn’t it so? I could tell you stories about German bureaucracy that would raise the hairs on your back, but instead I want to say something positive in its defence. (I can’t believe I am going to do this!) Even though it can be Kafkaesque at times, it is also generally transparent. You generally know who is responsible for doing what when and where.

If you don’t know who is responsible for handling you questions, you can call a number and the person on the reception will give you the responsible person’s name and contact number. You are able to talk to a person and not a machine. This is not the case in many other countries. That is not to say the conversation you have with the civil servant will be an enjoyable experience, but at least it is not anonymous.

There are rules to follow everywhere you look, but not everyone does. And that is the art of living happily here. Knowing the rules and knowing when not following them. When not following them will cause no harm to anyone else … even those poor innocent children standing at red lights with prepositions towards anarchy.

06 September, 2015

Misconception #3: It Is Easy To Make German Friends

Throughout my life I have lived in different countries and always found it relatively easy to make friends. My father was an engineer and wanted to discover the world, so he took his ever growing family from Los Altos to Caracas to Grenada to Paulo Alto to Montreal. In fact, none of my siblings or I were actually born in Canada though we are Canadian citizens. We learnt as children how life was a constant process of hellos and goodbyes.

I thought that once I got my first job and was living in a nice and cosy apartment … it would be easy to take my pick from the anonymous German masses and meet new friends.

My attempts to establish contacts proved difficult. First, I didn’t speak German, which proved a greater hindrance than expected (see Misconception #1). Secondly, all my attempts at being friendly created a dichotomy between intention and the outcome.

What didn’t work

When I tried to be friendly with my neighbours, they became very wary of me. I obviously was much too smiley and far too forward in my social gestures. There were times when I even suspected they ran into their houses to avoid having to talk to me. Or, at least it felt that way.

Then there were my colleagues… 28 happily married male engineers with the social skills of a bushel of eggplants. Do you think any one of them thought, “Ah, a new colleague from a country far away. Maybe she could use a bit of friendly hospitality. Why don’t I ask my dear wife if we could invite her over for a cup of tea on the weekend?” Net. Nada. In the five year I worked there it didn’t happen once. Since male engineers are a sub-category all of their own, I won’t waste any more effort explaining or excusing their lack of hospitality genes.

What worked

What I learnt during my first year in Germany was, first, winter is a lousy time to move to Germany. Everyone is hibernating behind closed doors. Secondly, it’s rather senseless to sit around hoping someone is going to invite you into their home.

If you want to meet people then join the local chess club, Bach Choir, or Green Party initiative. Or, as I did, become a “Stammgast” (a regular) at a charming café and get to know the people who work there. I might take a while, but it is well worth being patient and persistent.

Thirty-three years down the line, my life has been enriched by these friendships; friends I met all those years ago, alongside those I met along the way up to this present day. They helped me to understand the complexity and nuances of life in Germany. They are the people who have become my adopted family or tribe. They’ve shared all the joyful moments, as they have the disappointments and stood by me in moments of crisis. They really are the reason I can call this place home.