Wednesday, August 27, 2014

that kind of week

we're seeing dinosaurs in the clouds.

i forgot my id at home today and had to sneak in the door behind some others at work, as well as bumming lunch money off of a colleague. not lunch money, per se, as we "pay" with our id and then it's subtracted from our paycheck. yesterday, i sat at my desk with headphones on, trying to watch a youtube video (yes, i get to watch youtube videos at work, as part of my job), and only after far too long realized my headphones weren't plugged in and the sound was blaring out of my computer. and it sounded like i was watching beavis & butthead, tho' i was actually watching something that was actually quite relevant to my job. that was not at all embarrassing. luckily, someone had brought in a meter of chocolate (for reals...1 meter of little 4-square sized ritter sport), so i only feel vaguely out of synch and not unhappy or frustrated.

i think i'm distracted by this school switch. we made our decision on monday and the switch will happen on thursday. we feel we've made the right decision, but i think i will only rest easy once she's settled in. and that will likely take a few weeks. so i think i'll tether my work id to my computer bag and eat the odd chocolate to get through it. which is actually weird, because normally chocolate is not my go-to problem solver of choice. but when there's a whole meter of it on the shelf behind your desk, what choice do you have? that amount of chocolate could solve a whole lot of problems.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

the view from sunday night or what a week it's been

it's been a full week. there have been tiara-wearing kittens (that got a whopping 252 likes on flickr, which is the most any of my flickr photos have ever gotten).

there were days of rain, and blustery winds, but also glorious, golden light spilled through in between showers, making it ok that it went from summer to fall overnight.

there were more photo sessions with kittens, where i came to understand why they say you shouldn't try to herd cats. they are at their most lovely and irresistible right now. i'm enjoying every yummy minute of them.

there was a bit of early access to the series 12 minifigures, which won't be in stores until october (hence the blurry photo). i've got 13 of the 16 and can't wait for them to be released so i can get the other 3.

there was teenage mutant ninja turtle homework to do. i do love the kind of homework i'm asked to do at my workplace, even tho' tmnt aren't my favorites. this little spaceship was mostly an upside down build, which was new for me. it's also quite a lot sturdier than it appears, which is cool.

we harvested the last batch of honey - boosting our total harvest for the year up to 90 kilos, a much better harvest than last year. now we just need a big box of new honey jars so we can fill them up and maybe even sell some.

and when we weren't eating shark burgers, the weekend was spent discussing the school options. we visited two schools on friday and both have their own advantages. so much so that we've not had a gut feeling that one is a better choice than the other. that's been a bit difficult for me, as i normally rely on my gut to tell me things and in this case, it's told me that we should definitely find a new school, but it isn't obvious which one is the best choice. the child, on the other hand, is sure which one she wants, so pending a couple of questions tomorrow morning, we are going to go with that one - she is, after all, the one who has to make the switch. it's up to us to make the logistics of it work and to ensure that she keeps her social circle intact, as well as building a new one. that one, we're not really worried about so much. probably, we'll ultimately choose the public school, because we pay an awful lot of taxes and education is something they should just get right. and the new school gives a good impression of getting it right (of course, we're currently easy to impress in light of how bad things are at her current school).

and the weekend ended with a long walk with husband in the forest. the rainy weather has been good for mushrooms, both the edible and the photogenic kinds (these are the latter). a long walk has a way of clearing out any last vestiges of restlessness and discontent. and now i'm ready for the week ahead.

* * *

molly has been on a roll (of awesome posts) lately.

* * *

me, probably not making all that much sense, 
in danish, on the radio last wednesday evening.
talking about what danishness is.
(hint: full calendars, booking people two months ahead,
being able to talk to the boss no matter your level in the org. 
and being afraid of conflict)

* * *

i'm liking stuckinplastic
what's not to like? minifigs. life philosophies. lemonade. gratefulness.

* * *

a heartwarming story of love that finally happened after 60 years.

* * *

has amazon gone to the dark side?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the comfort of ice cream or why we're looking for a new school

so weird how one thing going wrong can weigh you down completely and drive you to crave ice cream, which is arguably better than driving you to drink. and by you, you may have guessed, i mean me.

we're well into the second week of school around here. at the end of last year, there was a a bit of trouble with her homeroom teacher (i wrote about it here). after the mail of the mixed metaphors from the principal, there was silence and nothing really changed. then came the summer holiday and the silence stretched on. then came the first week of school. on the first day, the same teacher was there in homeroom, tho' they announced that she would be moved to the special education class and a new teacher would be taking over the class. that teacher wasn't there yet for the first week (tho' it's unclear why), but the regular schedule wasn't in place yet either, so that was more or less ok.

but as the week progressed, the stories i heard each evening painted a more and more worrying picture. students being told to start behaving like responsible, mature young people in one breath and not being allowed to stand up and plug in their computer (which they are required to have with them in school since the school does not provide computers) without raising their hand to ask. which is it? do you want them to behave responsibly and act for themselves or do you want them to sit down and shut up? you can't have it both ways.

i also heard tales of a student who used to love math, but nearly cried in frustration during a long-winded explanation by a teacher who apparently didn't notice that all motivation and desire to learn was draining from the students as he droned on and on. and i heard stories of a young teacher who has reached a point where his back is so against the wall that the slightest question from students makes him defensive and he sends them out into the hall. it is, in short, a series of stories of a school in crisis.

on top of it, the school has fostered an environment where if you're the best at something (e.g. english), it's not ok to say that or show that. but instead, you have to hide in the crowd and pretend you don't know. i brought this issue to the attention of a number of teachers last year, but nothing changed.

and lastly, there are new school reforms being implemented, with longer school days and apparently, in the case of our school, less breaks - they have one break in the middle of the day, but otherwise, no breaks mid-morning or afternoon (tho' other schools seem to have managed to put together a schedule that gives kids a breather). odd, i take breaks during my work day, to go to the bathroom or grab a cup of coffee or just have a little breather, so why wouldn't kids be even more in need of breaks to help them refresh and be able to concentrate? you'd think people who work with kids would know this.

there are half-hearted attempts to supposedly make things better and create a better atmosphere, but they are too little, too late. for some reason, the bad leadership is convinced the class is the problem, not the teachers, tho' this same class was the most harmonious one with the best class environment when they left the elementary school at the end of sixth grade. six people have already left the class - moving to other schools and even going to efterskole a year early, but apparently the leadership doesn't see this as a big, flashing red light. and now, we too are looking for a new school for sabin, because this isn't good.  i don't want her to be demotivated and uninterested in learning because of weak teachers and bad school leadership which doesn't have the sense or ability or wherewithal to support their teachers properly in good time. i'll admit i find it very disheartening and tho' moving her is a big step, the situation is really that bad.

i do realize these are luxury problems compared to race crimes committed by police officers in missouri and journalists being beheaded by terrorists, but this does loom large in our little world.

what is danishness?

today's (yesterday's?) jyllands posten (you may remember them from a certain set of mohammed cartoons) had an article about a study suggesting that danes think the biggest problem with foreigners is that they don't understand and embrace danish values. i wouldn't have known about the article, not being a reader of jyllands posten, but i was contacted by my radio crush to be part of a radio program about the article this evening.

so i dashed into 7-11 and bought their last copy of the paper, which oddly, they had hidden in a back room, and i prepared for the program. what struck me about the article was that it was unclear what these danish values that we foreigners apparently reject are. that was completely unstated in the survey where people had come up with that answer and it wasn't until halfway through the second article about it, on page 6, that a list of values even was mentioned. they included things like democracy, equality, valuing work and the vague "personal freedom." those strike me as pretty universal and not exactly uniquely danish. western, perhaps or even protestant, but difficult to narrow down to a particular nationality.

after talking with the journalist, i decided to think about danishness instead and see if some values fell out of that. what are the things that strike me as so danish after all these years? a lot of workplace behaviors came to mind - like the fact that it's ok to have a conversation with the boss and to even grill him (and i do mean him, since that whole equality thing isn't as pervasive as they might like it to seem) a little bit during that conversation, regardless of your position in the firm. i've not really seen that outside of denmark. leaving at 3 p.m. to pick up your kids and having no one look askance at you. wearing a kind of monochrome (read: black) uniform for most of the year, outside of a few wild weeks of summer, where everyone breaks out the summer wardrobe they purchased back in the late 80s and which never wore out, due to the limited use it's had, and embraces a kind of retro madness during the warm weather. and then there's the full calendars which quash all hope of spontaneity because you need to book someone for a dinner party at least two months ahead, even tho' you have no idea if you'll be in the mood to have people over for dinner two months from now.  and then there's the design thing - it's important to have the right lamps (PH) and chairs (Arne Jacobsen) and couch (Borge Mortensen) and table (Piet Hein) (see, i even had so much respect i capitalized their names). of course, that design thing creates a uniformity in homes, that while it's in good taste, ends up quite sterile, impersonal and, dare i say it...boring. (yes, i dared to say it, tho' i myself have Hans Wegner and Kaare Klint chairs and some Tom Rossou lamps, plus the fabulous Triplex lamp). (i wonder if that means i'm integrated?)

and this sameness in design principles and clothing got me thinking about that supposed value of "personal freedom." if there were really personal freedom, we'd have the space in which to choose other chairs and lamps and you'd see more variety in the clothing shops (there's a great deal of black, i can tell you). so i wonder how much personal freedom there actually is. there is, of course, personal freedom in terms of one's right to be gay or to have an abortion and those are important things, but again, they are true many places and aren't uniquely danish.

so i'm still wondering what these danish values are that we foreigners are so reluctant to adopt...and why it's such a source of worry for the danes. perhaps if they got better at communicating and outwardly sharing their real, core values (and not just a bunch of stuff that could be from a UN pamphlet), we'd have an easier time adapting to them.

the ivy

there are no less than a dozen draft posts behind the scenes here on mpc. it's been like that lately. i sit down, start to write and get interrupted and don't come back for days on end. or when i come back, i can't get myself back into the mood i was in when i started the post and therefore can't finish it. so i thought i'd start at the simple end of the posts. with some beautiful food.

i ate this beautiful food (that's salmon sashimi in those top two photos) at the ivy a few weeks ago when i was in london. i'm not sure i realized the significance of lunch at the ivy at the time, tho' i knew it was a posh london club and i knew that a lovely two hour lunch on a friday was something special. and i fully appreciated the wonderful intriguing, interesting conversation that i had with my lunch companion, who is a person i met a few months ago at a conference.

the specialness started to dawn on me when i had to go in through a secret entrance through a flower shop. it was nice, a bit stiff upper lip in decor, but also comfortable. i probably didn't look around me enough to spot celebrities, as i didn't know that aspect of the place at the time. i was too absorbed in the food and the great conversation. but i suppose that's as it should be.

the food was just lovely and the perfect amount of chef-y. pretty presentation, delicate flavors, fresh flowers as garnishes and generally a delight to the senses. especially this delicate lemon dessert, a take on lemon meringue pie. it makes my mouth water all over again, just looking at this iPhone photo.

it was all rounded off by a lovely coffee with latte art. i'm a little bit glad i didn't realize the significance of being invited to lunch in the private club at the ivy at the time, as i might have been overawed and not enjoyed it nearly as much. as it was, it was a lovely, completely engaging experience. one of those where you're just fully in the moment, savoring it. every delicious bite.

and now there are only 11 more drafts to go...

Monday, August 18, 2014

capturing the spirit of the times

copenhagen picture - 1983-89 - even the frame was handmade by the artist, otto frello
i went on saturday with our local creative group to an exhibition of the works of danish artist and illustrator otto frello at the museum in varde. i'd never heard of him but i intentionally didn't google him or look at the museum's website before we went. i wanted to have a totally fresh, unbiased first experience of seeing his works.

he was, for many years, an illustrator for a danish publisher and didn't start painting until he was in his 40s. he's now well into his 90s and still going strong. while his works weren't exactly my taste and not something i'd want hanging on my walls, i do think they were very interesting.

perhaps his most famous work is the copenhagen picture above. the woman at the museum told us that he had once bragged that there was nothing he couldn't paint and so someone asked if he could paint the spirit of the times. and he embarked on this painting of amagertorv in the heart of copenhagen, depicting the many layers of people who had passed through it over the years and years it's been there. from 17th century fishmongers to an 80s punker, times are all mixed and melded and present there in the picture. so while i wouldn't necessarily want it on my wall, even in poster form, i think it's quite a fascinating depiction of the imprints and layers of history that are left behind, whispering in a place, if we were to just listen attentively.

and i very much enjoyed the experience of just letting the impressions of something new wash over me, without any preconceived notions of what i would be seeing. it feels like with all of the information we are bombarded with all the time, it's hard to have such experiences - where it's just completely something fresh and new and we get to experience it for the first time. i'm going to be looking for more chances like that.

malevich's black square (1915, tho' this one was a version from 1923)
it was interesting to contrast with the experience i had of malevich's works at the tate modern a few weeks ago. there, i knew a great deal about the works and the history and the whole era in which they were produced and i appreciated them in a completely different way. a way that was, admittedly, probably much deeper than my otto frello experience. but that could also be because malevich himself was much deeper. looking at the black square today, it doesn't seem radical, but it was truly radical in its time. and as i stood before it, staring into its black depths, and feeling for a moment a sense of vertigo, i caught some spirit of those times.

it struck me that the way in which we experience art matters - whether naively or in an informed way. the malevich moved me much more. it was partially a matter of taste, but also a matter of knowledge and yes, also of talent. but then, the black square was valued at $60 million not that long ago and for one of frello's paintings at the museum, which was for sale, they were asking 300,000DKK ($53,000). a pretty penny for a living danish artist, but ultimately frello is no malevich. and while both experiences were interesting, give me malevich any day.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

cats in scarves

she seems bent on taking our picture, but what are these things she's put around our necks?

are you kidding me? do we really have to have these scarves on, lady?

just go with it. it's like that thing with the crown.
she'll take a few photos and then she'll lose interest
and then we can go back to playing without any scarves on.

hey, wait a minute...

...i actually do look pretty cute with this thing on.