Wednesday, April 30, 2008

thoughts wrestled to the page

earlier this month, i bought a beautiful fabric-covered binder in (yes, you guessed it) bookbinder's design. actually, i bought several. it's a disease with me, i know. but, the purpose of this particular binder was to hold printouts of my blog postings from this blog (there were others for the other blogs!). to bring them out of cyberspace and onto the page. i have already printed and put all of the earlier postings into the binder. and i decided that i would make a monthly ritual on the last day of the month of printing the postings and putting them into the beautiful binder. and today is the day!!


it's a very satisfying feeling in some strange way, holding that stack of my thoughts in my hand, punching holes along the side and inserting them into the beautiful binder, between dividers the color of the rainbow, on which i've stamped the months. thinking back on the hours i spent composing the words (and some of the ones where i didn't spend much time, but just dashed them off). rereading and tracking my state of mind somehow made tangible there on the page in ink.

when i'm writing, i'm often surprised at where it takes me, often it's not where i thought it would when i sat down at the keyboard. there are days when i wrestle my thoughts to the page and others where they simply flow out my fingers in some automatic, almost organic way. but, it's one thing to see them on the screen and quite another to line them up in my beautiful purple binder at the end of the month. i can highly recommend it, you should definitely give it a try.

have i mentioned that i adore the blogosphere?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

to be or not to be

how can you really know what you're good at? or what you're bad at, for that matter? we are so inside of ourselves, our own perspective, that sometimes (most of the time), it's very difficult to take an honest look at ourselves.

how do others see us? we can only see ourselves in a mirror and from the inside. for all intents and purposes, we don't even REALLY know what we look like. what does our face show on it--do we tell all or do we hide everything? do we appear to be who we really are?

i'm pretty sure my face shows everything. if i'm not happy, i look unhappy. if i'm happy, you can see it. if i'm confused, or bored there's no doubt. if i think someone is stupid, they can see that on my face. (this has not always been a good thing.) i have had many an occasion to wish that i was more able to wear a mask than i am. i would make a lousy poker player.

i often find myself surprised when people tell me that i'm good at a particular thing. often it's something that i just take for granted and don't really think about. i suppose the things we're really good at are just second nature to us.

sometimes, i'm surprised when i see myself in the mirror...feeling a sudden sense of "who is that person?" like my outer self has nothing to do with the inner. it's like a flash of non-recognition. why does that happen? does it happen to everyone?

in recent years, several times, people have indicated that they think that i appear to be a person who can't and definitely doesn't cook. that has been the strangest one for me. what is it about me that gives off that signal? because i definitely can cook and in fact it's one of the things that i would say myself that i'm very good at and one of the major sources of joy and relaxation in my life. but why is it that i apparently look like someone who can't? what is it about how i appear to them that makes them think that?

what other disconnects are there between who i really am and who i appear to be? i'll have to ponder that one on another occasion because right now, who i am is really tired!

Monday, April 28, 2008

on blogging

a week or so ago, i bought this very cool set from field & sea on etsy. in fact, i thought it was so cool, i bought one for my sis and for my blogging friend The Elementary. ever since it arrived at my house, i've been carrying the little wave notebook in my purse for the specific purpose of jotting down blog inspiration--to capture the waves of inspiration, if you will. and they have been many.

my sister claims i'm obsessed with blogging and perhaps i am. i like to think of it as focused. i also like to think of it as finally doing the daily writing that i had always wanted to do. and it's not all on the blog(s), it's been spilling over to my work and to my handwritten journal(s) as well. somehow, the act of sending the thoughts through my fingers onto the page and into cyberspace has been the key for me to doing what i always wanted to do.

it's also made me more observant of my surroundings. and especially of the people who surround me. it's made me more observant of my own reactions to situations. and i think it's even made me more appreciative--of people, of stories, good photography, even of food and sunshine and flowers.

it's tuned me in to my own motives and to what make me tick. it's made me more aware of what makes me happy and also what doesn't. it's made me look for the connections in things and between people and events. it's made me more thoughtful. it's made me generally more aware. i feel myself becoming kinder and more generous. i am more relaxed and able to take things in stride.

and it's given me some great new friends. i love the blogosphere, don't you?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

of hard work and bravery

this afternoon, the clouds cleared and we sat in the circle with a big bowl of homemade hummus topped with pine nuts and spicy fried chorizo. we shared a cold beer leftover from easter with rafy, our polish handyman, who is working hard to help us finish our house.

while we dipped triangles of pita into the garlicky hummus, rafy told us the story of the 18 months he spent in the US, trying to make his fortune. he invented a grandmother in las vegas and a story that she was 87 years old and in need of help and he applied for a visa to the US. he brought a letter from the supposed grandmother, written to him by his own real grandmother in her spidery, old lady handwriting, and walked out of the embassy with a 6-month visa to visit her.

through a friend, he arranged an apartment and an airport pickup when he arrived at JFK. however, the friend wasn't there and when he called the friend, he said he wasn't coming and there was no apartment. so, rafy found himself in NYC with $500 to his name and no job or place to go.

being a brave soul, he knew that the presumed apartment had been in brooklyn, so by asking people, he made his way there. he came up out of a subway stop and saw one polish name after another on the storefronts. he wandered in to one and asked if there was anybody letting a room. it just so happened there was a room available above the store, but it took $400 of his $500 to get it.

the next day, he dressed in work clothes and hit the streets. he ran into some guys who appeared to be painters. he hadn't really tried painting, but thought it seemed like it wouldn't be that hard. he agreed to take $80 a day and was left in a 3-room apartment with brushes and buckets of paint. no time frame as to when the guy would return. so, he painted the whole thing in one day and by 4 p.m., was sitting there on an empty bucket. the foreman returned, was so impressed that he upped his rate to $120 a day and after that, he never looked back.

eventually, he had his own "firm," with a few guys working for him. they ended up in manhattan, painting and doing small fix-it jobs for an entire block.

i thought for a long time after he told us his story in the sunshine this afternoon about his bravery. he just set out and took his chances. i asked about work permit. he said, a work permit wasn't necessary, just a willingness to work. it must have taken a lot of guts to set out for another country, with a strange language, with no sure place to land and not much money.

he has spent a number of weekends here at our house, working sometimes 12+ hour days in a steady drizzle. i have made countless pots of coffee, ordered pizzas and yesterday, fed him and his friend some perhaps too posh goat cheese puffs that i threw together as an afternoon snack because the weather was great. he is always pleasant, his english is great from the 18 months in new york and now, thanks to the EU, he can live here in denmark together with his wife and child (who weren't able to accompany him to the US). and the man works like a demon, and does great work. and, it turns out he has a pretty good story.

life is interesting. and so are people if you ask them.

it was a sunny saturday

caught some bluebells (or are they grape hyacinths?) with drops of dew

yellow rhododendrons about to unfold their blooms

a new round teak table for "the circle" and blissful reading in the sunshine

sun on winter toes for the first time (never fear, much-needed pedicure on the horizon in manila soon) (note beloved south african havianas)

and super fun new spring flats

in all, a heavenly spring day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

yet another reason


chances of major injury to self caused by girl from the prairie attempting to open coconut from far away island in the pacific: HIGH

perhaps we are not evolutionarily (is that a word?) adapted to get into foods that do not come from our region of birth. yet another good reason to buy food produced locally!

however, the juice above was heavenly:

3 small beets
1 large carrot
2 apples
½ lemon
1 piece of ginger
1 small fresh coconut

just to set the record straight, i bought the coconuts before my big declaration yesterday about eating food that's been locally/regionally produced. it would have been wasteful to throw them out just because they were sailed here in a container from the other side of the world. and the juice was delicious. even tho' i almost lost a finger trying to hammer into the thing. sometimes eating is dangerous.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the disconnect between chemicals and products

i've been writing today about the fact that the tankers built in the past five years or so are more flexible than tankers were in the past. in the past, if you sailed a chemical tanker, you sailed with chemicals and that was it. today, a chemical tanker is more versatile--it can likely take a wide variety of products as well--everything from palm oil (often just the first cargo) to naptha to jet fuel. this presents challenges for the crews onboard, since the deck officers, according to international regulations, must possess certain certificates for certain ship types and cargoes. if you were an old chemical guy from way back, you might have your chemical certificates in order, but when the vetting inspector comes onboard, he looks at the ships' certificates and finds that while it's certified for carrying products as well, the crew is not. and then you've got yourself a non-conformance, even if all you're carrying is chemicals. the mere possibility that the ship could carry products is enough.

this may seem a bit of a departure from my usual blog posts, which, of late, have been decidedly of the navel-gazing variety. but, this is what i do. and it is actually more interesting than it might at first appear.

shipping is a fascinating industry. it's old fashioned, it's run from austere buildings by men in suits. and it's in a period of enormous, dynamic change. it's changing so fast, it can't actually keep up with itself--probably because you can't run very fast in a suit. hence the problems like the one i mention above. the guys who are designing and building ships got together with the commercial guys and decided that the ships should be more flexible with regard to the cargo they could take--more business opportunities, right?

however, somewhere along the way, in the haste to seize this business opportunity, someone--or perhaps, more accurately--everyone forgot about the people who would have to sail the ship. that there are a lot of international and national and flag-state regulations surrounding the certificates, training and experience people need to have in order to sail a particular ship type. even the customers who own the cargoes have further demands regarding time in rank and time with the company.

so those commercial guys are now pretty surprised at the non-conformances their new more flexible ships are creating. it takes time to build a ship. they could have prepared the manning side--people could have been trained and had their certificates upgraded. but, they didn't bother to communicate that that would be needed. so now there's a worldwide scramble to equip these officers with the competencies to sail the multi-million dollar pieces of equipment with which they are entrusted.

at the same time, there is a worldwide shortage of officers and crew. there must have been another communication shortfall along the way between the shipbuilding side of the business and the manning side. as i said, it takes time to build ships. the facts were there. and what's fascinating to me in my job, which now consists of writing about these issues, is that apparently no one saw it coming! either that or no one believed it. or a combination of the two. well, they're starting to believe it now, but only after it begins to affect business.

these are interesting times in which we live and navigate the world.

seasonal eating

Gonna read the paper, looking for the news about food supply - what a really bad news!

There are hard times in front of us, I think. Battles because of water, food, energy. We get too much people for this little planet.

I hope to go a good part of my way in this life, I´m not keen on being reborn...

my friend Gabi wrote me the words above this morning. coincidental (or perhaps not? but that's a whole 'nother post) because these were the exact thoughts on my mind as i went to sleep last evening and i was just mulling them over as i sat down at the computer this morning. these thoughts are on my mind thanks to reading barbara kingsolver's animal, vegetable, miracle.

i've been thinking about this whole "food miles" issue for awhile now. last winter, i ordered from my organic veggie box people (årstiderne) the "dogme kassen," which includes only produce from Danish farmers, so at least i know it hasn't come from halfway across the globe (Denmark is, after all, only about the size of Wisconsin). i'll admit it got a little boring with the root vegetables week after week and so i broke down after a couple of months and changed our weekly box to "kuk kassen," which might have the occasional spanish tomato or italian fennel.

aside: i'm a little disappointed to look at it right now and see that this week there will be a hokkaido squash from argentina!! not sustainable! i must change back to the "dogme kasse," which will no doubt start to have more exciting things in it now that spring is here. and it does--new potatoes, rhubarb, oyster mushrooms. yum. next week, that's what we'll get.

i'm only at the beginning of barbara's book. in the book, they're anxiously awaiting the first quivering spears of asparagus. it's that season here as well and i too am awaiting them (perhaps i should weed my asparagus bed). we don't have the space for a garden large enough to sustain our family through the summer, so i can't actually wholeheartedly embrace the project of growing our own food, but we will plant tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse. i might even give it a go with aubergine and peppers. i can already imagine how heavenly it will be to step into the leafy greenery of the warm greenhouse and breathe in the smells of tomatoes ripening on the vine.

we can make wiser choices in the grocery store as well, not eating things when they're not in season (especially tomatoes and strawberries). during the two weeks that the danish strawberries are in season, they are heavenly and no doubt we appreciate them that much more because they're not always there. there is an enormous difference between them and the rubbery ones that are picked before they're ripe and trucked up here from spain. i vow that we will only eat things like that when they are in season.

as gabi pointed out this morning, the battle has only begun, so we must begin to think of ways of living that are more environmentally sustainable. i sometimes shudder to think of the world sabin will inherit. however, as TheElementary pointed out in a previous comment this week, human beings are amazingly adaptable. so, at the same time as i fear that life as we know it is changing, i also can't wait to see what lies ahead. the very near future surely holds some asparagus...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

class envy

my sister is taking a creative writing class at a community college near where she lives. i am sorely envious of this class. i want to take a creative writing class too! i want to get together on a weekly basis with fellow-writers and discuss our writing! i guess, if i'm honest, that's a bit of what we're doing here in the blogosophere, isn't it? however, it would be nice to do it in person. to be inspired by others. to get their feedback. the human, social, interpersonal interaction. that would be pleasant.

or would it?

the first week, my sister submitted some of her blog entries from the blog we write together. she submitted this one on vitamins and this one on making pizza together with her children, this one on the bread culture of the US vs. Denmark and a couple of others.

she got feedback from her classmates like:

--"too personal."

--"too out there."

--"too rambling,"

--"possible lawsuit on the horizon from the guy with the bad wig at the health food store."

what the #*¤&%???? seriously, people! have these people never read a single blog before? these are completely NORMAL entries. there is no question of libel or slander in them. it is the most absurd reaction i can imagine and further confirms my suspicion that the country of my birth has lost its last shred of common sense and apparently now its sense of humor has gone as well. it is seriously beyond comprehension to me.

it's clear that there are at least 7 people in iowa, the teacher included, who haven't really heard of blogs and haven't read them. even more interestingly, it makes me realize that those of us all pouring our hearts into cyberspace are actually forging a new genre. one that literary critics and even just simply readers will have to form a relationship to. it is a more personal way of writing. it is more "out there." yes, at times, we are rambling--but that's the nature of the beast, as it were. we're closer to a journal or diary style of writing. it's not journalism. and i think that people had better get used to it, because it's here to stay. because there is an authenticity blossoming here in the blogosphere that simply isn't to be found in other places.

if i were in the class with my sister, i'd bring this up and try to push my fellow readers/writers to expand their notion of creative writing, the keyword, after all, being creative. maybe i'm not so jealous of the class after all...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

living consciously

in my quest for living in a more conscious way (i'll stop trying to say it's simple or frugal, because it's simply not that, at least not the moment), i've done the following (have i mentioned that i love lists?):

  1. started a food journal--where i write about what i eat--recording recipes, experiments, fabulous meals in restaurants, just the everyday food on the table.
  2. ordered an organic box of fruit and veggies to be delivered every friday. i make a concerted effort to USE UP what's in the box (i'll admit i don't always succeed, but i'm getting better).
  3. buy økologisk/organic--whenever i possibly can, even if it means spending more (and unfortunately, it often does, tho' it's getting better).
  4. thinking about the "food miles" it took for the food i put on my table to get to me and making choices not to buy things if i think the way it came to me is not environmentally sustainable.
  5. never, ever buy the eggs from the chickens that were kept in those nasty cages.
  6. take my bike and/or public transport as much as possible.
  7. buying handmade on etsy when i need gifts for people.
  8. wines made from organic grapes. (now if they' just come out with organic gin, i'd be in heaven.)
  9. not shopping in wal-mart or other places where the employees aren't treated properly.
  10. being observant about what's making me happy and what's making my family happy and acting in ways that promote that.
  11. working in a place that makes me happy and in which i am both fulfilled and appreciated for my talents.
  12. being kinder, more thoughtful and simply more observant towards my friends.
  13. watching little or no t.v.
  14. listening to public radio.
  15. less chemicals/perfumes/hormones in my home (no overly-perfumed fabric softeners, environmentally-friendly cleaning products, natural-based soaps and detergents, less plastics).

of course there is much more i can do. and perhaps i'll learn a whole bunch of new things from my new books. because frankly, despite the angst of the earlier post, i ADORE them. new books totally rock. they actually SMELL good and they feel good. they're wonderful. they LOOK beautiful and i haven't even read the words yet. but i'm going to start now...

the right response?


so, i've been pondering ways of living a simpler life. i've put thought into what's important to me and to our family. i've made lists of those things. and yes, it ends up being things, doesn't it? because we are in a decidedly thing-oriented world. if we all stopped wanting all those things, the global economy would grind to a halt. all those ships wouldn't have anything to carry in all those containers. and since shipping is my industry, it does give me pause...would we actually HURT ourselves if we got off this consumer train? furthermore, is it even possible to do so?

my response to thinking about living more simply is to read about how other people are doing it. of course, one can do this online and that i have done. however, my impulse is to go to amazon.co.uk and starting nosing around. what i found there arrived on my doorstep today:
  1. Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace & Fulfillment in a Complex World, by Linda Breen Pierce
  2. Timeless Simplicty: Creative living in a consumer society, by John Lane
  3. Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, by Judith Levine
  4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating, by Barbara Kingsolver
  5. Radical Simplicty: Creating an Authentic Life, by Dan Price
  6. The Spirit of Silence: Making space for creativity, by John Lane
  7. A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity, by Wm. S. Coperthwaite

if you put these together with Oliver James' Affluenza, which i ordered a month or so ago, it is a total of 8 books on living more simply. (sigh) i'm behind before i even begin. i can't even THINK about living simply in a simple way or without buying something. i somehow think i need EIGHT books to help me do it--and i think this to the extent that i actually ORDER eight books. this is the depth of the problem we're facing here. and i don't think it's only me. it's a general cultural malaise.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

sunday lunch


it's another glorious spring day in denmark. there is a slight breeze, but otherwise, blue skies and sunshine. we took advantage of the beautiful weather and ate lunch outside. a big bowl with a salad of tender spring asparagus, spicy chunks of chorizo, some squares of manchego, a handful of chopped wild garlic leaves gathered in the forest, chopped small plum tomatoes and a sprinkling of macadamia nuts all tossed together with a miso-honey dressing. we just took three forks, some good bread and all ate out of the big bowl, washing it down with apple cider (sabin) and organic white wine (mama and far). a glorious sunday lunch

Saturday, April 19, 2008

saturday night creations





two pairs of earrings, made from gorgeous things i bought from etsy, plus beads from the bead shop near nørreport station. thank you, sandra from mimosa and jennifer from field and sea for the inspiring "ingredients!!" i absolutely adore the idea of sitting in denmark, combining ingredients from new zealand and canada. you just have to love the internet.

the landscape of my dreams

today was a fine, spring day. the first day where it was nice enough to sit outside in "the circle" in the garden and enjoy the sunshine. it was time to haul out the pastis, which is our usual garden circle drink of choice. today with a cup of fresh, steaming coffee indulgently laced with creamy whole milk. the beech hedge hasn't yet unfurled its leaves, so it still has last year's cinnamon-color, which shields us from the prying eyes of those walking by.

it was an afternoon spent sitting in the circle with a good book (in this case the lyrical, magical realist haruki murakami's dance dance dance), feeling the spring sun on my face, sipping pastis and listening to the songs of a dozen different birds, joyously proclaiming that spring is here.

as i sat there, listening to that incredible birdsong, i reflected that our yard is changing and my use of my beloved circle will change as well. we've built on to our house (it looks a right mess above, but the end is in sight as the windows will be delivered this week!) and we are building three smaller wooden structures in our garden. make that four counting the greenhouse, oh yeah, and a small sauna, so 5 buildings in the garden. three of them will cause big changes in how i use the circle.

husband's workshop--seen as foundation poles above--will be closest to the circle and will actually block the traffic flow to the circle, so it won't be quite the same to walk out there with a tray. however, it will still get the morning sun, although some of the afternoon sun i enjoy so much today will be blocked by husband's workshop. there will be a small walkway between the workshop and the bike/utility shed, so i am hoping that if we pave it well and plant it invitingly, we'll still want to use the circle, which has been such a calming, enjoyable place to be for nearly five years now. the good news is that i will get a new refuge outside of my own writing house...the white recycled wood platform that can been seen in the background of this picture will be where that patio will be. there will also be a water feature and our specially-designed grill table will stand there. plus, it will get afternoon sun, so all is not lost. what will change is simply our use of the garden.

husband is working today on the foundation for the greenhouse which will be made of the panels recycled from the terrace that was at the back of our house before we built the addition. since slugs are such a problem, especially since we had such a mild winter, we are going to fill the greenhouse with flowers as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and perhaps even a melon, tho' they threaten to take over. we figure we can slug-proof the greenhouse with small ditches of sand around it. at least we hope so. slugs are just so disgusting! we saw a kiwi tree and a peach tree at the nursery and we think we'll try planting those in the greenhouse as well, to see what happens--such fruit in this northern climate would seem quite miraculous.

all of this work on the house and in the garden is a realization of all of the conversations and dreams we've had since we bought the house 7 years ago. it had a totally 70s garden, filled with those very 70s low evergreen bushes and it was definitely not us. this is the summer when it will all begin to come together, although knowing us, we will continue dreaming and landscaping. but i guess that's what life is about...mapping and shaping the terrain around us.

i love airports

i know it sounds strange, but i love airports. i love the energy they have. here in the nordic countries, it has to do with their architecture--high to the ceilings, light, airy, use of beautiful natural woods together with steel and glass constructions. the architecture of the airport lends to the atmosphere. when it's high to the ceiling and light and bright, it feels like anything is possible. an energetic, happy expectation fills the air.

people are either headed out on a holiday or a business trip that's full of possibility. or they're arriving home after a trip, happy to be home. so, generally, people in airports exude a positive, expectant energy. it has also to do with liminality (that favorite topic of mine which i haven't visited in awhile). an airport is a purely liminal space--on the border between what was and what is yet to come. everyone is full of the potential for change--to be changed by the sights seen on a holiday, to be changed by the next business deal, to be changed by the new people they encounter and the experiences they will have. they are on the threshold, in transition. maybe that's what i love about an airport. its liminality.

it's lucky i love them, because i seem to spend quite a lot of time there.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

musings on the blogosphere

over the past few months, i've been hanging out (a lot) in front of the internet. i found out that it was HUGE. i found out that you can find tons of cool stuff out there. that there are people who have a lot to say. i've read a lot of what they have to say and now i've become a bit more selective than i was in those heady early days back in january.

i had actually created this blog back in 2004, but hadn't done anything with it in more than 3 years, so part of what i did was come back to it. i can actually see, reflected in my own writing here since the beginning of 2008, the effect of those other blogs i was reading. i tried on some of their voices on my way to finding my own. and i did it all for myself, not ever expecting anyone else to find their way to it and read it. now a few people have and i find that i like it! it's fun and it pushes my thinking and improves what i'm reading out there myself. and that is very cool.

which leads me to musings on what it means to get to know someone. to become friends. can you do that by just writing and reading? or do you need to meet face-to-face? i thought about the authors i love. even when it's fiction, i think that often there is a lot of the author there in the writing . i feel, in some sense, like i know barbara kingsolver or siri hustvedt (my recent complaints about being a bit tired of her notwithstanding--i do still like her stuff very much). if i met either of them, i feel we'd have no trouble having a conversation. i have a sense of the manic personality that was dostoevsky and would have loved to hang out with him and partake of the madness. just as i would have loved to have known in real life (not just through books)--dorothy parker, alexander blok, anna akhmatova, constantine cavafy, franz kafka, anton chekhov (i could go on and on). i've been lucky enough to correspond with some of the authors i love who happen to still be alive--dubravka ugresic and andrei bitov--and although we've not met, we had plenty to talk about because in a sense i knew them through their work.

is it the same with blogs? to me it seems that it's perhaps even more so, because often people are so personal in their blogs. you can get a sense of them through the stories they choose to tell. that will either speak to you or it won't. i've found that now, after 3 months of intensively reading a huge array of blogs, i've gotten a better sense of what speaks to me in this new medium. at first, i was dazzled by all of it. now, i have narrowed my focus, gotten more selective. i read blogs of people who i'd like to know in "real" life, not just in the blogosphere--people who challenge my thinking, people who make me feel like being a better person, people who make me want to feel generous of spirit, people who i'd like to have over to dinner.

the blogosphere has been a place of healing for me over the past few months, as i recovered from my previous job. it is indeed a wonderous and interesting place. i feel as if i've found some friends here. maybe this is human evolution in action and i'm not only witnessing, but partaking of a cultural, social, evolutionary shift in the way humans interact and find their way to one another.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

week of strange fears

i'm not generally a fearful person and yet here i am, finding myself writing about fears for the second time this week! and it's because i just read this.

i've never been fond of elevators. in my dreams, i regularly find myself in a falling elevator (we won't go into the dream analysis, freudian aspects of that here). it's not so bad that in my waking life i avoid them, but i often step in with trepidation. it's actually more a fear of being squashed in the closing doors than of the elevator itself plummeting. but now that i read that new yorker piece, i suppose i'll fear escalators for the rest of the week (and beyond) as well.

i'm not so fond of heights either. i suppose next i'll have to go up that rotten ski jump in oslo. perhaps it's just fear week. at least in my head. maybe if i watch the second half of that medium show tomorrow night, i'll get it out of my system. let's hope so. i could really use some sleep.

addicted to cookbooks


even ten years ago, i wouldn't have actually thought it possible that anyone (let alone me) could be addicted to cookbooks. then, along came chefs who were good writers...nigella lawson, nigel slater, jamie oliver...and on top of it, they made fabulous t.v. shows during which they made cooking seem easy, real and down-to-earth. no fussy separating eggs and stirring up roux in a difficult, too-posh way. nigella licks her fingers. jamie "bungs" things together. they're real. and they can write. just reading these cookbooks is a pleasure, even if you don't really try any of the recipes. (which i do, of course, i try them all the time.)

most of my cookbooks are packed away because of our building project. husband made me pack them up. in the interest of protecting them from dust, so it was for their own good. however, i still had to cook. so, before long i visted amazon. a few times. and the shelf filled again. as you can see above.

and now, we're about to tear out the kitchen to redo it. so i have to pack these up. at least, with the kitchen torn out, i won't actually be tempted to cook, so i won't have to stock up again. but somehow, i will miss them. and won't they feel sad down in their dark, dingy boxes? locked away from the light and the organic vegetables and the free range chickens?

the pros and cons of working (mostly) at home

my wonderful new job is in norway. i live in denmark. so, i've made an arrangement whereby i work most of the time from home and only "commute" to oslo to spend a few days every other week (tho' that's fast becoming every week). thanks to the miracles of modern technology (secureID, smart phones, VPN connections and the ubiquity of broadband), this works pretty well.

the pros of working at home:
  1. no one interrupts me
  2. i have time to make sabin's lunch "pakse" in the morning
  3. i get to drop off sabin at school every morning, right before school starts, instead of an hour before like we used to
  4. i can wear pajamas most of the day
  5. i don't have that panicked feeling on sunday evening if the laundry isn't done
  6. i'm home when the mailman comes to deliver packages
  7. i can play the same 4 songs 600 times in a row if i want to and no one complains
  8. time and peace to think and to concentrate
  9. i can pick up sabin mid-afternoon so she doesn't have too long a day
  10. i get to make dinner on a daily basis
  11. i enjoy being by myself
  12. i have created a lovely, pleasant, inspiring space upstairs in which to work
  13. i'm never far from my juicer
  14. since i am a night owl, i can work into the wee hours and not have to worry about getting up and getting ready for work in the morning
  15. i can drink 2 giant pots of fragrant, hot chai all by myself and not have to share
  16. small time-outs during which i (perhaps a tad obsessively) carve erasers into stamps

cons to working at home:

  1. no one interrupts me
  2. wearing pajamas all day is a bit embarrassing when the mailman comes to the door at 1 p.m.
  3. i actually sit and work for too long without a break because there are no interruptions
  4. if there's IT trouble, there's no IT guy to call (thus i have to just tell myself to restart the computer and see if that helps)
  5. if i have something i need to discuss, i either have to wait til i go to norway or call someone (and i hate calling people, except for a very few "phone friends" that i can while away hours talking to on the phone)
  6. no one to bounce ideas off of
  7. i pounce on husband when he comes home, telling him all of the things i've been thinking of all day (this can be a bit annoying for him)
  8. distractions (like those erasers just sitting there, waiting to be carved into stamps)
  9. the smart phone is ugly, ugly, ugly
  10. not enough interaction with other adult people

but, largely, it feels luxurious and very nearly decadent to have a great job and be able to work most of the time at home, thereby getting much more time with my family. and that the job involves traveling is great too, so when i'm not home, i'm going somewhere fun--like oslo or singapore or manila or marseille. so, i can't really complain. and looking at the list above, there are more pros than cons.

Monday, April 14, 2008

monday morning ponderings

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." --Margaret Mead

last week, the department manager of my new department in my new job began a dinner speech with the quote above. i felt a surge of happiness and even a few goose bumps at that moment. it represented so much to me--a feeling of having found the right place to be, the right job, the right mindset, that i was now working with people who wanted the same things i wanted. i found myself palpably relieved, once again, to have left behind the job i left at the end of last year--yet another sense that leaving that job was the right thing to do.

it's so strange how you can slowly become miserable in a job (or any other situation for that matter) and not really see it. it happens slowly, over time. you keep holding onto the things you do like about it...the travel, the people you work most closely with, some of the projects, the customer you're serving (since these days, we're all in some sense in the service business). you tell yourself that these things make up for the things you don't like--the politics, the ever-changing array of bosses, the starting over every time from scratch with a new boss, the lack of continuity, the lack of really building something that you get to see though to its conclusion, the culture of blame, the fact that people hide what they're doing and only share it once it's done, the nagging feeling that all that talk about company values masks a lack of values--especially in the middle-upper management layer.

and then one day, you do wake up and realize you can't live that way any more and so you take the radical decision (in the face of your mortgage payment) to leave. and then, you start something new and feel hope because you find that it CAN be different. you can work for someone who has real vision and who has the patience and resources to see it realized. and that you, lucky you, get to be part of that. that you can use your passion and your brain and that it will be recognized and even valued! and you feel so relieved and confirmed in your decision. and happy that you've found what feels like your place in the scheme of things.

and joy that this is what you have to think about on a monday morning...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

too much CSI

so i came home from having lunch in the city with a friend and found that husband had dug THIS giant hole underneath the stairs in our kitchen. i couldn't help but have instant flashes like those in CSI--the graphic kind, with blood flowing and plastic-wrapped bodies. now, i'm not keen on having thoughts like that while standing in my own kitchen. i'm wondering how i'm going to sleep tonight, knowing that giant gaping hole is right there, lurking underneath my stairs, just below my bedroom.

it's weird how you can scare yourself silly with thoughts like that, even while you wish you weren't doing it. it happened to me last week as well. in an uncharacteristic moment, i switched on the t.v. in my hotel room and watched some bad american t.v. show late at night on norwegian television (medium, i think it was called). it was a two-parter and they showed the first half. it was enough to scare me totally silly and i couldn't turn off the lights and go to sleep. suddenly every noise of someone going by in the hotel hallway and all of the generally strange sounds that weren't the sounds of my own house were just about too much for me. i was, at my advanced age, too scared to go to sleep.

right about then, a text message came in from husband, wishing me goodnight. it almost scared the living daylights out of me. i jumped a mile when the phone beeped to signal the message. all because of a stupid t.v. show and an imagination run wild. the more i told myself not to be silly, the worse it became.

in the end, i had to read myself to sleep (which i generally do anyway)...simply reading until i was too tired to think the fearful thoughts anymore. i'm a little worried because i'll be in oslo again on wednesday night when part 2 is on...i'll have to restrain from watching it.

and in the meantime, there's that hole underneath my stairs. this might be a week of sleepless nights.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

ponderings on a saturday night...make that sunday morning

"Can we change the world without changing the way we describe, structure and view the world?" asks truth cycles.

i set off last evening, after reading truth cycles' lovely post, to write about time and about memory and about changing the world. but, then life intervened, there were bedtime over-tired tears, a toe stubbed to bleeding, drama, a mosquito buzzing in an almost-asleep ear, more crying, then at last an exhausted little girl fell asleep after a very busy day of saturday activity.

sometimes, it seems that you have all the good intentions of wanting to change the world and how you're living in it and the impact you have on it, but then the real nitty gritties of life get in the way and divert your attention and your time. but then, who is to say that reading a story and comforting my daughter wasn't really a more worthy use of my time than sitting in front of the computer, composing a blog entry?

i studied in russia a number of years ago and during that time, i felt that time had slowed down. i had the strange sense that there was always exactly the amount of time in each day that i needed to do the things i had to and wanted to get done. i've often pondered why that was and never really come up with a satisfactory answer. but, perhaps it's because i was expressing time differently...in another language (in this case, russian). perhaps, as i have been provoked to think by the truth cycles posting, it was a matter of having oriented myself differently to time in another language and another setting. i simply lived with another relationship to time. since i assumed and expressed that i always had enough time to get things done, i in fact DID have that time. and in that, i always had enough time to go for a long walk arm in arm with friends, to drink endless cups of tea from the samovar, to go the opera or ballet every other evening, to do my homework, to attend classes, to journal and to stand in the queue outside the milk store, hoping to get some of that creamy chocolate milk, to look at wind-up watches in "watch world." all of that effortlessly fit into my days and months in kazan.

it was something about russia and perhaps russian because when i returned 3 years later for gabi's honeymoon trip on the volga, i had the same sensation...of time elongating, and being exactly as long as i needed it to be. those glorious golden days in the sunshine on the volga stretching out, the hours spent poking around in the little towns along the way, buying a basket from an old black-clad woman who had made it, taking a fantastic picture of a "dead piano" in a long-neglected manor house, wandering among the golden-cupolas of nizhny novgorod. it was a week, but in memory, it stretches into much longer. perhaps because it was such a relaxing time.

maybe that's why time seems to go so quickly in everyday life. because we're never relaxed. we're always rushing on to the next thing, never taking the time to enjoy and savor the moments as we are in them. so, although i perhaps didn't change the world yesterday, the fact that i took the time to comfort a tired little girl, to read to her, tickle her back and just be with her in that moment, maybe that was enough for that day. maybe it's the kind of thing she will remember one day and she will be happy her mom had time for her. and maybe thereby, one small gesture at a time, we actually do change the world.

Friday, April 11, 2008

a new kind of craftiness!

i'm so excited! i have been looking and looking and looking for a stamp with a lightbulb on it. i have even enlisted others in my hunt. in my written journals and in my little black book which i carry in my purse and which contains all of the excellent quotes i've heard and my to do lists, as well as moments of inspiration--i scrawl a little lightbulb beside ideas so that i can page straight to them. i've been wanting a little lightbulb stamp to use instead, since i adore stamps. i haven't been able to find one. and neither have mom or monica, who have been put on the task as well. well...last night while browsing etsy (that bastion of lovely creativeness), i discovered that i just might be able to make one myself.

however, in case i couldn't, i requested a custom stamp from a lovely shop called mayberry sparrow. here's what corabelle came up with:


that's really great! but here it is...my first attempt! not as good as the cool stuff corabelle is making, but a pretty cool first attempt, even if i do say so myself.


i bought a handful of inexpensive white erasers today. i cut one in half, drew one of my lightbulbs on it and carved it out with an exacto-knife. easy peasy lemon squeezy. and very affordable on top of it! plus, it's MY lightbulb! the one that i draw!

i suspect that many erasers will be sacrificed this weekend. i'm thinking a wine glass, a dandelion, some owls (why am i suddenly obsessed with owls?--it's that sassafrass paper, i'm sure). the possibilities are endless!

my business

i've spent the morning organizing all of the paperwork for my little business in its lovely bookbinder's design folder. it still strikes me as strange that i have my own business. strange and wonderful. i make invoices. i scan receipts. i handle the bank account. i make my travel arrangements. i fly all over the place. i keep track of all kinds of things. and most important of all, i do a job for a client. how cool is that?

i've always either been a graduate student or an ordinary worker bee, taking in my monthly paycheck. although this is a bit more challenging, figuring all that stuff out myself (especially the taxes! and the pension! yikes!), i feel independent and strong. dare i say, like a grownup, at last.

perhaps now i'll finally get a handle on the financial side of things--money has always been a strangely abstract thing to me, sort of ephemeral and always more tangible to me in the form of an object i've just purchased than as a concept or in those silly little bits of paper that the world seems to chase around endlessly. perhaps now my view on it will change, when i know that it's really myself who has earned it and is doing something to create the fact of money coming in to my very own business.

how exciting! how grown-up! amazing that it took this long...but maybe it's my inner child that enables me to look upon it with delight.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

things which inspire

i took in so many impressions on my travels over the past week. there is just so much to be inspired by out there in the world! here is a taste of it...

fresh herbs in the boqueria market in barcelona

fantastic fresh fish

a riot of spanish strawberries


view from my window at lysebu, holmenkollen, norway

mosaic on the ceiling at gaudi's park güell in barcelona


from the airplane window, somewhere over spain--
i so want to try to draw the shapes i saw here


small, bright nosegays of painted dried flowers on la rambla, barcelona
it felt really great to get out there and see something, to study the contrasts between spain and norway, to observe and interact and to try to capture the experiences on camera, in words and in memory.

random thoughts in an airport

sitting in the airport, waiting to fly home and these are the things crossing my mind:

  1. my flight is in 30 minutes and there's still no gate
  2. why is SAS not obsessively texting me about this?
  3. hearing danish spoken near me and feeling the comforting feeling of home(!) (?)
  4. laughing to myself as i remember husband's struggle to think of the name of this airport (gardermoen)...something like "kæmpe lufthavn lavet ude af træ" or something to that effect
  5. how strikingly different company cultures can be
  6. what a pleasure it is to work with people who want to share what they're working on and talk about it and discuss it, because they assume that those around them have something to offer that's of value to their work
  7. how many flights to stockholm does one need per hour?
  8. what a pleasure it is to work for someone who is truly a visionary person as well as a good leader
  9. how happy it makes me to see my travel calendar filling up
  10. how much i adore bookbinder's design's beautiful binders and journals
  11. it's time for a new blog header
  12. i'm looking forward to being home

well, it seems there's suddenly a gate and i should proceed to it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

work in progress

ceiling of one of what will be five naves in la sagrada familia
modern relief door of the sagrada familia. i wanted to capture "pilat," since i have a fascination for pontius pilate from bulgakov's master and margarita


gaudi's la sagrada familia in barcelona is totally amazing. in fact, saying that doesn't even begin to express how amazing it is. they've been working on it for 125 years and it is still very much under construction. it's more than just a building or a church or a temple, it's a work of art. a breathtaking, mind-boggling, stunning work of art.
art and architecture like this doesn't happen today. there is too much expectation of buildings being finished quickly. there is too little experimentation. there is too little artistry in architecture. contractors cost too much and dare too little. it is a testament to barcelona that they continue the work on this amazing artwork. that they innovate gaudi's vision...as you can see above with the modern face of the bronze word-relief doors and the carved stone knight with his amazing, fluid lines. it is a humbling place, even if you aren't the least bit religious...you could nearly become religious about art and architecture visiting it. and it's somewhere that would be worth going back to again and again to see the progress and absorb the overwhelming details. it would give richly on repeated visits, of that i am certain.

boqueria market


dreaming of the lovely fresh produce i saw and photographed in the boqueria market in barcelona. what a fantastic place that was! we had rented an apartment in order to cook while we were there, but didn't end up doing so...in retrospect, it was a bit silly not to. it just suddenly seemed like so much to stock up on all of the olive oil and things you'd need to cook. perhaps i should have thought more simply. it would have been a lovely meal.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

jarring transitions

i started my morning in barcelona. it was sunny and a lovely 18 degrees. there were several thousand madmen and -women running a marathon through its streets. a number of hours later, i landed in oslo, where it is -3 and snowing like mad. only when you fly do experience such jarring transitions. i'm not sure it's good for us, as human beings. how can we catch up with ourselves when the differences are so great?

lucky for me, i'm at the most lovely old hotel up on holmenkollen, sitting in the pretty, quiet lobby, all alone by a fireplace, so i have the peace and solitude in which to make the mental transition to match the geographical transition i made. one doesn't always get that chance, so i'm making a conscious effort to savor it.

the difference in culture between denmark and spain is quite striking as well and was another jarring transition. we noticed it already on the plane, leaving copenhagen. it was a spanair flight and full of spaniards. a bunch of them evidentally knew one another and they were talking loudly across the aisles to one another. they spent long stretches of the flight, standing up talking to their friends, sometimes several rows behind them. speaking quickly and loudly. it was strange for the danes onboard, who never speak in public unless they have to or are together with close friends who they've known since birth. it was really interesting that the cultural differences were so evident already there.

when you travel, at least when you travel for pleasure, you open yourself to the differences. i go into observation mode and try to take note of such things...like the rhythms of the language and the body language of the people. even there, already on the plane, it was evident that the entire rhythm of barcelona was going to be different than copenhagen. the pulse and the beat on the streets was more lively and immediate somehow. less reserved. part of it is simply that there are so many more people, but it must also have to do with language and the actual music of the language itself. people simply express themselves completely differently.

we noticed that there were danes everywhere we went in barcelona. and they seemed to be caught up in the pulse and the liveliness as well, as they too were more animated. they were talking louder and using their arms more as they spoke. so something in the spanish culture was catching. or maybe it was just the sunshine and the warmth.

and now, i transition back to the cooler northern climes as big flakes of snow fall outside and the fire crackles beside me. transitions aren't all bad.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

going off the grid

we're headed for barcelona tomorrow morning. although i'll have a computer along, i'm not going to hook it up to the big old giant huge vast ginormous internet while i'm there. i want to enjoy what i'm seeing. and i want to write about it in my jewel-toned fabric-bound journal with triplus fineliners in rainbow colors. and i want to go offline. decouple myself from the matrix. but i shall surely share all of my impressions when i return. which will be sometime midweek next week.

we'll "see" you then.

a memory of perfect clarity

in may of 2003, i attended a conference in arizona. since i had attended arizona state and gathered an extra master's there, i had old friends to catch up with while i was in the area. one such friend invited me to a wonderful gathering which included others of his old friends. he was still in a ph.d. program at asu and so it was a very intellectual evening, which i remember very clearly and very fondly.

husband and i were making our driftwood people at that point and so i took one to my friend...a whimsical little man, holding a hand-blown shot glass which we'd once bought on bornholm in his hands which were fastened out of wire. usually our driftwood people have a quote on them, but it escapes me what his quote was and i can't, in the chaos of our house-in-limbo building project, locate the picture at the moment.

the evening was wonderful. a small group of 6-8 people, who had lived all over the world, all highly educated and with something interesting to say. i remember thinking throughout the evening that the only thing missing was that husband wasn't there to meet everyone and share in the discussion, because he would have loved it.

i remember that we had a very simple meal of gazpacho--it was, after all, arizona, and although it was may, it was already quite hot. i remember that soup so clearly, it was the best gazpacho i've had...with a hint of black fig vinegar in it and served with pumpkin seeds and other yummy things to sprinkle in. i've taken inspiration from it, although i've never really duplicated the delicious depth, and even when i make chili, i serve all kinds of extras that people can sprinkle in.

there was a couple there who lived in spain. the husband was an illustrator--an editorial artist, actually. he did illustrations for publications like the LA Times and the Washington Post. Very political, very erudite and very thought-provoking. my friend and i got back in touch recently on facebook and he just happened to mention that he was going to visit this friend and his wife in barcelona this summer. and then i mentioned that i am going to barcelona tomorrow and i'd love to meet up with them. and suddenly, i had their email and then today, i made plans to meet them for a late dinner tomorrow night when we get in. so, husband will get to meet them at last! and i'm sure that we'll have great food and great conversation. it's too bad larry won't be there! we might have to go back when he's there this summer.

it somehow strikes me that it wasn't mere coincidence that larry and i got back in touch and he mentioned javier and barcelona right when we were going there. too many things had to align for it to be mere coincidence. serendipity? fortituous circumstance? fate? god? interesting to ponder...i guess i'd like to think we make our own luck. but, whatever it is, i'm looking forward to meeting them again tomorrow night.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

of libraries, books and marginalia

i've been thinking about libraries on and off today. libraries i've loved. and ones i've loathed. my school library growing up was in a new building, furnished with very modern (ok, it was the 80s) furniture and contained a bunch of encyclopedias and back issues of time and newsweek. it wasn't a very inspiring place. the little town i grew up in had a small public library that was full of old ladies and even older books. also not inspiring. and while loathe is a strong word, i certainly didn't learn to love libraries in these places.

i first found a library i could feel at home in when i attended a community college in southern california in the late 80s. thereafter, my university library at iowa became a place where many happy hours were spent. until that weird masturbating guy ruined it. it was never the same up on the 4th floor after that. i had to move to the law library after that. it was another of those modern structures, but at least a friend had a study carrel i could borrow on occasion.

i spent hours and hours in the library at arizona state, but never fell in love with it. it wasn't 'til "the reg" at the university of chicago that i truly came to appreciate a library in all of its library-ish glory. for the smell of the books, for the darkness of the stacks. for the intellectual hum in the air. but what i came to appreciate most of all was the marginalia. there were debates going on in the margins of the books at the university of chicago. and they were pretty much the best thing about the books in the reg. sometimes, even if i owned a particular book, i would go get it from the stacks anyway, just to see what others had underlined and noted in the margins.

even before that, i was someone who writes in books, but after discovering the discourse going on there, the insight into another's head that an underlined passage provides, i felt positively licensed to do so. the provocation of it. fantastic. i did always use pencil when it was a library book, just in case someone would want to erase. but i use pen in my own books. sometimes a whole color-coded system.

these days, i visit the library far too little and the mailman brings amazon orders to my door regularly. but, i am grateful for amazon, even if it isn't the same as wandering around, perusing books on the shelves. i think it's a pretty amazing website and they have achieved something close to browsing with their tracking of my purchases and what i look at...the recommendations they make are pretty spot on. but of course, that's after years of building up a good database of my purchases on which to base the recommendations. although i should likely feel a bit uncomfortable about the whole "big brother" nature of it, i don't really. but perhaps that's because i live in a country where english isn't the native language. books in english are available, but they are expensive, so on the whole, amazon is my best bet.

to supplement it, i do rather frequently get to english-speaking places where i can properly explore a bookstore...kinokuniya in singapore, foyle's in london, power books in manila. and there's always that weird fact that suri hustvedt's books are released first in norway, so you never know...

april 1 juice

this is going to sound like an april fool's joke, but it's not. i swear it's delicious:

1 small stalk of broccoli
1 medium carrot
1 large orange
1 large apple
1 hunk of ginger

fantastic. it'll perk you right out of a deep blue funk, i promise.

lovely things



i got the coolest thing in the mail today. of course, i ordered it on etsy, from a shop called field and seal. it's tiny little delicate handmade paper beads--one set with a small story on them and the other blue with gold accents. not only are they fabulous in and of themselves, but the way they came packaged, in distressed brown paper and attached to a lovely card with a small story on it made even opening them a delight.
just what i needed on this day where i've been feeling a bit blah. beautiful things, even when they are small, do have the capacity to promote happiness.

books read in 2008 - take 2

i started this list of books i've read during 2008 back in february. since today is april 1, it seemed like a good day to update that list:

21. michael baigent & richard leigh, the dead sea scrolls deception
22. stephen hodge, the dead sea scrolls
23. paul auster, in the country of last things
24. siri hustvedt, blindfold
25. siri hustvedt, a plea for eros
26. siri hustvedt, the enchantment of lily dahl
27. siri hustvedt, the sorrows of an american
29. stephanie pearl-mcphee, knitting rules!
30. stephanie pearl-mcphee, casts off
31. jonathan franzen, how to be alone
32. jonathan franzen, the discomfort zone
33. brian singer, the 1000 journals project
34. danny gregory, the creative license
35. danny gregory, everyday matters
36. jennifer new, drawing from life: the journal as art

after running onto siri hustvedt's new novel, the sorrows of an american, i got a little carried away, getting all her earlier stuff and reading it. but, after just finishing the enchantment of lily dahl today, i feel i've had enough. in a way, her work is all the same. some of the same characters from what i loved actually turn up in sorrows of an american. i've come to think of it all as rather self-indulgent and self-referential and frankly, i'm a bit sick of it. in the early books, you see the characters from the later books in their earlier incarnations. the writing is better and i do a lot more underlining in the later books...what i loved and sorrows of an american, are solidly recommended reads, but i definitely don't feel that way about lily dahl. i don't know what it is, really, but maybe the madness of a small town in minnesota is just too close to home for me. or maybe i read it in this monday malaise from which i seem to be suffering (now well into tuesday) and i just didn't really like it.

however, i shall keep reading. maybe i'll dig out barbara kingsolver, perhaps she can help me out of this funk...