Monday, March 31, 2014

Unhooked for 36 ½ hours or…

Life beyond the computer screen

Those who know me, know that I am easier to get a hold of by sending an e-mail than by calling my house phone or cell phone: I’m always on my computer. Whether it be working for the client, connecting with my far-flung family and friends, working on my photos or simply playing computer games (we won’t go there in this post) once I have turned it on after my morning coffee, it usually doesn’t get turned off until around 8 in the evening (if it’s a good day – after my current two favorite TV series – The Chase and Dinner Date - I often return to the computer for a last check on e-mails).

Last fall however I had purchased the 4th season of “The Good Wife” and what with my housemates being gone, my being gone, our both being gone, work, social occasions and other commitments, four months later we had yet to crack the cover open.

So, with the success of our Malta getaway still present in our minds, we decided to dedicate one whole day to the screening of said DVD set – no computers, nothing which would distract us from the purpose of the day.

Thus it was that on Saturday night the 28th of March (am noting the date in history as it may never occur again) at 19:30 we both turned off our computers… 36 and a half hours later I turned mine back on again, which, with the exception of long-distance flights, has to be a record.

Saturday night we started low key, catching up with a couple of taped TV shows and hors d’oeuvres with champagne. Sunday first a leisurely breakfast of bagels and lox (the American store in Cologny had mini bagels when last we were there: mailto: followed by the first program in the series.

Then we got in our exercise by walking up the hill to the opening event of our village’s new mini-market. Great weather, high-class outfittings in the store (including the possibility of mailing letters and packages) and lots of tables and chairs for coffee or a drink: looks promising. 

After catching up with village friends and walking back down the hill, it was settle in to the DVD marathon, breaking a first time to enjoy lasagna made by a friend of mine and kept in the freezer for a special occasion (and if this one wasn’t what is?), a second time for afternoon coffee and profiteroles (no point in doing it if it isn’t done well, I always say). The third and final interruption was for hummus and vegetables then cheddar cheese popcorn.

All told, we managed to get to the 3rd DVD, 3rd program on it – or a good half of the series.  A wonderful day: one, which I hope to repeat sometime before the year is out!

And, although it was a moratorium on the computer and e-mails, I did boot up the iPad in order to be able to Skype with my sister as usual in the early evening – one can’t be totally cut off from all life!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring has Sprung

It may sound mundane, but oh the riot of color and warmth of that phrase.

Walking back from picking up the mail and having coffee – with good conversation – everything was blooming; a tractor was laying manure along the vines; the birds were swooping and tweeting; and everywhere plants and flowers are putting on their spring best.

Even the electric box fell in with the plan.

Tomorrow we spring forward (in time) and life is good!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Free time and other falsehoods

I have asked my mother two totally irrelevant and, in retrospect, stupid questions in my life (o.k. I mean I have done so – and remembered them – there is probably no end to the dumb questions I have asked along the way of all and a sundry).

The first one was when I turned 50: “how does it feel to have a fifty year old daughter?” Bless her heart; she didn’t disown me.  The second was when she was on the point of retiring: “what are you going to do with all your time?”

Anyone who has been there knows that that particular question goes to the top of the line when it comes to irrelevant and dumb.
Although legally retired, I have continued to do the book keeping for a small association as well as keeping on top of paperwork and admin for my family.  Come June 30th I have told the client that this time, it’s for real, I will no longer continue.

So I’ll be not only officially, but truly, retired – what am I going to do with all my time?

Got a small view of what that will be like this morning as am waiting some information before I can bring the client up-to-date.  Freedom: to go fill the car with gas, washing it along the way (hadn’t been done for a couple of months); swing by the post office box for the mail; off to the next village and the only open post office within a 5-minute drive to mail two sets of tax documents – one for this canton, another for the canton up the road (USA taxes still to be finished and sent).

Upon my return home decided that the car could perhaps benefit being vacuumed (no, didn’t go overboard, just the mats on the driver’s and passenger’s side in the front), which in turn led to vacuuming the entry and kitchen, the steps to the cellar and the laundry room. Hmmm…. That meant that the clothes dryer needed its lint screen cleaned.

Then it was boot up the computer, check e-mails, open the mail, contemplate the myriad of tasks still needing doing: but what the heck – it’s almost noon and time to leave for lunch with my oldest son. Never mind that a nap wouldn’t come amiss (all that vacuuming has turned my non-existent arm muscles into mush!

And I got up at 6:30 a.m.!!!
This afternoon I’ll probably need to recuperate from this morning – what free time?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Things clear and unclear

As mentioned in former blogs I love being subscribed to A.Word.A.Day and quite often the quote at the end gives food for thought.

Recently: “The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. -Jean-Paul Sartre, writer and philosopher (1905-1980)” had me laughing.

Right – in theory this should (and he also used “should”) – hold true. But, oh the things that can happen to prevent that: smudged fingerprints on the glass; dirty sand grains leaving a trail of filth as they go through; poor quality glass – to name only a few.

Then there’s the other end of it: the “see”ing bit.  One’s eyes often grow dimmer: what hourglass? Where? Then there’s the lack of adequate electrical paths from the eyes to the brain leading to “Now what was that I just saw? What was it about the thought concerning the thing I just saw?“

Again, the premise is good – it’s only the sludge on the brain and the physical degradation of one’s faculties that perhaps interfere with the wonderful logic. And of course if the hour glass is no longer the old fashioned kind, but rather digital - all bets are off!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A thought for the day.

"An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy. -Spanish proverb"

And I would add, even perhaps a counseling session with a psychiatrist!
Who else knows you well enough to take into consideration everything that you have
ever done, ever known or ever were.
Who else can in the blink of an eye put it all together and understand the words not
said, the thoughts not formulated.
Who else dares play devil’s advocate, or shore you up by omitting truths too heavy
to be born at that moment.
Who else can take your down mood and lift you up or enjoy your highs almost as
much as you.
Ah, the children a woman bears will always be so close to her heart that tearing them
away will always hurt, yet freeing them to live their own lives the best gift we can give.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Things aren’t always as they seem or…

Every man has his secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Never was this more apparent than after a recent incident.

My housemate and I were headed off for some much needed rest and relaxation – flying out early from the airport.  We duly arrived, checked in, got through security, had breakfast and went to the departure gate.  All seemed to be fine.  Then when we should have been boarding – silence; when we should have taken off the airline posted “more information at 10:00” (it was a 7:00 flight!).

Of course everyone headed for the lone hostess at the counter – she had announced that they would be giving vouchers for breakfast – with all their questions. As we weren’t in any particular rush having no meetings awaiting, we kind of hung back whilst the more business-looking passengers crowded in.  There was one man who managed to get to the counter about the same time we did. Not dressed in a business suit, had we given him any thought at all it would have been “pushy”.

As it was the hostess started to deal with our questions when this man’s cell phone rang – and he shoved it towards the woman at the counter saying in broken French – “it’s my wife”.  She reacted as one would – ignored him  and keeping her calm continued to serve us.  He was slightly agitated – we said we weren’t in any rush, the hostess finally talked with his wife. Normal.

After the short conversation where we gathered that he needed to be re-routed as quickly as possible, the hostess told him to go back out of the departure zone and check with the airline directly.  He didn’t understand well and a few minutes later we found him at the Information booth in the departure hall zone still.

It was at this point that we learned that his mother had died suddenly of a heart attack and he was desperate to get to his family in Tunisia. He hadn’t been being rude, he was simply in anguish and unable to communicate in the local language.

We later bumped into him again – and found out that they had been able to re-route him on another airline and that he would be with his family later that day.

It again taught me that often things are not all they seem.
After my husband passed away, I was astonished at the number of friends who shared with me the early death of a parent; the loss of a sibling or other tragedies. These were all persons that I only knew to be happy, smiling and with “no problems”.  It drove me to develop the following phrase: “there is often unsuspected tragedy behind smiling faces.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Living well, not what you think

For some reason this year all of my friends have loaned or given me books about the lives of people (mainly women) who through no fault of their own have been difficult.

A trilogy by Barbara and Stephanie Keating: Blood Sisters, A Durable Fire, In Borrowed Light – a story of three girls who became “blood” sisters in the Kenya Highlands in the 1950’s and their struggles over the years after Kenyan independence.

The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak – written from an unusual point of view, the horror that was Nazi Germany comes through the mundane of a young teen’s eyes.

My Forbidden Face by “Latifa” a true story written by a 16-year-old girl who faithfully recorded events over a five-year period after – as she puts it – the “white flag was raised over Kabul” when Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. She and her family were smuggled out to Europe, but as there are still family members left behind she used a pseudonym for protection.

Gogo Mama by Sally Sara. A book compiled of interviews of twelve very different African women and dedicated to a newswoman killed in Africa.

And I have several more…

Reading of these lives touched by violence: knowing that the only difference in between them and myself is that of luck in where I was born, grew up and now live, leads me to reflect on the randomness of our existence.  Although to first my parent’s credit then my own, we worked hard, saved well and got lucky (yep it is often not sufficient to simply work hard and save – one does need that outside element that allows one to invest well or be in a society where the economy does well thus allowing for the growth of that which was saved.)

Back when my older son accused us of being abusers of the poor Africans I remember telling him that although it wasn’t to our merit that we had what we did, it was – for me – an obligation that because of the difference, I always be aware of the privileges that I enjoyed. That it is up to us to not only not do evil, but to actively search for ways of helping humanity where we are. 

The not doing harm isn't too difficult, the trying to do good not so easy: it is all too simple to continue one’s day-to-day life feeling “owed” by all and sundry for what one has. We complain of the smallest things – a speeding ticket, deserved or not – the rain going on for days – high taxes.  We forget the rare privileges we enjoy: a roof over our heads, enough to eat, no one looking to kill us.

So I’m living the “good life” – hopefully cognizant that my life is good!  Sometimes all it takes is someone else’s story to bring that forcibly home.

Living well for me means enjoying every minute of every day; every person as I meet them; every bite I take or drop I drink; it means waking up looking forward to each day regardless the place or the weather; it means above all doing no harm and trying in one’s own way to do some good.  Random Acts of Kindness is a concept I love even if I don’t always apply it – yep, I too am only human.

“It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it. - Dale Carnegie”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

News from nowhere or…

A peaceful Sunday at home.

For reasons with which I probably shouldn’t bother “my gentle reader” as Rosemary would say, I changed the pattern of my day.

Suffice to say (see I will bore you anyway) that upon arising relatively late at 7:30 I proceeded to fiddle around. A trip to the cellar for more espresso capsules sidetracked me into checking the computer (had had to let the virus scan of the whole machine run throughout the night – over 5 million files – yikes), which in turn had me looking to play one computer game. Which led to my discovery that some of yesterday’s manipulations had led to my internet not appearing at all like it did before said procedures: all my own fault of course, but more time to set that straight.
Breakfast was thus delayed and when I realized that the weather was clearing (after ten days of sun, we had one day of covered, but unfortunately no rain to clear out anything) I made an executive decision (yep, that’s what we call them when we feel like we need to lend importance to the mundane) to go for a walk in the morning instead of the afternoon.

One of the things that reinforced that was that if one waits until Sunday afternoon, it’s like being in town on a busy shopping day, people everywhere!

So had a lovely stroll, ran into a bike race then returned home full of sunshine.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A medley of miscellanea or…

Work Avoidance

·      It’s my sister’s birthday – now that’s good planning – a birthday on a Friday. Party on (had originally misspelled and wrote parry on… hmmm that might be valid as well.

·      It’s also one of my cousin’s birthdays! And the sister has a son who was born on the cousin’s dad’s birthday (confused yet?)

·      Federer (that’s “Rowjeh” to us French speakers) is in the half finals at Indian Wells. Perhaps he’s no longer #1 in the official tennis count, but he sure isn’t “down for the count” either like many predicted last year.

·      From my Trivia calendar: How many active battleships are there in the U.S. Navy? (this is a trick question to see if any one reads my blogs – not giving the answer: you’ll have to contact me if you have a burning need to know).

·      According to a post on Facebook this morning, since 1948 (66 years) 100 planes have disappeared – and never been found!

·      In my local free paper this morning: an article that Switzerland could develop a place where countries at war or in danger from a natural catastrophe could stock for a limited time their cultural patrimony. I would be administered by the National Museum of Switzerland the  process would be headed within the framework and with the guidance of Unesco.

·      I am still plugging away at eliminating “stuff”: score – Stuff 199’999, me 9.

·      And my last little tidbit to make us all feel better:

Maxine: “I’m aging like a fine wine… which is to say, I’m building up pressure and about to become uncorked”.

TGIFF to all! That successfully killed 20 minutes. Think I'll go pull ivy off the hedge as an encore.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Weather, Hair and Friendship

At first glance those words don’t seemingly have any thing to do with each other whatsoever. (OK my hair frizzes in wet weather and good friends know to tell me that no, it doesn't look like a blond afro).

However, in my current life they do link.
The weather has truly turned out as predicted 6 days ago – six days of sun throughout my country. I partially returned to Europe from Southern California because I no longer enjoyed waking up again and again and yet again to sun every day (imagine!). Now, however, I do my fair share of wishing that the gray would stop and am the first to come alive when we have one of our rare spells of several days in a row (with the thought in the back of my mind, that pessimistic mind, that says: we’ll be paying for this later at some point… possibly as it rains throughout the summer).

Hair is linked to the weather as I have saying for weeks that I really needed to go get it trimmed (well more like a couple of inches by now so perhaps a cut would be a better term). When I start to want to put it up in a clip and we are not yet – according to the calendar (mother nature’s telling a different story) – in Spring, it’s time.  So made an appointment and got lucky as was able to go just a day later.

Friendship: one of my local friends (who will remain nameless to spare her any ribbing) has had a goal ever since I cut my waist-length hair to shoulder-length 7 months ago of actually growing hers to be longer than mine. That, of course, was without reckoning upon how mine seems to grow as one watches whereas her head reacts more normally.

However, I am posting this in her honor as, if she just holds out another week, she will be able to see that she has probably met the goal – and can go get hers cut before she starts to suffer during the heat of the summer, thus completing the circle of weather, hair and friendship.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

All over the world or…

My "skype" life

Hard to imagine that I rented my first computer only just over 20 years ago, even harder to remember that internet wasn’t much of a thing until about 10 years ago.  When my mother passed away in 2009 I was still calling most of my older relatives using the wonderful system of VOIP.

Today I skype.
And found it highly entertaining to realize before I logged off last night that
There were 9 of my friends online: two in southern France; one in the Philippines; one in Seattle, Washington, USA; one in Dillingham, Alaska, USA; one in Huntsville, AL, USA; One in Cuzco, Peru; one in Dubai; one even in my own village outside of Geneva, Switzerland. If you count the “skype test call” which could be based anywhere, I circle the globe with only two being in the same location.

Gives new meaning to “globalization”.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring has sprung

So here's a bouquet of virtual flowers for those of you who are still experiencing gray skies or bad weather.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Signs and shop windows

I tend to note the odd things as I go about my daily life – there is no trip where I don’t see something interesting. And in honor of yesterday having been International Women’s day I am posting a lovely sign I saw in a shop window.

So here’s to all of us: the young, the old and the in between. May we behave like the princesses we know ourselves to be.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Weathering the weather

Now I have been known to describe the period in between November and April here as “eternal gray” and many years this has been true.  This year however everything is topsy-turvy with Europe having an exceptionally warm winter with many floods, etc. and the East coast of the USA experiencing more snow than several years all put together.

However, never in my memory have I seen the weather predictions to be as those of yesterday’s paper – it was the buzz of the coffee shop. As even through Wednesday it is 70% reliable I think that I just may be “out and about” taking a time off from the indoors. As we well know, we may be paying big time for this one week somewhere later this year so I’ll take it: Spring has sprung!
"Le Matin" March 7, 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Food for thought or...

Thought for food.

We often say of something that intrigues, impresses or otherwise provides us with a mental stimulus for thinking that it gives us “food for thought”. Although I am not sure where it originated, it was used already by many French authors centuries ago: Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas.

But what about Thought for Food?
How often do we consider what food can bring to our souls? Do we consciously think whilst making that sandwich on the run that we are not only feeding ourselves, but transmitting a message as well: I am so busy that I only have time to “grab a bite”; I am not worth the effort of making something better for myself; I have no time to properly nourish myself.
We all have, at one time or the other, given a dinner party: oh the thought that goes into the planning of the menu (or the thousands of thoughts: what type of food; any known allergies; any known dislikes?). The effort and love for those that we have invited to share with them our appreciation. We don’t just throw something together do we, we actually give it a great deal of attention.
For various reasons, but mainly because a friend had been given a very encompassing cookbook many years ago by her father and have never really used it much, three of us started what we are want to label: LWL – Ladies Who Lunch. Taking turns we invite the other two to sample our efforts. Very few rules, the only true one being that at least one part of the menu has to be a recipe that one has never tried. This leads to great discoveries as well as “o.k. I’ve done that and can now throw out the recipe” moments.

Recently we had one such: the table was gorgeous, the tomato “tarte tatin” a savory marvel, the placemats a trip to the U.K. and the “Eaton Mess” very tasty indeed. Much thought went into the whole – thanks S!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lassitude, the blues, or …

Going with the flow.

It has long intrigued me that “out of the blue” and “for no reason” one can all of a sudden be deeply blue. I have never figured out what combination of elements causes its onset, nor why this lassitude or blues goes away as quietly as they come – and again for absolutely no visible reason.

I only know that life is a series of ups and downs and that in between one is either on the way up or on the way down: static isn’t a real state, nor is stable, nor yet again “forever”.

One learns to simply go with the flow – the blues end, as do any extreme bouts of happiness (and lucky me, I have even experienced those). The highs, the lows, it’s all ebb and flow.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Off the grid

And other illusions or delusions

Malta, Malta, Malta, our mantra and hope for several years finally became
a reality last Wednesday. 

As the original goal had been to totally absent ourselves from our normal day to day life, my housemate didn’t even take a computer. I was not quite so brave delusion #1 – I need to be in touch and available all the time as well as illusion #1 I am important enough to need to be in touch and available at all times.

Our mantra “Malta” and the looking forward to a vacation where we would either “do it all”, or “do nothing” kept us going for many months through disaster (another illusion as well as a delusion: if one is still alive at the end of a “disaster” it is not truly one) after disaster.

Leaving did not start well with the illusion of a vacation falling apart almost before it happened when our plane could not leave for “technical” reasons. Four hours - and an aircraft flown in from another city - later we were on our way with one glitch in Rome where we were to change flights: no ongoing flight that day and, as it turned out, no luggage either. Talk about a “delusion”. But it did provide a silver lining in the form of a hotel room apiece in a decent hotel as well as a lovely two-course dinner that evening and full breakfast buffet the next morning.

Arrival in Malta was the beginning of being “off the grid” – a phrase, which originally meant not relying upon a city’s electricity, but has since broadened to include most ways of not relying on a public service or normal functions.
One that is used relatively frequently in social media as well.

I would check e-mails once a day, usually nicely ensconced in the hotel lobby (in the better hotels wifi is only free in the public areas… won’t even think about doing a blog on the whys of that particular quirk), answering only those from my housemate’s husband or daughter as well as my two sons.

Malta – to the contrary of many long-awaited positive experiences – did not deceive, but was even more than we had expected. No delusions, only an illusion of total pampering, peace and education.

Getting back “on the grid” is proving to be much more of a challenge!