Sorry, Can’t Write Today.

Can’t write today. The ideas coffer is empty. It’s Monday again, and Mondays are not generally inspiring. They kick off the new work week. And this week also kicks off a new month. One month closer to my big O+1 birthday.  Hight of the hurricane season. Trying not to think about it and definitely don’t want to write about it.  Need to stay positive.

And I’m not quite well. My knee hurts from running almost two miles in Sand Key Park yesterday. I ran the whole time apart from stopping for bird watching every now and then. And taking some photos, talking to a few neighbors, and stopping briefly for refreshments. Water from the public fountain. It was hot. I know, knee hurt is not much to complain about, but it can be an inhibitor to free-flowing thought.  An idea blocker, until I get used to it.

Could it be the famous writer’s block? That can’t be possible.  Does it hit non-writers as well? I don’t think it does, but looked up some advice, just in case. Keep to a schedule…that’s what I’ve been doing and that’s why the coffer is empty. Take time off after completing a project…but I haven’t even started one yet! And Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft) says that we should look at writing as an ordinary job rather than artistry. Writers use the word instead of brick and mortar. So far it sounds right, provided one is a writer. A famous one, with a regular paycheck. So couldn’t find anything there that would apply to me, a non-writer.

In any case, whatever the reason for stories hiding from me, today I’m only sharing some photos from my run yesterday. The Blue Heron and the funny “sand dog” going for a swim. I was lucky to find them. Feel a bit better already. Happy Monday.

What’s Cooking?

I’m a fairly good cook, not entirely self-proclaimed. Being a decent cook has its plusses. Friends will happily accept dinner invitations, and nobody orders pizza just before meal time. But it’s also a curse of sorts. Everyone always wants to eat at home. Like my hubby would say it’s your birthday, let’s go out. Or maybe it’s Mother’s Day. He doesn’t use Hon, it’s your whatever day… but often volunteers to peel and chop the ingredients if I put them on the kitchen counter. So I just need to throw them together, easy.

But I like eating out.  So I’ve come up with some creative solutions to that problem. First, the freezer is a helpful invention. Second, I can try to have most of my work meetings at restaurants. Oh, I’m sooo booked, back to back, can we meet for lunch? Hmm, but it usually works.


To tell the truth, deep inside I love cooking. The issue is that I’m not into following recipes. I find it booring. Just following a recipe leaves nothing to the imagination, not much room for creativity. It also requires all kinds of measuring devices and mathematical skills. So that’s not for me. I like to shop groceries about once a week, but I don’t plan the meals in advance. No grocery lists based on recipes. And it’s not possible to buy .275 oz, 1/2 dl or 2 teaspoons of anything anyway. So my shopping lists tend to have only a few things on them, items that we don’t buy that often, like batteries or light bulbs. Who remembers to buy light bulbs when they now (finally) last for 2-5 years, if they are not on the list? I know what we like to eat, mostly healthy stuff, so I simply wander around the store and browse what I see.  Then I make meals of what we have. That’s simple, and so much more fun. A bit of an artistic challenge, rather than just mechanical work.


Don’t get me wrong, I love reading recipes. I look at them to get ideas, for inspiration. I can sit and browse recipes from the whole world for hours! I particularly like to learn about spices and herbs. If I can’t grow them, and they are not available in the local stores, I can always get them online. So recipes are good, I just can’t follow them.

Last night I had some chicken breasts and made a pasta sauce.  In addition to the chicken, I threw together onions, red bell peppers, lemon and then added a little bit of this, a dash of that and a pinch of the other. And a tiny “pour” of cream. It was really tasty with low carb pasta and a fresh salad. But it’s close to impossible for me to remember how I did it…so next time will be a different culinary adventure. I kind of like that.

Chicken pasta sauce

Today, or maybe tomorrow, I think it might be time to make some pizza. To use some good leftovers. We don’t have pizza very often, maybe three or four times a year, but I like making them. Artistic and tasty toppings on a super thin crust. Like the Kilimanjaro. It has a yellowish alfredo-type mustard sauce and extra cheese to remind us of the surrounding savannah, then small heaps of really thinly sliced beef fillet for mini-mountains, topped with feta cheese for the snow. And a few green bell peppers for bushes and yellow ones for lions lurking around. And some mushroom pieces for other animals. Maybe.

Or it might be time for a completely new one. I’m thinking something like the Red Earth. With a barbeque-tomato sauce and small villages of …say, asparagus-topped chicken and zucchini? Or the Western Farm, with a light tomato-based sauce, just lightly sprinkled with cheese and lots of ongoing activity represented by different veggies? And black olives for tractors in the field?

So that’s what’s cooking.

Déjà vu…

It’s estimated that about two-thirds of us will experience déjà vu at some point in our lives. It literally means already seen. We catch ourselves “remembering” something we actually haven’t seen or experienced before. We have the feeling of being familiar with a scene or a situation. There seem to be many types of these experiences and as many explanations – ranging from memory malfunctions and neurological aberrations in the brain to the more mystical ones. Whatever it actually is, one thing is certain: these are fairly common experiences among us earthlings. As far as I know, I’ve only experienced it once. But it was a strong experience, or rather a string of experiences in the cause of two days. They were quite interesting (to me, that is). And I can still recall them now, over twenty years later.

It was early in the morning, the sun was just rising over the small, sparsely wooded natural garden in front of our little lodge in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. I got up, made some coffee and then opened the door to sit and enjoy my coffee sitting at the doorsteps. The cool, moist air was filled with a faint, barely discernible scent of smoke from wood fire. And I felt I was at home! Everything seemed familiar, the garden, the surroundings, the scent in the air. But it couldn’t be further from the reality as we had just arrived there late the previous night from Europe through Harare – for the first time. It was a very pleasant experience, nothing dramatic about it, I just sat there sipping my coffee and thoroughly enjoyed the calm familiarity of it all. Until I had to leave for my meetings – I was there for work.

Later that same afternoon, after coming back from my meetings, we walked over to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins that were close by. Wanted to see the ancient stone city, the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, believed to have been built between the 11th and the 14th century. The ruins of this ancient city that could have accommodated as many as 18,000 people at the time, were (and still are) very impressive. Zillions of stones built into outer walls, towers and inside structures, without the help of mortar.  Walking inside, I was overcome with the same strong sense of familiarity. I was fascinated! I walked and walked among the ruins, examined the construction and the arrangement of the structures. I was not feeling like I usually did (and still do) at historic sites – curious to learn about the times gone by. What I felt now was a remarkable awareness of how this city had been. Knowing that the weekend was coming and we’d fly to Victoria Falls in the morning, I found it difficult to leave. I ended up staying long after my family had returned to the lodge, until the site was closing at sunset.

Over the weekend I was “off” and we spent the two days at the majestic falls, world’s largest water falls and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. After settling into our rooms at the historic hotel, we spent the afternoon walking the small paths in the forest opposite the falls. The thunder was deafening and the water vapor made us soaking wet. But it was an absolutely wonderful experience.

In the evening, there was an offering of after-dinner entertainment at a small arena in the woods behind the hotel gardens. A group of dancers in traditional masks and outfits performed old, customary dances describing life’s various stages. As soon as they started to perform, the sense of knowing and deep familiarity appeared again. I had seen traditional dances, costumes and masks on many occasions in other African countries before, and since, without ever experiencing this particular sense of déjà vu. Again it was a very  peaceful and enjoyable feeling. It didn’t leave me for a long time, and I can still recall it vividly.

And that’s been it. Ever since, I have not met my déjà vu again. How I could experience the extreme and warm familiarity in these for me, then, completely new environments is still a small mystery for me. Wherever they came from, these events now form a part of my real memories, on the more affable end of the spectrum. If anything, these little encounters with déjà vu have deepened my affinity to Africa.

Good Night Guys! (or Guest Post II)

So we managed to get through yet another day. It was not too bad for a Monday. But it’s almost nine o’clock and my bed is not ready. Sniff. I checked – it’s not there! Where is my red blanket, you know the woollen Ralph Lauren, made in China? Did you wash it, mom?

I’ll need to call it a day soon. Dad’s already in the bathroom, but what are you still doing? This gives me a slight suspicion that my wellbeing might be of a lesser priority…and we don’t want that. Our relationship is built on trust! You better bring my blanket nowff. Or …are you still sour about the little incidente today? You need to let it go!

I’ve gotten into the habit of reflecting back on the day before I fall asleep. It’s useful. I can learn from my obvious mistakes. Like the one today when you left for your meetings. I should’ve seen it coming. It will only take a while, dear. Right! I thought you were talking about mixing something delicious for me cause it’s Monday. But the tone was not quite right. There was some quilt in it, am I right? And you spent too much time in the bathroom. At least 15 minutes, I sat behind the door. And then pooff, you were out of the door. I should’ve been ready. You know I love car rides…the flapping of my ears in the wind. There’s nothing more enjoyable, almost. And I would’ve watched your car. You’d just need to leave the a/c on.

But you just went. And you left the radio on, not the TV. I can’t stand classic rock, but love watching CNN. How could you forget, so into your work? Or just didn’t care? Now, what am I supposed to do? Nothing to do, it’ll be so boooring. But then I discovered you had also forgotten to close your office door. Maybe you’re just getting mature? That would explain it.

I was about to jump onto your chair to see if you’d also forgotten to close the computer,  maybe I could watch youtube, when a faint scent reached my nose. Sniff, sniff – it was ham, positive! There it was, a piece of your ham sandwich from this morning in the little wastebasket under your office table. It was well wrapped in layers of soft paper so I had to work hard to get at it, but it was worth it! There were some other interesting things too, but nothing more eatable, I checked.

The rest of the afternoon I was pretty much occupied. Tried to clean up a bit in your office, brought a few things into the kitchen close to the large garbage bin, the one with a lid. Thought you’d appreciate my effort. And then I probably also dozed off a little before you finally came home.

I got a treat and a belly rub. Lovely to have you home! But then you walked into the kitchen. I heard the high-pitched what have you done here? You see what I’ve done, I’ve been cleaning! No thanks for my effort – you just walked right into your office. More noises. I can’t hear you now…I’m under the bed. I started feeling guilty, but should I? I didn’t leave the sandwich in the waste basket and I didn’t forget to close the door…something’s not right. Or fair? Eventually you’d realize that too…I know you.

And you did. Love concurs all. Peace. Back rubs, belly rubs, a good dinner, a nice walk, more treats and a nice film sitting in your lap. Can one ask for more on a Monday? Oh, I was in my thoughts, thanks mom for the blanket…I knew you’d bring it! It smells good, here you go, a good night kiss. Lick lick, love you too.

Good Morning Folks (or Guest Post I)

It’s almost seven on Sunday morning and you guys are still sleeping. Sniff sniff.  That’s waste of time. Mom, I said good morning to you. I know you’re not working today cause your bag is not at the door. But you have lots and lots to do. You didn’t know that? Sniff.

First of all, you need to take me out now, and I mean nowff. Otherwise I’ll be forced to go on the plush area rug in the living room. I know you don’t like that option. We tried it once. That’s when I learned you can raise your voice…I raise my leg in the house, you raise your voice. Not pleasant, not for me not for you. Maybe you’ve forgotten…let’s go, get up! And put on your shorts and proper shoes. The old silk robe won’t do it, today we’ll go for a run in the park. I run you walk. And when I stop to read my morning paper, you can use your iPhone. That’s ok as long as you can juggle the phone and the bag.

Second, you can make your coffee when we come back. Provided you also give me my breakfast while your machine is making all those noises. No-no, don’t you think dry food will do, it’s Sunday. You better have some savory chicken stew of the right kind: small and toy, mature adult. You’ll need to change my water too, and drop a piece of cheese, will ya. You’re so clumsy anyway, so why not today? Just a little oh I dropped something, and I’ll clean it up for you. That’s a promise…even if it’s a piece of ham.

After breakfast we’d better get some exercise. Don’t think gym, please don’t! We can exercise right here, together is better. We’ll streeetch, run after my toys, jump up and down on the blue sofa in your office. You know the one with the mexican blanket on it. When we’re done, we can make a daybed of the blanket. You can help me scratch until it feels right…and then you can take a shower. That’s if you absolutely need to.

And then…I’m sure someone will skype. I know the ring tone, you can’t fool me on that one. We’ll both sit down at the computer and talk. I hope it’ll be Amelia, she is a diva but a pretty one! Haven’t seen her for a while, but it’s good to catch up on skype. Oh, I forgot, you really should upgrade to the sniff and smell version. I’m sure it won’t be that much. And you can always save somewhere else. I know, my next bath is an excellent option, no cost for shampoo. There you go.

See, there is so much to do. I have only one small worry. You may forget what Sundays are for around here, I can’t trust you on that. Bad memories. So I’ll say it again, Sundays are for rest and fun, not for work! I hope you heard that. Get up pronto, will ya! I told you I’m going nowff….

That Was Brilliant!

Wouldn’t you like to hear that enthusiastic proclamation? Particularly if it was made about you, lets say after you gave a speech at a reputable Association’s celebratory gala dinner or spoke at your old hippie friend’s third wedding? Or perhaps if it was uttered by critics about your first novel or your second exhibition showing acrylics on canvas? Or shouted by the crowd after you sang karaoke stand by me blue suede shoes at a bar in Ibiza or maybe in Bora Bora?  I bet many of us would – and lucky you if you actually did. Good to be recognized, kind of confirmed as somebody.

But life can be tough, praise can be hard to come by. We may hear something that sounds a bit like a compliment when our teenager wants to borrow the car or a co-worker needs us to cover for him on a Saturday night, but we may never really get recognized as brilliant. Most of us just have to live with it. Be happy doing half-brilliant things. Wearing the half Carat, so to say.

From time to time, some of us may need to wrestle with our hardest critic, moi, who has become very good at giving a quick punch. Surprise us when we least expect it. Pull us down on the carpet, hard fall, there you go, I told  you! What made you think you could do it? That’s hard speak, difficult to take. But pause. Before we get up for the next round, we need to recall who trained him. At the minimum, we drove him to his practice sessions for years, paid for them! And now what do we get? It’s clear that we need to re-evaluate the situation, rebalance the relationship. Exercise some authority. Moi, you will go to training again, dance lessons. Smooth and close, no more wrestling.

Having moi retrained, it’s likely to be easier to take feedback or criticism from others constructively.  Like if someone in the karaoke crowd shouts “they are two different songs”. We’d just smile and say “might be, but that was my version of it”. And if we are lucky, we may hear a tiny whisper that was brilliant! I told you!

Blog Around the Clock (a poem)

Who are these people? I ask you.

Two in the morning in London, three in Rome, four in Nairobi. Posting, liking, commenting. Blinking dots on the map. When do they ever sleep? White, yellow, green.  Click, click, dot, square, dot!  

Good morning Jakarta. What’s the time in Hong Kong, Tokyo?  Aren’t they at work, in daycare, at the gym, in the park, at the mall, in school, at the doctor’s or just busy retiring?

Doing something, I mean.

Prime time in the Americas. Six or ten p.m. – you choose.  Sharing, uploading, following.  Blinking dots on the map. Time to cook dinner, read bedtime stories? White, yellow, green. Click, click, dot, square, dot!

Good evening Atlanta. Going to movies, playing pool, painting toe nails in five different colors? Taking karate lessons (whoz-whoz), meditating or just hanging around?

Doing something, I mean.

It’s me you say. I’m a blogger. Just like you. I like you. Follow me. White, yellow, green. Click, click, dot, square, dot!

This is us, you say, doing something together.



It was a beautiful sunny morning in a distant country many years back. I can still recall the scent of tropical flowers in the cool morning air I enjoyed on my short walk to the hospital. Hospital? You may think that hospitals usually don’t prompt lighthearted stories that provide tiny lessons, and you are right. This is a sad story. I am telling this particular one in my 10th post, much to remind myself that some lessons are tougher than others. And to make the point that among the tiny lessons we barely notice, there will be a few bigger ones. These are the ones that may impact our choices in life.

No, I was not sick or going for tests. I was actually young, very healthy – and very inexperienced, a “green hat” of sorts. I wasn’t going to visit a sick friend or family member, I was an invited guest of the pediatric department of this teaching hospital. A visitor with powers to possibly enhance things. And I was eager to see what my hosts would show me. Although I’d seen many hospitals, helped to manage a few, and recently even had an inside experience after giving birth in one, I would come to realize that I had seen nothing yet.

I was met by the administrative director, flanked by a pediatrician and someone else, who I took to be the PR woman for the hospital. They told me we were going to visit the new pediatric wing donated by so and so rich country. It was obvious they were very proud to show me their hospital. And soon I understood why.  Following a short buzz, the double doors at the end of the corridor opened to a brand new facility, a neonatal ICU. Everything was white and clean, a light sterile scent lingered in the large air-conditioned rooms filled with shiny, state-of-the-art medical equipment. I counted eight incubators in the first large room, six of them were empty, two were in use. The equipment hummed quietly. Several nurses strutted around in white pumps, white stockings and well-pressed, starched white uniforms, complete with the traditional  two-button “winged” hat, no longer seen in many hospitals. A  foreign-looking doctor was explaining something about one of the machines to a group of young residents. After each piece of equipment was presented, I was told that for the first time in this large city, the premature babies now had a change. I was extremely happy to hear that.

This facility was no less than perfect, probably the best I’d ever seen, but I had lots of questions on my mind. How did the babies get here when most births still happened at home in the surrounding villages and there was no reliable transportation? Etcetera. The large numbers of perfectly attired staff  also didn’t fit my picture of severe staffing shortages in this country’s health care system. So I asked the director about that when we returned to the lobby. I was told that the donor still took care of the facility, including all its operating costs, and had committed to continue doing so for the next five years. I now had my explanation and realized that I had not yet seen what I needed to learn about. I thanked my hosts for showing me this great new wing, I was truly impressed,  and then asked where we would go next. They looked at each other and I immediately realized that this had completed the visit.

Stubborn as I am, I politely asked to be shown the old pediatric wing too. The director quickly told me that the old wing did not have power at the moment and therefore a visit would not be possible. The PR woman nodded, maybe another time. That’s when the doctor came to my rescue. He offered to take me there, just for a quick walk-through, if I didn’t mind. So before anyone objected, off we walked in the opposite direction – and entered another world.

The tiny rooms were overcrowded and dirty, cot after cot with several sick babies sharing each little bed, lying sideways, many crying.  In other rooms we found bigger kids, some of them cancer patients, sharing rusty old iron beds. The air was hot, stagnant and despite many open windows, heavy with odors. Between all these rooms, we found one nurse and one aide. The second aide was out fetching water because the running water didn’t work. The nurse in a faded blue uniform was very apologetic and embarrassed about the poor conditions, no power, no water, and it’s been like this for several days now, important meds out of stock too, but she was too busy to stay with us more that a few minutes. I didn’t blame her, instead I was grateful over the fact she had come to work at all that day, knowing the impossible task in front of her. And I know if was not for the salary, her payroll was not covered by any donor. It was for the love and care for these kids. The prospect that some of them might make it.

Walking out of the hospital I cried. It was impossible for me to reconcile the two different realities very present in the same building. I was shaken to my core, and after managing to understand some of it, my lessons were quite profound. I often think about these kids in the old wing and hope many of them made it into adulthood and became productive members in their communities. They certainly contributed to some of the better choices I’ve made in life, some of which, hopefully, have made a tiniest dent in improving a few “old wings”.

I told you this was sad story. I wish I could say there are no more old wings in the world. But honestly, I can’t – not yet.

You Can’t Top This!

That’s how the screaming red headline announced in a magazine I was flipping through the other day while my niece, visiting from Stockholm, was cooking dinner. It was an ad, of course. While I didn’t rush to buy anything, I found the claim quite interesting. Minutes later we had dinner, my niece served us fillet and chanterelle pasta with salad and a bottle of exquisite – not expensive – Cabernet Sauvignon. My taste buds truly enjoyed the meal (if you’d like, I’m happy to share the recipe she gave me) and I found myself thinking “you can’t top this”! Meaning all of the experience: the great food (that someone else than me had prepared, for a change), the smooth wine, the wonderful company of my family, the beautiful evening – all of it.

I have noticed I make this claim more often now than I used to, find myself appreciating the little good things in life that sometimes just come together in the right way. That’s not to say there haven’t been any really special moments when this declaration would have required bold red letters, like in the ad. In fact, there have been a fair number of those occasions – balanced by others, like hills and valleys. One of them has remained a bit mysterious to me until to date, nothing over-the-top, just different from the rest. It was in July exactly ten years ago.

My family had already left for vacation in Europe, to see everybody “back home”. I had bought apex tickets on BA for all of us a while back, but we were on different schedules. I had to remain working for one more week before I could join them. I was busy at work, in the “can’t leave, things will collapse” way, which you might be familiar with. I felt completely exhausted when I finally left my downtown office late in the evening my last full day of work.  I remember that the weather in the nation’s capital was hot and humid, very sticky. Took the metro, as usual, walked home across the park and literally collapsed at my kitchen table. Next day in the afternoon I would go to the airport straight from the office, so now I had to pack and prepare the house to be able to leave it on its own for two weeks.

Somehow I managed to get everything done (we usually do). I climbed upstairs to my bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning – ah, almost four hours to dedicate to rest. But sleep didn’t come. I was too tired to fall asleep! My mind was wired up and I started worrying about the trip.  Sitting in a middle seat in row 30-something over the Atlantic didn’t promise the much-needed rest even the following night. I would be a jet-lagged “basket case” when arriving the next day. But then I started to object to that scenario. After all the hard work, I deserved better! The problem was I hadn’t thought of it when I bought the tickets. My ticket was the cheapest available apex and I had no money or miles for a last minute upgrade. My BA card was a basic blue with no-privileges and no miles on it. But still! My mind started wandering and soon I “saw” myself sitting in the newly upgraded Club World flat-bed seat, sipping a glass of bubbly. That was the way to start my vacation and I deserved it! I could feel the soft seat leaning back and the fruity taste of my champagne. I would be able to relax after  dinner and get some sleep! That felt extremely good…and I finally slept.

I forgot all about this until I arrived at the airport late afternoon the next day. At check-in, I got my boarding pass – seat 30-something E. That’s when I remembered my “positive thinking” from the night before. Strange enough, holding the document with my middle seat in the back of the plane,  I still felt I’d be sitting in Business. This feeling didn’t leave me until I was lining up for boarding with all my fellow economy passengers. Oh well, the line moved swiftly and I was only three people away from the gate agent when I suddenly heard my name being called. Was it my name? The pronunciation was a bit off (difficult name, was used to it), but since no one else moved it had to be my name. I left the line and went to the podium as requested. The agent asked for my boarding pass, her hand already reaching for it when I came upfront. I handed it to her, she looked at something in her terminal and then handed it back, no explanation. Walking back to the line, I took a better look at the boarding pass. It was for an aisle seat in Club World, row 10 – a flat-bed seat! Needless to say I was amazed, but gratefully adjusted to the comfort of my new seat. You can’t top this, I thought. But I was wrong. The same thing repeated on the way back home. Not only was my apex ticket upgraded again, but also my then teen-age son’s who was traveling with me. No explanation – two happy passengers.

I still don’t know how this all happened. In any case, this experience gave me some additional food for thought on positive thinking. To me it’s no longer the same as wishful thinking, there is something more to it. Whatever it is, stay positive.

Drought (a poem)

The crop is yellow, now dying

Dust everywhere, and the wind

hauling, merciless, calling for rain

Long overdue

My land is burning.

– – –

Waiting patiently from dawn to dusk, weary

Thirsty for dignity, a bit of humanity

Hungry for hope, and barely breathing

Tasting despair

My heart is sinking.

– – –

But tomorrow, maybe, the rain will arrive

Compassionate and fully inclusive

Big-hearted, providing shelter for hope

Feeding life

Soon vibrant, thriving.