Oh Dear!

When I hear this expression, I immediately think of the Queen, the Queen of England that is. Not that she ever said that to me personally, but in my minds ear I hear her saying that. In the special British royal way, and a little disapprovingly.

It’s funny how the language environments you live and work in, will affect you. At one time my accent was, or so all but my British friends told me, quite  close to a true British accent. At least for some words that my British colleagues used frequently – no need to repeat them here. But when I went to London, people asked me if I was from Germany or Holland. So much for acquiring a respectable accent.

Later on, my accent was influenced by both East African and South African English and by various Asian accents, and even by some Australian English through colleagues I worked with. So when I came to the US many years ago, people really couldn’t tell where my accent came from.  I had an accent, but it clearly wasn’t American. That was quite a fun discussion starter. And resulted in wild guesses all over the place.

But there were other funny things happening as well. For example, I remember when I dined out for the very first time in N.Y. At the end of the meal the waitress approached our table and I asked for a bill. She looked at me for a moment. Maybe she was thinking that I asked for a dollar bill from her?  Then she just said so you wanna have the check? Every one wants a check, right? Maybe there was a promotion for dining at the place, the food wasn’t that spectacular. So I nodded. She returned with a little tray, but there was no check, just my bill. So gradually I learned to ask for a check expecting to pay my bill, and not expecting to be paid.

By time I learned many other words that were different in American English. I now stand patiently in the line at the food store, but when I call any of my service providers, I know I’ll be placed in the que. Your place in the que is 16 and I know what that means. When I go to rent a car, I don’t as for a saloon, but for a sedan. Unless I am in Texas where they might have both the sedan and the saloon at the historic district car rental.  When going shopping I put my groceries in the trunk instead of the boot. And I drive home on a highway rather than on a motorway, being watchful for 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers and trucks instead of juggernauts and lorries. And when taking my dog out in the morning, I’m careful to walk on the sidewalk and not on the pavement. It’s a doddle when you know the difference.

So the old dog is learning to bark. The other day, for the first time ever, I even fooled a real Floridian. He asked me if I was from up north, meaning in the US. My 17 years “up north” while travelling across the globe and working with people from all corners of the world, had finally done it. So I said yesss! And then I heard, in my inner ear, the Queen of England exclaim Oh Dear. And this time she added goodness me.

Friendship Lost

I’m terribly sad, don’t want to be mad

we had it and now it’s gone.

There was joy, not just for a ploy

we had it and now it’s gone.

We used to talk, while taking a walk

we had it and now it’s gone.

Watching for mail, now is a fail

we had it and now it’s gone.

I had a friend, not only pretend

we had it and now it’s gone.

I’m sad, we’ve lost what we had.

Staging the Play

Sometimes I have these deep philosophical moments and I ponder life ‘s mysteries, such as the path our lives take. What or who determines how our lives turn out. Is it solely us or is it the God,  destiny or just luck, the environment where we live in, or is it the people we have in our lives such as our parents, siblings, kids and our friends?  Or do those forces co-exist in some kind of orchestrated performance that is our life? And what part do we ourselves play in all this?

These are big questions and we usually answer them, either silently in our minds or speaking out loud, much depending on the lenses we wear at the moment, or the outlook we have from our vantage point.  I don’t pretend to have the answers, only a few fragmented thoughts that have gradually emerged, and have influenced some of the choices I’ve made in life.

I believe that the first determinant that plays a role in our lives is the global lottery: where on our earth we are born. The society,  culture, climate and the economic conditions of our birth place, all merged together, frame much of our lives,  at the minimum during our younger years. Their influence may reach far into our adulthood and often over whole life spans, which are also bound to be shorter or longer depending on where we were born. So we all start our life performances on very different stages.

The second factor that tends to influence our path in life is our family,  which we don’t choose – at least consciously once we are here. Family members are the key players early in the play. Some of us have a family, others don’t and yet others lose their family or part of it early in life. Then there is the issue of quality.  Needless to say that some families,  even if intact,  do not provide a healthy and supportive environment to grow up in. This first set of characters for some of us is stable, and for others unstable or nonexistent.

Then we become adults and can steer our lives in whatever direction we desire, or so we sometimes think.  The opportunities to change the circumstances given to us at birth and the cast of characters in our play are vastly different from one continent and country to another. Sometimes even from one village or family to another. If we were born to a wealthy family in, say New York, or to a poor family, say, in a small village in Somalia, would we have the same opportunities to shape our lives if/when we reached adulthood? I think most of us would say that the options available for shaping our lives are vastly different based on the stage and the set of players given to us. It would be naive to think that “everyone makes his own fortune” in the same way, as an old saying goes.

Once we mature, I think most of us try to make the best of the pieces given to us, whatever the stage. Sometimes we can change the stage and other times we can change the players. What are then the key things or ingredients that can help us in this endeavour?

I would start with hope. It’s an emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to circumstances in our lives.  Hope helps us to take action to overcome adversity. It helps us to remain more positive in the now and in looking forward.  If hope is a necessary ingredient in shaping our path in life, how do we get it? I would say that there are several possible contributors to having hope. To me, one contributor would be a strong faith in a higher power from which we can gain inner strength and comfort. Another important factor would be the support we receive from our fellow travellers, whether in our close cast of characters or others.

Second, I think we need courage and determination to overcome adversity – of whatever kind – we’ll meet on our path. Courage is often required to take action to change our circumstances, and to jump on the opportunities presented to us. And determination helps us in keeping at it and not giving up when we meet obstacles.

However, to think that we could control everything in our lives would be a mistake. Such a belief is bound to lead to disappointments and lots of worrying. We should just do our best, try to make the right choices and stay as positive as possible in order not to attract negative events to cross our path. And then relax in the knowledge that the path will open for us to walk on.

My last point would be on the support we provide to others. Do we just care about those players closest to us, or do we also care about those fellow travellers whose stage was not set up as neatly as ours? I believe that one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences on our path is to find a way to also support those not in our immediate cast of characters, help them to find hope. This can be done at many levels: at individual, community of country level. And such actions will certainly shine more light on our own path as well.

A Warming Soup for a Stormy Night

I’m an intuitive cook. Most often I cook whatever will improve my mood – and the mood around here, provided that my pantry and fridge cooperate. So when the weather is beautiful, my mood is usually light and I tend to prepare lighter fare, such as dinner salads, fish or other seafood. When my mood is heavier for whatever reason, I tend to prepare more “warming”, hearty foods. Food therapy, so to speak.

So last night when it was very dark, gloomy, windy and rainy under the feeder bands of TS Isaac, I though I’d make an old-fashioned sausage soup. One that I used to get on chilly winter evenings in my childhood up north. It represents comfort and all things familiar. And it’s easy to make – in many variations.

So last night I found many vegetables and mild Italian sausage in my fridge. I had potatoes (3 large), carrots (3), celery (6 sticks), leaks (2) and parsnips (3) and garlic (2 gloves). I put them on the kitchen counter so my hubby would see them. He loves this soup…and after about an hour I found all these ingredients neatly chopped, cubed and sliced. Voila!

I simply added all but potatoes in a large sauce pan, covered generously with water and added 4 beef cubes and a few whole black peppers. Let it simmer for 20  minutes. Then added mild italian sausage (you can make it hot too, or use wieners or frankfurters) in small “balls” and the cubed potatoes. Let it cook again for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes were ready, and tasted it off with some salt and a few drops of Tabasco.

The result is a really tasty and soul warming soup that you can eat with an open-faced cheese sandwich. Delicious, and even better the next day if you don’t finish it up. A really simple mood raising dinner in about an hour. And if you can trick another family member to do the peeling, slicing and cubing, you’ll just need to do the creative cooking – throwing it all together. Doing the prep together is fun too, just don’t do fencing with the kitchen knives. Then you  just watch the pot putter and soon you’ll enjoy some food for both the body and soul.

Whassup? (or Guest Post VI)

Hiff, it’s me again. Have to report some new developments. Things don’t seem to be quite normal around here. I mean this morning was completely fine. Mom and I had a nice Sunday stroll in the park. I had lots of time to readf my morning paper around the bushes cause mom was so occupied with her camera. There were some white birds in the marsh. I don’t care about them, too far for me to swim out there. So I focused on my favorite exercise, squirrel waiting.

 

But this afternoon things started to change. I think someone is coming to visit. Mom went to the grocery store today! Why? It’s Sunday and she just went to the store yesterday… When she came back I saw she had bought some cans. Chicken stew!? But she didn’t put them where my food is – yes, I know where my food is, I’m always checking out the stash of treats. They all went into the pantry.  That’s weird. The labels looked good.  I’m such a slow reader, but I thought it said ravioliff . I am not sure what that means, but I told mom I’d volunteer to eat them. I saw peanuts too, but can’t have them. Don’t wanna get sick.

She also bought water! Why can’t we all drink water from the tap filter, like we always do? That beats me. But maybe all that is for someone else?

Then more weird things happened. I was sitting comfortably on the terrace warming myself and enjoying my Sunday when mom suddenly came out with dad. They didn’t sit down. Instead they asked me to go in. First I thought it was because it was quite hot. But then they started to move the stuff inside. All of it! Where do I sit now? I’ll have to regain my access to the living room leather sofa…Mom can you put my black cat pillow there? I said pleeaaff!

I just looked into the laundry room. It’s so full of chairs now that mom can’t even wash my woollen red blanket. What if there’s an accident? Not that I have accidents, but maybe mom spills her coffee on it? She is so clumsy at times. The whole thing is puzzling to me. I heard mom talking about someone called Isaac. I don’t know him and I think I’ll not like him.  He hasn’t been here before and I hope he doesn’t come. I might bark if he knocks on the door. And I’ll definitely growl.

Small Talk

Yesterday in my “thank you speech” I said that it’s not often I’m speechless. That’s true for the young me (read me now), but it was not true for the younger me. I was a clam, didn’t open my mouth much. Particularly not in public. When writing my post yesterday I vividly remembered the first ever occasion when I had to speak in front of an audience. I dreaded public speaking.

I was still in college, where I had successfully avoided speaking in front others. I would do the research and others would present. Team work was an excellent invention of the time.  Then I was lucky to get a summer job in a hospital in Stockholm. I was in their HR department and one afternoon I learned that a colleague had fallen ill. I was asked to take over her induction speech to new staff, about 20 or so doctors, nurses, receptionists and technicians. I was terrified. Not because I didn’t know the topics, but because I’d need to stand “up there” at the podium all alone and everyone would be listening to me. So many things could go wrong.

I sat up late that night drawing my “transparencies”, some of you may remember those. They were written using colorful markers. And then I couldn’t sleep, at all. The next morning I was tired, and even more frightened. I remember the huge knot in my stomach walking up the hill towards the hospital. By that time I was sure I could not get a word out of my mouth when standing in front of everyone. But of course I did. It didn’t go very well, I was searching for right expressions many times, but all in all the new staff got “inducted” that day. I discovered I can survive public speaking, even if barely.

Then later on when my career took off, I had to do it more and more often, but it didn’t mean that I mastered public speaking for many years. In particular, I remember my first time presenting a big project to the Board as a new manager in my early 30s. I had been given 45 minutes for the topic on the Board’s agenda so I prepared a presentation that would take 30 minutes, leaving 15 minutes to discussion and Q & A. That sounded like an excellent plan. While I still suffered from some stage fright, I felt quite well prepared. The butterflies were under wraps.

My topic was the last on the agenda, and when the meeting went on, I became more and more worried. They discussed the other topics for ever. When my time came, there was barely five minutes left of the scheduled meeting time. I started my presentation and spoke as fast as I could (think a New Yorker) and the transparencies flew on and off the projector. Five minutes into my presentation, our Managing Director who also was the Chair, interrupted me. He told me that I had exactly two minutes to come to conclusion. Two whole minutes? I had slides to go for more than twenty minutes! I tried to cut it short but was not able to finish…what a disaster.

On the top of everything, my Managing Director came to talk to me soon after the meeting. He told me that a professional was always prepared for surprises like this…and that the Board members actually could read. I didn’t need to read my points to them. Of course I knew that. I cried walking back to my office. But I also decided that this would not happen again. For the next year or so, I had three stacks of transparencies with me, one for a full session, one for half a session and one for the eventuality that I only got a fraction of the time originally given to me :).

My lesson from all this was that I had to be so confident in mastering the topic I would speak about that I could do any length of presentation and still make my points. By time this of course got better. Until the next obstacle. I had to speak in English. In the first year of using English as my working language, I would always miss my turn to speak in meetings. By the time I had thought what to say – and translated that in my mind, the meeting had already moved to the next topic! I wonder why they didn’t fire me, a total clam. Nothing to say, ever.

Somehow life teaches us these lessons and we acquire new skills as we go. I learned to let go, not to strive for perfection, and to forgive myself for occasional mishaps. I began to trust that the right words would find me and simply learned not to take myself too seriously. Then ended up earning much of my livelihood to date by speaking up and speaking loud about topics entrusted to me, many times using humor to reach my audience. But a small butterfly is still always fluttering there close by. I think it’s there just to help me focus.

So public speaking can definitely be learned even if one doesn’t have the natural gift of speaking or charisma that captivates people. That should be comforting.