Unfinished business

Our last blog post was about picking up half-read books. But books are not the only ‘projects’ that are easily left half-done. There are abundant examples of half-sewn, half-painted, half-built things around the average person or household. However it is important to get a sense of achievement from time to time. Closure! To reach the finish-line and be able to sit down and admire what you have managed to do. A way of ensuring this is to take on some projects that are fairly simple, do-able in relatively short time but still something that impresses us but also people.

Cooking ticks some of these boxes. But by the time you sit down to enjoy your culinary masterpiece – your family and friends might have already digested most of it. To have something more lasting than faded food-memories, even if you’re taken pictures of them, one should take on projects with a more lasting result.

Some time ago we decided together with a friend in the office to get into some creative crafting. To learn some basic beading techniques in order to make some nice necklaces or bracelets we could use as gifts or even wear ourselves. A number of lunch breaks were spent online to explore the endless plethora of the world of beads. There is an unimaginable variety of color, shapes and sizes available. Turns out it is not always easy to assess the size online. What you see is not what you make..

unfinished

Just doing this made us feel closer to our feminines selves, especially the 3-boy mum who spends a lot of time with sweaty football socks and watching action movies.

Some evenings in the last months have been spent to develop skills of handling round nose pliers and pulling wires – knowing what crimp beads and clasps are. Wine, which we made a prerequisite, did not always help the practical side of the endeavour – depending on the required detail of the work at hand. However it helped to cope with the not-so-perfect results of the first projects. Though we’ve been told by our teacher that we did great.

It is highly unlikely that we will open a shop to sell our products. But it is surprising how satisfying it is to see the concrete result. Since we didn’t buy plastic beads but rather high-end Swarovski ones, the exclusive look is there despite the less-than perfect technique. And yes, if you haven’t noticed yet, we are very self-critical. It is also very fulfilling to spend a couple of hours concentrating on one thing, even if there are hundreds of beads…

As a farewell present one of us has been so lucky to be on the receiving end of a beautifully made bracelet and necklace that the other two of the bead-trio made secretly. A lovely gift, also underlining how nice it is to get something that your friends put time, effort and consideration into. The sad part of the moving-story is that one of us now has to do beading by herself. A bit worrying is one of the unfinished projects; a bracelet requiring some high-level skills. Time will see where this ends. Doing things on your own, definitely is not the same as doing it together with people you feel connected.

Gift

We might have to explore whether a Skype-beading workshop would work. Or we need to plan a combined girls-trip/beading weekend in the autumn.

Ending on a high note – managed to make some quite easy earrings. They look gorgeous – and will be worn next week on the Italian Riviera.

earrings

At the end of the day, we didn’t expect to be so satisfied with the results. Sometimes we have to start things and be patient enough to see where they lead. The lesson learnt is that nothing is difficult.. as long as you’re patient and positive.

#What did you read last summer?

There are so many nice books in the world – and never enough time to read them all. But even if you have decided for one, there’s never the right time to enjoy it. To finish it. The summer holiday is usually the time of year when it should be actually possible to pencil in some reading time and hopes are high to finish the book(s) you started a while ago. Risk is high to forget the plot, or whoiswho because you are always busy. Because you couldn’t find a time-slot to read further.

Summer is again the time to choose the literary pearls that deserve our full attention. But how to find the books to make it to our shortlist? Should it be something intellectually challenging? Yes. But maybe not too much. Only to the extent you can keep up with the content while relaxing by the pool-side, or keeping an eye at the kids. Such literature is also useful as reference over coffee with the colleagues after summer – you didn’t only get a sun-tan, you also managed to broaden your mind. Gave it some serious exercise, unlike work..

We are two different types of bookworms. One of us is into crime novels and sagas, the other into tragicomedies, non-fiction and books about ‘psychotic’ families. One of us chooses books based on genre, the other based on their title. If the title or the plot don’t click the book is discarded.

Crime novels usually entertain and keep you motivated to keep on reading. The down-side is that if you are interrupted by your kids asking you to play cards, take you and the inflatable crocodile for a swim or something else ‘very important’ – you are at risk of impolitely declining. Mostly to the kids. Because you need to find out if the detective guy (the slightly alcoholic one) survives the sticky situation he got himself involved in. Highly recommended books of this sort are the Harry Hole books by Jo Nesbø – plowing through the two latest one by the pool and beach last year in Crete was highly entertaining and nail biting – but maybe not so family-friendly.

Another genre worth exploring are the more epic and really thick books that brings you into family sagas – going into depth of the faith of many characters with intertwined lives, who are falling in love, being victims of catastrophes and generally living lives. A first experience with such a book was The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Most of us have seen the tv-mini-series based upon the book. The book was available at the tobacco shop around the corner. The lady behind the counter was a bit sceptical and expressing some reluctance to sell this book to a 10 year old (young) customer. However the customer was sure and couldn’t wait to start reading. Retrospectively it must be admitted that some parts of this book are not necessarily appropriate for young readers in their tweens (wild boars, forest fires and not to mention the sex-scenes).

Another one of this type of rich drama-books is The Winds of War & War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk – also subject to a mini-series back in the 80s. A more recent and contemporary thick one is The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Perfect for sweaty days on the beach.

A good idea could be to enter into the universe of fantasy – be it Harry P. His Dark Materials or the world of Hobbits. If you spend some time away from your kid during the holiday “parallel-reading” provides a way to do something together while being apart. Did this once when we couldn’t manage to finish the book we were reading together aloud before the 8 year old was off to the grand-parents. Managed to dig up an extra copy of the book, enabling both of us to read at same time – and both mother and son agreed daily to extend “the reading quota” to get deeper into the plot.

We all tumble and stumble into our preferred book genres and authors based on our first experiences of books and based on who had an influence on us. Siblings tend to have a totally different taste even though they were being read the same books by their parents. Some of us stumbled over Stephen King when we were young and into science fiction. Some of us wanted the special edition of Tolstoy’s War and peace for Christmas and got into Thomas Pynchon by reading the feuilleton supplement of a leftist German newspaper. Now that is an author whose books are not recommended to read on the side during holidays. They need our full attention and also an accompanying notebook to write down everything about each character.

Last summer Middlesex was left in Greece. Unfinished. This summer it is being picked up and should be read until the end. Hopefully the kids will be able to entertain themselves and won’t need too many parental interventions. Wishful thinking, we know..

If at the end of summer we won’t manage to read what we had planned for, we will make sure that this summer’s memories make another interesting and worth remembering chapter of our life. After all, we will never be able to read all the books in the world. But we are perfectly able to cherish what we have.

#intellectual fascism

We tend to believe sometimes that we know some things better than the rest. Sometimes we are right, most times we are not. There are though people that firmly believe they know everything (better). Those know-it-all personas have a tendency to drive the rest of us crazy. If they are our friends we just accept them as they are and smile every time they try to convince us with an argument. If they are family members be it fathers, mother-in-laws or husbands – your love for them usually makes up for any extremely annoying persistent strong view (how to tackle this should be subject of a separate blog-post).

Worse than family are colleagues and superiors. Some are truly in the champions league of know-it-alls. Beyond personal differences and relational hiccups in the workplace – it is even more frustrating if the working culture is narrow in terms of its thinking. A lack of responsiveness to different ideas and approaches is a true killer for our enthusiasm. In some professional environments the thinking is so narrow that the line to take can seem like intellectual fascism.

Harnessing only a specific type of thinking does not only lead to personal frustration. It is also a very bad way of doing business or managing tasks in most areas. In western civilisation we are usually spared from severe forms of dictated thinking. This doesn’t mean that people from time to time do not abuse their powers to convince others of their world views.

Being at work takes a lot of our time. It pays for bread and butter – so on one level the paycheck already makes work meaningful. But for a lot of people – including us – this is not enough. We think our tasks and our energy spent in the professional setting should make use of our existing knowledge (…and wisdom), objective evidence-base and allow us to acquire new skills (and more wisdom).

So – how to diplomatically manage and stay calm in a narrow-minded working culture where not evidence-based facts – but opinions based on populistic mass media coverage or personal hang-ups are a reality? How to handle situations where ‘intellectual fascism’ rules? If this is an issue that permeates the workplace it might be a difficult thing to raise as a problem. It might even be hard to define exactly what the problem consists of or where it originates.

Because a lot of the time things are more muddled than organised. Meetings sometime resemble episodes of ‘The Office’ and are far from being productive. What if you’re stuck with the short end of the stick? Is there a way to open people’s minds for more calibrated and well-substantiated arguments – to allow for truly participatory*, holistic* and inclusive* discussions?

At the heart of this lies some expectations. The workplace, colleagues and the hierarchy, is one of our fundamental “eco-systems” and we would like it to work with us – not against us.

There is a ton of research literature about work and group dynamics, leadership and working environments. At the end of the day the working culture is made up by the people who come there every day.

How can one move forward with things if tunnel-vision is the only thing on the menu? As narrow minded people seem seldom to reflect upon themselves and their preconfigured world view it is difficult to approach them with some helpful wisdom. A slap to the face or any hard punch is also out of question (as violence is not known to help against narrow mindedness).

So what to do next time you come across any form of small-mindedness? Just face it with the most subliminal sarcastic smile you have in store and give an imaginary slap to the face and move on. And before doing that, make sure that you really listened, and don’t dismiss it just because you disagree.

* these are all concepts that everyone loves, but few think about what they really mean..

#We can fly

Do you have an idol? Not those musical ones. The real ones. If so, who is your idol? As a grown-up you would like to give a good answer – someone worthy of your admiration. Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa are likely to come up for our generation. Or for a more general idolisation: People giving up their normal pleasant daily life to work in war-ridden zones for Medecins Sans Frontieres or the like.

As mothers we get well acquainted with another type of idols – namely a whole range of superheroes. The strong resonance with really young kids – especially with boys – when it comes to Superman, Spiderman or any of their buddies is fascinating. And for Carnival or dress-up parties it is difficult to avoid the easily available superhero costumes. It is only in the moment when your little son is at the top of the staircase you realise that they completely merge with the part. They become Superman. And they can actually fly. A friend’s son became Robin Hood – carrying an imaginary bow and arrow all the time.

It is understandable. Being a superhero gives you control. And who wouldn’t like to have that? Admittedly superheroes are not showing the best of behaviours all the time, they sometimes punch people and are not portraying all the nice qualities we would like our kids to develop.

 

But rather than thinking about what unintended consequences of superhero-worshiping could lead to for our sons and daughters – it would maybe be equally interesting to contemplate what a lot of adults miss out on? What importance do role models have for us? And could we be more attentive to heroes as a source of inspiration?

Being normal and abiding to normality takes a lot of strength. Is it possible to stretch beyond? Maybe our energy could become a superpower in the things we do? Define your task – like saving the world – or something else like cooperating with your colleague, prepare a culinary surprise for dinner, multi-task – or learn a new skill – and just do it.

As long as our children are young we are whether we want it or not, their role-models. Most of the times we forget about it. When we remember, after having had a hard day at work and swearing in the car, we realise how bad we perform at times. So how to be your child’s superhero if you can’t be a good role model for them. Maybe it’s time to take a good long breath and a glass of wine. Because life’s ain’t that simple.

But we all need someone to look up to in difficult tough times. Someone that finds the way, a solution others don’t see. Someone that saves our world. So if you don’t have an idol, a hero – maybe it’s time to find one. Perfection is not needed. You don’t have to agree with him or her all the time for them to spur a better you.

#best friend

How many best friends are we allowed to have? Or maybe we should start by asking, can you have one all-time best friend in your life? Some American movies seem to make us believe that’s possible. Some have a best friend for night clubbing, other’s for gossiping, or going shopping. Some even have a best friend for having occasional sex. There seems to be a best friend for every occasion. For tech gadget freaks it’s mostly their smartphone or tablet or even favourite app. And depending on the age, you might end up having a new best friend every week.

Each of us has their own criteria of what a best friend should consist of. Some are high and some low. As in very low. If I were to think who among my friends I could name best friend, I wouldn’t be able to come up with an obvious answer immediately. Is there one single person that was always there for me, come rain or come shine. A person I could confide in my most secret secrets. And someone I know for sure would not judge or hold things against me. Someone who is as crazy as me. Who would push me to the limits and outside my comfort zone. Who would continuously make sure I won’t let myself down. Who would accept me the way I am with all my faults and still manage to see the good things in me. Well, the answer to that question is not the most obvious one. But it’s the only one that makes sense – to me at least. I am my best friend. And it’s good this way. For many reasons. Most importantly that I like myself despite my flaws and faults, and despite all the small things that drive me crazy about myself. I still like being me and I don’t mind my flaws. They might as well be my trademark and also the reason why my friends are my friends.

But sometimes it is not enough to be your own best friend. Or having just the 1, 2 or 3 best friends. Sometimes you need to be open and allow people to enter your inner circle of friends. Into the top ten and maybe turn the list upside down. Sometimes it is just important to allow the thought of someone being able to take over the best friend role for (un)limited period of time. Because every now and then someone comes along that manages to fill a gap that we were unaware it existed. And that friendship is unlike others, which makes it difficult to give tags such as best friend, good friend, soul mate etc. And maybe that’s just fine. They don’t need a tag. They are special to me.

So this blog post is in the end about the people that manage to become good friends, best friends, irreplaceable friends. Simply FRIENDS. The friends that not only come and go, but who stay forever in our hearts, even after they have left, moved away or simply said good-bye.

Image

And while I’m writing this post, a soundtrack is playing in my head: Never let me down (Depeche Mode), My Friends (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Out of sight (Hooverphonic), My friend (Groove Armada), Best Friend (Foster the People). Each one reminds me of moments shared with a friend. It’s their song. Every time I hear the songs; each time I play them in my head, I think of them. My friends. The ones that stayed. The ones that moved away. The ones that said good-bye and the ones I left behind. And of course all the ones that are still to come.

This blog post is dedicated to someone special. Someone that came and filled a gap. A big one.