onsdag 9. september 2015

A Comment About Children's Appearance

When I was a child, I was tall. I still am. But I remember it being a fairly frequent topic of conversation while growing up. The doctor used to monitor my centimeters to advice wether or not I should have hormone injections to delay my growing (Yes, they did that back then). My feet were big for my age, proportionate to my tall body but nevertheless commented as unusual because they were bigger than average children's feet.

As a teenager, I became very self-conscious and shy. I was ashamed of my hight, although I was told I "had the body of a model." I continuously bought shoes a size too small because I was more comfortable with having black toenails than having to buy Mens size athletes shoes (God forbid).  I felt that I took up too much space in the world, and kept stepping aside, out of the way, trying desperately not to be noticed, while feeling like an elephant behind the trunk of a palm tree.

Today I'm proud of my size, or rather - I don't really think about it. I'm comfortable with who I am and there are so many aspects about people that are so incredibly much more interesting and important than centimeters. Learning this is one of the best things of growing up and becoming an adult. I've also been blessed with two awesome little sons, who, not surprisingly, are both tall.

Lately I have noticed that my oldest son greets people like this: "Hi I'm Mikkel, and I'm a big boy. I'm growing real tall!" And I've been noticing how many times during a week he hears people saying how incredibly tall he is. How much he's been growing. What impressive shoe size he wears for a 3 year old. 

There's nothing wrong with being tall, and I know people don't intend to imply that there is. But it is striking to a lot of people, and the repeated comments are wired into the little boy's brain, already becoming an important part of his identity - he's tall, very tall, big kid. The size of his body, the size of his feet. I just wish that there were other, much more important aspects of him that were emphasized - something that can make him grow internally, something that really target his self esteem, and not his self awareness. Things like his natural way of making his little brother laugh, his subtle and heartwarming expressions of empathy when he observes someone being upset, his intense passion about anything that spins and his complex and well developed motor skills ...

But I know that these things are harder to see and comes across only when you spend time with a person. The obvoius thing about him that everyone can instantly see is, of course, his physical appearance. 

I wish I could say I never comment on children's appearances while they are listening. I admit that it is the first thing that comes to mind and it is an easy and pretty common way of starting a conversation on the playground. For the adults, that is. But I will guard my words more carefully in the future. Next time I recognize the obvious about a child's appearance - I will not comment. Chances are everyone else has already done it. Chances are the parents of the child will reply on auto-pilot because they are so used to hearing those exact words. I will skip the obvious and find something else to talk about, something to snap the parents out of the auto-mode and maybe we could end up talking about something meaningful. 

Even complements, with enough repetition, can cause more harm than good when they only target the way our kids look. Would't it be much more aspiring to hear my son being described as "You know Mikkel, the brave engineer kid with the glasses," rather than, "You know Mikkel, the tall blonde boy." Or for a girl: "You know Eva, the clever little girl who loves to paint," rather than "You know Eva, the tiny blonde girl." We live in a world where appearance is becoming more and more significant for recognition. Tall or tiny, fit or fat, dark or fare, sturdy or tender - it is only the outline of appearance, it is not who people are. As parents of young children today, we can try to target our comments more consciously, and deliberately influence the coming generation to be less appearance oriented - and more comfortable with who they really are. It could turn out to be one of he most important factors for their happiness and success in life. Even - or should I say at least, in a selfie-driven surf-the-surface world. 

fredag 8. november 2013

Where does all this energy come from?

This week I have been surprisingly productive. Which I'm very happy about, after a long time struggling to get myself organized. It is fascinating how falling out of a flow makes it feel impossible to get back into it again. But even more fascinating, when you finally get back on track, because eventually you do if that's what you really want to, it feels like you have more energy and more inspiration than ever before.

Why is that? Maybe I just forgot what it feels like to be in a good flow, and the contrast to having lost the thread is so striking. Or maybe a break from the flow is good, it forces me to reset, reevaluate and search both in my own repertoire and outside for sparks and inspiration.

Either way - I'm not going to list good advice on how to get back on track, be more efficient,  ways to boost your creativity and so on - there are millions of posts out there addressing these issues, and I'm not sure if any of them really helps. The thing is, according to my experience - it is quite individual how people get into gear. And it varies from time to time, from situation to situation. In this case, a broken coffeemaker released a chain of actions which eventually ended up triggering the urge to write something. And that is really the key - no matter your reason for being outside the flow; you need to complete one act, one small thing, that makes you feel in touch with what you want to do. This feeling of accomplishment restores your belief in your ability to do stuff, a belief that suffers increasingly the longer you're absent from your flow.

And of course a good cup of coffee while people-watching is like a having a creative conference with yourself. But I already talked about that.

I started another blog this week, on a different platform. I've thought about trying out Wordpress for a long time, but Blogger is familiar and comfortable, so I've been postponing and doubting and procrastinating. This week I took the plunge and published http://breadphilosophy.com

I might move all my stuff to Wordpress eventually, I'll see how this one goes.

In the meantime I'll enjoy my productive energy and focus on nailing more stuff down. I know too well the danger of the creative boost. Starting off all the great ideas at the same time can make you loose track of what you want to achieve. Which may turn a good wave into a hard and unexpected crash.

A notebook is my companion and will keep me surfing for a while I hope, might even take me smoothly on to the next wave. Time will show.

fredag 1. november 2013

Coffee, Time Management and the Need to Write About Nothing

It is easier to write about nothing than to write about something. If you write about something, you always need to keep a watch out for fact flops or duplicates. If you write about nothing, nobody can arrest you on anything. That's a good place to start when you've lost your self discipline and struggle to get the words in order.

Loosing that flow of words, or urge to create, can be pretty painful. It affects general well being. It is like a training fanatic who can't go running because of an injury. The day falls out of balance and a feeling of despair takes possession of you because all this previously productive and meaningful time just passes with nothing to report.

Coffee is a writers best friend. A coffee shop is the second best friend. A Coffee shop can provide an atmosphere where the mind can wander freely, impressions trigger new tracks and before you know it you're on to something you want to put down on paper. It might be nothing and that's quite alright, as long as it can be described with words.

I broke the coffee carafe for our coffee maker the other day. Having struggled with being productive for a while, also loosing my kick start fuel was a bit of a crisis.

This morning I didn't even have a cup of tea. By 11 o'clock, I felt quite sick and needed to lay down for a while. It didn't help. It just got worse. Then I remembered that I happen to have a gift certificate at Starbucks, obtained at a raffle at the Norwegian Seaman church some time ago. And I remembered that there's something called caffeine addiction.

So I went to the nearest Starbucks and had a free Tall Latte with-an-extra-shot. Half way through my coffee I felt like a different person. Not only was I breathing normally and my headache was gone - I also felt my energy coming back, and even words started tickling. I pulled out my notebook to capture them and make sure they didn't disappear into wherever they came from. I felt kind of chirpy. High on coffee.

Imagine being a heroine addict and being told to "lay down and rest for a while" until the withdrawal symptoms would pass. The thought of that just made me realize how stupid it is to get up in the morning, forget your daily dose of caffeine and then lay down in the middle of the day to try to wear off the headache.

OK, so I'm a caffeine addict. I can live with that. Especially if I want to continue writing or producing anything creative. Because sometimes you just need to go to a coffee shop to break the barrier and untie the knot. And being at a coffee shop without having a warm, fresh and aromatic cup of coffee just doesn't make sense.

Having said that, I do really miss having a nice neighborhood coffee shop - with good coffee. We have Starbucks, and then a few blocks away we have another Starbucks, and then another few miles there's a Starbucks with a drive-thru.

There is a European Bakery within walking distance, and they also claim to have coffee, but they seem to have no idea how to make it. Two out of three coffees purchased there have badly scolded me or my company. It's truly undrinkable. That's really unfortunate, because they make great croissants and the staff is really friendly. They even ran out to the pharmacy to get us some anesthetic ointment for the burned hand one time.

I do miss the busy coffee shops in the city. They just tend to be goldmines for stream of consciousness  - to use a famous literal phrase (ups - that's writing about something) - with all their fuzz and buzz and movements and the meetings. Starbucks lacks ... integrity. It lacks character. Every Starbucks is just a clone of another with a small spacial twist. A bit depressing, knowing that it is the only coffee shop around here you can actually get a fairly decent coffee.

But when the addiction kicks in and you're desperate for fuel both mentally and physically,  then a Starbucks gift certificate is worth a million. Well, at least a cup of coffee. It made my day - I managed to pull myself together, focus for a while and put down a few words about nothing.

Tomorrow will be a good day, I can feel it.

søndag 11. august 2013

Summer Speed

I remember summers lasting an eternity when I was a kid. Weeks and weeks (probably days, but I remember them as weeks) barefoot in the moist long grass in the mountains in Valdres, totally free to go wherever and do whatever.

We used to share the field outside our cabin with grassing cows and sheep and had to look out for steaming fresh cow dumps when running around. Sometimes one happened to step right into it and slip like Donald Duck on a banana peel. Hilarious - as long as someone else did it.

Sometimes my dad went out on the lake with the rowing boat and a fishing net to catch trout. He went out in the evening when the wind caused ripples on the surface of the lake. "When the water is quiet, the fish can see the net," he told me.

But when the water is quiet, the lake mirrors the mountains and the sky above and the world seems to have a secret copy, revealed only on this spot, on these beautiful days.

We arrived on a day like this. Summers don't last long enough anymore, but maybe it felt like an eternity for my almost 2 year old son, who visited for the first time. The contrast to the life he is used to in Florida is overwhelming.

We go swimming in the lake every year even if the temperature is far from inviting and the water is biting our feet. Not swimming perhaps, but dipping. 5 seconds is quite a long time under the circumstances. There's something about natural freshwater - it feels like a spring of youth once you're done. So clean, so full of minerals.

When you dive into a freshwater lake in the mountains in Norway - you go naked.There is nobody there that can see you, except for the fish and the birds and perhaps a few cows and sheep but frankly they don't really give a damn. Besides - when you're done dipping into the water and shoot back on shore to grab you towel, you really don't want to have an ice cold swimsuit clinging to your body.

I believe my son fell in love with the mountains. He seemed a bit confused and scared the first few days and nights, my little beach boy - but once he got the hang of walking around in the rugged environment on his bare feet and became aware of the freedom to explore new stuff on his own continuously, he was a very happy boy. Not once did he have access to TV, iPad, iPhone or computer. There's no internet or cellphone reception. We spent most of the day outside, and he was surrounded by family continuously; grandparents, aunt, little cousin.

Something happened to my son during this week outside the world - I feel closer to to him, and he seems more aware and more patient. He grew, I suppose. Mentally. Or maybe it was just me being more aware of him. Either way, the days outside the world but so intensely inside life have been vital for our development, and our unity as a family.

 I'm slowly returning to the digital online communication efficient life. Enough to blog about the wonderful experience of being away from it. It's like time stops and everything is waiting with you, pausing, so that you can take the time to let impressions sink in and give meaning. Detached from the digital world, you're more online with yourself somehow. One need to check-out to check-in.

I'm trying to remain checked in with myself back in the wi-fi zone. Not sure if I'm succeeding. I hear the TV in the background, I've checked facebook several times today and published pictures from the mountains to brag about this amazing place we can escape to. And I've just replied to an sms, making plans for the coming days.

Clinging to the lingering impression from the mountains I have agreed with myself that at least once a year it is important to check-out for a while. From everything. It is important to adjust the senses and focus on pure existence. Preferably at hideaway, like my mountain, where cellphone reception is too poor to bother using. It forces me to connect with my identity defined by nature. It reminds me to be humble about life. It clears my head so that I can think fast while I move slowly. Because sometimes in the daily life, I think I might be doing the opposite.

(private pictures copyright reserved)

torsdag 11. juli 2013

Sorrow by the shore

This morning I looked out the window and saw blue sky and quiet water on the canal and thought; What a perfect morning for the beach. I wrapped up some food for my son and gathered our towels and swim gear. He understood we were going somewhere and climbed into his stroller long before I was ready to go. By 8.15 we were out the door and walked down to the beach.

The water was clear, the beach was empty, the sand was freshly plowed and the sun was gently warming as the early morning sun does. What a beautiful day. Mikkel could't wait to run into the water and I had to toss my dress off and catch up with him before even getting our towels out.

I noticed some clothes that had been washed ashore just where we entered the water. A black tank top and a black shirt. Later I saw a sock. "Where does it come from," I thought. Maybe someone lost them from a boat. Or maybe someone got drunk, had a bath, and forgot where he put his clothes. Or maybe someone ... Nah, why think about sad options when we're having such a beautiful time.

After a long bath we went back to our spot and sat down. I pulled out my phone and snapped a few pictures of Mikkel in the sand, like I always do when we're there. Some people passed us but I didn't pay attention to them, I was busy with my phone and watching my son digging in the sand.

A few minutes later I noticed that the people were gone again, they didn't come for a swim.  But close by the wet black clothes, I noticed something that wasn't there before. A fresh, red rose was planted erect in the sand.

fredag 28. juni 2013

The burrito beggar

Today I met a beggar.

He wasn't a beggar, he said. He wasn't asking for money. He was just hungry, and asked if I could help him buy some food. That's equalent to asking for money, I thought. Actually it is asking for a lot more than a spare of change.

I wanted to walk away. I felt uncomfortable. Maybe this was some kind of trick, I don't know ... people do a lot of strange things and you never know who could be dangerous. But I had stopped, and I was looking straight at him.

He was probably around my age. From Porto Rico, he told me later, but his English was very good. He said he had three children, no job and had just come out of the hospital. "Life is tough," he said.

I believed him. There was something about the desperation and sadness in his eyes. Something sincere. I knew I couldn't walk away from this. I was trapped. "OK, let's go get some food, " I said.

His footsteps seemed a little lighter than before as he walked across the road towards a Mexican restaurant. "I only need a little burrito," he said, "or maybe two ..? "

He started chatting, presenting himself. "Where's your accent from?" he asked me and I said "Norway," not expecting him to know where in the world that is. But he smiled and said "oh, really!" and seemed to have a pretty clear idea.

We ordered two burritos for him, "no onions and no chillies!" he demanded, and I ordered one for myself. While waiting for the food he told me about his hospital stay and that he was glad to be out. He was in for Asthma, he said. And his youngest son had it too. Now he was waiting for a massive bill to arrive which he never in this world would be able to pay. "What about Medicare?" I asked carefully. His face looked slightly tormented and he said "Man, they keep cutting back on that - it is so hard to qualify for it these days, you have no idea ..." he looked to the ground and added "I'm gonna try to apply for it now, though."

"You don't think you could help me with a bus pass as well ....?" he asked hesitantly after a while.
"It's five dollars, I need to get around to try to get a job ..."
I perceived the request as a bit pushy and replied "Sorry I don't have any cash, you're going to have to ask someone else for that."
"Oh ok, no problem" he said.

"Where are you going ...?" I asked him, feeling a bit guilty for not having 5 dollars to give him after all. He said he wanted to go to the Work Office on University Drive.
"Too far to walk for me" he said. "With my asthma ..."
Too far to walk for anyone, I thought.
"I'll give you a lift," I heard myself saying, and at the same time thinking: "What am I doing, that's insane ..."
He looked at me, surprised. "Oh ... ok ... yeah. Thanks."

The food was ready and came out in two big bags. We walked out the door and he said "you know I really should just get that bus pass, I got to go by my house first, then to the work office. I know there is an ATM right over there ..."

"I'm not walking up to an ATM to retrieve money for him," I thought. I asked him what his kids were going to eat today, trying to change the subject.  He said "this!" and held up his burrito bag. "That's why I need to drop by my house first."

I wasn't hungry anymore. "Would you like my burrito as well ...? It has onions and chillis, though ..." He gladly accepted. "Doesn't matter" he mumbled. "Thank you so much. I really appreciate it."

I gave him a lift home with all the food. Yes, I know that is on the top of the list of things NOT to do  with complete strangers like this one, but I did. At that moment it just felt like the natural thing to do.

He kept chatting in the car, making small-talk, telling me about his brother who was such a terrible driver, about his daughter who loved writing stories.
"You're very kind." he said eventually.  "Are you one of those Newborn?"
"No" I said promptly.
"You know what it is, though?" he asked.
"Yes, I know what it is. And no, I just happen to trust you," I replied. "If I'm wrong about that, well, that would be really sad."
"I swear to you I'm not lying!" He cried. "Thank you."

" You can stop right here'" he said, pointing at a garage by the road. "I live just behind there."
He thanked me again, grabbed his food bags and got out of the car. "You're so very kind," he said again, and offered half heartedly to pay me back in the future.
"Hope things work out for you," I said to him.
"They will," he replied and shut the door.

Maybe I was cheated. Maybe his gang was ready to jump me and steal the car as I pulled over to drop him off, and I just happened to be lucky today. 

Or maybe his story was true. Maybe three kids were happy to get a decent meal today. Maybe one good experience today could be a spark for him to make some right moves for a better future.

I will never know.

But I do know that my moment of blue eyed goodwill made me feel inspired the rest of the day. I do know that pushing prejudices aside and try seeing the person instead of the beggar can transform fear into a feeling of unity. I felt humble about life and enthusiastic about the power of being human.

It made me think that behind every destiny there is an interesting story. I was drawn to this story and blurred by the impressions of the moment. Probably not advisable to follow a similar quest this far again. But good stories do not emerge from only walking on the safe side.

Neither will the world become a better place.

tirsdag 21. mai 2013

What you pay for

A price is not a price.

My son and I went to the doctors office for the 18-month visit the other day. We pay out of pocket when we are there because this office doesn't accept our insurance. But our insurance accepts that we go there and usually reimburses our expenses.

When we got to the check-out, the cashier recognized us and whispered: "are you still self-paid?" 
I couldn't hear her properly so I said: "I'm sorry ... What?" 
She looked to the side briefly and repeated, still whispering: "are you still self-paid?" 
"Yes," I heard myself whispering back, while leaning over the counter.

 I got the feeling she wanted to cut a deal for us. She did some calculations, or at least that's what it looked like, and finally said: "OK mama, it's 200 dollars for the visit today." 
"200 dollars. Ok," I replied and pulled out my credit card.

"Will your insurance reimburse all of it?" She asked me promptly. 
"Yes, probably." I felt slightly guilty all of a sudden. 
"Oh," she said. "I just cut your bill short with 50 dollars because I didn't think they would do that." 
"Well ... thanks. It still helps me ...you know, it takes some time before I get the money back ..." 

Whatever. I didn't ask for a discount. I didn't ask for anything. I just wanted to pay and leave. Preferably with a receipt. She said she would mail me the receipt because apparently the doctor didn't fill out his paperwork properly, but I said I'd rather have it in my hand when leaving, please. She sighted and walked away slowly to pick up the print out. Guess I'm a difficult client. I expect regular procedure and find it hard to play along with wiz-whaz.

We had a prescription to pick up so we stopped at out local pharmacy on the way home. It was ready for us when we got to the counter, $12 was due and I pulled out my money to pay. But then the cashier said "hold on a minute ..." while studying her screen.

She asked me: "Do you know why you're being charged an additional fee today ...?" 
"Excuse me?" I said, confused. "You ask me why there is an additional fee ...? What kind of fee?"

She asked me wether I had signed up for the prescription program and was due to pay the annual fee. 
"Uuh, what ..??" I said, feeling slightly stressed. People started queuing up behind me. I showed her my Walgreens discount card but she shook her head and said that was a different thing and then she went to get her manager. 

The manager asked me: "do you want to sign up for the prescription program card and save money every time you picked up new prescriptions ...?"
I asked her for what fee and she said "20 dollars a year." 
"That's a lot of money to pay to be able to save a few dollars each time" I replied, "Besides - we don't pick up prescriptions on a regular basis, so no thanks."
"OK no problem" she said. "But the final price is still going to be 32 dollars"

The confusion reached new limits and the queue behind me grew with another few customers. The ladies behind the counter had just showed me the price tag saying $12. Now they explained that this would have been the price if I had the discount card. Which I didn't want. So the price for me would be 32 dollars. 

"So, let me get this straight, whether or not I want this discount card, I have to pay the extra 20 dollars. Is that correct??"
"Yes," they replied.
"Well, if I have to pay for it regardless, I guess I might as well sign up for the card then!"

But then the manager decided to cut through this mess with a final offer instead. She wrote something on the back of a paper and said
"you don't really need the card if you're not on permanent medication, so we'll cut the price for you and you just pay this amount" she pointed at her handwriting: $18. 

"Fine" I said, knowing that I actually ended up paying $6 more than the original price presented to me. Whatever. The insurance company will reimburse us. Hand over the goods and let me get out of here! Quite fascinating how complicated paying for one small prescription can be.

Shopping or doing anything that involves money has become quite a mindgame. Everything is created from an interest of making profit, but without consideration of the bigger picture. Every little detail is squeezed and flipped and turned to see if there's a drop of benefit that someone might have overlooked.

Department stores have their own credit cards only applicable for the particular stores, with promises of big savings. People save discounts coupons as a hobby, obsessed with the possibility of saving a few cents on selected items.

Wherever you shop, they ask for your email so that they can spam you with loads of "great offers" on a regular basis. Sales staff usually have no clue what they're selling, but they've received some training in pushing additional products on you regardless.

In the grocery store, the packers insist on helping you all the way to your car in hope of earning a few dollars of tip. Even though you can bring your cart to your car and you're not even required to bring it back.

In restaurants, table service is rationalized and different people have different responsibilities; one take your order, one bring out the food and a third one, the lowest in the hierarchy, brings the drinks. If you happen to ask the drink server about why your food order is taking so long, you disturb the flow and risk chaos and annoyed managers.

Whatever happened to the service? The service that you are expected to appreciate and reward with the tip? No wonder why the practice of adding tip automatically to your bill is increasingly popular. Whatever happened to customer first? Does anyone in the service business even consider what it feels like to be a customer? Customers are treated like they exist for the purpose of the service provider, not the other way around. If anyone were bold enough to draw the contours of the business model in action  they would probably discover a beast!

I really miss going somewhere where customer experience has a high priority. Where the business idea is based on making people want to return, making people want to recommend this place or product to their friends and give them high scores on social media. I'd love to visit a store where the sales personnel are proud of their skills and their product, where the procedure of capturing customers into complicated discount deals and product locks is banned. Do places like that exist for general people without secret accounts in Switzerland ...?

It's time to refresh what service is all about: making the customer feel important. That's it. Not confused, caught up, stalked, stressed and irritated. Just appreciated, no matter who you are.

If that's too much to ask, then how about just giving me what I came for, and show me the God Damn price.