Photo Meme

My blogging has been almost non-existent lately. And I can’t really tell you why! I so want to blog more and last week the lovely Angela (@angpang on Twitter) pinged me with an unusual meme. Do click her post, her picture is one of the most poignant pictures of the twentieth century. Yes. It is.

I must choose a photograph that means something special to me – could be by me, of me or by somebody else of something else. I have lots of my own photographs that I’m very happy with, proud of and that hold cherished memories. But I’ve chosen a third party photograph because I really, really thought the world would change for the better when I saw it on the front page of my newspaper. I cut the picture out and hung it on my notice board. My colleagues thought I was bonkers (guess they thought that even before the “picture incident”, but it confirmed their suspicions).

Picture borrowed from San Diego Uni.
Picture borrowed from San Diego Uni.

It was September 13th 1993 and I was so joyous at seeing this picture that I almost cried. I truly believed that world peace was within reach and that this was the first step. It’s a miracle that I’m not an ice-cold cynic today, all things considered!

If all these events are a bit blurry to you, here‘s a blog dedicated to President Clinton’s efforts for peace in the Middle East.

Actually, the meme is called My Favourite Photograph and of course, this is not my favourite photograph. I have twisted the concept a bit, I know. If the poor bloggers, who I’ll now tag with this meme, want to take it back to it’s original meaning, they are absolutely free. Also, as Angela rightly writes, they shouldn’t feel obligated to respond. Only if it inspires them like it did me. Thank you Angela – also for your support in more mundane matters…

These are the bloggers I’ve tagged:

Returning the favour Goonerjamie! By the way, if you don’t know him, go read his tribute to his parents. Fantastic reading!

Mr. London Street is a relatively new acquaintance of mine, a rather more successful blogger than yours truly. I dare him with this meme because he never/rarely uses pictures on his blog. Will he make an exception?

And while I have my daring hat on, I’ll tag another very successful blogger, Motherhood The Final Frontier. A British pop singer in California, who can write about very trivial things so you writhe with laughter.

Tagging Eyglo isn’t very nice of me, as she’s the newest mother I know. So Eyglo, if you’re not up to this you’re absolutely forgiven. The reason I tag her is that she’s a brilliant photographer – just check her photos if in doubt.

I tag Lulu’s Lala Life because Lulu needs encouragement. Poor thing is bored to death in her new job. So L, please share a favourite photo with us!

Lisa is Danish/Greenlandish and only very recently I met her in the flesh. That was after having known her for about five years, where we’ve been following each others’ online presences… it was a REAL pleasure to meet her and I’m confident that it wasn’t the last time. Lisa is a keen photographer, see her masterly pictures here.

I know it’s always “tag ten bloggers” og “tag five”, but I’ve chosen to just tag the ones I felt like tagging today. If you feel left out, I’m sorry. Really.

From http://www.artknowledgenews.com/David_Hockney_Yorkshire_Landscapes.html
From http://www.artknowledgenews.com

And on an entirely unrelated note, can I please plug two items I’ve come across on Twitter today. They are COMPLETELY unrelated, but both touched me profoundly.

This is a little video showing my favourite living artist David Hockney’s drawings on his Iphone. Fantastic! And this is a little article in Huffington Post by a dad who also happens to be one of those admirable lawyers who work for death row inmates in the US. Such a moving piece. Write him a comment to show your support.

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Confessions of an unfashionista

My instinct would be to brush off women who spend a lot of time and money on their looks as shallow. But through my life I’ve met some fantastic, inspiring, intelligent women who spend a great deal of time and money on appearances. So, once again, I’ve had to re-evaluate my own viewpoint.

Shoes from Shoesatlast.com
Shoes from Shoesatlast.com

First, I have to be honest to myself about my own choices. I covet the shoes in this picture, but I know I’ll never buy them. They’re too expensive, the heels are too high for comfort (not least for my husband, who doesn’t like me to tower over him) and I don’t go out much, so how can I justify the purchase of such luxury?

Also, I think the older I get the more I become a slave to comfort… I really don’t like walking around with blisters on my feet, so much make-up that I can’t scratch my nose or a dress that makes me permanently self-conscious.

I own a few luxury items, purchased at a time when we were more affluent than we are now. And I admit that they are a source of constant and long-lasting joy. Whereas some of the stuff I’ve bought in desperation at M&S or H&M never give me that satisfaction.

I buy and use very little make-up but what I buy is good quality. Clinique and Dr. Hauschka are my favourite products. I refuse to put on make-up to sit at my desk and work at home and for the school run or a trip to the supermarket. However, I’ll always put on make-up for coffee with a friend or when attending events at son’s school, etc. And I do enjoy adding a few extra layers for special events like tomorrows party. I also love perfumes and wear one every day, solely for my own enjoyment. My current favourite is Paul Smith Woman.

When it comes to jewellery I’m a through and through bespoke girl. I own practically no custom jewellery and it has very little attraction to me. I used to own a ring by this jeweller – so, so fabulous (and left to me by my mother), but I left it by the sink in a restaurant toilet and it was gone when I realised! Now I own a pair of earrings by her – I wear them almost all the time and treasure that they are quite “discreet” but still very special.

My husband has always bought me bespoke and special jewellery. This ring was the first one he bought me – before we were even married. I rather adore him for that! I can recommend checking the museum shops at modern art museums – have found very special and unique jewellery there at tolerable prices because they often choose to promote young up-and-coming jewellers. The ring is from such a shop (in Denmark).

Funny thing is, however, that although I’m so NOT a fashion animal or sharp dresser myself, I have a great interest in others who are. I love to sit in a cafe, at Waterloo station or on the tube and watch people, how they’ve chosen their outfits, if things match or don’t match, whether this is a matter of negligence, carelessness or colour blindness. Or the interesting ones who’ve chosen not to match. I remember a black woman on the tube. She was about my own age, maybe even older. She was clearly not particularly well off, but I’m still picturing her hair and her outfit and so, so regretting that I couldn’t take her picture. So much effortless style!

When I see pictures of celebrities (women, mostly) I almost always think that they are trying too hard and that all too few of them have an eye for style. Which is very regrettable once you have the money to buy it! Vanity Fair recently had a picture series with Jackie Kennedy. Although I deeply admire the current first lady in the US,

picture from blog.engelhardtandersen.com
picture from blog.engelhardtandersen.com

and think she has considerable style, I can’t think of anyone with a style and grace quite like Jackie! But close contenders were Grace Kelly and Princess Diana in her later years. Also, the very much alive ex-wife of Danish Prince Joakim, Countess Alexandra.

I follow so many blogs and always lag behind in reading them all, so in spite of my interest in style (rather than fashion) I’m not following any style blogs other than this one, which I’ve plugged before. In this post she gives advice on what to wear when you’re in your 40s. If I could, I’d follow her advice. But that would require a rather substantial weight loss and that I get my career (ha!) going again, so I can make some money and have somewhere to go to show it all off. But oh, how I want that purple Mulberry bag!

I now realise that almost everything on this page is purple. One would think it’s my favourite colour. It isn’t. My favourite colour is bright green, but 90% of my clothes are brown, grey, black or beige. Go figure.

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Brain waves

In the car today, my youngest son (8) demanded an explanation of the word “depression”. Not sure where he’d picked it up – maybe he was flicking through a magazine at the hairdressers earlier? I tried to explain it to him as best I could and while I was at it, explained to him that his grandmother’s forgetfulness and repetitiveness through Alzheimer’s also has its root in the brain where so many things happen that we don’t yet fully understand. Of course, the connection between something tangible, our brains, and something intangible, our emotions, is very difficult for a child to grasp. But I think it’s important that we try!

Luckily, Alzheimer is now much better recognised in society than it was even a few years ago and people are beginning to grapple with the idea that, beside obesity and all the other consequences of a poor diet, Alzheimer is one of the biggest problems facing our health services today. My lovely Twitter friend Andrea Gillies is doing a great job at spreading this knowledge. She has two articles in the broadsheets today, one about caring for an Alzheimer patient at home (the Times) and one about the (lack of) care of Alzheimer patients when they are admitted into hospital wards (The Guardian). She knows what she’s talking about, having herself cared for her mother-in-law for three years. She’s written a fantastic but heart-wrenching book about that experience. I cried many times while reading it and I’m in complete awe of Andrea who stomached this without completely losing her mind.

I can only recommend it if you’re close to someone with Alzheimer or to someone who is caring for one. Also if you aren’t actually, because this is something we should all know more about!

At the opposite end of the spectre, so to speak, is happiness. As some readers will know, it’s a pet subject of mine. At the moment I’m reading a book called Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches positive psychology at Harvard.

The theory is that we – on average – are in control of 40% of our happiness, if you can put it that way. An average person, living above the poverty limit and in a non-oppressive society, has 40% power over his or her own happiness. Of course, if we’ve just lost a child or been diagnosed with cancer, the 40% shrink rapidly, but I’m sure you get my drift. So when we’re trotting along in our normal, relatively uneventful lives, we have considerable power to heighten our general feeling of happiness. Tal Ben-Shahar tries to give us the tools to do this. For instance, he has a lot of documentation for the fact that once we’ve reached the basic levels of Maslow hierarchy of needs, we all have the same chance of finding happiness. Money has very little to do with it.

I take great comfort in this (not just the money bit…) and try to internalise some of the principles that studies have shown work. For instance, he suggests that we do the “infinitely regressive why” exercise whenever we want something more than a bacon sarnie or a cup of tea. It’s done like this: Why do I want a bigger house? Because so-and-so. Why so-and-so? Because so-and-so. Until the answer is: Because it’ll make me happier. The more “becauses” there are between the original question and the happiness answer, the less meaningful it is for your overall happiness to acquire said object.

If you question that happiness is our ultimate goal in life, then read this quote from Hume:

“The great end of all human industry is the attainment of happiness. For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modeled.”

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Honest scrap

The fabulous @goonerjamie, aka the HouseHusband, has given me this award. I guess I should be honoured? All right then, I’m honoured.

The worst bit about these awards is that you have to pass them on. It’s not that I don’t know lots of fantastic blogs, it’s just that I fear they’ve all been awarded this before? I always tend to be a bit late for all the fun parties. And as if that wasn’t the only rule, here’s the rest:

a. ‘The Honest Scrap Blogger Award’ must be shared.

b. The recipient has to tell 10 (true) things about themselves that no one else knows.

3. The recipient has to pass on the award to 10 more bloggers.

d. Those 10 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

OK, so to keep the suspension going about my guilty secrets, here are my nominees for the award:

1. Gabs – my good old friend. Blogs about politics, music & books.

2. Lisa – one of my oldest virtual friends. This one is in Danish. She observes the everyday through poetic photography.

3. Capac – another old Danish virtual friend. His knowledge about music is quite impressive!

4. SindaTeetering between Tired and Really Really Tired. Sinda is not from around here.

5. Lucy Fishwife – A very bookish blogger. How can she read that much?

6. Ideary – Icelandic Eyglo who lives as expat in Sweden blogs beautifully. Note the marvellous pictures.

7. The Spice Spoon – young Pakistani in the US writes about food. Ooohhh, it’s so yummy!

8. Forhistorier – this one is also in Danish, I’m sorry, but it’s a lovely blog and deserves recognition. Written by Danish historian & journalist. For the non-Danish readers, there are very good photographs.

9. La Vie en Gris – Irish lady in Belgium. She should write more, which is why she gets this award!

10. TitianredReally should know better. This woman has a razor sharp sense of humour and a keen eye.

To all of you – if you’ve already received this award and I just haven’t noticed: I’m sorry. Consider it an honour. If you have the time and inclination, please copy the rules and pass it on. And don’t forget to let me know when you do, so I can enjoy reading your secrets.

Guilty secrets no-one else knows? I’m always spilling the beans, so it’ll have to be secrets that only a few people (=all of Twitter…) know. Or knew, until now!

  1. I love everything with ginger. I’ll eat ginger in syrup directly out of the jar. And I searched high and low for years for the “perfect” recipe for ginger biscuits. And I found it!
  2. I well up all the time. For no apparent reason (sometimes). A book, a film, a news paper story, a friend who cries. And I think I’m allergic to my own tears. Even after just a few tears over a news story I have swollen, itchy eyes all day.
  3. I love to listen to podcasts and sometimes wish I had a long commute as an excuse so could hear Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Digital Planet, Harddisken (Danish), Melvin Bragg’s In Our Time, TED Talks, Woman’s Hour, etc. etc.
  4. Shoes are my Achilles heel, so to speak. My feet always bl**dy hurt, no matter how sensible my shoes. You can’t imagine how annoying that is for a person who likes to walk!
  5. I have this stupid as yet undiagnosed auto immune illness, which I’ve had since I was 27. The first flares were horrible and sent me to hospital. The latest flares have been milder, but more frequent. What I really hate is when I, after another flare and another round of blood tests, am told by a chirpy nurse that “All your blood counts are normal, so you’re fine!“. Oh, thank you. So glad to know that. So why do I have a penetrating pain behind my eyes/or/inflammation of the eye/or/a painful & swollen foot and what am I supposed to do with it? And then get the slightly less chirpy reply: “Well, if it still hasn’t passed next week, you’d better call back and speak to the doctor“. All right then. Here’s for the real no. 5: This is why I’m always so reluctant to call the doctor about my ailments…
  6. I am so, so, SO proud of my sons. That’s no secret, you’re saying? Well, so be it. I wanted it to be written down somewhere. I think they’re both marvellous in their different ways and my heart swells when I think of them.
  7. I’m like every other would-be creative/writer/whatever. I have a Moleskine notebook, I love it and if you give me another one I’ll love you for it.
  8. My secret wish in the category of “if my life had been different” is this: I always wish I’d been born into a family of intellectuals where Proust was discussed at dinner and Emily Dickinson quoted at festive occasions. I’ve been trying to catch up on these things most of my life, but realise that I never will!
  9. I’m working on a Wikipedia article (no, it’s not about myself) but am finding it difficult. I find that it’s not quite as easy as it’s made up to be.
  10. I’m a very bad liar, so I don’t lie much. So don’t ask me a question if you don’t really want to know the answer.

There. I’ve done it. I’m sure you now know things about me you didn’t really wanted to or needed to know. But it’s your own fault – nobody made you read all the way down to here.

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Music

used to be my life. I guess it’s more words now. But I’m still a “music person” at heart. Some people find that I have “posh” musical taste, but when music is your job, your life, I think you hear it differently. Actually, I find my taste to be very eclectic – I like music in almost all genres, maybe with the exceptions of musicals, some types of jazz and R&B. I also truly dislike the kind of pop music featured on shows like X-Factor. They all look and sound exactly the same.

Here’s a run-down of my musical background for those of my readers who haven’t known me that long (that would be 30 years+, ha): I started with the recorder and piano like all other nice little middle class girls and then went on to the more sociable instrument, the violin. As soon as I was good enough I started playing in a local youth orchestra and relatively shortly progressed to the Danish Radio’s Youth Orchestra. I loved playing in an orchestra and we toured and played concerts and generally had a fantastic time. It is still so that, when I hear specific orchestral works, like e.g. Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, I swoon and am again 15… I switched to the viola at some point, because I so enjoyed being a team player. Was of course contemplating a professional career, but was not quite talented enough and, what’s probably more important, too lazy. Also, already then, standing up was hard on my back and when practising the violin/viola, you stand up!

Took a college degree in music and got to know people who were into pop music. You’ll have to picture me at 18 not knowing the difference between Sweet and Slade… At this point in time I owned a nice, if small, collection of classical LPs and two 7″ singles, Me & Bobby McGee and Hey Joe. My new friends liked King Crimson, Brian Eno, Genesis, etc. and I was slowly introduced to this new world. At this point in time I also met a girl who had the biggest record collection in living memory and she gradually introduced me to all the music I’d missed and to practically every new album that was released, because she spent every penny on music.

The first real turning point in my musical life came when my friend from college came and said, “Hey, you gotta come see this guy at work, he’s out of this world”. His work was in a music shop and “this guy” was a shy youngster with the most awful Sweet-hairdo and a guitar glued to his hands. My friend and I were equally stunned – I think it was the first time any of us experienced such raw, unpolished talent. The youngster was Hilmer Hassig, who, I’m so sorry to say, is no longer with us. I wrote him a eulogy.

The two of them formed a band and quickly I was drawn in by the whole thing and joined the independent record company Irmgardz…, that eventually published their debut album. Band’s name was Scatterbrain. They sang in English and their music was a kind of synth-pop and it was A FIRST in Denmark.

Irmgardz… and later Garden Records became my life up until we went belly-up in 1992. They were fantastic years and we produced some pretty good albums, if I may say so myself. We also arranged concerts, so have heard and met quite a few of the Indie icons of the era. Some were a lot of fun and great musical experiences, but a lot are best forgotten.

I have a weakness for lists and some years ago I made a Top Three of the best concerts in my life. I thought a lot about it and the result is a bit surprising – it was surprising to myself at the time. But looking back now, I’m quite sure they were really the best! I even paid good Danish money for one of them – something I otherwise never did back then.

1. Violent Femmes (this would have been in the mid-eighties) at Montmartre – a legendary Danish jazz club, which doesn’t exist any more. It was a band I really liked (from Milwaukee of all places), I had their albums and listened to them often. Seeing them live was absolutely fabulous. Sometimes during the concert you could hear a penny drop on a carpeted floor. I’ve just finished The Timetravelers Wife where one of the key moments in the book is a concert with Violent Femmes in Chicago. I knew exactly what it was like, could hum every tune…

2. Tom Waits in the Falkoner Centre on his Rain Dogs tour (1985). It was a sit-down concert, something very unusual at the time. Waits traipsed around between his little settings and played a very low-key, but super intense set. Fantastic!!! I still like Tom Waits a lot and throw money at every new album on Itunes.

3. U2 at Roskilde Festival (1982) following the release of their second album October. I was in complete awe of Bono, who did things with the audience that were very unusual at the time and who had a really remarkable voice, but similarly of The Edge, who really did something different with that guitar and had such a distinct tone!

I’ve had a look through my Itunes and here’s a completely random and nowhere near exhaustive list of albums that have made a lasting impression on me. I don’t always know why, but just know that something about that album changed me a little bit.

  • Anouar Brahem: Le Pas du Chat Noir (latest addition, thanks to Gabs)
  • Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline
  • The Costello Show: King of America
  • Del Amitri: Twisted
  • Echo and the Bunnymen: Ocean Rain
  • Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball
  • Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
  • The Jesus & Mary Chain: Psychocandy
  • New Order: Power, Corruption and Lies
  • Paul Simon: Graceland
  • Portishead: Dummy
  • Prince: Parade
  • R.E.M.: Automatic for the People
  • Ry Cooder: Paris, Texas Soundtrack
  • Tricky: Maxinquaye
  • U2: War
  • John Lennon & Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy
  • George Michael: Older
  • Depeche Mode: Violator
  • The The: Soul Mining
  • Blondie: Parallel Lines
  • Keith Jarret: The Carnegie Hall Concert
  • The Go-Betweens: Before Hollywood

Most of you will have Spotify, but if you don’t, go here and listen to some of the albums you don’t already know. There could be a song to change you too?

Only a few Danish albums (that we didn’t produce ourselves…) spring to mind, the most memorable ones being Kliché‘s Supertanker and Sort Sol‘s Dagger & Guitar.

Classical music will have to be another day…

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Good taste

I read about a website and a book called Stuff White People Like in the Sunday Times. It both fascinated and irritated me and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I believe that I have a fairly good eye for things that’ll trend, except in the world of fashion. When looking through this weeks Style Magazine in Sunday Times, I just cannot believe that anyone likes that stuff. Anyway, what I have an eye for is probably more What White People Like, or, as I’m not overly fond of the term and find it too American for us Europeans, The Aspiring Classes.

While I’m definitely not blind to the many foibles that mar us who belong to the Aspiring Classes, I’m also uncomfortable with Mr. Lander’s generalisations. For instance I don’t like his attitude towards charity – charity here means anything we do for other people in a charitable fashion. I think – and hope – that it’s not only the Aspiring Classes who feel inclined to be charitable. Actually, I find that it’s a thing that defines a, luckily large, subset of the Working Class, that they take time and money they don’t have out to help others. Just think of some of the incredible people we’ve seen on the TV-programme The Secret Millionaire. But he’s right when he says that some charities appeal a lot more to the Aspiring Classes than others. A few years ago, the ones that came with a plastic armband were top of the pops. I had one too…

The phenomenon of Good Taste is not exactly new. Neither is it new that it’s a term with special significance to the aspiring and upper classes. We’re brought up to believe that the Upper Classes (no no, not in money terms, obviously) are born with Good Taste, whereas the rest of us must strive to achieve it and some of us get it wrong. Big Time.

According to a lovely programme I heard on Radio 4, Taste, as in Good Taste, was an invention of the 18th Century, and, as it was so beautifully put in the programme, a marriage of wealth and virtue. Chew on that for a bit, will you? The reason why it’s a bit complicated and fraught with traps and pit-holes is that we’re protestants. So we can’t just lean back and enjoy all the opulence money can buy, we have to always justify the things we purchase – everything is tinged with guilt. “Residual anxiety about material things” as historian Amanda Vickery puts it.

I decided not to read through the full list of Things White People Like, because I thought It would disturb my own feeling of what the Aspiring Classes like. So I’ve wandered around my own home and taken random pictures of things that I believe belong in this category. It is very, very far from exhaustive – I’m hoping to make this into a series with pictures of my own stuff, pictures of other people’s stuff, stuff in shops and in the street and even lots of stuff that isn’t stuff at all, but more concepts and ideas. I’ll post them as I think of them. And I certainly hope you’ll find inspiration to post your own additions. I have a friend in Denmark who has a truly exceptional eye for this (you know who you are M-L!) and I really hope she’ll contribute.

We have a thermos cum cafetière. That is now old-school. The thing to have is a Nespresso machine. I try hard not to covet it. I have and love my Kitchen Aid mixer. It matches my other red kitchen thingies, but where I beg to differ from the description of Kitchen Aid owners in the Sunday Times, I actually use mine at least once a week. We use Maldon sea salt and whole spices where possible. Maybe we’re just posh, but we actually believe we can taste the difference – especially with spices like cardamom. We have two pepper mills, both with a Peugeot grinder. That should guarantee that it lasts for life. Electric pepper grinders are NOT good taste. Wasting a battery on a pepper mill?!?

We have a Philippe Starck dining table. That’s not quite good taste – it borders too much on show-off. Candles on the table however, is good taste. But one must be very careful not to go overboard and become shabby chic, which is sooo 90’s. Antique silver candlesticks with white candles on the other hand – that’s a classic :-) As are paintings, new and old, which are NOT purchased to match the curtains. The Aspiring Classes know that that’s not done. That’s something the nouveau riche do. The thought makes us shudder.

We own Apple stuff. Lots of it. Nuff said. There are quite a few magazines to read for the Aspiring, in fact Vanity Fair might be considered a tad too American and eh, aspiring. For an almost 50-year old woman, reading Wired is probably not quite the right thing either – something literary perhaps? Intelligent Life, which is not in the picture, fits the mould. And I read that too…

We believe in healthy good food and we want to cook it ourselves. Not always successful, we can always resort to M&S, where the food department caters almost exclusively to us. So nice with a shop that understands our needs!

Obviously, there are hundreds more items and it’s possible to go into nitty gritty detail. For instance, reading books is not enough. It must be the right books at the right time. And THOU MAY NOT LIKE DAN BROWN (but it’s OK to have read one, like yours truly).

I think I will come back to this…

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Mood regulation

The last few weeks have taken their toll on my usually sanguine disposition. Some private matters weigh heavily on my mind and are hard to stow away in the little worry-boxes I am usually quite successful with.  Worry-boxes are where worries go when they’ve been dealt with. The worries don’t necessarily need to be solved, but have been looked at and sized up. It’s my belief that if you try to not think of something that worries you, it grows out there in the periphery and sometimes takes on proportions that are not relative to the original source of worry. On the other hand, if you examine your worry, you’ll first find out if there really is something to worry about or if you’ve just had worry induced from somebody else. Then, if there is something, wonder whether there’s anything – pleasant or unpleasant – you can do to mend the problem. If that’s not the case – and often it isn’t with worries – then it’s time for the box. Although I’ve never been an alcoholic or any other kind of addict, I’m rather addicted to AA‘s serenity prayer:

“God, Give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,             Courage to change the things which should be changed, And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

This prayer works just as well without the God in front.

Sometimes however, these boxes leak. The worry sneaks out and attacks my train of thought when I least expect it. And then they become a real threat to my general well-being. And when my well-being is under threat, so is my family’s. So I’ve devised some tricks that cheat me into smiling. Once you’re smiling, the worry seems to diminish immediately. For the Harry Potter readers out there, it works a bit like when you have to fend off one of the scary dementors – by thinking of a really lovely memory.

For smiling tricks the web is a bottomless trough. However, most of the videos and jokes that circulate will fail to make me smile on a glum day. They are usually too shallow. So I look to a few trusted Facebook friends, bloggers and Twitter contacts, who’ll always twist reality in a way that’ll make me chuckle. And I do this very deliberately.

The video here was found on India Knight‘s blog Posterous. I’m not entirely sure why I find it so utterly charming, I just do…

Then there’s something like this. A person has actually sat down and programmed a plug-in to remove politically incorrect words and phrases from blogs. The web is full of these altruistic people who do stuff only to make other people happy/laugh. Obviously, I’m also impressed with the young man’s skill, but he could have shown that in numerous other ways. Thanks to David Hewson who posted it on Twitter.

I’ve been following GalaDarling on and off for years since before she left New Zealand and she’s a sure bet to  make me smile. Sometimes it’s one of her hilarious beauty tips, at other times it’s her sincere effort to spread joy. Browse her site a bit. You’ll have to be a very grumpy old (wo)man not to find her utterly charming.

At other times it doesn’t have to be funny as such, but some people write so well and hit so many nails right on the head in such terrific prose that it makes me happy too (maybe also a bit envious, but I think I can deal with that). Here’s a couple of examples of people who write about their own lives in such a way that it’s relevant and interesting to others as well: Mrs. L in her 43rd Year, Lucy Fishwife who’s a very bookish sort of person and there’s Backwards in High Heels where Tania explains why she (and I) never ever use the ugly swearword c*** about anyone or in any context. Thank you Tania.

As you’ve probably gathered by now I work actively and consciously on my own happiness and I’ve written about it on this blog before. Because I know I’ve got some new lovely readers, I’ll link here to a few of my older posts about happiness.

Dealing with criticism

Acts of random kindness

Nancy Etcoff on happiness

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Friendless in a Foreign Country

I like to overdo it a bit in my headlines. Do forgive. But – when I first left Denmark and came over here I never thought it a problem to have left my friends behind. I mean, we could e-mail, phone, exchange comments on Facebook, Skype, etc., and I come home often. The truth is, we don’t do any of this much. For some reason some of my best friends are just not into Facebook, Twitter, IM’ing or frequent e-mailing. So the fact is that only with a couple of my friends can I claim to have an ongoing relationship. When I’m in Copenhagen there’s no problem, it’s as if we’d never been apart and all is rosy.

But I’ve realised that the day-to-day chat at the school gate, at a brief coffee, in a quick phone conversation about practicalities, at get-togethers and dinners mean a lot more than I’d thought. And that’s what I miss. Sometimes you meet with a friend and you launch right into deep, personal important stuff. Other times you spend the allocated time discussing recent political developments. And at other occasions it’s your children or “what a lovely new coat”. It’s when all these things come together that you can speak of a real friend.

a little bird...
a little bird...

I didn’t quite realise how much I’d missed this until I found The Twitterladies. The Twitterladies should be seen as something very elastic. I couldn’t tell you their names without missing some of them (we don’t all tweet around the clock about everything) and also, there are a few men there too.

Now, I can already see eyebrows raised, also among twitterers. So I can reveal right away that no, I don’t believe that I now have 20 new best friends of whom I’ve only met half. But what the Twitterladies have given me that I was missing is those four things I mentioned above:

Yes, you can discuss personal stuff and find comfort and wise words. When I recently experienced something very unpleasant in an unexpected setting, I tweeted about it. And sympathy and sound advice came streaming in.

And politics of course. I’ll be the first to admit that I mostly tweet with likeminded, but not always. Meaning that I’m following (and they are following me back) people with whom I do not agree politically. But when you find people who will discuss on an informed level and in a decent tone of voice, isn’t that just like having real friends?

Then the children – oh, The Twitterladies tweet a lot about their children. And I love it. Because it allows me to tweet about my two wonderful children as well without feeling embarrassed about it.

Finally, the “nice new coat”. Have you ever heard of twitpics? Well, they are the pictures we post to twitter of a pair of new boots, sunglasses, haircut, etc., and then receive lovely compliments. I also recall an episode with a Twitterlady who photographed herself in the changing room in two different skirts because she couldn’t make up her mind. The Twitterverse helped her with an almost unanimous verdict.

Oh, and then I haven’t mentioned food, literature and television. The foodies among us tweet ideas for dinners, cake recipes, cook’s tips, etc. The Literature Ladies tweet literary criticism (or links to same), suggestions for Next Book and comments on literary events. And television. Oh dear. There’s a fraction of the Twitterladies who are dedicated to watching Strictly Come Dancing and tweeting about it. I don’t watch it so see my twitterstream change into something completely unintelligible whenever the programme’s on air. But I also get good ideas for programmes to watch and programmes to avoid. Watching anything on TV simultaneously with other Twitterers enhances the experience. Seeing is believing!

You dont want to know why I took this picture
You don't want to know why I took this picture

I most certainly couldn’t do without my real friends, some of whom I’ve known a big chunk of my life. We share something that I don’t share with anyone on Twitter – our pasts. But It’s the honest truth that The Twitterladies have enhanced my life.

As mentioned above I’ve already met quite a few of them live. We had a fantastic “tweet-up” on Trafalgar Square when one of the Twitterladies was “on the plinth”. Explanation of that phenomenon here. If this has made you curious, here’s an intelligent and thoughtful blogpost about the Trafalgar Square event: La Vie en Gris. And I’ve met three Twitterladies, on separate occasions, for coffee. All lovely, all inspiring, all leading to a nice warm community feeling.

If you tweet, just check my stream, and the lovely Twitterladies will emerge. Some of them are so bright and brilliant that I’m constantly thrilled to “know” them.

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Antagonism

View from window today. Hard to keep up the pessimism...
View from window today. Hard to keep up the pessimism...

Do you know that weird and distinctly unpleasant feeling when somebody around you actively dislikes you? There’s a mother in my son’s new school who at first seemed like a nice person. Very well groomed, pretty, nice language, etc. Engaged her in conversation (at “event”) to find out more about her. Very quickly I felt an extreme amount of condescension and wondered what I’d done to antagonise her so quickly? When I met her again a week or so later it was even worse. Such a horrible sinking feeling.

However, two things happened to put me somewhat at ease. The first thing was that at this second occasion I overheard her speak in the exact same way to several other people. The other that I was reminded of another woman I’ve met recently, also beautiful, well groomed and this one even married to a lovely man, who acts in the same way.

So I gather that I’m “a type” that this kind of women can’t be bothered with. This is very puzzling. It’s absolutely OK not to like me, there are lots of people I don’t like. But usually I get to know them before I decide whether I like them or not? (unless they say something really horrible in the first 3 sentences). A lovely friend I’ve got here in the UK says that I’m much more direct than most British and that this is very likely to put some people off. Well, that sure also put some people off back in Denmark, but I believe it could be worse here, where people never seem to say anything, even the most innocent, straight out.

I was ridiculously happy when my otherwise tolerant and super-easygoing husband, on his own accord and quite without prompting, said of the second woman: “I truly dislike her. Pity, because I like the husband.” Yeah!!! So wonderful to know that it wasn’t just me.

I always try hard, really hard, to put these things behind me, but as you can see from this post, I don’t find it easy. I think it’s to do with my background – I was seriously bullied as a child and frightfully lonely. Once I started in high school all was good, but I guess these things stick!

Another blogger and twitterer wrote about an episode of adult bullying recently. I so empathised with her! Actually, her audacious blog post brought good things with it, so read her next post as well.

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Inspirational void

Not finding inspiration and time to write here is probably a downside of being on Twitter with incredibly talented writers, often able to express something profound in 140 characters. And also having Twitter as a daily outlet for speculations, wonder and anger over things that pass in the world. But I’ll try to up my presence here – not least because I want to get back into the good habit of writing something – almost anything – every day.

For an easy start I’ll publish the recipe for Danish meatballs, Frikadeller, as recklessly promised on Twitter a few days ago. It’s slightly adapted from my favourite Danish cookbook writer Camilla Plum’s version:

To feed four hungry people or six less hungry ones:

Frikadeller

Picture from Wikipedia
Picture from Wikipedia

500-700 gr minced pork. Ideally veal, but the British don’t really do veal much. Traditional Danish recipe calls for half’n’half.

1 tbsp of Maldon seasalt

2 slices of bread, crust removed (good quality sourdough bread gives extra flavour) soaked in

3 dl milk for 1/2 hour or so

1 big or 2 small onions, grated or whizzed in food processor (the smaller the children, the more whizzing needed)

1 large egg

A sprinkling of thyme or other dried Mediterranean herbs. Must NOT be overpowering.

Pepper

Put mince in mixer with salt and mix for at least 10 minutes. This is important, as it changes structure of mince and makes it easier to fry later. Same goes for beef patties btw. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix some more. Consistency must be so you can easily form “frikadeller” with a spoon, i.e. fairly moist. Add more milk if necessary.

Fry in BUTTER and plenty of it. If you don’t want to use butter, don’t bother. Frikadeller fried in substitute or – even worse – oil are no good. Which is one of the reasons I only make them once a year or so.

Use a normal tablespoon to avoid the frikadeller becoming too big. Dip it in the melted butter before starting on the mixture, thus avoiding it sticking to the spoon.

Fry at medium heat till nice and brown on both sides. It takes a while. Don’t fill the frying pan up, there must be some space between the meatballs. When you add a little pressure to a meatball and it “feels like rubber”, it’s done. If it’s soft, needs more cooking.

Serving suggestion: Potatoes and parsnips, cubed and cooked in oven for 20-30 minutes and The Quickest & Nicest Way to Eat Cauliflower: Separate cauliflower florets and blanche quickly in boiling, salted water. Drain. Mix 3-4 tbsp tomato puree with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp sesame seeds and 1 tsp cumin seeds and 1/2 salted lemon. If no salted lemons around, choose pickled or nothing. Add florets and mix well. Spread out on baking sheet and cook in oven with the potatoes for the last 15-20 minutes. This is also adapted from Ms. Plum’s recipe.

Only downside about this combo is the colouring – all sort of reddish brown. So maybe add some mange tout or a wee bit of salad on the side.

Wikipedia’s entry on Frikadeller is quite entertaining. I giggle over the way even the most profane things have their own entry.

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Like walking in water

is what my intellectual life has felt like lately. I’ve read a lot of very inspiring stuff but felt completely incapable of commenting on it in a way suitable for publication. But then I read how a children’s author found the courage to start writing: After decades of reading all the masters of both adult and children’s fiction, she’d built up a sizeable inferiority complex and felt incapable of writing anything of substance. But then she got the idea of approaching it the other way round. She went to the library and borrowed some really cr** children’s books and went home and read them. And then she read some more. And suddenly the writer’s block was gone  – ’cause anyone could write prose more engaging and interesting than what she’d just been reading.

So – after having read stuff by some of the world’s leading journalists and writers over the summer in Vanity Fair, Sunday Times, Wired etc., I’ve now stumbled around a bit and read some bits and bobs by more inferior writers and got my courage up :-)

I’ve been following the debate around Free. The debate started long before Chris Anderson’s book*, but it really took off after. And News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch has certainly stirred the pot with his claim that he’s very close to creating a pay-wall around his empire. What to think about all this? I’m still in doubt. I’m against downloading music without paying for it, but I happily use Grooveshark and Spotify to stream music. And I’m the first to say that the music industry has only itself to thank for its current predicament. I can still recall how my bosses in the Danish music industry laughed at me when I – in the very early 90ties – came home from a seminar in New York and told them that music was about to become digital and how that might have implications for copyright protection…

Would I pay for content? Yes, I think I would gladly pay for some content, if it were of high quality and delivered to me in a convenient and tailored format. I’m having news from BBC, Times of London, New York Times, The Guardian and Washington Post among others delivered to my computer and/or my phone on a daily basis. What if these could be tailored even more specifically to my needs and delivered in more reader friendly ways? Personally, I think micro-payment, as practised on Itunes and in the App store, is on the up and that our future credit card statements/phone bills will be full of miniature payments for all sorts of things, not only songs and apps, but news stories, TV-programmes, films, parking, bus tickets etc.

Anyway, if you haven’t followed the debate, here’s a few important articles on the subject: Anderson himself, Malcolm Gladwell’s dismissal of the idea, Murdoch’s vow to install a pay-wall, Andrew Keen‘s treatment of Pirate Bay and finally a summary on The Guardian’s tech pages (the best place to follow this debate, the Guardian’s online presence is by far the best on the web).

Another Big Story that I’ve been following over the summer is the story about the greatest swindler of them all, Bernie Madoff. Incredibly interesting and intriguing stuff! Vanity Fair is best for this story. Just go to their site and type in Madoff in the search field. The Guardian has collected everything about Madoff very neatly in one place if your time is too short for 3-4 VF articles…

Of course I’ve also been following the development in Iran – mostly via Twitter – and the situation in Afghanistan, which seems to deteriorate on a daily basis.

And then there’s the Birther movement and the “If Stephen Hawking had been English, he’d be dead” debate in the US. I absolutely love the latter – isn’t it just exceptional how the American right can get away with blatant lies. How can the people who work on Fox News and a whole host of other media spreading these insane rumours call themselves journalists? (Oh well, people who write about the latest shenanigans of 3rd rate TV stars also call themselves journalists – so much for that).

And I’ve been away on holiday – will not use the word st**cation – some of my Twitterfriends get sick when they hear the word – on the Sussex coast. We had a lovely totally holidayish time, kiting, crabbing, touring, playing Monopoly and Canasta, reading reading reading. Best book I read was Turbulence by Giles Foden. Absolutely brilliant – a must read. I’ll never badmouth the meteorologists again, promise! Above pictures are from holiday, inspired by Turbulence.

Finally, a recommendation. Youngest son Dane has been busy with scissors and glue since we came back. See the rather surprising results of his endeavours here.

* A funny aberdabei about Anderson’s book Free, is that it’s actually only free in the US. Over here we have to pay for it. So much for Free!

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I love this woman

Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy

Her name is Lenore and she’s a New Yorker. Some time ago she wrote a small article in a relatively obscure paper which inadvertently changed her life. She admitted that she’d let her child ride the subway alone… close your eyes and imagine the torrent of hatemail, calls etc. that landed on her. Or read her own very funny account of it all on Huffington Post. Here’s her blog – it’s all about Free Range Kids, she’s even written a book about it.

I’m completely devoid of inspiration today, so I’ll just pass you on to a handful of women, who all write very well, engaging and funny:

This one calls herself @titianred on Twitter, where she never fails to entertain. She loves Monday mornings – or so she says.

Here’s Razorkitty – an intelligent, beautiful woman, who’s comments are gold when you’re watching certain programmes on TV.

Clare is also an eminent Twitterer. She’s promised (it was you, wasn’t it Clare?) to write on her blog why it is that buying clothes at Boden is a no-go. I’m waiting in trepidation…

Last one – I’ve written about Tania Kindersley before – and her lovely book Backwards in High Heels, which you can read more about on her own blog.

Over and out from Sunny Surrey.

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#Iranelection

What’s with the # (hash-tag) you ask (if you’re not on Twitter). The above is the key word for any tweet about the Iranian election and the ensuing unrest.

Just read someone saying “You can’t trust all tweets about Iran”. No! Did anybody really think so? Can you trust anything fully? I don’t think so and I find this Iran-twitter-revolution thing totally fascinating and a great leap forward WITHOUT necessarily believing every tweet I get about the goings on there.

There are a number of reasons why:

  1. The people inside Iran can’t always get news verified before they post. Each Iranian tweeter values his or her own sources and tweets what he/she finds credible. When things get very heated, they might tweet something that is exaggerated or will later turn out to be false. That doesn’t discredit these people entirely!
  2. People outside who’re trying to make sense of tweets from inside are well-meaning people (mostly). They want to support the people inside Iran by RT’ing (re-tweeting, means forwarding) their messages to their own group of followers. Also called viral power.
  3. Apparently there are (this is NOT verified) government officials in Iran trying to infiltrate Twitter by posing as Mousavi-supporters. One must have one’s bullsh.. guard up.
  4. And then of course there are all the people here in the West who loves a “good story” more than anything. And in this particular species’ view, a “good story” is one with lots of blood and misery. They will exaggerate anything they hear and in no time stories will be blown out of proportion. This is something which also happened before the web, if I may just remind the Luddites out there.

So no, you cannot believe anything you read on Twitter, on my blog, in the Daily Mail (particularly not…), in the Times, on BBC Online or anywhere else. You must apply your own critical sense. After a while you realise that it is more often true what you find on BBC Online than what you read in the Daily Mail. OK. Now you know this. It’s still not a reason to now believe everything that’s on the BBC website. What you do know now though, is that when it makes sense to check something you read in the Daily Mail against what’s on the same subject in the Times, the other way round will only rarely pay off.

If you want to join in, start by reading the always sensible but engaged Cory Doctorow’s advice on how to go about tweeting #iranelection. Another trustworthy source of news from Iran is Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic. The most web-forward British paper is The Guardian, a journo there is live-blogging.

And – green is the colour of hope in Iran, so get out the greens!

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Is less always more or only sometimes?

Together with a lot of other Twitterers, I’ve enjoyed this article in the New York Times. It’s written by the clearly renowned writer Pico Iyer, although I *shamefully hangs head* had never heard of him. I must read one of his books. Any of you well read, sophisticated people out there have any suggestions?

The piece is about leaving most of his worldly possessions behind him and settling in humble dwellings in Japan. How it elates him and sets him free. Even if you have no dream of being able to do such a thing or even if you’re a real materialist hedonist (can one say that??), you should still read it. His writing is fabulous and very evocative.

I have little more to say today, other than bringing you this silly picture. Notice that it’s a first for me – I usually never fall for animal cuteness on the web, but this one really got me. Maybe because of the caption. It was brought to my attention by fellow happy twitterer @Eyglo from Iceland who also writes the excellent blog Ideary.

Sourced from @eyglo on Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/n5hg23
Sourced from @eyglo on Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/n5hg23

Oh yes and this, which I took yesterday when we decided on a quick walk in a strange forest. Sheep Leas, not far from Horsley, Surrey.

Dont say an Iphone cant take a decent pic.
Don't say an Iphone can't take a decent pic.
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Something to be thankful for? (and Aristotle for kids)

After using new Netvibes tools to arrange all the blogs I follow into neat groups, easy to sort through, I’ve hardly looked at them. The reason is the same as for not writing anything here. So today I thought I should have a quick look through them and see if there’s anything worth recommending. And of course there is. Lots.

Blogging

My favourite economist Tyler Cowen meets another favourite of mine, Happiness-blogger Gretchen Rubin IRL. He teases us with their discussion subjects, but ends post with this, which I find very promising for when I’ll someday meet some of my blogger-favourites myself:

I have never once met a person whose blog I like and then been disappointed.  Never.

Children

Another economist (author of Parentonomics) obviously writes a lot about parenting. He recommends this post, which is one of the best I’ve ever read about children. It’s about how to teach them to argue well. And yes, we DO want to teach them that. If you have children, read it, read it, read it.

Happiness

A blogger who tethers between economy and politics is Chris Dillow. He has an interesting and intriguing post about happiness, one of my pet subjects.

Food

On the very, very important subject of food, I’ve just finished reading this absolutely mouthwatering post about Southern (We’re talking about the Southern US here) food prepared in a Northern kind of way. Oh me oh my; for a person who was in culinary heaven while travelling the US South and particularly in New Orleans, this post will inspire to quite a few meals around here. What do you say to Garlic Bread Pudding? I say YES.

Via one of my favourite food writers, Mark Bittman, is here a little treat to go with barbecued greens: Chili oil.

On being a woman, a mum, a person

Quite a while ago Tania Kindersley wrote the most beautiful and poetic post about what we do when a bad mood strikes. Except that I could never hope to write such adorable prose it echoes what I often think myself on these matters. How I wonder where the bad mood came from, what to do to expell it or even if I should (when not affecting others, of course). Tania has taken time off from her blog and Twitter and I must say, I truly miss her! Btw Tania, I was thinking we should also reflect on those days when we wake up in a great mood, equally inexplicably. That’s one of my favourite experiences of daily life -when you suddenly find that your spirits are high and the world looks like a friendly place. Where did it come from? We might never know. But I’m thankful.

The debate about working mums contra stay-at-home mums is still roaring. Here are three prominent voices: Sarah Vine in the Times. A fuming reply from “Potty Mummy”, a stay-at-home mum and a reply to this from Times editor Jennifer Howse on the Times Alpha Mummy blog. (Don’t bother with the comments, they are depressing, I just hate it when women are so poisonous against each other).

I am an in-betweener. I work, but I do it at home and often I don’t do much of it. But I would never choose to be a stay-at-home mum for the sole sake of my children. Although I love to cook and bake cupcakes, I’m just not the type. And I hate, HATE cleaning. I don’t entertain my children, I’m lousy at keeping up with their homework, I always try to wriggle out of playing board games etc. etc. And excursions never EVER go to kiddy entertainment places, but invariably to National Trust properties, Good Long Walks or museums etc. etc. I find it difficult to relate to many of the issues raised by the stay-at-home mums of my acquaintance, as I find them boring, quite simply. And I worry that they over-protect and overwhelm their children with their presence.

But I’m glad that I don’t have to go to work every day, because I do get to pick up son after school and chat with him, I do get to sit down with him and do something he wants, I do get to watch his TV favourites over his shoulder and I do get to make sure that he eats good and varied meals (almost) every day. And I don’t have to live in constant panic of him falling ill (which is probably why he never does).

But I can certainly relate to some of the points raised by Sarah Vine – the total lack of social status, the complete invisibility at social gatherings, the lack of a social life (besides Twitter…). I thoroughly miss the social status my job used to give me and it’s no use claiming that I don’t. But I don’t miss the stress of office life, the (sometimes) awful malice of other women, the struggle to live with a boss who’s just not that bright…

Bottom line I guess is same old, same old. You can’t have it all. So sit back and enjoy what you do have, while you still have it. Veeeery philosophical and not even very profound, I know. But that’s me.

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