Burger, fries and ketchup on black plate

Do parents know better? A family story revisited

This is about family moments, about parents and children, about communication and respect. Being a parent is not easy. Sadly it doesn’t come with instructions. Our only hope is love. And laughing together.

This is my family’s Ketchup story which I first published a few days ago. Listening to the suggestions of friends I decided to rewrite it in a more dramatic way that doesn’t give away the outcome so quickly. This is my effort to rewrite the sequence in a more structured way, which is ultimately more enjoyable to read. I hope. Here it goes:

It’s Saturday morning and the family decided to go shopping. No shortage of needs in a house with two teenagers. At lunch time after all the absolutely, definitely, necessary items were bought, we go to their favourite restaurant for a quick lunch. Burgers all around.

And my husband decides it is best he handles the ketchup bottle so that the kids don’t make a mess.

And he shakes the Ketchup bottle while open. Why, I do not know. Why would anyone shake a ketchup bottle? Let’s just assume he thought this would make the sauce come out easier. And it did! All over the place! Not only on the plates but also on the table, the cutlery, the glasses.

The trajectory of the movement was marked in red. Thick red sauce. Only, we soon realised, the traces weren’t stopping at the edge of our table, rather they were visible on the floor leading to a shopping bag by the next table. The family sitting there didn’t realise what happened, but when I saw the red marks inside their bag, I just looked at my husband with eyes wide open. I couldn’t stop laughing despite the embarrassment!

Why on Earth did he think he could do this better that the kids?

Why assume they would make a mess and he wouldn’t? They are teenagers not toddlers.

Whatever possesses us parents and makes us believe we know better than them? About everything, not just ketchup. I will always remember that story for two reasons. First, I laughed a lot! Second, it made me think about our role as parents. We don’t always know better, and even if we do, we still make mistakes. And one more thing: Always ensure ketchup bottle is closed before shaking it! Or rather don’t shake it.

Is is a successful attempt? I’d love to know what you think in your reply.

Two person's hands holding white printer paper edges above brown table

How to organise your office and take charge of your life

Organising your tasks, whether at home or at the office, is so much easier these days. Paperless is the word! It is about time all those task management applications enter your life and remove clutter.

Desperately looking for your notes a few minutes before an important presentation can be disastrous. So is looking for a file while your boss is on the line. Today there are so many meetings, phone-calls and distractions during the day. Every day. It is imperative we take charge of all tasks, plan and organise them and keep them on track.

Organising makes you more efficient. It improves time management and enables you to free some time and concentrate on what really matters. So, here are some useful applications for you to consider:

TODOIST: https://todoist.com/

Google Keep: https://keep.google.com/u/0/

Evernote: https://evernote.com/

ToodleDO: https://www.toodledo.com/

AnyDO: https://www.any.do/

Wunderlist: https://www.wunderlist.com/

There is lots to choose from according to your individual needs and lifestyle. And they are mostly free. Usually they offer a basic version for free and charge a monthly fee for some more specialized upgrades. You can seriously take charge of your life and control all the information at work and at home.

Woman in front of computer screen

What to look out for in Online Courses

Continuing Education in the digital age.

Are online learning courses worth the effort? Yes!

I have enrolled in quite a few during the past couple of years; some free, some quite expensive. Here are the main elements to consider irrespective of the topic:

  • Video. Courses without video are boring. No matter how dedicated you might be, they are really difficult to follow. Completing them was a struggle each time. Video is helpful even if the tutor isn’t charismatic on camera. The experience is particularly enjoyable when the tutor has an interesting presence. This was the case once and I would repeat sections just to hear them explain it again!
  • Tests. Yes tests, even automated ones, help a lot. At first, I thought they were pretty basic and boring, but actually they make you re-think the content, process the information in your mind and thus learn it better.
  • Personalised feedback from a tutor. When an online course offers that option, it’s the best! Ever since a joined such a course for the first time, I decided to never pay for another one again that doesn’t provide this service. Personalised feedback from your tutor is really helpful and their comments can be really inspiring.
  • Peer feedback. That is the next best option. Peer feedback is useful and interesting, especially if a lot of participants are involved. It is nice to find out what others think of your work, but clearly not as useful as the opinion of an expert.

I have to admit I am addicted to online courses! It is so easy to learn new things from the comfort of your own home. The cost is minimal, and you can usually make whatever time allowances fit your schedule. Learning new skills is exciting and refreshing and I sincerely recommend it. Most of the courses are self-paced and can be adjusted to the busiest lifestyles. Even 10 minutes a day or an hour per week can make a huge difference.

My favourite courses in terms of presentation and interactivity were with Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education and Udemy. Courses offered by edX are very varied and always useful.

The topics I study about are creative writing and grammar and style. I have also attended courses on blogging and online writing as well as digital marketing.

Browsing through the options I am amazed by the abundance of options that are available today. So many areas of knowledge, such horizons in our fingertips. I am grateful for this wonderful technology that brings learning in my house. Thank you!

I’d love to know about your experience with online learning. Have you started or still thinking about it? Send me a reply and let me know.

Colourful balloons. Happy New Year! Happy Moments!

My Inspiration for 2019: Judith Kerr

A creative woman at the age of 95

Most of this post is an excerpt from my Diary, from the pages where I tell myself how to plan my future. New Year’s Day post is dedicated to true role models and genuine inspiration.

A few days ago, I read one of the most inspiring articles ever. The interview of a lady at 95 who still writes or draws for two hours every morning so that she feels that the day “isn’t wasted”! I love Judith Kerr. She’s lived a creative life and continues to do so. She walks to the river for inspiration, she enjoys wonderful meals at the Savoy. Clearly, she has a mindset of usefulness and productivity. And she started writing and drawing in her forties. Which is excellent. Which means I can do this too.

That is what I dream of for myself. A full life where I forever create something useful, have a distinct reason for waking up every morning and lead an interesting life. She is active and alert and optimistic and quality driven. That is my role model. A 95 years old lady who still produces work and eats lobster at the Savoy while being interviewed for the Guardian

I love her energy, and the fact that she is happy about her grandchildren living in Rome, because that gives her an excuse to go to Rome. She loves that when they come to London they are excited about visiting places. I love her spirit, her mindset, her point of view. I love that she is alive and finds sincere and deep beauty in everything.

I want to become such a woman. A creative person, in peace with myself, in peace with my creativity and my desire to be useful. So, I too want to create something beautiful, and useful and interesting. I want to be that person that is calm and creative and respected and enjoys life and actively creates beauty! A person that has something to contribute to the world.

I’m so excited about Judith Kerr. That she exists is testament that I can make my dreams come true. That it is possible and feasible and real. I know it isn’t going to be easy. I don’t want it to be easy.

I wish everyone a HAPPY NEW YEAR full of LOVE and INSPIRATION!

I’d love to read about your inspiration. Send me a reply and let me know.

Family enjoying burgers for lunch

My funny story: The family at the restaurant

As it is Christmas time it feels appropriate to share a funny story. It is a true family story that happened a while ago but stuck with us. It makes us all laugh every time we remember it. I hope you will enjoy reading it!

Well, once upon a time …

On a typical Saturday morning, the whole family decided to go shopping. No shortage of needs in a house with two teenage girls. The morning at the stores went more or less as expected. After all the absolutely definitely necessary items were bought, which was about lunch time, we decided to go to their favourite restaurant for a quick bite. Favourite restaurant for teenagers means noise, excitement, crowds. It means food that arrives late, a table near a birthday gathering, teenagers arguing about silly things and parents trying to survive the experience.

Heinz tomato ketchup bottle on the table
Are you sure you want ketchup?

Despite all this, my husband and I wanted to be part of this liveliness, plus we enjoy the taste of this food. So we are all at the table and plates arrive. Burgers all around. And my husband decides it’s best he handles the ketchup bottle so that the kids don’t make a mess. And he shakes the bottle while it is open. And ketchup sauce ends up not only at our table, but also inside the shopping bag of a lady sitting at the next table. So embarrassing! Just picture our faces looking at the traces of ketchup. Eyes wide open and mouths without words. What was worse I do not know; that he thought he could do this better than the kids, or that he spoiled the white garment inside the bag.

A disaster on all accounts that gave real pleasure to our girls. Yes, parents aren’t perfect. What came next was a frantic effort to clean everything up, finish food and go as soon as possible. Lesson learned: Always ensure ketchup bottle is closed before shaking it!

And another lesson: trust your kids to know a thing or two. I just hope and wish we all enjoy a lot of wonderful moments with them. Moments that we will remember and cherish for many years to come!

I’d live to read your funny story! Send me a reply and let me know.

Squirrel on its feet in Hyde Park London

My Christmas story: The day a squirrel bit me

Honestly, a squirrel! It was at the University park on a cold yet lovely day. The sun was shining, and the atmosphere was crystal clear. I was there with a friend enjoying the scenery, the beautiful English nature.  There is a lake and swans and trees and plenty of squirrels running around. They are used to students visiting so they were not afraid of us.  Lovely English park.

I’m not used to seeing squirrels running around so I was very excited and decided to give them some nuts I had bought for myself. It was a nice big bag full of walnuts, and peanuts and hazelnuts. I put one at the tip of my finger extended my hand and waited. They looked at it rather sceptically, indecisive at first. Until a brave little guy made the first move. Once suitability and tastiness were verified all of them helped themselves from my hand. Lovely creatures.

All was well and everybody was happy until the bag got empty. Party suddenly over! But I didn’t want it to end, and my little brave friend didn’t want it to end either. It  stood there waiting for more. There was no more nuts but I was enjoying the game and so I extended my arm without a nut on my finger. Happy and excited once again, it opened its mouth to grab the nut but failed to sense something crunchy and tasteful. Its teeth grabbed something soft, tasteless and non-detachable, the tip of my finger. Its teeth got stuck either side of my nail and the little guy was more surprised than I was. Pain was far less important than surprise! For a few seconds I was looking at it trying to run away but not being able to. The tiny teeth anchored on my finger. It took e few seconds to realise that it needed to open its mouth widely to free itself. Then it run away, never looking back.

The scene ended with quite some blood coming from my finger and a visit to the local pharmacist for a tetanus shot, just in case.

I have to say this is one of the happiest moments in my life. The interaction with the little guy, the serene environment of the park, the laughs of my friend who couldn’t believe that a squirrel could actually bite a human. Well, it was accidental; the tip of my finger does look like a hazelnut.

I can smell the soil and the trees and the leaves on the ground. They make musical sounds that celebrate the connection to the Earth. The sun is there shining through the branches and the leaves. Humidity is there to protect and nourish the fragility and beauty of English greenery. And I see the main building of the University of Nottingham in the distance. How I wish to go back! How I wish to be the victim of a human-biting squirrel again!

Merry Christmas!

White keyboard and black tablet on yellow surface

No more “How to …” posts! What do you think?

Yes, Internet is a tool. It can help us connect and learn and communicate. We use it to find information, to amuse ourselves, to do our job. And we use it because we want to learn more things, new things, better things.

I want to learn how to improve my writing. How to better communicate with my tribe and share my thoughts. I am trying to find out the right tone of voice, the right topic, the best way to put my words in a line so people can understand me. And help me.

In my effort to achieve this I have been bombarded by “how to …” posts. There are hundreds of them on any topic, often entailing conflicting guidelines.

Do write often – Do not write often

Do write for content mills – Do not write for content mills

Do share personal staff – Do not share personal staff

There is lists and lists of “how to …” and “what to do …” everywhere online. And once they find out you are interested, they overwhelm you with e-mails and webinars and magical documents that solve everything.

My problem is, I am starting to feel they are lacking in honesty. Somebody somewhere decided that this type of posts and articles interest people. That they draw traffic and establish platforms. And maybe they do. I don’t know. So many websites are doing this, I guess it must be working!

But those writers, do they really think about me when they write? Do they think of a person, any person, as they write? Or do they follow the rules of success? Make up a list of instructions, make them easy to read and simple and approachable and off it goes. I am starting to feel neglected.

How about we share more truth and less guidelines? The most useful and inspirational piece of content I read online recently was the interview of Judith Kerr in the Guardian. She is a 95 years old woman and every day she writes her books, she draws, she walks to the river. In her interview she simply talks about her life, her choices, her way of doing things. And that is great. She shares her experience with no intention to teach the reader or offer instructions. She just lives the way that is fulfilling for her. I wish to become like that one day. And she simply talks about her life. That is truly inspirational!

Back to the “how to …” content. I think I’ve already had enough. I long to read more true stories, honest stories, human stories about writing, living, learning. And maybe that is the path I am to follow.

What do you think about all those articles offering guidelines? Do you enjoy them or have you also had enough?

Do you think they lack soul?

Teenn boy on bike looking ahead

How to inspire a teenager. Any ideas?

Well, I need some ideas for teenager inspiration. Can you help?

Life is full of surprises, we know that by now. And one thing is absolutely certain, that things change! As I was growing up, I used to think nothing would ever really change. I don’t know why I believed that so firmly.

About a decade ago, the dialing codes in my area were changed. When I first heard of that, I thought it was impossible. How could the telecommunications company change all those numbers? I thought the numbers  would simply stay the same. Needles to say that the numbers did change; at least twice since then. I was so surprised when this first happened. And I was also surprised when Internet arrived at my house. I still remember the sound of the connection the modem made. Loud and strange and it clearly signified that something new was arriving in the room. Obviously I also thought that the mobile phone idea would never catch on…

Today I am a huge fun of connectivity and new technology. I love learning about all the new things that are entering our lives like Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning and Big Data and Internet of Things and so much more. I love all that. I love the tools they provide for change. Because change is here. It always was, and it always will be. I know that now, and I welcome it.

 My only concern is that my children, and all the children, appreciate what is happening. It is important they know that things change, and they need to be ready for it. Strong and prepared and actually looking forward to changing. Not in a bad way but in an exciting way.

And that is why I need your help! How do we motivate them? How do we explain the necessity for readiness? I strongly believe that they need to be inspired, to fall in love with the prospects of our times.

They can instantly communicate with everybody everywhere and learn and play and share and participate. How do we inspire them to enjoy that and not take it for granted? To live their life to the fullest? How do we inspire them to learn, and then learn some more so that they can play an active part in forming their future?

I so want them to be in charge of their lives. To be ready and strong and decisive. To claim their identity, their autonomy, their dreams. No limits, no restrictions in terms of growth and development. Oh, I so want children to grow strong and powerful. To know that it’s up to them to build the person they want to be. To know that they can, and they must. To know that this is their privilege and their destiny. To claim the power to determine their choices, use their successes and their failures to pave their path to their happiness.

Any ideas?

Good Newspaper - Good Manners colourful artwork

What do you think about good manners?

On being polite

Today, with two teenagers in the house, I felt the need to write this post about good manners. It is all about respect; self-respect as well as respect for others.

This is my monologue to them, my preaching and my effort to help them lead a happy life. 

This is also a good exercise, forcing me to clarify my message. Find the right balance between yesterday and tomorrow and express myself in a way that is clear, precise and contemporary! If it isn’t, they are never going to bother with it.

This is my effort to define the boundaries within which freedom and personal expression can really flourish.

Prospects, reasons and aspirations

I want my kids to behave appropriately every time. I want them to know the right thing to do even if they choose not to do it -occasionally!

"Good vibes only" written in the sand

I dream of a world where people respect each other even when they disagree. A place of honesty and integrity where there is no need for pretension, no desire to force personal opinions upon others.

Today people are often rude and disrespectful for no real reason, just because it is trendy to challenge the rules, authority, the government, the law, other people. Some object to good manners and politeness because they consider them too old fashioned and restrictive.

OK, there is an ambiguity as far as politeness is concerned. Politeness can be an act of conviviality and respect, but it can also be an act of hypocrisy. A set of rules which dictates that one is always pleased to meet someone, to find them interesting; that one has a pleasing demeanour  in every setting. A model behaviour for every social situation can be daunting.

I want to argue that freedom lies within the walls of respect, within the rules of society which are there to express our need for order, to protect us from chaos and give us the space to express ourselves without fear.

I aspire to convince my children that being polite is not old-fashioned but instead it is necessary for progress. For our development at a personal level, as well as our advancement as a society. According to Steven Pinker in his book The better angels of our nature good manners have led humanity to less violence and thus more progress.

Identify the reasons for being polite

In our modern society we get to choose. We get to choose our identity and our standing within our community. There is room for everyone and everything. One can find a group of peers in any setting, be it elegant and polite or completely vulgar and disrespectful.

My main concern is that there is awareness. Awareness and choice. It is imperative that every person makes a conscious choice bearing in mind the reasons and of course the anticipated outcome.

Behaving politely in any environment not only portrays you beautifully within the group of people but it is also effective in creating partnerships and alliances; in finding support and thus progressing.

What is life and happiness if not acceptance and support?

My dearest child, you need to be polite so that people see you, the real you, and are not thrown off by bad manners and lack of respect.

Everybody wants to feel respected and valued. Everybody deserves to be respected and valued.

What do you think? Do you value politeness or do you find it hypocritical?

Inside a tree, among the branches and the leaves

A child remembers: Inside the pistachio tree

I’m in the pistachio tree watching my mother walk away. Here to stay for two months with grandpa and grandma. In the little house in a field with trees and flowers and vegetables all around. There are lots and lots of pistachio trees for me to climb, and lots of pine trees in the forest on higher ground.

Up there is my fairyland with a swing hanging from the tallest tree, and a view of the sea in the distance. I can still, even now, smell the pine leaves on the wet ground, the earthiness of the land. I can hear the bells from the sheep grazing nearby, while staring at the dark damp soil underneath my feet. 

Child on a swing in the air

The real action is inside my pistachio tree. The one on the edge of the field, the one that allows me to see everything without being seen. It is my castle and my ship, my joy. The challenge is to reach as high as possible.

It is lonely in there too. My grandpa takes care of the trees and the vegetables, and my grandma looks after the house and cooks our meals. I’m alone but I’m also free to climb, to hide, to fall and get up, to get hurt and get happy.

Sometimes I get off my tree in order to create mud pies adorned with beautiful plants. The flowers are offering their petals for my creations and my tree is always there to hide me. Especially if I damaged granny’s favourite flower, or rather the second favourite. The one she likes the most is protected by bees. It has big, red and orange petals shaped like a funnel, with yellow stems. Inside there is always, always bees. They are like an army of protectors guarding its beauty.

My grandmother only calls me over to eat. The best food ever! Eggs and sausages fried in a tiny old pan; so bumped it can hardly stand straight over the fire. But it cooks for me and only me. The white is so shiny and the yellow so bright. The warmth of the sun in my plate!

I eat, I play, I make my artwork and I make a mess and back again inside my pistachio tree. High up among the branches and the leaves, looking to see if my mother is coming back.

Have you got any memories to share?