Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Rituals

On the Millennium new year's eve of 1999-2000, I was determined to have good luck so I tried to perform every ritual I could find. 2008 wasn't particularly lucky for me and my loved ones so maybe I'll try to recreate it again...

Here's a list that I'm compiling. Feel free to share yours!

* Drinking champagne at midnight
* Kissing a loved one at midnight
* Eating twelve grapes at midnight and making a wish after each of them
* Wearing yellow underwear at midnight
* Turning your underwear inside out at midnight
* Walking around the house with a suitcase to travel in the new year
* Wearing polka dots to bring good luck
* Setting off fireworks and banging pots and pans at midnight
* Have large denomination $ in your pocket at midnight to get money in the new year.
* Throwing water out of the windows to wash away evil spirits at midnight
* Throwing flowers in the water as an offering to the Brazilian goddess of love.
* Eating Collard Greens for money on new year's day
* Eating Hoppin' Johns for luck on new year's day

Friday, December 19, 2008

In action in Uganda

In June, I presented at a conference in Uganda supported by the RAISE Initiative. I was just checking out their website and found these photos of me "In action" - thought I would share them. See - from running around in landcruisers and interviewing women in war zones, I've turned into a convention-eer. But what a nice convention it was by the shores of Lake Victoria.

For any JSI alum reading this, yes, that is Steve Kinzett that I'm hanging out with.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gotan Project in Amsterdam

I first heard of Gotan Project when I was visiting a journalist in Pretoria, South Africa. She was from Uruguay and she was playing it while we had dinner with her. I had Bajofonda Tango cd at home and immediately rushed to get the Gotan Project. I've been listening to them ever since. About a month and a half ago, I was in line to buy tickets to see Stereolab when I saw that Gotan was coming to town. I bought a ticket for 30 euros. I love Amsterdam's music scene. You can get into some amazing venues and see great music for really not that much money. Here they are performing my favorite song which they rocked tonight. enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Over sensitive? Or insensitive?

Following is the invitation that was sent out in my organization inviting us to the Xmas party. The party was held last year in the cafeteria of the building and we were all invited to bring our iPods for music. While we always pinch pennies around here - the other branches of our organization have their parties in pubs or outside the organization or have a luncheon.

I was completely offended and annoyed by this invite and am going to boycott the party. Am I over-sensitive and surly? Or are they insensitive? I invite you to weigh in at the comments section...

The Management Team of (MY ORGANIZATION) would like to invite you all for the yearly Christmas Party. But this is not all.. the MT would also like to invite you to join our effort to get ready for the New Year.

How? After five years our office is getting messy, with (empty?) boxes on top of cupboards, old and teared posters, never used shadow archives, and other stuff.
Therefore we feel it is time for a big clean up. We will start this exercise as of 14 o'clock and hope all will join to take out everything that is not useful anymore.
Facilities will place containers on each floor to collect our junk. Around 17.30 our office should be tidy so we can start the Christmas Party, where our caterer will serve drinks and bites in junk-style..

RSVP: Please inform Service point before Friday December 12th if you join the Christmas Party.

Hope to see you all there!
Best wishes,
The Management Team

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dusseldorf Weihnachtmark

In order to get into the Christmas spirit, I traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany this past weekend to visit the Christmas Market (or Weihnachtmarkt). Dusseldorf is about 2 and 1/2 hours from Amsterdam so it was an easy trip there. Holland's main Christmas type celebration is Sinterklaas (with my pal, Zwarte Piet)which isn't as big on the decorations that recall "Christmas" to Americans. In fact, the decorations tend to be black men scaling walls with sacks over their shoulders and tall bony bishops. Don't even get me started on the special that I saw with a Miley Cyrus type girl singing a song with six back up dancer Zwarte Piets doing "egyptian" style moves.

Back to Germany! A friend once told me that all Christmases are based off the German model. And going to the Weihnachtmark definitely puts you in a "Holly Jolly" mood! We drank copious amounts of Gluhewein (a hot spiced red wine), ate bratwurst, roasted chestnuts, Flamkuchen (a cheesy pizza type thing with bacon and onion!), crepes, chocolate, and more gluhewein. While you gorge yourself, you can wander from decorated square to decorated square and look at handmade angel chimes, candles, sheepskins, tree decorations, angels, jewelry, and all manner of gifts. In the old town market, the altstadt, they had displays of traditional crafts with wood workers, ironsmiths, candlestick makers, and glassblowers making and displaying their wares. But back to the food.... the point of the market is definitely the food. We ate our way across the market and back and still managed to find room for more!

It wasn't super cold, which was a bit of a relief, as I've been recovering from the flu, but we had a lovely time wandering around for two days. I'm definitely in the Christmas mood now - and not feeling overwhelmed or negative like I often do in the US where I'm overwhelmed by adverts telling me to BUY BUY BUY! Support the economy! Get a diamond from your boyfriend because if he doesn't buy you one, he doesn't love you! Shop til you drop! I guess I prefer to eat til I pop!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Banishing a Bad Mood

Have you ever just been overtaken by irritation, anger, snappishness and the like? I once walked into my friend Alec's office and noticed that he seemed like he was in a bad mood. I said "I sense an air of pissiness about you" and it sent him into a totally terrible mood. Today, I don't know what happened - I had a great weekend seeing my friend Dumiak at the Dusseldorf Christmas market and chatting with my friend Jen over dinner. It's Monday morning. I woke up late, I rushed to work, I couldn't get motivated to do anything and suddenly - I was in a bad mood. Every email is infuriating me. Every minute late people are to talk to me is a minute too much (coming from someone who is chronically late, this is rich).

I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to be bothered. I want to sit on the couch and knit or pet Simon. I want to lay in bed and sleep. I certainly don't want to struggle with my colleagues at work and attend meetings and push along my dreary work. It's an uphill struggle every day anyway, and it doesn't help when a bad mood has perched itself on my shoulders and is threatening to make me lose my temper and say or do something I might regret. I still have four hours left in the day and numerous minefields to avoid.

So - according to the internet, here are some ways to banish my bad mood. I would appreciate any readers sending suggestions of their own as well.

Step 1: Decode Your Mood
Sometimes you know exactly what’s upsetting you. Or do you? Figure out what’s wrong.

Step 2: Calm Down
Start by taking a few deep breaths to get your emotions under control. Then choose one or more of the following techniques to help clear your mind.

Focus on Breathing
Take 10 deep breaths. Breathing may help restore the balance between the parasympathetic (or restorative) and sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous systems, buffering your body’s natural reaction to stressful situations.

Make a Pie Chart
Draw a circle and create slices of a pie chart to represent all the things that are upsetting you. Include everything you can think of, even if it’s as mundane as the nonstop rain outside. The act of presenting your concerns visually clarifies things making the problems easier to identify and therefore to manage.

Find a Quiet Place
Ideally, go someplace where you can have privacy to shut down the stimulation to your brain. If you’re at a busy place, like your office or a restaurant, he suggests, head to the bathroom and take a few minutes for yourself. If you’re at home, go to your bedroom or a place that feels comforting.

Distract Yourself
Read a favorite funny website, play with your dog, fold laundry, or wash dishes for a few minutes. Diversions allow your emotions to calm down. And because your brain keeps processing the problem even when you’re not consciously thinking about it, you’ll be better able to deal with the issue once you return to it.

Get Some Exercise
If possible, go out for a brisk walk, or do some stretches or yoga poses. Just 10 minutes of an active and distracting activity breaks the flow of rumination and lifts people’s moods. This leads them to think more clearly.

Blow Off Steam
Call a patient friend. Be sure to tell her you’re not trying to fix anything — you just want a listener. Talking through your concerns makes them seem more manageable. But once you’ve vented, it’s important to let it go.

Step 3: Create a Strategy
Talk to a Problem-Solver
People often think they should be able to handle problems on their own, and they don’t want to burden others. But it’s easier to strategize with support. Discuss things you can do to feel better as well as fix the problem.

Make a List
It should include things that will make you feel better, like sending flowers to your husband, calling Dad’s doctor to discuss his progress, or going to the gym at lunchtime. Lists force you to structure your concerns and help you move into problem-solving mode. Number the items in the order that you want to accomplish them.

Visualize Your Ideal
Take a few minutes to close your eyes and picture what you want in the moment, as if it’s actually happening. This visualization technique is basically a form of rehearsal. For instance, after you and your sister argue, imagine the two of you having a great time over dinner at your favorite restaurant. The memories of the fight will be replaced by a positive picture of harmony and fun.