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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Animals needing help.

I got another urgent mail from Michelle of the L.A. Rabbit Foundation. It seems that bunnies keep coming in at the shelter.  From the Netherlands it's hard to help, but maybe you, dear reader, can?

Please visit:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A new backpack

In Dutch there is a metaphor in which a backpack signifies the load of life experiences or physical complications one carries into the future. Sometimes the backpack is replaced by a suitcase but the metaphor stays the same.

I have been having some real backpack troubles a few weeks ago. 

My favourite backpack was a blue-green one that I bought one or two years ago in a time in which I saw how my relationship with my mother had truncated my own personal development. Now it was time to work on my own life and I loved the coincidence of owning a new backpack while making a new start.
Over time I started to embellish the backpack with artificial flowers.  It was a game with a very simple rule: the flowers should not have been bought, begged for or stolen. I would either have to find them or receive them as a gift. As it turned out they were all single flowers, lost by their owners, lying bedraggled on the sidewalks or in the grass borders along the streets. A colourful mix of rejects showing off their worth on my bag. I fear I identified myself with them.

And now the zipper had given in... just while I had no money to have it repaired and wasn't able to repair it myself....
But no problem... I kept the bag for show and dug up an old backpack I got through the food bank, upon which I depended 5 years ago. Not exactly a favorite, but still pretty good.
That's what the cat thought too, when he used it instead of the litter box, making it totally unsuitable for buying food. Even carrying other stuff in it didn't sit well with me...
In only a couple of days I had lost two backpacks. My shopping tour for an affordable one did not pay off, so I settled for using my other bags instead. Who needs a backpack? 

A little while later.... just when I was not looking for a backpack, but only for comfort by visiting a dear friend and going out shopping together... did I run into it... the perfect backpack: the right size, beautiful color and a not too common design. All this and still fitting well within my budget. I took it from the shelf thinking how I didn't need it... I was doing pretty well using my shoulder- and handbags... but suddenly my heart leaped and I saw Serendipity smiling at me from behind the store's rack, whispering that it had a different value... worthy of a new blog post.

I saw what she meant. A new start. Letting go of old views and values. Even better: a backpack is not for carrying around old pain, it's for carrying what you can use to build the best possible future. It's a tool bag!

No longer asking Why but How...
For so often I have analysed why I have stranded in the here and now. I think I did find the answer.  But it's only of use if I see its lesson, get off my ass and walk again. Carrying only the new wisdom, not its history, with me.
I shouldn't put my dysesthesia and tinnitus in my backpack and definitely not the story of how I got them.. But the new life style, the techniques and list of good foods that are beneficial in my current physical condition.
And I have a lot of new 'things'  -sorry folks-  to put in my backpack: from dog walking and yoga to a whole bunch of new friends. 
The hike would no longer be about looking back to see which stone has "made"  me trip (huh huh.. I tripped over it) but about looking around to enjoy the view and  looking forward to see what should be my next step. 

If you pack your backpack that way, you are traveling as light as you can.

Hm, wonder what the beautiful cognac color of this new bag might signify :)

 Here -in Dutch- the solution Brigitte Kaandorp found for her life's suitcase ... leaving it behind. If you like it, you can keep it, but you'd better not.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Teaching Social Skills

Alan Rewines sighed mentally, facing his class. It was the 6th and final grade of his primary school. 28 pupils who formed quite a manageable class, the usual mixture of popular kids, easy going boys and girls and the few odd ones. 28 pairs of eyes were looking at him expectantly, some were even bursting with tension. No wonder, two days ago over half of the kids stayed after school to do a test for joining the team that would represent the school in the game show “Runaround”. A large number of multiple choice questions and the 5 pupils with the highest score would form the team.

“Runaround” was a TV show in which two schools would compete by answering multiple choice questions. There were things to be won for the school and each team member could take his personal Runaround T-shirt home as a trophy. There would be the returning guests: a magician and the curator of mammals of “Animal park Wassenaar”, bringing in one of the zoo's animals and interesting special guests. The show was immensely popular. Alan's class of two years ago had applied and finally the school was number one on the waiting list.

Alan had checked all the test results and was now going to announce who would be in the team.
He had memorized how he would tell the news, because it meant a slight change of the rules. It involved Hannah, the daughter of a military officer whom he had moved away from the left row of seats, along the windows on the right, to the middle row. She was sitting somewhere at the back of the room, just in front of Jack the class' artist while John, the class clown and close friend of Jack, was seated at the end of the row along the left wall with windows. This way Alan could check on this year's odd one's in one glance.
Hannah was taken away from her window seat because … because she was staring out too much, day dreaming no doubt. Not that it affected her work, she had the best grades of her class. But she had been making drawings of the sunset she had obviously watched too often during the first hour in school during the past winter months. And of a dog named Max, who appeared several times per day at the small window of the apartment right across the street, as she had explained. Not to mention -here Alan's nostril's flared with anger again - the wanted poster she had drawn. It read “Wanted, rather dead than alive. Teaches kids all kinds of mistakes.” Between those lines was his head. She had drawn his profile, but the likeness was clear. Too clear. Odd, how could it have escaped him while she had been working on it? It was her father, laughing over it, who had drawn his attention to the wanted poster during an “open night” where all parents were present to look at their children's work. Alan remembered the sting of this moment of public humiliation.
Hannah's father should instead have been displeased with his daughter's lack of respect. The teacher shrugged away the idea. That would never happen because it was the father who was behind the disrespect. At the first parent-teacher conference of this year the man had kept nagging about something that had to do with his, Alan's, geography lessons. Oh yes... Alan teaches his pupils that the inhabitants of Libya are called Libyan or Lebanese. What had aggravated Hannah's father most, was that he had made Alan aware of this mistake two years earlier, when Hannah's brother was in the 6th grade. And the teacher had obviously refused to correct this. As if teachers were to obey every hint of the parents...
So the Wanted Poster was actually the result of what went on at home. Not only was the girl being taught to be disrespectful to her teacher, the headmaster, she also had a violent streak in her... rather dead than alive! Maybe military men should not raise children.

As the teacher's eyes came to the one-before-last desk of the middle row, he adjusted his calculation. 27 pairs of eyes were at him... Hannah, though clearly as tense as the other contestants, had her eyes on her empty desk. Weak in social skills, and he, Alan, knew the root of the problem.
He moved his eyes to the other Hannah. Such a difference.
She came to this school in 4th grade and quickly became popular. Whereas the first Hannah had never been able to replace her friend who left school halfway second grade, due to a move to the east of the country. Now she was chummy with Jack and John. They even made homework together, Alan guessed. The boys showed an unexpected improvement in their homework and he knew they were not being tutored by an official teacher.
The other Hannah, Hannah 2, was on the list of children who were to represent the school in Runaround. Because of her spontaneity and pleasant manners. A pleasant popular pupil, like the other four he had selected. Of course they were, they all came from nice families who taught their children about community involvement by setting an example. The 2nd Hannah's mother was a member of the PTA, together with Angela's mother, who replaced the father of Daniel, a loyal member for 3 years, while his wife was still active for the school in other areas. Of course one didn't have to be a PTA member to teach one's children about commitment and loyalty. One could volunteer for events for instance. Like the parents of Michael, who were around whenever sports events took place and parents were needed as team captains. Or one could help out with the less exciting jobs, like covering the new school books or repairing desks and chairs. Robin's parents managed to turn such an evening into a great get together. Alas, it was a small circle of parents who did this regularly and it was important to reward them. They were like a circle of friends by now and it would be bad for the school to waste such loyalty.

OK kids, I know you are all anxious to hear who will be on our Runaround team. So be quiet and I will read the names.” Mouths tightened in response.
Daniel. Angela. Michael... Robin and … Hannah 2.” Chatter, congratulations and five proud faces, glancing round to classmates.
“Sir, we want to know the outcome of the test. Who was best?” John had permitted himself to raise his voice without even raising his finger. Why John? The boy who would certainly not be high on the list and who only joined in for fun. The curiosity of the class was roused, they all wanted to know who of the team members had the highest score. Alan Rewines cleared his throat. “Ahum. The highest score is Hannah's.” Hannah 2 straightened herself in her seat and admiring looks went her way. “Not Hannah 2. It was Hannah 1.”

Now the girl in question did look at her teacher. In her eyes a mixture of pride, reproach and disappointment. Her mouth opened slightly but she couldn't speak. It was John who did it for her. “Master, that's not fair. You said the best would be on the team.”
“That's true” Jack pitched in. “Hannah 1 should be on the team.” The entire class became noisy, not all of them taking to the view of Jack and John, but they did want an explanation.
Alan decided to speak to the first Hannah directly. “I am sorry, Hannah. I know I said the people with the highest score would be in. But you are lacking the spontaneity the other children have. It just wouldn't look good for the school, you see? So I selected children who scored highly and are open and spontaneous as well.”

Hannah 1 didn't protest, she just grew pale and took her away from him. As she didn't seem to object, the class grew quiet again except for some suppressed protests from John. Ignoring those, Alan went on explaining the procedures sent to him by the makers of Runaround...

Alan congratulated himself in silence. This was over and done with much easier than he expected. Since this was not about learning material, Hannah's father was not likely to protest and everybody else, including the PTA, was happy over this selection.
As for the lesson Hannah learned today? Well, that was her problem, not his.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Desperately Seeking ...

I have written an article for the Los Angeles Argonaut, but it wasn't published. So I'm publishing it here.
Anyone who can help me, please leave a comment or send a mail  (be creative, check linked-in or my website or  ...)

You have given me hope”

It's not just long term friends who can change your life. A short exchange of words with a stranger can be enough. You may gain a new insight, or new strength to hang in and fight some more. Helping you win that heartfelt battle. Those strangers, popping by just once at the right time seem God sent. Stand-in angels.
Is it thwarting Fate, our Creator, karma, to try to get in touch again if such an encounter is etched into your heart?

I'm thinking of one young man I met on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and the 3d Street Promenade in Santa Monica, May 2013. He was in a wheelchair, at his feet a cute dark gray little dog and a cardboard with a lengthy text. No doubt explaining why he was asking for money.
When I see words, I must stop and read, so I walked over, my son in my wake. Yet my eyes never finished the first line. The dog was already between me and the cardboard, begging to be petted, tail wagging like mad, eyes glowing with friendliness. Dogs being more interesting than written words, my son and I went down on our knees to rub and pet and compliment her owner on having such a happy dog.
“I call her Love Bug” the man explained. Was he in his early thirties, or am I wrong, do I remember a few lighter hairs in his short, well groomed beard? “She means a lot to me, giving me so much warmth.” I saw gentleness and warmth in his eyes as well. He thanked me for the banknote I had kept hidden in my hand until then and started telling us why he was begging.

He's had epilepsy all his life, severe grand mal seizures with a very high frequency. Debilitating and life threatening. Only recently had he ran into a specialist who discovered something vital: the seizures could be kept under control by a diet. It was all just starting up, the diet not completely worked out yet, but already the young man had profited from regaining some strength. No longer losing energy in an endless row of convulsions and tremors he had managed to obtain a new and better suited wheelchair and GR. However... the benefit was insufficient for the special dietary food. The money he got from begging allowed him to buy that. Not begging meant going back to daily seizures and tremors.
As he gave me details of the diet I noticed how well spoken he was and beyond his poverty and desperate state I saw an intelligent and sensitive man. In a flash I saw him in a suit, working at an office. It could be true if only...

If only he would meet that one employer who did not only hire risk-free people. People who are guaranteed to show up at their contracted hours, predictable, available. Yet can one be sure they will perform so well in unexpected situations, situations that require real originality or remarkable tenacity?
I am only an intelligent and highly sensitive person and this condition alone has taught me most employers prefer to hire workers who come by the dozen.
I told Love Bug's owner how I, in The Netherlands, had been receiving my food from the food bank for three years, getting desperate about ever finding work again. But here I was visiting L.A. because I had ultimately managed to get a job. I will not forget the change I saw in his eyes. “Thank you, You have given me hope” he said, from the bottom of his soul. With that he gave me hope in return... that I, my life, does matter to others. Don't we all doubt that at times?

Once I got back to The Netherlands I wondered if there could be a way to do more. I have a masters degree in Biology and though I've never worked as a scientist, I still read articles about neurology and behavior. Proper information might add to the quality of his diet or result in a more affordable version. I might get in touch through the staff of the nearby Italian restaurant whose staff members I've seen spoiling Love Bug with attention and a treat while sharing a joke with her boss.
The result of my internet research for anti-epileptic diets was somewhat ironic.... A very good, if not the best source of information was an organization founded in 1994 to advocate the ketogenic diet for children with difficult-to-control seizures: the Charlie Foundation. Located at 515 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica. One mile from where we had our talk.
Did Love Bug's owner know, was his doctor somehow linked to the Charlie Foundation, or did he choose that corner at the 3d Street Promenade by chance? Odd, to be so hopeless and yet so close to a solution -geographically.

My letter to the restaurant, asking if they could help me get in touch, wasn't answered. Maybe it got lost? Or perhaps ... ? I know epilepsy is a dangerous disease.

I still think of Love Bug and her owner, wondering how they may be doing. This article is my second try to hear about them, hopefully from them. I don't know that I can be of real help, but a little attention is like passing on a bit of love. And thereby hope.