Advent Calendar 2016 #4


A tiny African Penguin for you!

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NaNoWriMo Day 30: Crossing the Finish Line


I did it!!!! Again!!! I can’t believe it!!! Although, NaNoWriMo, I miss you already. What started out as a crazy idea because I didn’t get to do the module I wanted to do… And found I had too much “free time”… has actually become a quite life changing event. I did this the second time in a row now. I promised myself that I wouldn’t do Nano again for some years. Yet, I couldn’t stop myself from it. Why? Probably because I love writing so much.

On day 24 I watched a video in life’s purpose. There were five questions asked. What was my personal outcome? I want to be a writer to encourage people to take care of their environment, to inspire them and to make science understandable, interesting, exciting. I never put that much effort in my writing projects. I saw it as just another hobby, like the art I was creating. Now I found out that this stuff makes me really happy. I love to write! I love to sit down every evening before bed and type some words into my computer. I love to think about what I could write about. Talk to people. Do research. It was so amazing!

It was hard, of course. I had three days when I really didn’t know what to write at all. So I wrote bad poems and copied good ones. That’s how you move along. Now, I feel some sort of relief but also sadness. It’s over again. November is over.

My body is telling me how happy it is. Sleep! Something I haven’t had properly in thirty days! My brain shouts: Yes, you finally got to do all the uni work you wanted to do! One weird thing is, that I invested more time than ever into uni, this past month. I read more books in November than in any other month in 2016. Clearly, if I have less time, I do more. Seems counterintuitive? welcome to my brain.

Here are all the things I learned during this challenge, this project, this sign of my wonderful weirdness:

  • To properly write an English text a day. Last year, I wrote in German. This year I noticed how much better my expression got and how much I have improved since. That’s nice to know. Practising really helps.

  • To trust in my instincts and thoughts. If the slightest trace of an idea pops up in my head, I know. I have to write about this. Then I sit down and write. Until it is finished.

  • I’m extremely well organised. Otherwise I couldn’t have done this project with all the other things going on in my life. It was challenging to balance but it was possible. I’m alive and better than ever. I can get stuff done.

  • Lots about the environment. I watched so many documentaries and read so many articles for this projects. I learned about climate change, water scarcity, food waste, plastics in the oceans. The list goes on and on. I used my lecture notes to write these articles and therefore I have to study less in the exam phase!

  • To read more carefully. To read more books from all over the world, to compare them with each other. To look for stylistic choices I can implement in my own writing. To be more open.

NaNoWriMo Statistics:

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Total Words Written: 50625
Cups of tea: 3 x 30 = 90 three a day when writing? Seems about right.
Characters killed: still none. We are writing non-fiction here, people.
Ted Talks watched as inspiration: Let me count… 10 mentioned in my texts, maybe a good ten more. = 20.

What now?

Sleeeeeep! Drawing. Reading. Yoga, every day. My back is terribly tight. Studying Swedish. Doing stuff for uni. A little bit of relaxation.

What about writing? Last year I fell into a pit of apathy after NaNoWriMo. I had written something that will never reach the daylight. It will always rest on my computer. Locked from the world. Someone said that you have to get the bad writing out of you and then you can properly start to write. Those first 50000 words, they were very bad. Now I am a little better. In a year, I will re-read these text and cringe all over. Why? Because we develop our skills. Gradually working on them day by day. That’s good!

I love Isabel Allende. She said that she could never write a book as “House of the Spirits” because it was so innocent. It was not planned at all. She got so many things wrong. That’s no problem, though, because it is a brilliant book. She has written other beautiful novels, one of which I am listening to right now: Island Beneath the Sea. It’s wonderful! Don’t stop, keep going.

I have to go on. I shouldn’t stop now that I know how to write 1666 words a day. Now that I’m in the flow. This is why I’m going to set myself a daily goal to write. All that is on my mind. Probably one day, I’ll get a story out of it. Let’s say at least 300 words. That’s really not that much. I need a goal, though. Without one, procrastination hits. After a project like this, it has the capability of hitting hard. I have to keep going, chasing my dreams.

I am deeply grateful for all your support. I would like to thank my mum who always threw a spontaneous party when I sent her my new word count. My dad who said how much better I have got in my writing and that he sees that writing is clearly my passion. My friends who I watched so many environmental documentaries with: Hannah and Lilli who are such a lovely, caring friends I am so happy to have. My friend Izzy who I always went on runs with while talking about the Ted Talks we watched. Inspiring us endlessly and giving me something to write about. My friends back home who thought it a little weird that I started writing again- you gave me an extra challenge. You are amazing and I’m a very lucky girl to have you all as friends.

And would love to thank you who commented on my articles and kept me going. Thank you so much for your support!

https://lingeringvisions.wordpress.com/
https://sanseilife.wordpress.com/
https://dailymusing57.com/
https://kyleoverstreet.wordpress.com/

Now, I have a little surprise for you. I will do the Advent Calendar again this year! You get a little drawing a day!

Lots of love and happy last day of November

Verena

Current Word Count: 50 625 Partyyyyy!!!!

NaNoWriMo Day 29: Science, Kids.


Today, let me make the case for science and technology. Why they are awesome, why they are important. How we should change our school systems to encourage children to learn about them.

I went to a primary school that was very science and language centred, so was my secondary school. I was always interested in these subjects, I loved school. I wasn’t that excited about technology, though. My dad is an engineer, he started to learn about it at a very young age. He invested his time in building and making devices I don’t understand even now. They are always a bit like magic to me. Engineers in general seem like magicians, I admire their paths of thinking and how they solve problems. I am more of a dreamer. I never took that path. If it were not for my parents, I would have taken a similar road to many of my fellow students in school. “We hate science. We hate maths.” I liked maths! You could never say that around your friends, you were looked at as if you were crazy. What is that kind of culture?

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. We have to go to school. I don’t blame teachers or parents, it’s really not their fault. The problem is, we make so many alterations in our school system which we can never predict the consequences of. The classical concept of a school, that all children learn about the same thing the same way – I think it is outdated in a way. I just watched a very good Ted Talk on this subject. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mummj4SwpU0) Our schools today are not participatory. They are following one straight path. Teachers don’t have the time to explain anything to their pupils anymore. However, this is such a vital part of science! You have to understand what you are doing.

I’m a private tutor for children from grade 7-10. Nearly all of them are there for maths or physics. “We don’t understand anything.” That’s what I often hear. Why? Because these children never learned how to learn. How to work on the problems themselves, ask others, pose questions. Very early on, these children are told that science is difficult. That you have to invest a lot into it. For me personally, it was much harder to learn dates in history. For tests in science, I needed to understand the concept, that was it. I hate learning by heart, still can’t do it properly.

We teach our children facts, not concepts. We narrow everything down to a point where these facts don’t make sense anymore. Yesterday I had a boy in my lesson who said that he was really confused. They had started three different topics in one lesson and jumped back and forth. The teaching today lacks structure because we don’t emphasise on science education anymore. There is simply not enough time to connect thoughts.

My dad did a really good job explaining everything about science to me. I would ask questions, he would answer them as good as he could. If I was not satisfied, he would look it up. We do that even now, which I love. He gave me that deep interest in everything science related. Science at the breakfast table. I wanted to know the underlying rules behind everything. This is also the reason I took physics as my advanced course in secondary school. Physics and Art. What a combination. It gave me a lot. It was hard, no doubts. I would often cry myself through exam prep and homework. But it was worth it. We had two really good teachers who would go into depth with certain topics. Who would explain to us where all the formulas come from. Why we did all that stuff. Who spoke with passion, with excitement and love for what they were doing.

Another problem I see in today’s schools is the lack of reason. Why do we learn that, my pupils always ask. I try to provide an answer. I often don’t have one. As the science education is so little these days, where should we even start? The building blocks of a good understanding are cut from the schedule and everything breaks down. Until many utterly confused teenagers need private tutoring to be successful in their next exams. Exams are not a sign of you being smart or not. I was very good in school and yet I wouldn’t consider myself as extremely intelligent. I just love to learn new things and to understand them. Exams are arbitrary measurements of how good you mastered to learn topics and forget them after two minutes. How good you can handle your stress levels.

Here is what I would love to have in schools:

More science education. We need engineers, we need inventors, we need people who take a step forward. We need thinkers and doers and people able to understand the scientific basis of this world. We especially scare girls away from science, which is horrible! How many of the girls in my year did actually pick up an engineering degree? One out of thirty. By stressing on this education we provide them with more knowledge and more understanding of the world. Which is particularly important facing our global climate change this century. We need solutions for that problem. Now. How will we do that if no one understands the basic physics behind it anymore? How will we tackle our energy problem without the knowledge of technology?

More time to explain. We should encourage children to ask questions. Those who never ask, they sit in my private lessons. They never dare to ask. We need to change that. It is important that children grow up in an environment where they are free to ask, free to learn. Encourage your own children to ask you questions. Try to answer them and if you can’t, look them up, just as my parents did. There is no shame in not knowing something, but in not trying.

More involvement of technology. There are amazing study programmes online. Many of the large universities provide online lecture material. There is Khan Academy, Crash Course (which saved many of my exams in uni), so many resources children can use. The only thing you need to do is inspire them. Stress the importance of science. Children are usually learning through the things they see their parents do. If you are excited about physics, your children probably will be, too. Using all these amazing contents, children don’t need to stop learning about a certain topic, like they would in school. You don’t have these short, insufficient introductions anymore. If your kid wants, it can become an expert in the chemical structures found on Neptune. It can learn all about superconductors. Make them excited for science! Learn from your own children.

Schools need to provide techniques how to learn. I never learned how to learn. I had to acquire that knowledge the hard way. Through uni. Through banging my head on the table every night and crying because I couldn’t put any more knowledge into my brain. I finally found a way. Visual Note Taking. Drawing in class, basically. Something that prohibited in every primary school. Great system.

We cannot teach other people. We can provide incentives and explanations. We can never do the actual process for them, though. That’s not possible. What I always try to do with my students, is draw pictures for them. I want to them to understand a process. If they have understood it, I want them to repeat it on their own. So that I can be sure that they really got it. That takes a lot of effort and energy. Most times it is worth it.

We had some conversations with the parents of my students last week and I was happy to hear that they liked my lessons. They liked that they understood more than in school. And they liked my passion. That is maybe the most important one here. Passion. Speak with passion about science and your children will love it, too. Inspire them to learn, to look deeper, to study more. Science is an essential compound of understanding the world around and becoming a more complexly thinking human being. A great person able to achieve great things. For the benefit of everyone.

Current Word Count: 49447

NaNoWriMo Day 28: My 2016 Reading Challenge


50 books in a year. That was my commitment for 2016. Along with a thousand other projects. Here is what I read this year. Here are the books that changed my life.

Opens goodread list. Scrolls down. Here we go. It feels like ages ago I read these books!

1. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Millennium trilogy are probably the best crime novels I have ever read. I couldn’t put them down. I ate through them. Give me more! I shouted. Not only do these books have intriguing characters. They are alive. They have challenges to overcome, they change. They are ripped apart by their own doubts and passions. Furthermore, I love how the writing bits are portrayed in the books. You can be led by a good idea but you have to do the work. Blomqvist is a really good journalist but it takes time for him to craft his stories. When you read about him writing, you can see his head veins pulse as he sews word after word together. It’s political, it’s gripping, it’s amazing.

What did I learn? I absolutely adore writing. Journalism would be kind of cool…

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini has shown me with his book A Thousand Splendid Suns that he is an astonishing story teller. This book, though… I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t get it. For me the story line didn’t work. However, there were parts that were heartfelt and strong.

What did I learn? A lot about the history of Afghanistan

3. Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

I don’t know how often I have read this book in the last three years since I discovered it in the library. How often I have gone through its pages and admired the words. I just love this book so much. Just like with Harry Potter, I have to read it once a year. It gives me so much. Inspiration to travel, to learn a new language, to think deeply about life. The author is a philosopher, he gives lectures in Berlin. That explains a lot.

What did I learn? I have to learn a new language.

4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

What did I learn? You can build your own beautiful world in your head.

5. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

See 1. Guess why I started learning Swedish? I want to read these books in their original language some day… Well not only because of that but you get my point.

What did I learn? I have to start with Swedish.

6. Emma by Jane Austen

So seldom, we see strong female characters written in the time of Jane Austen. She really was a great writer and I love her stories. To be honest, I can’t stand most of the modern romance novels… When I do need a bit of that, I turn to Regency writers.

What did I learn? You should not try and marry people off. It always goes wrong.

7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

What did I learn? WW II was so traumatic that one can lose his mind and travel off to a different world of aliens. Plot twist! No but honestly, it is hard for me to process all these tales, to even understand who people could do something like that.

8. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This book completely blew my mind. The character building is admirable. I cannot understand how she made us believe so many things and then crash it all at once. You could see some cracks but you would never have guessed to what extend she turns everything around.

What did I learn? You should never trust in what you see. Or in what you think you know about a person.

9. The Martian by Andy Weir

I cannot count the times I laughed out loud in the middle of the night. I couldn’t put this book down. Guy stranded on mars. It’s hilarious. The science behind it is well researched, it all makes sense. The best thing about this book is that this man retains his humour. It’s the most funny book I have read this year.

What did I learn? You can survive on Mars with only potatoes to eat. Also, you should never attempt to make water out of hydrogen and oxygen.

10-12. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I don’t normally read young adult fiction but these books… I loved them.

What did I learn? You should fight for your rights and rely on the people who were always there for you. One originally good person can become more evil than the most evil of them all… Be careful.

13. The Chamber by John Grisham

What did I learn? I was against death penalty all the time. Now I’m even more terrified and more against of this whole system. All this legal stuff takes a long long time.

14. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Oh, so… That is actually a thing. Matt Haig writes about depression in such an honest and loving way. I read this book in a day because I couldn’t stop. It comforts you because you are not alone. It opens your eyes. It is like a hot cup of tea on a bad day. It offers a lot of tips and stories, it gives you so much.

What did I learn? You should read this book over and over on bad days. You have a problem to deal with here.

15. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

What did I learn? All the worst things can happen at once. You should be prepared. Together, we are stronger.

16. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This was one of the first English books I have ever read. I didn’t understand a thing. The overall plot maybe. Now that some time has passed and I read nearly every book in English – I’m amazed! This is an absolutely brilliant work! Also very deep. I like that.

What did I learn? It’s difficult to be a teenager in a world of phonies.

17. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

What did I learn? You can go high and fall very veeeery low in just a few moments.

18. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

What did I learn? Prejudice, the killer of love since 1813. Be open-minded.

19. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Re-read that one. You need some cheesy, heart-breaking fiction once in a while. And I do love John Green.

What did I learn? Some infinities are bigger than others. Your favourite authors can be douche bags when you get to meet them. Books can change your life. It hurts because it matters.

20. Deception Point by Dan Brown

Dan Brown’s later works are a lot about symbology and religion. This one, though, is about science. That’s exciting! A meteor!

What did I learn? You should always be a bit sceptical about improbable scientific findings.

21. Alice in Wonderland Part 1 by Lewis Carroll

What did I learn? A tea party is an awesome thing. A story can help you escape a little in difficult times.

22. Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

What did I learn? Psychoanalysis is so weird…

23. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I had loved the film but now I had to finally read the book. I enjoyed it. It was very healing.

What did I learn? Love what you do, love yourself and do a little yoga from time to time.

24-26. Harry Potter 1-3 by J.K. Rowling

Every year I re-read these books. I always discover new aspects of the story. What they leave me with is that feeling of not being alone. I can always go back to these books and feel comforted. The school descriptions and the snippets we see of Hermione studying- they are very motivating.

What did I learn? You should go study now, Hermione said. Community and a sense of belonging are important. When in doubt, go to the library. Hard work will enable you to go anywhere.

27. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

See 1, 5. It is the fourth novel. I was really unsure. Would I ruin my experience of the first three books? I didn’t, which is nice. He really did a good job.

What did I learn? There are some authors who can indeed make sequels to the great work of Larsson. It is better, though, to invent your own characters and just let it be.

28. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

How can I describe what this book did to me? I was in tears so many times. I loved it, I was moved by the writing, I was in shock about the story. It’s such an honest and true book.

What did I learn? Standing up for your rights can hurt you. You should always try, though.

29. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When I read the first pages of this novel, I knew that Adichie will be one of my new favourite authors. Her ability to tell stories, to connect thoughts, to find the right words… It has overwhelmed me.

What did I learn? I didn’t know anything about the Nigerian-Biafran war and about its horrors. She couldn’t have done a better job to underline the importance to read broadly to me. To stay informed, to be curious.

30. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

She creates stunning female characters who fight for their rights, for their dreams with all they have. They crash, they have flaws, they are so real. Adichie is definitely my favourite author of the year. And my favourite female writer ever.

What did I learn? You should go out and find your path, but know that you always will come back in the end. A more balanced, knowledgeable person than before. Invest a little more time in your blog.

31. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Part 1 by L. Frank Baum

I always read this one my phone when I was going somewhere by train. It’s a pretty little story, a beautiful fairytale.

What did I learn? If you don’t think you are smart but solve all the complex riddles you and your friends face… Chances are you are actually smart. Embrace your cleverness.

32. How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

What did I learn? You should call yourself a feminist. Here, rip of these glasses that patriarchy put on your eyes. Do you see? Yep, that’s inequality. It’s EVERYWHERE!

33. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Such an inspiring read! It taught me were to seek for ideas, how to be creative. It tells the stories of books she has written herself and of other people who struggle with creating. Many of my self-doubts were addressed in this book and it really helped.

What did I learn? Ideas fly around, you just have to be open and catch them in the right moment. Keep going.

34. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I love unreliable characters. They add that bit of extra spice to a story. I love the setting of the novel, the characters, everything. It was brilliant. Second best crime novel this year.

What did I learn? You should maybe not trust the brain of a heartbroken alcoholic on a train.

35. De ensamma by Håkan Nesser

These Swedes do have a special love for incredibly dark tales, don’t they? I read this book while the ocean roared behind me.

What did I learn? If two murders happen at the same place with decades between them, possibly the same people were involved. Also, read some Kierkegaard.

36. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

What a beautiful little story. I read that when we were at the Baltic Sea, camping in the woods. The perfect atmosphere. It’s so beautifully written and the descriptions are great. You can feel the pain of these dogs. You can see him transform slowly back to what he always was- a wild animal.

What did I learn? You cannot deny your origin. Where you really come from. It will give you strength to endure anything.

37. The Starch Solution by John McDougall

This is the book that made me become a vegan. Consequently, this must be the most life-changing book this year. Afterwards I binge-read all books I could get on veganism and vegetarianism in my library. The Starch Solution explains everything you need to know if you want to be a vegan. The nutritional facts, the environmental ones… It’s great as a start package.

What did I learn? To become a vegan.

38. Der Tod in Venedig by Thomas Mann

What did I learn? The way from success to falling can be so quick.

39. Dead Poets Society by N.H. Kleinbaum

What did I learn? How to be a better teacher. Oh, Mr Keating… You have taught me a lot of useful lessons for my students.

40. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

This was the starting point for my obsession with non-fiction books this year. I have read other books by Foer but this one is especially interesting. He knows the facts. He’s a great researcher. After this book, I wanted to change people’s minds about eating meat.

What did I learn? Here are the basics to win nearly every argument about factory farming.

41. Anständig Essen by Karen Duve

What did I learn? The marzipan chocolate in my supermarket is vegan! Being vegan isn’t actually that hard.

42. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

Atmospherically a wonderful novel.

What did I learn? Books are amazing. Bookshops are even more amazing. Never try to build one in a city where the people hate to read.

43. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

This book moved me so much. I never knew the whole story of Malala. All the things she did left me in complete awe. She is such a strong, intelligent woman and she already has changed the world.

What did I learn? Stand up for your education, you are so happy to have one. Go study, girl!

44. A Thousand Country Roads by Robert James Waller

What did I learn? Sometimes memories are better rested in your heart than revisited again after years.

45. Das Urteil by Franz Kafka

What did I learn? Well, that Kafka was weird, wasn’t he?

46. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I’m so ignorant! I know so little! In every essay in this book, Roxane Gay showed me how little thought I had given any media I consumed or anything I said. She discovered racism and sexism in places I would never even looked for them. It made me feel a little ashamed, to be honest.

What did I learn? Look deeper, read more critically.

47. The Vegetarian by Han Kang

What did I learn? Becoming a vegan can break apart your whole family. People are ignorant, you have to deal with this. Also, artists can be really strange people…

48. Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama

What did I learn? Even the president has doubts. Work for the well-being of other people. Find your origins, make your family’s stories yours.

49. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I talked about these last two books in yesterday’s post. Be sure to check that out.

What did I learn? Be courageous, follow your personal legend.

49 Books. 49 messages. So many things I’ve learned through reading. It made me a more curious person, a more considerate one. A more open one. It made me realise the important things in life and what I want to do with my own.

I’m aware that I didn’t do all the books on my list justice. I would have loved to write an article about every single one of them. It would take me another hundred pages I suppose. That’s why I broke it down a little and only talked about the most important ones to me. I hope you liked my book record.

One more book left for my challenge, it will be A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Next year I will attempt to read more books from all over the world. Broaden my experience. Learn even more. It will also help me with my writing because in the end… Writers only copy each other.

Which books have touched you this year? Did you read any of the ones I read? What are your opinions on them? I would love to know!

Current Word Count: 48048

NaNoWriMo Day 27: Your Personal Legend


Today I finished reading two books: Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. On November the 15th I wrote about the concept of comparative reading, which is quite interesting. Normally, you take two books about the same topic or person and read them at the same time. Notice what is left out in one, what is stressed in the other. Focus on how the voices are different telling these stories.

These two books I read are not in any way about the same topic, and yet… They both had a great impact on my thinking. Books always resonate with me for a few days, sometimes months. In rare cases years. They have to be either very good or very bad. However, I have only read two books in the last three years that I really didn’t like. That’s fortunate.

Let’s dive into these two tales and extract some of the things that left me in awe.

I started to read Obama’s biography of his earlier life in an attempt to understand what his story was, what is behind this man who became the president. Where did he summon all this energy from, where did he found his beliefs and values? He is a fantastic writer and the most touching part for me was the one when he described his social work. The challenges he had to face. All the people working against him on his path to try and give people better lives. All the doubts he had, that I suppose everyone after school is facing. I often said aloud to my book: Look, it’s going to be fine. You don’t know it yet but you will be the president. Just keep on working.

Just keep on working. He has such an endurance and strength that I can only admire. Which is essentially the message of “The Alchemist” in the end. Everyone has a personal legend that one has to follow. If one has this desire, this mission, the universe will help with all its power to ensure it comes true.

There is an underlying language in this world which everyone understands. In “The Alchemist” it is love, so says Santiago to the wind and the sun. It’s a reoccurring theme. The Englishman in the book has learned the “world language” Esperanto and yet, he isn’t able to understand the voice of the world. Because it is not in words that these messages are spoken in. The alchemist always tells the boy to look deeper and listen to his heart. “Wherever your heart is, there you will find you treasure.” Isn’t that beautiful? Through listening to his heart, the boy begins a journey that goes along the way of his personal legend. He overcomes many obstacles and in the end… he arrives home again. Maybe that’s the place where we belong after all our journeys.

You can see that in “Dreams from My Father”, too. He always searched for the place he belonged, for the stories of his family. Who his father really was. He thought about traveling to his family all the time when he was working in Chicago. His entire life, really. Just before Harvard, he went to Kenya to meet his family, to finally get to know the stories that he always wanted to know. With this knowledge, he could return home. A more complete man than before, because he had found a different part of himself.

I’m moved by these two books as they tell the stories of dreams and passions, of roads to success and personal happiness. They are positive books, showing that change is possible. That one can find a purpose in life and follow it. Despite the odds which are never too difficult to overcome. It’s sometimes nice to believe that a path has been set out. That we just have to follow it. On the other hand, that can also be limiting. Led by our own curiosity we will, sooner or later, find our personal legend. If we are brave. Coelho pays a lot of attention to his descriptions of courage in the book. They appear in the little things: Santiago leaves his sheep behind to search for a treasure. He has the courage to stand up for his own words, what he has seen in the desert. This leads the alchemist on his path. His courage is valued, only through its power, he is able to go on. Complete his journey.

“To be creative you must have courage. Do not ask for opinions. Just do it.”

That’s a quote from Coelho that I as an artist enjoy particularly. He is so right. How often have I discarded projects simply due to fear? How often have I wondered what others might think? How often ripped sketches in pieces, how often deleted words and pages already written…

If we let ourselves be overcome by fear, we don’t see our paths in front of us anymore. We have all experienced that. Fear turns you blind, it makes you run with your eyes closed. In the completely wrong direction. Fear is not a good leader in life. It drives you forward of course. The fear of failing, of embarrassing yourself, the fear of dying. The fear of being alone. There are many fears we have to face in our lives. But they are not there to lead us but to be overcome on a greater path. We should be driven by our love, by our passions, our curiosity, our courage. Those are the companions you would like to have on your journey. Those are the friends to search for. Fear always comes back to us, we don’t have to search for it. It’s humane to live with fear. It shouldn’t consume us, though. If there is too much fear, we will stand still. Anxious of taking another step. Start moving backwards, retreating. Do you want your life to be a hide-and-seek game with your own brain?

Showing the world love always guides love back to you. Believing in yourself, in your luck will always help you achieve wonderful things. There was a line in “The Alchemist” that struck me: There was a monk who the alchemist gave some gold for his hospitality. The monk said that it is far too much for his services. The alchemist answered: Don’t say it was too much because life might listen. And the next time you will get less.

This is not a demand to be selfish. He is telling us the importance of acknowledging our own value. A friend told me that you let yourself be hurt by others just to that extend in which you harm yourself. If you are very insecure, you don’t stand up to the ones that hurt you. Because you see your own value too low to be able to fight. That realisation hits deep. I’m guilty of lowering myself, having huge insecurities. It’s fear in its most tragic appearance.

What do we take from all this? Find your dream, find you personal legend. Do whatever it takes to identify it and then follow it. With every last bit of courage you can summon. You would not want your life to be dominated by fear. I know it seems unbelievable but there is always a way out. However difficult all the challenges seem you face, there are always people there for you. Who will lead you through the desert to your own treasure. Who will wait for you to come back home. Who will cheer for you on your paths and who will walk together with you for a while.

In his book, Obama described his rebel teenage years. Where he didn’t want to go to school, was discouraged and hopeless. Lost. He found his way again. He found his family. He made their stories his own. He followed his path to help people. He worked hard despite fear and people not valuing his work. Then he became the freaking president of the US. That’s a life path!

Be courageous, admire the wonders around. This earth is so beautiful! We only have that single one. Stop for a minute in whatever you doing and say in your head, what you are grateful for in this world. Who has guided you, who has encouraged you to go on. Write them down and look at them every now and then. You are a wonderful human being and you deserve all the love you are given.

If you feel discouraged, listen to Florence and the Machine and let her tell you:

“Hey, look up. You don’t have to be a ghost here amongst the living. You are flesh and blood. And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given. And oh, how much!”

Oh, how much…

Current Word Count: 45257

NaNoWriMo Day 26: The Food We Throw Away


My grandmother is very careful with her food. She won’t throw anything away. She experienced the war, didn’t have enough to eat for so long. That stays a vital part of how she makes decisions concerning food.

Nowadays, we have lost our connection to the food we consume. There are less people in agriculture than ever before. We are moving into the cities, are not confronted with the life on the land anymore. We don’t see our food grow, we don’t know how it is made. Furthermore, there is an incredible abundance of it through technology and globalisation. Our demand has changed. In Europe, we could get strawberries and asparagus in winter. I always looked forward to the time when there are these two products available again in our region in April. Now, you can have them all year! Thats has horrifying consequences.

Children grow up in a world where they can get anything to eat at any time. In most of Europe and North America, you can have food items from all over the world just sitting on your supermarket shelf. We don’t consider where they come from anymore. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to import products from other countries than to buy them locally. There are carrots from Israel and apples from New Zealand and South Africa! We grow apples here in Germany! Why import them? What is wrong with this whole system?

http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year. That’s a third of global food production. 1/3!!! In Europe and North America, we throw away around 100 kg of food per capita per year. In sub-saharan Africa and parts of Asia, that’s only 6-11 kg. Something is clearly going wrong here. We have lost the connection to our food.

Food lost in Europe could feed 200 million people, in Africa 300 million and in Latin America also 300 million! We could solve our global starvation problem if we wouldn’t throw away that much anymore.

Why is it lost?

“In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.” http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

What is lost? 30% of the cereals grown, 20% of dairy products produced, 35% of fish and seafood, 45% of fruit and vegetables, 20% of the meat, 20% of oilseeds and pulses and 45% of roots and tubers. Now look… For our production of cereals, vegetables and fruits we need considerably less energy and water than for the whole dairy and meat industry. Therefore, the numbers for these products are so much more tragic.

“The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. (…) Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 percent of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.” http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196402/icode/

Where does all this wasted food land? On the landfill. We had a lovely module last semester, Sustainable Waste Management. We did an experiment on anaerobic landfilling of organic compounds. A lot of gas is produced in there. Guess which one? Methane. A greenhouse gas 23 times as bad for our atmosphere as CO2. Congrats to us, humans. We do not only waste water, land, work, money etc on food we throw away, we contribute further to climate change by where we throw it.

I talked a lot about our relationship with the oceans, too, in the last weeks. The by-catch rates for sea fish are 1:20 up to 1:50. That’s the amount of fish that is caught. So take that one kilo and throw the other 20-50kg back in the oceans. If the fish reaches the supermarket or you as a consumer, again 35% of it is lost! We are killing the wildlife in our oceans, destroying the balances of whole ecosystems to in the end we throw it all away?!
If these numbers aren’t shocking enough yet, let’s look into the issues a little deeper.

Tackling the issue of food waste, there are three aspects we need to consider. 1. From the field to the supermarket. 2. From the supermarket to our homes. 3. From our homes into the trash.

1. From the Field to the Supermarket.

We watched the documentary “Taste the Waste” in our study course a few weeks ago. There was a potato farmer who explained his work. The potatoes are checked if they have the right size, colour and shape. Every single one of them which doesn’t fit these parameters is thrown back onto the field. To rot.

In other countries, the harvesting machines might be not efficient enough and some food is wasted there. That problem can be fixed with modern technology and investment in monitoring this waste for example.

Here’s what we can do in this first part of the food system: Go to the fields. There are normally a lot of crops left because they do not fit the expectations of us consumers. Ugly potatoes, for example. Pick your own vegetables. That also lifts some of the moral weight off the farmers. It’s not their fault. We as consumers are the crazy ones here. A farmer showing his harvest on a local market will have a problem with selling all of his products. Why? Because we don’t like to buy the last one of a sort. We think that there is something wrong with this kale or carrot or whatever. When in the end, there is something wrong with us. If farmers allow people to get their own vegetables from the fields, they do not have to simply throw their crops away anymore. This food actually does have a purpose in the end.

2. From the Supermarkets to Our Homes.

Food waste is primarily due to our mindsets. We only buy products if they look good. Only if there are many of the products displayed. If the date printed on the packaging is not yet reached. This date doesn’t tell us anything. Depending on the type of food, you can eat them days, weeks or even months after their best before date. In German we have the term “Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum” (we love our long words…) which basically means “at least edible until …” Now what does “at least” mean??? That doesn’t make any sense. Neither does our whole food system.

Our choices are just made on appearances. That apple that is not perfectly round, the cucumber with a non-straight shape. I’m not telling you to eat mouldy food or bad food. I just want you to give a little love to ugly carrots and tomatoes. Who of you has ever had a garden or worked in one? How many of these vegetables that you put so much water and effort into were pretty? How much percent of them would you have bought? Close to zero I suppose. In which way is your tiny garden patch different to the huge plantations we have today? They are still plants grown in nature! If you now have the numbers of your own garden in mind, try to imagine the incredible amounts of food that are thrown away in supermarkets! It hurts seeing pictures of containers full of still edible food. Good food, tasty and healthy food. All wasted because it wasn’t pretty enough.

This is what I would like you to do: Go to your store and try to find fruits that are not that pretty. Eggs that have a little crack in them (you can then put them into a glass of water to check if they are still edible. If they are on the bottom, you can). Ask if you can have any of the dairy products that the supermarkets would throw out otherwise. Ask for bread that is a day old. And please, please. Limit your products a bit in accordance to the seasons and the travels they have made. Try to eat less meat, fish and dairy products.

3. From Our Homes to the Trash

http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/2472

“Almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.” That’s a shocking statistic! That means we throw away more than ¼ of the food that could have fed us.

Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Plan your meals. Think about what you could make with what you have in the fridge. Be creative. Stick to your plans. Involve your children in the process. They need to see how important food is and that wasting it is a serious issue.
  2. Go shopping when you need something. Make a list and buy only items from your list. Don’t wander around and buy things that look nice to you and that could potentially… maybe… they are not eaten in the end. It’s the same with shopping for clothes. If it doesn’t 100% fit and you don’t like or need it 100%, don’t buy it.
  3. Look into your fridge before you go grocery shopping. You might not remember that you have already bought something.
  4. Put fresh food in the freezer. You will probably not eat a whole loaf of bread in a few days. Freeze it in slices and eat it in small portions rather than throwing away half a loaf.
  5. If you haven’t finished your meals, put them back into the fridge and eat them the next day. Stress to your children the importance of saving food or finishing it.
  6. Ask in restaurants if you can take the leftovers home.
  7. If bananas are a little too ripe, make a banana bread. If vegetables are a little squishy, cook them. Trust your senses. If they still smell good and taste good, they are still ok!
  8. Ask friends if they could use some of your vegetables you will not eat. Ask them over for dinner! Swap ingredients around neighbours.
  9. Compost organic material if you can.
  10. Eat consciously. Everything that you eat has an origin. Your cereals come from fields, your dairy products from real cows. Think of the impact you have on your environment. Enjoy your meals, don’t throw them away.

That all sounds so bad, but here is a good sign. As always, it comes from a Scandinavian country: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/denmark-food-waste-supermarket-we-food-copenhagen-surplus-produce-a6890621.html Denmark has opened its first supermarket which sells food that would have gone to waste. There are a lot of awesome projects concerning food waste. Inform yourself where you can help in your area to prevent food waste.

A lot of the food waste is due to our culture and our minds. You are hosting a party. Your biggest concern will be that you haven’t got ENOUGH food, never TOO MUCH. In a restaurant last week we finished our meals and the waiter said: “Oh, you ate everything, then it clearly must have been not enough!” What is that crazy thinking we do here? It’s always about more and more. Not about reduction. You feel embarrassed if you guests ate all the food at your party. When all you should be is happy that you don’t have to throw anything away. We need to change that perception in our society.

As you might have noticed, I’m a bit angry concerning the topic of food waste. We are just trying to fix all of these global climate issues and in the end our own consumption is one of the main problems, nobody talks about. There are more and more campaigns but do they put up signs in the supermarket: “Only buy what you need! Don’t throw food away!” Are the supermarkets themselves doing anything to reduce the amounts of food discarded? The policy makers? No.

This was a little guide to conquer the problem of food waste. If you calculate your carbon footprint, you are normally asked how much food you throw away. Because that can be quite significant for your greenhouse gas emissions. Try to be kind to our planet. Try to remember all those shocking numbers. We are wasting 1/3 of our food in the world, 1/3 of our soils, so much money and water. How much good we could derive from this 1/3! How many people we could make happy and satisfied. What a wonderful place this earth would be if we ate what we made.

Current Word Count: 43780

 

NaNoWriMo Day 25: How to Get Stuff Done.


Nanowrimo is really about time management in the end. If you start this project, chances are high that you know how to write. The really tough thing is to keep yourself motivated to make time for it every single day. Sometimes, it’s challenging. It’s already so late again, although I promised myself I would be going to bed a lot earlier today. Not happening. Who knew.

How do you find two hours a day in your already tight schedule? That’s the real difficulty here. Not the writing part. Easy peasy.

It takes 19 days to form a habit. Now that I’ve reached day 25, I don’t know how to stop. If I don’t write late at night, something is missing. If I get too much sleep so that I’m not that exhausted anymore, something feels wrong. My mum asked me today how I can do all this stuff. I go to uni, work, meet friends, go for runs, paint and play the uke…so many other things. And every night I sit down to write. Because I can’t stop myself. The word “Break” doesn’t exist for me while Nanowrimo is on. It’s a challenge. I accepted it.

Here’s how to do that.

1. Know your goal. You will get things done much more easily if you have an aim in your life. I identified my life’s purpose yesterday, if you want to read about that. Now that I have it in the back of my head, things are a lot easier. I will see the reason behind the exercises I do. I have to study this because I will need it. I sit down every night despite being tired and get the words flowing. Because I know I want to write. This aim keeps you going whatever the circumstances are. Write your goal down. Put it up on the wall over your desk. It helps, trust me.

2. Write everything down. I keep a bullet journal. That means I make a planner from scratch and have a little to-do list for every day. I add inspirational quotes and pictures, little drawings and lots of lists. I love planning. It keeps my head clear for the important stuff. If you have written down what you want to achieve that day, it is a lot easier to actually do it. You can learn a lot more about this technique here: http://bulletjournal.com/

I love bullet journaling. It is both creative and productive. I can write weekly aims down, what I need to do. Transfer them to another day or week. I have monthly overviews with important events. If you have a hard time motivating yourself to do anything, write down “have breakfast”. It looks nice if you have accomplished something that day. All the other tasks will be easier for you. Start easy on yourself.

3. Prioritise. That’s a vital part of planning. Over time you will know how many hours you need to do certain activities. For example half an hour to clean the bathroom. 7 hours to do statistics homework. … Yeah… Write it down. Sort your assignments for the day according to the time you are going to need to finish them. Start with those which take the smallest amount of time. They will keep you going. Go on to the more demanding ones with the feeling that you already have accomplished something.

Furthermore, it is important to note when those tasks are due. If you have to hand in an essay tomorrow, or write a report for you boss, do it now. Do the most important pieces of work first, so that they are out of the way. If you do not face them, you will have them in the back of your head the whole time. That makes realising other projects more difficult.

4. Find a great workspace. If you love your kitchen table but the temptation to go to the fridge is high, don’t sit there. If your neighbours are annoying or too loud, get out of the house. Find a spot where it is silent and you can focus on your work. Switch your phone off. I can’t stress that enough. With the notifications of modern mobile phones, productivity is impossible. I like to go to the library of our uni because there are so many people studying, who keep me motivated. Also, I just leave my phone at home. Then I have no chance but to work.

If you get on with the work, stay hydrated. Allow yourself breaks after each half an hour. Stretch a little, move. Concentration leaves us after 1.5 hours because our glucose levels are too low. You could eat an apple for example to get your brain going again.

5. Focus. That’s one of the hardest parts. To not let your mind wander, to not let yourself get distracted, to not start day dreaming. I have put a little note on my desk with “Stay focused” on it. That sometimes helps. I’m the person who puts sticky notes everywhere.

6. Keep going. The most amazing tool for productivity is “Pomodoro” for me. That’s an app that basically works like an egg timer. It’s usually set for 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes break, 25 min work, 15 min break. These intervals work very well. You get so absorbed in your work in these 25 minutes, it’s great. The app tracks the time you invested in certain tasks. It’s always nice to see how many hours you have worked that day on a specific project. That’s also what I write down in my bullet journal. How many pomodoros it has taken me to complete the exercise. Consequently, planning gets a lot easier.

7. Don’t multitask. If you started with one topic, finish it. If you focused all you energy that day on one project, keep going until you can’t go on anymore. Don’t try to switch between tasks, that’s not going to work most of the time. It’s like reading books for me. If there are only a few pages left, I will finish it, no matter what time it is.

8. Know when to stop. If you are facing a particularly different challenge, it maybe nice to have a break to clean or tidy something. To go for a walk. Give yourself some time to recover your mind. To lift the pressure off you creativity. Our brains are hardworking organs and we have to be kind to them. It’s so easy to destroy a day of hard work within just moments when you are tired and unmotivated. Don’t let that happen. Listen to the signals your body is giving you.

9. The 80-20 rule. Being a perfectionist is hard. Especially in a time, where we have so many different things going on in our lives. If you want to do everything perfectly, the possibility that you never get anything done is high. The 80-20 rule says, that you do 80% of the work in 20% of the time and the remaining 20% of the work in 80% of the time. Just go until 80, that’s enough. The reworking parts are the most time-consuming ones. Here’s a tip: Start to work on a project and do it until you are fine with showing it to others. Do something completely different. Then go back to your project and see if your work was enough.

10. Time for yourself. You need to sleep, to eat, to meet people, exercise a bit if you want. Treat yourself. If your whole day is packed with work, you won’t last very long. We are not made to be under pressure the entire day. (In whose head did Freddie Mercury sing this line right now? :D) Make yourself a cup of tea, sit down for a while. Read something. Watch a video. Talk to a friend. You need time to calm your mind and gather all your energy. It doesn’t help to freak out about all the stuff you need to do and in your panic do everything wrong. (Oh, all this lovely maths homework… I know what I’m talking about…) Don’t push yourself over the limit, just gently touch it and then let yourself fall down again. It’s great to test how far you can go. That’s also the kind of experiment I’m doing right now. How much work can I do in one month without completely losing it? I’m still fine, you see.

These are my top ten tricks how to manage your time effectively. I love to manage. To pass tasks around and to bring people together to work on a project. It’s just a process that I really enjoy. If you have other tips, please tell me, I would love to know! What works for you? How do you motivate yourself to get things done?

Current Word Count: 41 666