Saturday, February 14, 2009

Back from Madrid

Madrid Feb 2009 - 020 Winter is starting to stretch long, and there were cheap flights south that were too good to pass up.  To Madrid, Spain, in fact.

I hadn’t visited Madrid since 1985, and my memories were dim at best.  What I found was a modern white-stone and red-brick city under warm blue skies.  People were sitting in outdoor cafe’s as New Orleans-style jazz played in the squares.  Painted walls and tiled storefronts decorate traditional buildings along the curled streets of the old city center, surrounded by the  modern curving skyscrapers and straight boulevards of the modern capital.

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People were quick and intense, food was a mix of traditional Spanish, Basque, and Fusion.  A day starts with a plate of churros  for dipping into a cup of chocolate.  Mid-afternoon was tapas, not the polite plates served in Maastricht, but vigorous theater for people crowded tightly around the bar sipping red Rioja wine.  Waiters slashed thin strips of Iberian ham from a joint on the counter, toasted thick chunks of bread painted with olive oil, layered on goat cheese and tomatoes, and served the snack with olives and spiced red sausage.  Just point, eat, count up the sticks, and pay, if you are aggressive enough to get to the counter.

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The art and architecture is wonderful; the streets cleaner than any other city I’ve ever visited.  Dinner starts at 10 pm, music and clubbing at midnight, the streets fill with people heading home about 4 am.  No wonder the city closes for a nap for hours every afternoon.

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More pix at Flickr

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

25 things about me…

1   I’ve been tagged so many times on Facebook that there’s no choice but to give in…


  1. Reading a well-crafted personal essay is my second-favorite way to spend ten delightful minutes.
  2. I enjoy learning and teaching, but am clearly not the university sort.  Becoming deeply expert in a narrow field is just too limiting (and the pay wouldn’t support my aspirational lifestyle).
  3. I would rather take action than debate alternatives: I learn more by trying an experiment than by sitting back and observing.
  4. I have a tin ear for picking up on subtle hints in conversation.  It could be that I just don’t process information as well when it is presented in audio instead of visual form. Or maybe I’m too distracted and impatient sometimes to notice the cues.
  5. I think “Good to Great“ is so overrated as to actually do more harm to people and organizations than good.  I believe that this is true of most business and self-help books.
  6. If I chose a statement to best characterize my life today, it would be “It’s hard to make big changes, but impossible to avoid it.”
  7. I get a lot of satisfaction from making art and wish that I had more time for it.  I prefer doing charcoals and life drawing, but want to be better at watercolor and aspire to pen and wash landscapes.
  8. I’m also happy when sailing, curled up reading, or winding down the road listening to podcasts.
  9. I love living in Europe where the quality and balance of life are better, but I worry about always being an outsider and that I’m not learning the language quickly enough.
  10. I also love quiz  nights, but, too often, my teams win the chocolate rather than the wine.  Lately, I’m frustrated that we keep losing to the “Canadian Beavers” team.
  11. I support a flock of Blue Cranes at Chester Zoo in the UK.  They take my money for food but fail to produce little baby cranes.
  12. I don’t understand why computers had to become impossible to configure and program.  I used to tinker with settings and connections, optimizing and fixing.  Now everything is complex and locked away and I’m not certified to touch it.  I suspect that people who used to tinker with cars and radios feel the same way.
  13. I’m appalled by what passes for news and information these days: it’s no wonder that people struggle to make sense of events and to fail to act effectively when institutions.
  14. I had a model hit on me in art class once. It was very flattering, especially since she was 30 years older than I was.   This would not have happened if I were a fisherman.
  15. I am better at learning by logical construction than by rote memorization. This makes it hell to learn new languages or chemistry, which is why I majored in physics and business.
  16. I fight against giving in to situations that create insecurity or damage self-respect.  They cause me undue worry and distraction, and I hate to get involved in poo-flinging despite being a dead shot.
  17. Trust is the most important quality in my social, work, and personal relationships, and I always assume trust unless it’s proven that someone doesn’t deserve it.
  18. There is a spiritual element woven into the universe, but religious institutions do an awful job of capturing or explaining it.  So I have little patience with people who want to convert me (‘nor with people who like Sarah Palin).
  19. My best escapes to be long journeys in high, open places or in close, quiet conversation in a wine bar.
  20. I still look forward to attending classes and listening to  lectures: it keeps me up with fast-moving technical and medical knowledge and gives me perspectives that put my own experiences into context.
  21. I don’t understand why untalented people should make more than the talent that they manage, but it happens all the time.  And don’t get me started on the bankers and brokers.
  22. I have a morbid fear of knives and peach fuzz gives me the shivers; pre-sliced nectarines are appreciated.
  23. I always wished that I’d attended a top-tier university to spend time with really knowledgeable and insightful people.  When I finally got the chance at Cambridge it didn’t disappoint me for a minute.
  24. I used to be a disk jockey in Nashville; one of the big delights of social networking was re-friending colleagues from the radio station.
  25. I’m always delighted when creative people transcend the over-serious auditors and gatekeepers who stand in their way.  And, if they can give these minions a jab as they pass, so much the better.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Resolving to be better


By the end of 2009….


  • I will take time for rest and relaxation; giving myself permission to slow down or enjoy open space.
  • I will have fixed my left foot.
  • I’ll have spent more days than not with regular exercise and good diet, and I won’t feel guilty about the lapses.
  • I’ll have done what I need to do to maintain health and wellness for the long term, even if it means risk management and preventative care.


  • I will find my place in the world and settle there.
  • I will find financial security or stop worrying about it and downscale my aspirations.
  • I will know when to stop, rather than conquering every challenge.
  • I will overcome haste and distraction when I drive.


  • I will strengthen my connections with the positive people  in my life and eliminate some negative ones.
  • Wherever I end up, I will find ways to join the community other than just hanging out with people from work.
  • I will be proud of how I conduct my relationships.
  • I will spend more time with my children and my parents, because neither is going to be around forever.


  • I’ll have finished the Stanford classes that have been left undone for years.
  • I’ll stay informed and engaged in the wider world, reading, writing, and collaborating with artists and scientists in hilltop retreats.
  • I’ll nurture my relationship with (and give back to) Cambridge, because its always going to be a touchstone.
  • I’ll understand spoken Dutch, not just written messages.
  • I will make a habit of speaking truth to authority.
  • I’ll have crossed the boundary between life as it is today and life as it must become tomorrow.  It sounds vague, but I know exactly what I mean, and I diminish as a person every day that I put it off.


  • I’ll better balance, or at least better divide, my work and non-work lives.
  • I’ll have an outlet for my ambition, creatively engaged in meaningful, constructive entrepreneurship.  I’ve put it off for too long and I can’t wait too many more tomorrows.
  • I’ll have scratched my itch for sailing, writing, art, travel, and reading, although it will never be satisfied.

Footnote:  I’ve always enjoyed reading Maslow and Jung on the nature of human potential, and when I reflect on changes that I need to make in my life, I can always look to their thoughts to stimulate my own.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Winding down Sunday

It’s been a busy weekend, catching up on shopping, classwork, emails, and phone calls back to the US.  By mid-afternoon today it was time to get out of town and see a bit of countryside.  The clouds were low and grey, threatening snow.  Temperatures hovered around zero C, but the winds were light and there was a hint of lighter skies to the south.

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One of the (many) nice things about Maastricht is that it’s much closer to nice places than Arnhem was.  The Ardennes, a beautiful area of hills, forests, and villages, is only a half-hour south in Belgium, and it was a perfect place for a drive in the countryside today.

DSC05487 Stitch Light snow started falling as the road wound up into the forests; the fields were lightly spotted with drifts in the shadows.  The walking trails were covered with ice, making progress difficult: there were times when I wondered if I’d ended up on the river instead of the path.  But it was good to be out in the fresh air and quiet and away from the ‘cathode glow’ for a few hours.

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The nearby town of Monschau, across the German border, was a good spot to warm up with some sausage and pastry before headed back.  Situated in a cleft valley, it never seems to get much sunlight, yet always manages to be one of the most picturesque villages in the area.  The river rushes black through the center of town, framing the onion-turreted churches and spiderweb-timber buildings.  On a February Sunday the town sees few visitors.  Everything, and everyone, is huddled and waiting for spring to return.