Hummingbird Report Cards – (MYoM – Part 11)

In the last two weeks of the school year, basically every free moment is used for letter writing. Our kids don’’t get report cards, they get long detailed letters written by all five teachers filled with their accomplishments, their strengths and weaknesses, what they could work on or try to improve in the next school year, and funny or special moments of this one, now coming to an end. Problems are alluded to, but in a comforting way and everything is stated in nicest, most positive way possible. Very few of our kids are angels and we have more than our share of truly challenging cases, so writing these letters can be an exercise in creative formulation. The deadline is tomorrow and the whole team has now officially entered a permanent state of punchiness. In my case, I have 23 down and just 3 to go. High time to blow off some steam . . .

Dear Moritz,

Your first year of Primary 2 has come to an end and you have made it through! I know it was not easy for you at the start –- everything being so new and different and most of your former classmates still in your old class. But you found your place in the new group, your desk, and sometimes you even sat there!

It made me so happy when you stopped yelling “”ENGLISH SUCKS!!”” every time I walked into your classroom on Thursday mornings. It was also good to see that you drink the recommended two liters of water per day and get a lot of physical exercise on your alternate trips to the kitchen and the bathroom. I’’m sure the Primary 1 class appreciated your frequent visits as well. You helped me get a lot of exercise too, with all my trips around the school looking for you. Thanks!

You had your own ideas about what to learn in English and where to do it. Maybe next year you will decide to take part more often when I am introducing new topics to the class. But I suppose memorizing the lyrics to Macklemore songs is also a sort of English lesson -– and an education too! I’’m glad that you finally found your English Workbook last week. And it was in your desk the whole time! Imagine that! Maybe next year you can start writing in it. This should be easier, now that you know where I have been hanging up the English assignments every week since September. Don’t forget: they are on the bulletin board right under the big sign that says “”English Assignments””!

Moritz, you are very communicative! In World Studies, you took part in many discussions and debates this year –- many of them heated! – and one or two of them were somewhat related to the subjects we were learning about. The groups you worked in (for a while anyway) gave many interesting presentations and, in the second half of the second semester, you were there too! Judging from the pictures you draw in your notebooks, it seems to us that our lessons about  human anatomy were the ones that interested you most. Maybe next year you could start drawing the inner organs.

Have a great summer, Moritz, and I look forward to seeing you again on the first day of school in September. At your desk. Book in hand. Hydrated.

Vowel Equality


Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, says he knows how to defeat the terrorists – and it is so simple and easy! Unfortunately he isn’’t going to tell us what the solution is just yet. I guess he wants us to help him move into the White House first.

He is not the only one with a big idea. Years and years ago, I figured out the solution to the whole gay marriage question, but I didn’’t tell anyone about it either. It happened after DOMA (“Defense of Marriage Act”) passed which made me wonder when the government had gotten into the linguistics business. It occurred to me that if they could define existing words,  they could also create new words and then define them. Why not coin a word “”Merriage”” (as in “merry” or “gay”) and then define it as a union between one man and one man or one woman and one woman. They could bestow the state of merriage with all the same legal rights and privileges of marriage. They could start issuing official “Merriage Licenses”. Then everyone could get married/merried or say ““I am married/merried”.” Only the intolerant would wonder or care whether that was with an “”a”” or an “e””.

Of course this was a compromise solution, but at that time, I couldn’’t imagine that yesterday would ever come. This was better than nothing.

I am so glad now that I kept my mouth shut! As great as my idea was, yesterday’’s Supreme Court decision was so much better – true equality instead of a compromising patch job. Everyone treated the same, rather than separate but equal. We the People, with our more perfect union and our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the vowel “”a””.


I am nearing the 6 month anniversary of starting this experiment, so it is time to take stock. First -– my life as a blogger:

Phase 1 was taking tentative Baby Steps. Posting a few entries that only my best friend could see. Figuring out how the platform works. Feeling very exposed -– but in kind of a nice way. In Phase 2, I realized I was having fun. I told a handful of people about it -– mostly family. Phase 3 consisted mostly of feelings of frustration that no one could sign in to access the site due to technical problems and that led me to Phase 4: deciding to just go public with it all. I told a few more people. Then came Phase 5 after I discovered the “Statistics” function which shows me how many visitors and views per day. I got temporarily overly fascinated by the numbers and watching them tick up and up. Who were all these people? I let a few more friends on it all. Which brings me to Phase 6 – the one I am in now. I am seriously considering forking over the 40 Bucks so that readers don’t have to see and hear the ads and making a mental list of who I will tell next . . .

Then there is my real life which has gone on concurrently with my blogging life. I’’ve decided to summarize it in Harper’s Index style for the sake of brevity, because I have 26 letters to write to my students between now and Tuesday. (Normally this would be no problem, but I am writing them together with a colleague which slows the process considerably, because, needless to say, our discussions have the tendency to go off the track at regular intervals of . . . like, every 15 minutes – not to suggest that my colleague is to blame, no, because, as you can see – here I am – going off the track all on my own . . .) Back to the topic at hand – my life this past half year in statistics:

CIRCUMSTANCE’S INDEX (for the first half of 2015)

Blog entries written since January 3, 2015 : 81
Number of visitors/views : 1033/3617
Number of regular work days : 57
Free days on which 3 or more hours were spent at school : 21
Days spent on school field trips or excursions : 8
Hours spent in team meetings : uncountable
Number of times I have missed my old job : 0
Hours spent braiding or unbraiding hair : 48
Number of kilometers driven while chauffeuring daughters around : 9000
Trips around the cornfield with the dogs : 112
Times the cleaning lady has come : 25
Average number of minutes after cleaning lady leaves that the house is messy again : 25
Number of “TO DO” lists : 75
Number of “TO DO” lists that include the word “ironing” : 75
Hours spent ironing : ½
Times the garden has been weeded : ½
Dead houseplant removals : 4
Number of times my husband has been on local TV : 5
Number of times my husband has been convicted of a crime : 1
Hours spent at concerts : 23
Hours spent in a church (not counting the Vatican) : 3
Days spent in Rome: 3
Number of Pope Francis cigarette lighters purchased : 2
Canisters of Cheetos consumed : 5¾
Canisters of Cheetos shared with daughters : ¼
Feelings of guilt about not sharing Cheetos : 0
Feelings of guilt about being lazy or wasting time : 1821
Snood games played : 13,251
Percentage of Snood games won : 18


I hate to do the third depressing blog entry in a row -– but then, that is how bad luck always seems to come -– in groups of three. And it would be impossible for me to write anything lighthearted anyway. For the first time in my life, one of those rampage killing sprees you hear about in the news has affected me directly -– as in, I personally know some of the victims.

When a psychotic man drove 80 mph through the narrow streets and pedestrian zones of the capital city on Saturday, intentionally running down people in his path, one of the groups he trained his sights on was four kids from my husband’’s school – and one of them was a former student of mine. She and one other managed to jump out of the way, but the other two were hit. One of those two is now in intensive care with a myriad of serious injuries – It’’s too early to tell how she will come through it all.

What has helped the most today has been going into crisis intervention mode. Helping my husband arrange for a trauma team to be available for his affected students, contact all the teachers and arrange for homeroom sessions in the first hour of school on Monday, collect information from all the affected families about how the kids are doing . . . Trying to help helped me fight off the terrible thoughts. But now it is late in the evening and there is nothing I can do. Those thoughts are floating up to the surface . . .

My lovely 16 year old former student, who, right now, is trying to fall asleep. Mostly she is worrying about her friend, but somewhere deep in her subconscious, shoved down in some corner, is the thought.

Someone tried to kill me.

Some future day, that thought is going to come rushing up to the surface, heading straight toward her, and this time, she won’t be able to jump out of the way.


I spent the day in Graz on a field trip with my school kids. We did the “HyperAmerika” exhibit at the Kunsthaus, then the “We are Swimming in Plastic”  exhibit at the Natural History Museum, and then the cute Africa Festival in Augarten. A fabulous day even if it might have led to some sensory overload. These are country kids and being in the “big city” alone was a big deal for some of them. For more, it was their first time in an art museum. And then all those pictures of suffering sea animals being mutilated by plastic garbage. And then to be surrounded by so many black people!

I enjoyed the Africa Festival, but was a bit subdued by unsuccessfully repressed thoughts of the recent election here, the shooting in Charleston yesterday, and my own daughter’’s third racist episode in the space of a month -– this time it was some young guys driving by in a car, shouting “”Neger!”” and giving her the finger. I wondered if it wouldn’’t be better for her to live somewhere more urban and multicultural than this country village she calls home.

When I got home this evening, I talked to my girls for a while and then watched Jon Stewart. Repressing thoughts of recent events was no longer possible. So I decided to catch up on the news with some Rachel Maddow. I like her and her network for their comforting liberal bias. Clicking on MSNBC led to this page loading onto my computer:



I know absolutely nothing about this movie being advertised –- “”The Gunman”” starring Sean Penn. But he sure does look cool. And I’’m sure it is really exciting. And I can “OWN IT NOW”!

Has there ever been a worse place to insert an ad glorifying guys with guns?

I am sure it won’’t be more than a week before I hear that ridiculous statement again about how “Guns don’t kill people blah blah blah”. Look at this kid -– he was weak,  ignorant and full of fear, pain, rage, self-doubt, inferiority and more rage about his inferiority. Put a gun in his hand and suddenly he feels less helpless. He has power. He’’s The Gunman.

He killed nine people. That gun he was holding killed ten.

Mucking Money

It is so sad how money can ruin a good thing. I’’ve witnessed several families being torn apart in feuds over inheritances. I’’ve heard of sponsorship money meant to help keep an orphaned Ethiopian child off the streets turn that same child into magnet for mooching extended family members or a human ping pong ball among sudden wannabe legal guardians. I’’ve departed from the sunny smiles of barefoot barely-clad Africans and arrived 6 hours later in this country to the dour expressions of stressed out people shoving their way to a good spot at the conveyor belt to claim their three huge suitcases. And I’’ve often wondered why a little girl with a stable full of ponies at home looks so much sadder than her classmate with four siblings, two social workers and a father in jail.

Yesterday I got the haunting feeling that money may well muck up the good thing I have going in my school. For the first time, the finances were laid out for everyone to see and – to cut to the chase – it seems I am straining the budget. They wanted a qualified native speaking English teacher, but it was never clear if they could really afford one. The question has officially reared its ugly head.

Suddenly the two worlds I live in are clashing. I feel I have to justify myself there as to why I insist on staying (slightly) above the poverty threshold and I have to justify myself at home as to why I am staying at such a low-paying job, while turning down job offers that would bring in three times as much for half the work. Actually, that is not fair. My husband sees that I am happy and has been great about it all. I just hope things at school go a similar way.

The quickest way to kill happiness is to slap a price tag on it.

Vision Thing

My girls were laughing at me because it is dark outside and I am sitting at my laptop with sunglasses on. They asked me if I thought I looked cool and, as punishment, I gave them a lengthy and detailed biology lesson about how eyes work and pupil dilation and light sensitivity. You see, I was at the eye doctor’’s a few hours ago and the effects of those drops she gave me still haven’’t worn off. With these huge pupils, I would take off the sunglasses if I wanted to look cool.

I had never had an optical nerve exam before today -– it was quite the experience. The doctor took this small cylindrical object and pressed one end of it up against my eyeballs. There was actual contact. I am feeling sort of . . . violated. But everything checked out, so I guess it was worth it.

This was my second successful eye exam in a row! A few months ago I had a regular checkup and -– no lie – for the first time in my life, an eye doctor told me that my eyesight had improved a little. I almost started to cry.

Even at my very first appointment as a child, I did very badly in the eye examination and it has gone steadily downhill in all the years since. The funny thing is that– my mother took me to that first appointment as an afterthought. My older brother had to go and my mom decided almost spur-of-the-moment to bring me along too. (It seems I had been coming home from school with migraine-type headaches. I was eight years old and my mom would find me after school lying on the couch with one arm draped over my eyes in the completely darkened living room.) No one suspected at that point that I didn’’t see well. It turned out my brother got a normal strength prescription and I got the heavy-duty one.

I will never forget the car ride home from the optometrist with my first pair of glasses. I kept taking them off and putting them back on -– comparing – amazed at how the world looked and how much detail there was! So many signs to read! How could I have been so blind! And so blind to it! The next day in school, the teacher went up to the board with a piece of chalk and . . . words appeared! Readable ones! I didn’’t have to copy from my neighbor or walk up to the front of the class later to see them!

It is strange how -– whatever your world is -– you sort of assume it is normal. Sometimes there were little moments of epiphany in my life – when I suddenly realized most people have a different experience than mine. Finding out how blind I had been was definitely one of those moments. Another came about 6 years later while sitting in the kitchen of my best friend’’s house. Her mother was cooking dinner and then her father came in and they started a conversation. It occurred to me -– no, it seemed to literally wash over me that . . . most people have two parents. It was my home situation that was not normal.

But back to the vision thing. Those first three years as a somewhat blind schoolchild turned me into an auditory learner, which I profited from for the rest of my education. The only drawback was how impatient I would feel watching teachers write sentence after sentence on the blackboard. I hated that. So boring and unnecessary! When I became a teacher myself, though, this was a definite weakness. I wrote very little on the board – and when I did, it was rushed and sloppy. It didn’’t occur to me that the majority of learners are visual types and needed to see information too.

This finally came home to me in a multimedia seminar that I had to take for one of my jobs. It was supposed to help us deal with all the high-tech stuff in modern classrooms: you know, the overhead projectors and the tape recorders, the flipcharts and moveable bulletin boards . . . The seminar leader made a demonstration with the overhead projector: he put a foil on it and then turned it on for just a split second. Then he asked us what we had seen. He started at the other end of the room. “”I saw a man”,” – ““I saw a glass”,” – ““I saw something blue””, – “”I saw a table” ” . . .

I hadn’’t seen any of that! Just some phrases that I was able to piece together into a sentence in my mind and after the fact. When he got to me, I told him I saw the sentence “”What do you think of when you hear the word ‘cocktail’?””  There was a momentary uncomfortable silence. He was clearly disappointed. He was so looking forward to pointing out that none of us had seen the words. Instead, he mumbled irritably, “”That happens once every 200 times!”” Oops.

I discovered in that seminar that I am not visual. It is why I hated comics as a kid — because I only read the text and skipped right past all the colors and forms above or below the words. Without those visual clues, you can’’t understand the text. But I was not the norm and most of my students were not like me. They needed the visual input. They needed to see as well as hear the words in order to understand them. After that seminar, I started adapting my materials and methods to all those visual learners. Like writing down and showing the assignments instead of just announcing them. Overnight, the number of students completing their homework seemed to double.

Once again – blind no more!

Editing the Weekend

Weird thought of the day: There is a published book out there for which I can say with a great amount of certainty that I am the only person in this entire world who has ever read it from cover to cover.

I supplement my income sporadically with editing and proofreading – sometimes for a publishing house, sometimes for university professors and sometimes just for friends of friends. The book I mentioned above was for the publisher and it was an approximately 600 page long legal reference manual with multiple authors on the subject of double taxation treaties. Unfortunately, these authors all used the same template, so when a mistake came up once, it recurred in chapter after chapter and had to be corrected each individual time. And not with the “Search and replace” function on the computer. No, by hand, because for some reason, this work is still done on paper using old-fashioned symbols like these:

proofreading marks

Accordingly, editing this book cost me more than a few weekends. At about the halfway point, I needed to blow off some steam, so I wrote an email to my fellow-editing friend who had gotten me this work:


From: Me
Subject: ancillary note
T0: KO

Pursuant to the Email of 16 April 2011 composed by myself (hereinafter referred to as “The Author”) and addressed to you (hereinafter referred to as “The Recipient”), it is subsequently to be noted by The Author that the work, deemed in the aforementioned Email to be progressing smoothly, may also be proving detrimental to the brain cells of said Author, who, after 15 hours of perusing English texts of the legal variety, felt the compulsion to transmit such information to The Recipient, whose previous experiences in such contexts may enable said Recipient to relate.

Just wanted to get that off my chest. Now I am going to GET BACK TO WORK.


I eventually got through the whole book, so if anyone out there is thinking of doing some business in, say, Bosnia & Herzegovina and wants to avoid paying taxes twice -– well, I am your go-to person for those questions.

Over the years, I have gotten a side education on all sorts of topics through this work. For instance, I could speak somewhat intelligently about on the one hand the epistemic boundary work and hence, on the other hand, the rather masculinistic gendering of the curriculum of the study of the field of engineering: historicalistically but however thus also indeed until today. (It took me ten hours to “proofread” = rewrite 20 pages! A new low.) I could also talk about the need to place the concept of corporate social responsibility discursively within the context of a political arena or about ways to promote conservation based tourism to protect the uncharismatic rock partridge in the Hohe Tauern national park, which, by the way, has something to do with this:

math image

This weekend two Master’’s Theses are on the docket. So I will be reading up on some high energy physics (HEPHY) and using the EUDET telescope and the Belle II upgrade to Japan’’s KEKB particle accelerator with its SVD vertex tracking detector to conduct a beam test at the SPS at CERN. After that, it will be on to improving the shareholder value of semiconductor sensors suppliers by improving strategic performance measurements in light of such global megatrends as outernet and shytech. I couldn’’t say a lot at this point as I haven’t started the editing work yet -– preferring to procrastinate with my blog – but this much I know already:

weekend delete

All Talked Out – (MYoM – Part 10)

Tuesday is Team Meeting Day. That means the five main teachers of the school come together to discuss current issues and to plan the coming week. Often we are joined by other people -– someone from the board, someone who is in charge of one of the parent work groups – it depends on what is currently happening in the school. Sounds fairly straight forward, but the reality is that these meetings are the most circuitous, random, twisted, improvised, meandering, roundabout, spontaneous, and unsystematic talks imaginable.

The first few times I took part almost four years ago set all my inner alarm bells ringing. “This is no way to run a meeting!” I thought. I was impatient and irritated by all the extraneous remarks, the interrupting, the straying farther and farther from the issue in question. I would lose the thread of the conversation and was then suddenly surprised by the fact that everyone seemed to think the topic was settled. ““What did we just decide?”” I asked my neighbor. ““Did I miss something?”” (I should add here, that I was the only participant who was not speaking in her native language.)

At some point, I resigned myself to the fact that these meetings would last 4 to 5 hours and I relaxed. Slowly, I started to see some sense in doing things this way. We were anything but efficient, yet each meeting taught me something. There is value in letting everyone speak their mind, in giving time to both issues and the people affected by them. In slowly and democratically circling in on the core of the thing, the common threads and then finding a consensus that everyone can live with. Democracy is messy and it takes effort and time. And listening.

But this week’’s meeting was longer and more intensive than most, because the core issue was a sensitive one. The patron parent of former days is unhappy. Do we agree to his demands or do we stand by what we think is best for his children? (Not to mention the other 40 children in the school!) How do we get out of the corner we’’ve been boxed into?

After six hours we had used up all the words and we were still nowhere. It had only become clear which of the three bad alternatives seemed least bad to the most people. That would have to be our “decision”. I am still convinced there is a better one, but it seems we can’t get there from here.

The Things We Do

My younger daughter has a phenomenal amount of hair -– in fact ““hair”” doesn’’t quite do it justice – it is more of a “mane”. When wet and combed straight, it goes down to her waist. Once dry, the tiny curls make it about a foot and a half shorter. It requires constant attention and the right style (usually braids, sometimes twists) because one week of neglect turns it into a huge Velcro pillow requiring 10 hours of painful detangling. So, hairstyling has become a major factor in my life. I block off time for it in my calendar. “Bike ride and picnic on Saturday? That sounds like fun! But, unfortunately, next weekend is a hair weekend.” Over the years, all of my friends have come to know what this means.

Today was a braiding day. We started at noon with the third film in the Hunger Games series (Mockingjay -– Part 1) and managed to get almost 30 braids done. Then we put in the seventh Harry Potter film (Deathly Hallows -– Part 1) which saw us through most of the next 25 braids.

I assume Deathly Hallows -– Part 2 is slated for tomorrow afternoon, by the end of which, we should be up to 85 braids, total. The fourth film for the final 25 braids is still open – I only know that sometime around the end of that film, my daughter will be admiring herself in the mirror, and then she will come to me with a huge smile on her face and give me a long hug. And it will be at least two months before we have to fuss with her hair again.

The things we do to make our daughters happy.