Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, February 16, 2015

top ten tips to survive carnival (repost)

It is carnival time here in Germany. For the past few weeks (officially since Nov. 11 at 11:11am), and for the next few, wigs are out, crazy hats and bright scarves are on, and 'hellaus' are being yelled on the street! Carnival is the official indulging party before the unofficial fasting of Lent begins...this craziness is almost church-sanctioned. Mostly it is tame enough, with the world's oldest carnival parade (dating back to 1823), hosting millions of revellers and fools in Cologne - this year on March 3 (Rosenmontag). 

If you happen to be in the area for this year's carnival festivities or next year's, here are my top 10 tips on making the most of this rich-in-tradition, community-bonding, special-friend-making, all-around-fun party.


1. Find out what ‘hellau’ actually means (or I can just tell you here). 

You will be hearing this a lot the moment you are in costume, or if you pass someone on the street who is with mask. I don't want you to make the same mistake others might have made; excitedly replying to everyone, HELLO! HELLO! because for some reason you think they all of a sudden know you speak English. I barely know anyone who's done that.

‘Hellau’, which does sound surprising similar to 'hello' to the untrained ear (trust me) is the standard carnival greeting. Why it has to sound exactly like a German person saying ‘hello’ is meant to just confuse tourists, I think…or to make Germans seem friendlier.


2. Stay on the right side of the Rhine (the left).

If you are coming to the Rhine area to partake in carnival revelry, then you will need to know where the Catholics are. They are all along the left side of the Rhine. If you see the pope or some nuns, dancing and having a good 'ol time then you are on the right side of the river!

As far as I can figure it out, the Rhine river was the thorn in the French army's side, stopping any further advancements back in the day. I'm talking, way back, like 1814 when Germany got the left side back. But, the Germans kept some of the fun stuff, like more Catholics, carnival (although some would argue that carnival was born out of medieval folk culture) and the number eleven. Carnival clubs (who plan all of the festivities in each German town and city - only on the left side of course) are called the "Elferrat", not having anything to do with elves - another common confusion, especially if they happen to be dressed as such."Elf", which is "11" in German, is the acronym for 'egalité, liberté, fraternité' - the values of the French Revolution.


3. Keep wigs close at hand.

You never know when you will  be invited to a carnival party at the last minute...there are many. Or, if the costume you had planned to wear doesn’t really work (or is all of a sudden two sizes too small). So grab a wig, any kind of crazy dress (or just make it crazy), hang 18 different necklaces around neck, and pile on some flaming red lipstick - you’ll be ready to go. Everyone looks great (and a little crazy) with blue hair!


4. Hydrate – and I do actually mean with water.

Drink lots of water, constantly. First of all, water is healthy. And, secondly, you will lessen the negative side-effects of dancing through the streets, drinking sparkling wine and singing with strangers…for the entire day…starting at 11 am. During carnival everything starts at 11 am. So drink lots of water, or by 3pm you’ll be lying elegantly on the pavement or snoozing on the train.


5. Go with a friend or three.

You will most certainly be taking the train or subway to all or most big carnival events. The only way for a city to gather hundreds of thousands of people within a few blocks is for the crowds to use public transport. Learn to love the train…even if there are drunk, singing hooligans on board. That is why having friends with you will be much more fun. Dance, laugh, take photos, eat a bratwurst. Make your own happy party, the way you like to party, with the people you like and you will have a super fun day…of singing (and a little dancing).


6. Take singing lessons…but only if you want to make new friends or keep the old ones.

As I have already mentioned, you will singing. One of the very best things about Europe is that people sing! Whenever there is a festival, sporting event, or just lots of people gathered together, there is singing. Young and old, strangers and friends, the tone-deaf and the less tone-deaf - people sing and sway together all the time. I love it. Sure, everybody is just a little bit zoused most of the time, but it sure is festive.


7. Brush up on your politics.

Carnival is traditionally a time to let your hair down and be free; say what you want, do what you want, eat and drink what you want. Almost every carnival gathering is a minor revolt against the 'big bad system' – so make sure you understand a little bit of what is happening in politics, the economy, or just the 'news' in that neighbourhood - the parodies will most likely mention the 'hot button' topics of the day, whether on a stage, on the street, or on a float. 

A great, revolting example, is the story behind Weiberfastnacht - or 'Old lady/hag day'. This is celebrated on the Thursday before Rosenmontag, and is not a day to hug a senior as the name may suggest. On this day, in 1824, the washer women decided they had had enough. They threw down their buckets and stormed the city (an exaggeration) and took over for the day. Now, apparently, only on this one day, women have total control. They go around cutting off men's ties (not sure why) and are allowed to kiss any man they want. Isn't that just a normal day?


8. Employment.

If you are planning on really adopting carnival into your social calendar then make sure you find employment in the right provinces. As mentioned before, the less Catholic and more right situated provinces do not acknowledge that this mayhem exists. Therefore, if you want a lenient workplace; a boss who understands your bloodshot eyes and your numerous sick days, then work on the left side. Even though carnival days are not official holidays, most businesses are closed on Rosenmontag. And those poor souls who have to work will most likely be bored.


9. Clothing – wear layers and comfortable shoes.

Spring in Germany is, well, unpredictable. Whether the morning of your carnival-ing adventure is sunny or not, wear layers. You will be outside for the rest of the entire day. Many people opt for warm costumes, such as black sheep (more popular than white), polar bears, or any other furry, hairy creatures that you can snuggle yourself into. Or just make sure you find a big 'ol teddy bear to stand close to if you get cold. Just beware of frisky teddies later in the afternoon. On second thought, maybe standing too close to a teddy bear isn’t the best idea until you get to know them better (personally, I'm terrified of bears). Be safe and layer. Of course, if your carnival party is in the evening, in an event hall of some kind, this step need not be heeded. 


10. Love the one or ones your with, but don’t love them (this tip is also known as ‘keep your pants or pantaloons on’).

Apparently, rumour has it, that what happens during carnival stays at carnival. But more so than a Vegas trip or the entire two weeks of the Calgary Stampede, during carnival it is almost expected. Honestly, I can’t really believe that this is ‘normal’ carnival behaviour. But some people have assured me that it is, and when I pushed for exact details, the conversation came to an abrupt end. Lips sealed. Rumours of partner-tossing or wife-swapping abound, but I believe it depends on the people. Great guy and most of his friends are not carnival peeps…don’t like it, won’t go with me, need to be dragged kicking and screaming. So, I do go, but I’m a good girl at heart…who just likes to sing in the streets…with pink hair.

And once upon a time, I did get him to come out with me...

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

person of 2014: a man and his meanderings

I'm late in naming my Person of the Year for 2014, my apologies, but really it's only just February. 

Life is sacred, live on purpose.
Be intoxicated with this world and astonished with the world you imagine.
Growth is a journey, success doesn't require arrival.
Want what you already hold, Give no place to public opinion
Delight in your friends.
Practice the art of doing nothing,
Embrace moments of grace,
Give the child in you a wide sky
Understand that laughter is prayer. [Terry Hershey]

To give this particular person the title Person of the Year, for just the one year, actually does him an injustice. He’s an octogenarian (83!), and has surely lived decades worthy of the Person of the Year title. His name is John...and he is one of my favorite people.

 Friends in your life are like pillars on your porch. Sometimes they hold you up, and sometimes they lean on you. Sometimes it's just enough to know they're standing by.[unknown]

Since September 2001, John has been sending out an email full of wise and humorous quotes every single school day - that's like 2700 days, 2700 emails! I can barely manage to write once a week, but John researches and finds the most poignant, thought-provoking or silly things from around the world, almost every day of every week. What commitment!

How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? You have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. And you have to work for it…One thing I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. If you laugh, if you think, and you cry – that’s a full day! That’s a heck of a day! You do that seven days a week and you’ve got something special. [Jim Valvano]


John and his clan - there are too many of them to ask for photo-use permission - this way was easier.
John told me that he started sending out his Monday Meanderings, Tuesday Twitterings, Wednesday Whimsies, Thursday Threads and Friday Fancies...as encouraging snippets for his 7 adult children who were spread out across Canada. He had passed the torch of school leadership on to some of his children who were now in various levels of teaching positions in public, private and reserve schools.

It’s funny how a parent’s or teacher’s  raised eyebrow can do more damage to your psyche than say, Chinese water torture. [Arabella Weir]

John's selections are like signposts - messages to follow or not, if we want to take up the challenge of living peacefully with each other, becoming better humans and grounding ourselves more spiritually.


Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease or the words of people’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us – the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty – all of these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. May we find a way to meet the task. [W.E.B. Du Bois]

I'm not exactly sure when I caught wind of John's emails, but I have treasured them since they started popping up in my inbox...they inspire me. My John's Jems email folder is like a treasured library full of books from hundreds, thousands of different authors, different backgrounds and different experiences - so many beautiful words encouraging me to learn, to act, to chuckle, to love and not hate, to be an effective leader, to open my eyes and heart to others, to hear God and listen...challenging all of us really to keep growing and that we in turn encourage those around us to do the same.


Be bold. When you embark for a strange place, don't leave any of yourself behind safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory...if you know what you're heading for, that's all you will get - what's previously known. But when you open yourself to what's possible, you'll get something new - that's creativity!


I have always loved books. My father would read the newspaper with us, and any book we wanted as long as there were more words than pictures. Everyone knows that words are powerful - often you only need a few to make a big point, sometimes as little as three. I love you. I hate you. Je suis Charlie. Sometimes a phrase, a sentence, can reach straight through your chest and grab hold of your heart causing you to act. Oh the lovely power!

The time has come to put our stones down. For hands clutching stones can’t freely drum.
[Native Canadian Medicine Man]

It’s hard not to think about his family when I think about this Person of the Year. John and his wife are the most humble people I know so they won’t appreciate my gushing, but gush I will. So much of their great personality traits I see reflected in their children, and ergo their grandchildren. Generous of time and themselves, funny, clever, responsible, faithful, meek, musical, strong, loyal, humble, so smart, objective, a bit self-deprecating at times, easy-going, kind. Really, don't you think the greatest thing that a parent can give their child is that child’s desire to strive to embrace every good example the parents have set?

"I know what it is like to be powerless to forgive. That is why I would never say to someone, 'You must forgive.' . I can only say: however much we have been wronged, however justified our hatred, if we cherish it, it will poison us. . we must pray for the power to forgive, for it is in forgiving our enemies that we are healed." [Dr Sheila Cassidy who was tortured in Chile, during the Pinochet regime]


The daily emails revolve most often around forgiveness, leadership, what success truly means, learning, loving, working, being involved even if your hands need to get dirty, volunteering, and the importance of being goofy.

“If someone does not smile at you, be generous and offer your own smile. Nobody needs a smile more than the one that cannot smile to others.”[Dalai Lama]

Their children have at various times been scattered from the west coast across Canada to the east coast, B.C to Newfoundland, but the family has remained steadfastly connected as if an anchor rests solidly and permanently on their front lawn - only some anchors more rusted and weathered than others. I know that John and his wife's idea of 'holiday' is to visit their children, even if it means spending a winter week on the Saskatchewan prairies or driving the 14 hours to Winnipeg for a four-day stay. What a gift!



Quotes from intelligent people are also a gift, and I have them jotted down in notebooks, on scraps of paper, on bulletin boards and next up, my arm. A dear friend, who just so happens to be one of John's children, had a wall in her kitchen painted with quotes she loved. Such a cool idea. I would totally steal that if I could, but my current roommate would kill me!

  Isn’t it strange that princes and kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folk like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass, a book of rules;
And each must make ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone. [R.L. Sharpe]

John's emails highlight nuggets of experience - the words and thoughts from people's own stories that thankfully someone wrote down. But John, himself, has a story (which I won't get into detail here) as intricate and rooted as the rings of a thousand-year-old oak. A family history that includes fleeing war, coming to Canada as refugees, building up a farm on the prairies (oh the winters without electricity!), and more recently trying to fit 7 children plus 2 adults in one car. The foundation of his family throughout the many decades, as strong and unwavering as the thickest tree, is (it's not over) their family's commitment to each other, and to God.

Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you. [Unknown]



John has been married for over 61 years (to the same woman!), is the father of seven, the grandfather of 17 and almost great-grandfather to one. He and his wife have managed, which seems most unusual nowadays, to actively build brick for brick, with tears and laughter and long car rides, a really strong family who mostly really like each other. They help each other, they talk and listen, they play together and they just be...together, often. I truly think they all really love each other - the active, dependable love that we all hope for. That's success in my books.

Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on rocks the next. What makes you a man or woman is what you do when that storm comes. [Alexandre Dumas,Sr.]



Since I began my blog in late 2010, I have often tried improving it by borrowing the wisdom from John’s compilations...basically using other people's words so that mine look and sound better. Is that being creative or just lazy? I choose A. I so admire how some people's way with words leave their impact as obvious as a lightning strike.

Live life to the full. All around you people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But, dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don't tiptoe.[from an anonymous old guy]

John's emails aren't just serious, but like the man himself who is chock full of spiritual guidance and introspective thoughts, his emails also contain pithy prayers and poetry, punny proverbs and limericks, the supremely silly and unusual.

Actual Newspaper Headlines

  • Homicide Victims Rarely Talk To Police
  • Barbershop Singers Bring Joy To Students At School For The Deaf
  • Meat Head Resigns [CEO of Meat Packing Plant]
  • Police Raid Gunshop, Find Weapons
  • Man With 8 Impaired Driving Charges Blames Drinking Problem
  • School Division: New Sick Policy Requires 2 Days Notice
Recently I sent one of his children a short note trying to send encouragement his way, ending it off with one of my favourite poems (which ironically his sister once posted on my wall at work eons ago). A couple of days later that poem showed up in John’s Monday Meanderings. To say that the family is connected like the tightest web would be an understatement, and I feel blessed to be in a small way part of the web.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”[Maya Angelou]

John's daily reminders of the rich lives people have lived and the stories they share are a blessing to receive, even more so when those words are acted upon. My cup runneth over because of John and his wife's mark on my life; in words, in spirit, in their open home and gracious family. They are my friends.

"My memories of growing up…are of a close-knit and happy family. We laughed a lot, had fun and just enjoyed being together. We grew up with a very strong sense of the importance of family - much of that came from the example of our parents – they worked very hard to make our lives happy and free from worry. Money was really scarce – we saw very little of it – but we never thought of ourselves as being poor – we were very rich in our relationships with each other, with our church, with friends, and with books……” (John himself)

Thank you John, for all that you've given. It's enough to fly…


(I know, I know, receiving the title from TIME would've meant more!)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me. 
- Emily Dickinson
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