There is Always a Bright Side

Here comes the time of yearly wrap up, and now that I think about it, I have really no  particular achievement to share. This blogging year has been pretty much  the same as the previous one: not many posts written, same amount of visitors, the “Mythical Method”” is still the most read article, which makes me ponder a bit, actually, as that means that I have been unable to write something as interesting or useful since 2014, ah, yes, I have one thing worthy to be mentioned, I reached level 10.000 of Candy Crush, which makes me a world class player indeed.

 I have nothing more to say about  the topic, but  I would like to make a wrap up still on the positive side  of this pandemic year –  there is always a bright sight even in the darkest moments -,  as resilience made me develop new interests, habits, opportunities,  some of which will not be altered, I hope, when everything ends, because it will end someday.  So, here is my top five list of facts, for which I have to thank Covid 19:

N°5 I  SAVED  A LOT OF MONEY ON MAKEUP .  As I wear a mask most of the day,  lipstick has become useless. Why should one put on something nobody can see and that, besides, stains the mask?  Talking  about stains, the first time I saw a friend of mine taking off her mask, I found it so repulsive, as there were not only the marks of  red lipstick left on it,  but also those  of brown foundation. No need to say,  I immediately dropped using foundation myself. When we wear masks, after all, only our eyes can be seen, so make up must focus on eyes mostly, any other effort is a waste of time. On this purpose I have watched an endless gallery of tutorials on how to obtain a glam,  sexy  smokey  eye effect with lots of glitter, which, I might rightly define chic, but not that fitting for one day at school. What a shame.

N°4 MY SKIN QUALITY IMPROVED DESPITE MASK ALLERGY. I have spent a fortune on masks as I soon developed a tremendous mask allergy, which took the form of a sort of acne or rosacea on my  nose and cheeks. After many months of skin disaster, during which I had to use topical antibiotic and cortisone,  I came across a blessed cream : Ceravè ( I don’t know if it has the same name outside Italian borders). Well , “cera” is the Italian word for wax and this is exactly the effect produced on your face and body: a soft , moisturising wax which forms a barrier between skin and mask. I have not had a single blemish on my face since I started to use it.

N°3 STAFF MEETINGS AND SCHOOL MEETINGS OF ANY KIND PLANNED FROM REMOTE ONLY.  Schooling has been in presence these last months, but all meetings have been planned from remote to avoid dangerous school gatherings. This means  I can now  enjoy a certain freedom during these inexorable rituals, which cadence teachers’ lives , as they have  become the occasion to put into practice all those little tricks I have learnt from my students during  online classes: freeze  effects when boredom reigns, so you sneak out  and make a coffee;  disturbing noises whenever you are asked to give your comment;  pretending the line does not work if you are caught unprepared because you were somewhere else, or just quitting unseen if the session  is too prolonged.  

N ° 2 I  LEARNT NEW TEACHING TECHNIQUES. During online classes months, I had to reorganize my way of teaching and communicating in order to be more effective, as the atmosphere and learning environment is not the same as sitting in a classroom with lecturers and classmates. I imagined that my words needed to go hand in hand with images in order to be catchy. Hence, I have learned to use GIMP, a cross-platform image editor, to make my power- points as attractive as possible. I have now become addicted to GIMP. I could spend hours and hours refining, cutting, colouring, giving effects, editing pictures. GIMP is my new totem.

N°1 THE KITCHEN HAS DEFINITELY BECOME MR RUN’S KINGDOM.  Weren’t my husband named Mr Run, he would certainly be known as Mr Cook. Cooking has always been one of his greatest passions, which he develops to such a level of accuracy and perfection , that could actually be considered a professional on this matter to all effects . We have dozens and dozens of pots, pans , the most disparate cooking tools, one of which, in particular, has always  been the target of my mockery,  as to my eyes  it completely useless – we have two actually – : a sort of big plastic spoon with a slit, with which you can divide the yolk from the egg white . It is a must have, he assures. When lockdowns came to an end and I was back to school in presence, as my husband was still allowed to work from home,  I thought it had arrived the right time to make a definite handover of kitchen responsibilities. Nobody  has ever regretted my cooking talents so far, if there had ever been any.

That’s all for this year. I hope we will be able to see the end of this endless tunnel as soon as possible. Happy 2022 everyone!!!

Merry Christmas!

This is the most wonderful time of the year.  It has always been so since I was a little girl to me, and this is not for Christmas in itself, but because all my “events” are concentrated in this part of the year in a fabulous bacchanal which stretches from my birthday on December 3rd to Christmas, name-day on the 26th – as Mrs Tink’s name is actually Stefania – to go to New Years’ celebrations and the coming of the Befana  on the 6th of January. This was still the most wonderful time of the year even when I realized  that as I was growing older, rather  than receiving a present for each singular celebration it had become customary to get  1 present for all of them together. A bigger one, I was said. A big scam I thought. This is still the most wonderful time of the year even when I look back to past Christmases and I realize that at least half of them  have been unpleasant if not tragic. Yet, I never associate tragedy to Christmas, just I can’t. This is why I am determined to make this Christmas, any Christmas the most wonderful time of the year despite all the presents I have not received, bad thoughts and above all the hard times we have all been sharing for too long. I wish you all to have a fabulous time anyhow. Merry Christmas. Tink.

The Labyrinth of Knossos

Have you tried to talk to an operator these days? One thing is for sure, you need a lot of time and patience, the patience of Job at least. In fact, when the recorded voice starts to speak with that gentle, hypocrite tone of one who pretends to be of help, while, in truth, means only to confound and make you give up, you are well aware that a very long journey is about to begin.

Press 1, press 2, 3,4,5….9, the numerous options are only a way to distract from the only and real object of your search, which they know well to be: a flesh and blood operator. Instead, if you are lucky enough, you may end up attempting to make useless conversation with a virtual dog named Toby, which seems to have been created only with the purpose to make you feel dummy.  Yet, we know, we feel, that the flesh and blood operator of our dreams is somewhere there and we keep searching in that labyrinth of Knossos, made up by the alternatives that we are generously given, but no way. Heaven forbids, that you press the wrong number!  You’ll find yourself with only two options left: starting again from square 1 or giving up. I often give up, I have to confess.

It is the very same story whenever you need to talk with your bank, insurance, hospital, principal : you always find a wall in the form of a switchboard before you. No need to say, all categories but one: teachers.Teachers are required to be available 24 / 7. We must be ready to  inform, listen, reassure, pacify, advise ( even on fashion matters in my case) any time. This happens as  the norm that regulates our duties in this matter is ambiguous. It generically says that we must keep the lines of communication with parents open, but they end up to be so open that, eventually, we can be reached through meetings, mail, voice mail, WhatsApp,  phone calls, even stalking if necessary; festivity included, of course. If a parent believes to have an  urgent need to confer with a teacher, the latter is expected to be at the parent’s disposal.

The point is that since the advent of the electronic register the lines of communications should have been open enough to limit such pressing requests only to extraordinary events. Families would be constantly informed about grades, comments about grades, lesson topics, school attendance, homework, activities and more, if they read the electronic register. But they don’t. In fact, I always have an endless line of people who want to talk to me anyhow.

Hence, I believe there is only a way to put an end  to all this : a switchboard for us teachers too, after all, I don’t think we are less deserving than other categories. Once skimmed our agenda from the unnecessary meetings, we should be able to focus only on the situations that really require our attention and effort.  I figure it might work like this:

Voice mail: welcome to Mrs Tink’s parent-teacher communication area; if you want to be informed about your son’s grades, press 1.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 1): Dear parent, check the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to get information about your son’s school attendance, press 2.

Mrs Tink’s voice( after pressing2): Dear parent, check the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to get information about course books and syllabus, press 3.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 3): Dear parent, check the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to talk about teaching methods, personal experiences and suggestions, press 4.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 4): Dear parent, you can book an appointment through the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you want to book an appointment  with Mrs Tink, press 5.

Mrs Tink’s voice (after pressing 5): Dear parent, you can book an appointment with Mrs Tink through the electronic register.😑

Voice mail: if you do really want to talk to Mrs Tink, press 6.

The line goes dead.🤭

Happy New Stats

 

I guess it has been 4 years, at least, since WordPress gave up sending the report with blog stats. Do you remember it? That one with fireworks for each post written, where the more you had posted the more enlightened your screen was. Yes, that one. The stats explanations were just pure genius. They had been conceived to make you feel a sort of Hemingway in being. Even if you had had just 100 readers in a year, family and unwilling students included, they put it in such a way to make you believe it a success, because, they said,  if those 100 readers had been in line, they could have covered a length up to your bathroom.😳 True! I had never thought about it. 🤔 So, when the following year the number of readers increased, you found out eventually that that line had now reached Santiago de Compostela and God knows what distant country it would have touched now, if they had kept writing those stats. I miss them. They were so rewarding, after all.

Therefore, since WordPress has given up offering such precious service, if we want to make a final survey of our  blogging activities, we have to do it on our own.  Having read so many posts of this kind on the pages of fellow bloggers, I thought it was high time to give a look at my stats too. Believe me, I didn’t do it with a light heart, as I knew I was guilty of having been pretty inconstant last year for many good reasons: first of all, reaching level 7740 of Candy Crush takes a lot time and energy; and  if I play, I cannot think or write. Actually, I play when I don’t want to think.  That said, I have to confess, that I am lazy too. I don’t read as much as I should – and I blushed with shame and guilt, when I read on Chris’s page, who blogs as Calmgrove, that he had read 84 books and reviewed 60 last year. 84!! 😱I usually write when there is some event that catches my attention, school stuff and literature of course, so I produced only 30 posts last year. Of course, I mean to do better, every year I mean to do better, but if they keep adding levels to Candy Crush, I fear it will be impossible.

Yet, to my surprise I saw that despite the few  posts, 2020 had been by far the best year in terms of views (27,479) and visitors (16,162). I am wondering which country my line of viewers would have reached by now. 🤔 Of course, I  shared the jolly good news with my husband, Mr Run,  who explained the data, thanks to his prodigiously scientific mind, simply saying that very likely, because of lockdowns people stayed at home more and read more, even my stuff.😳 Hence, I am indebted to these figures to people’s boredom. Good, thank you, love. I feel better now.😤

Giving a look at what these bored readers seem to prefer, the posts on Wilde win over my musings on pandemic and education, but even this year the top of the posts goes to what I could define that only lucky unrepeatable hit that often happens in an artist’s life, which, in my case,  for the fourth time in a row is : “The Mythical  Method” with 2,877 views; a post I wrote six years ago. Apparently, I am a world authority on this matter, as I find myself  on page 1 of Google. I noticed that every now and then there are peaks of viewers of “The Mythical Method” coming from many different countries, as it recently happened from Denmark, Romania and Poland. I might even fancy myself quoted on some books one day: “The Mythical Method” by Tink. 🙃

As for the viewers, well, one of the things I love the most still is to check the countries they are from, even if I am well aware that very likely they just click on my blog, without reading a single word, well, I don’t mind, as they contribute to make the map of the world viewers  more colourful. My readers mostly come from Italy, of course , U.S, U.K, India, Germany, Canada in this order, but from a closer inspection I have just realized that I lied to fellow blogger Emilio, who blogs as Disperser, as we were lamenting the absence of views from Iceland just few days ago, well, I have 17 and it seems that somebody dropped by from Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Lesotho too and last but not least Vanuatu. Oh dear, I don’t even know where Vanuatu is!

For the incoming year I make no resolutions, I have never been able to stick to one, but I’ll write as much as I can and read your posts, as I love being in touch with you. Thank you for your constant support and wish you all a great year. We deserve it.

Plague: The Time of Experience

It is not a simple flu. I was wrong, but in one thing I was right: leap years are ill fated. When I wrote the previous article about Covid-19 diffusion in Italy, that was the situation: 378 people had been infected, 12 had died and all of them suffered from serious pathologies. Nothing that serious, I believed; but things have worsened soon. At the time being this is the updated bulletin: 5883 infected, 1247 new cases since yesterday, 589 have recovered so far and 233 have died. In only 10 days. It is not a simple flu.

Let’s explain why. 1) A normal flu is seasonal, it mutates, therefore, it is always slightly different from the virus of the year before, that is why we are not completely immune, even if we have been infected. Being a variant of the flu virus of the year before, we are only partially immune. Each of us has a different immunity rate, which depends on age, health conditions etc. . We are not immune to Covid-19 and it is very contagious.2) We know how the seasonal flu virus works and we produce new vaccines every year, because, as we have just said, the flu virus mutates. We have no vaccine for Covid-19. 3) We have medicines to cure or relieve flu symptoms, while there is no cure for Covid-19. Not yet. 4) A normal flu may sometimes degenerate into a bacterial pneumonia, which, however, may be treated with antibiotics, for example. If Covid-19 reaches the lower parts of the respiratory system, it may cause a viral pneumonia, for which there is no treatment. In the case the virus develops to that stage (10% of the patients), hospitalization is required and the most serious cases need ICU. And this is the problem, because the average stay in ICU is usually 2/3 weeks. Too long.

Beds in hospitals are not infinite, they are at the limit of total saturation and we may get to the point when there will be none left, hence, we won’t be able to treat patients properly from the complications of the infection. So what can be done? Well, only following the health protocol, staying at home to avoid feeding the spread of the virus from person to person and hope that it will stop sooner or later. We must make the virus less contagious so that to decrease the number of infected people and give everybody the opportunity of being cured.

In the meantime our life has changed. The country is reacting mostly paralyzing any activity and this has and will have serious consequences on our economy. Schools have been closed till (at least ) March 15th. It is today’s news that those living in Lombardy and other 14 provinces won’t be allowed to leave their sites till April 3rd. It is as if we were caught in a limbo and we can do nothing but give up any social life and wait. Things are going so fast that I bet this article will be old by the time I post it, that is: now.

 

 

 

Plague

image from The Times

As you already know, here in Italy we are in quarantine as Coronavirus seems to prefer our land to any other country in Europe. How could it be otherwise after all? We have been enjoying the most incredible winter ever, more like spring than winter, trees are already sprouting, why should the virus head to some more uncomfortable place? In the meanwhile from North to South we are panicking. Supermarket have been assaulted to stock up on food, drinks, masks and above all bottles of Amuchina (Purell), which currently cost more than white truffle. Some schools in the North have been closed as a precautionary measure, school trips forbidden and worst of all, there is the most serious danger that football games might be played behind closed door, right this year that my team S.S.Lazio is that close to win the League (after 20 years).

But when I come across such articles as the following one, I cannot but change the tone of my words:

In the European Union, which prides itself on its open borders among member nations, new cases were recorded in Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Switzerland. Most were tied to Italy, where the authorities have been struggling to contain an outbreak that has infected at least 325 people, most of them in the north near Milan. ( The New York Times)

Hence, open borders are the problem according to the New York Times. I don’t know why we have become the epidemic centre, but one thing I can say for sure, it’s not because of open borders. People have always moved carrying in the lands they visited their kit of bacteria and viruses with the consequences everybody knows and they’ll keep moving with or without borders. It’s not because of immigration from North Africa too, as the virus comes straight from the civilized, rich and sovereigntist North. But what makes Coronavirus so dangerous to cause such a nervous breakdown in all the country? As far as I can see: mass media.

As you can imagine, we are flooded by updates, interviews to epidemiologists and commentators of any kind, thousands of fake news. Everybody seems to master the topic and has something to say about, but, eventually, the only result is that of increasing a sense of general insecurity generating panick, whose consequences, it’s not unlikely, might lead to an economic recession. And for what? Coronavirus is nothing but a flu. In Italy, which is currently the third country in the world for number of cases, 378 people have been infected and 12 have died. These latter, to be precise, were old and have not died for the virus itself, but for the serious pathologies they had been affected before, which had weakened their immune system. These are the facts plain and simple. Of course, we must take precautions and follow the health protocol, which is exactly the same for any other seasonal flu. Once again, we have another proof of how the excess of information cannot but generate misinformation, ignorance and pointless fear.

The Den of Christmas Spirit

cri2cri3If you watch the bright Christmas lights with eyes of wonder, while walking in the familiar streets of your city like a little child, if you get lost for hours in a mall searching for gifts to put under the tree picturing the joyful reaction of those who will receive them, if you are thrilled only at the idea of gathering around a dinner table with your family and friends or simply if you find yourself sitting at the window hoping for the snow to come ( I might actually wait for years or decades here in Rome), well, this is the spirit of Christmas that comes to visit you at this time of the year. But rather, if you are annoyed by the people who crowd in frenzy streets and shops and if you are anguished and appalled by the imminent visit of your friends and relations and if a sense of nausea arouses, just thinking at the presents you’ll have to buy or the faces you’ll have to see, or if you just don’t stand at that window, because in case it really snowed, Rome would be paralyzed and we would pay the consequences for weeks and weeks, what does that mean? That you are an insensitive, cruel, selfish human being? Not exactly. It means that you suffer from the bah humbug” syndrome. I’m not joking, this is science or better: Science with capital letter.

 cri1A group of Danish medical scientists in their own spirit of holiday fun, published a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) asserting that the spirit of Christmas does not actually come to visit us every year, but rather, it resides in us and precisely in our brain.That is why this tradition with its blissful and magical atmosphere has lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years. A team of researchers of Rigshospitalet hospital, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, set out to locate exactly where the old spirit of Christmas hides in the brain using modern MRI machinery to study the changes of oxygenation and blood flow that occur in response to neuronal activity. So, they divided participants into two groups, one of people who had strong Christmas traditions and the other with people who did not celebrate it. The latter group included Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi and Turkish people who expatriated or were born in Denmark. People who did not celebrate it, but still felt a strong connection to the holiday were excluded, as were people who did celebrate but had a negative association with it. In short, 20 people were examined while they were watching  84 images with Christmas themes alternated to scenes of everyday life. For example, they were shown a street decorated with lights and then an ordinary street. 

cri5Among the participants who were placed in first group,  the researchers  have identified five regions of the brain which lit up like Christmas trees when holiday images were shown. These regions are commonly associated with spirituality and they control the sense of touch and body language interpretation . This led the researchers to determine there is a “Christmas spirit network” in the human brain. It’s in these brain areas that the spirit of Christmas resides. Therefore, those who do not like Christmas and believe that it is all nonsense, are actually affected by what scientists call bah humbug” syndrome.  A syndrome that affects millions of people, especially adults and that could be cured.  The researchers, in fact, suggested that locating the Christmas spirit in the brain can help reverse that sad syndrome. Maybe someday there will be a complex machine that can generate the Christmas spirit in people, and why only at Christmas time? Couldn’t we enjoy it every single day of the year?
In the meantime, I wish you to fully enjoy your Christmas spirit and have a great time.
Merry Christmas.
Stefy. 🙂

Back to school!!!

 

back 1

back 2When a new school year begins, teachers display clear signs of a disease of a peculiar kind :forgetfulness. The first day of September you see them advance indolently to work, their faces, altered by a couple of months of holidays under the sun, manifest all the frustration of having been torn away from their lazy summer days to be thrown into the pit again. Believe me, it is a shock. Soon after the first convivial moment, when new and old colleagues are engaged in conversations about the wonders of the past summer days, the usual routine which regards work planning, exam organization and stuff of this kind should get started, but you soon realize that you can’t, because your mind is blank, as you had removed all, even the most common operations you’ve repeated every single year. What would a Freudian psychologist say? That we have put a veil on everything we reject of our job and hidden in a remote part of our mind and now, that is about to surface again, we are under stress, maybe. That’s why I am about to tell this story again, because I want it to be a reminder of what I do love of my job.

back3Some years ago, my husband and I joined a program of long distance adoptions in Paraguay. The idea of helping the minors of the poor countries and their families, providing them with an economical help, so that they could receive the primary goods, education and the medical care they need, made us feel, I don’t know, better people, if I may say so. Once subscribed, after few weeks, we received a letter with all the personal data of the adopted child, which, unexpectedly, turned out to be a very exciting moment, as we hadn’t had the name of the kid yet. I still remember my husband slowly unfolding the letter, looking at the picture and saying with a big smile: “it’s a boy”.

His name was Wilfrido. In the picture, a little brat of about five was doing his best to show us his gratitude with a big toothless smile, even if he seemed a kind of uncomfortable in his brand new school pinafore, maybe too large for his age. Once our adopted son had materialized in that picture, we started to be pervaded by a strange sort enthusiasm. We began to think that we might do many things for him, for example providing him with a high school education and even more, Harvard, Stanford, why not? At a closest inspection of the picture, the boy didn’t really look like the student type, but maybe I was wrong.

back 4Wilfrido didn’t pass the first grade that year. We were shattered .Fortunately, the following years went much better. He eventually learnt to read and write, even Maths. When he improved enough to write a letter, he started to give me information bout his life and family. I was particularly impressed when he told me that he usually reached school on foot walking for seven miles (!!!) or on horseback. He also added that he liked studying after all. But one day, we were informed that Wilfrido and his family had left the village and I have never heard from him since then. I was disappointed, maybe I could have done more to give him the opportunity of having a better future, maybe.

Few years later, I would have seen the whole experience from another angle. I was in San Josè, in Costa Rica and I needed some directions. One boy offered to write down the address I needed for me ; I could have written it myself, but just he didn’t let me do it. He picked a pen and diligently started to move it on a piece of paper, as if he were drawing. It took him five endless minutes to write that piece of information, but somehow we didn’t dare hurry him even if, I confess, we were a little annoyed. Eventually, he handed me the note. I soon noticed that his handwriting was incredibly neat and elegant, but it was only when I met his eyes that I could clearly see that sparkle, I saw his great satisfaction, pride and dignity. He smiled. He might be one of the many Wifrido that people the world. I had done something good after all.That’s why I teach. Because I think education can make people conscious, stronger and free and even because I feel useful every time I see that sparkle in the eyes of one of my students. Wish you a great new school year. 🙂

 

Merry Christmas 1.1!!!

natale

End of trimester, report cards, happy faces, unexpected results, frustration…ahhh this is the true school Christmas spirit, can you smell it? However, whatever the result might have been, you have a lot time to do better, don’t worry ; that’s why I’m going to use more or less the same words I used a year ago to give you my personal wishes, because I believe that in these words you may find my special key to success.It’s my gift to you ;). Well, let’s start.I guess you’ve noticed, especially those who have known me for a while, that I come up very often with some ski metaphors during lessons. Maybe this habit has made you think of me as a great ski lover, but I have to confess you I’m not. I’ve hated skiing for a looooong time.Nevetheless for me skiing is the metaphor of effort rewarded. I’ll try to make myself clear. I  love the sea, sandy beaches, sun, you know, all that stuff and for many years the idea of spending my holidays on the mountains has never crossed my mind till one day, for reasons I’m not going to bother you with, but you may guess ( there is alway a man in somebody’s life that makes you do acts of folly),I found myself ridiculously clothed in a fancy ski suit ready for the ski runs. Actually, I soon understood that I had not the least inclination for skiing. Fear and frustration paralyzed me and for many years no ski school or gorgeous,tanned teacher could improve my poor skills. The only moment of real pleasure was when I took my ski boots off at the end of the day. I had also become the joke of my group of friends. Something had to be done, but I had no clue. One day I was about to ski down a run that my mind had already marked as veeeery difficult when, wow, I had an epiphany. I realized what was the key for my success: the traverse, that is, I could ski across the slope and then turn and then cross and turn …till safely to the end. Smooth. It was nothing new, actually,I had been told about it a thousand times, but this time words had become facts and from that moment on I felt more confident and I started to enjoy the whole situation. The message is that very often we don’t have to change that much to reach success but only be aware of what we can do and adjust it a bit to reach the target. I know that many of you at the idea of the approaching exams in June feel fear and frustration, but the key of your success lies in how you will be able to organize your effort . It is your “traverse” that will take you smoothly to the goal. You’ve got to believe and you will do it. Merry Christmas to you all. 😀