Ouch, My Back

If you google this tagline, you get all sorts of hits. Memes, funny and not so funny videos; articles by MDs, osteopaths, PTs – and there’s even a moving company in Canada with that name, whom I must applaud for really, really excellent branding. Medical information aside, there is also a great deal to learn about correlations between our psyche and chronic pain. Duh, you say? Well good for you if you knew this already. You might want to skip this post, for it might bore you.

I can personally attest to two types of pain. One is the pain that is my subconscious‘ code for overwhelm. It has manifested, over the course of my life, in headaches and migraines, and more recently, in frequently occurring back pains. Now, pain is not great for clear thinking, nor is stress, so it’s a bit of a tall order to be all detached and say to yourself: Oh, you’re just drowning in too many things all at once, you’re just feeling unable to cope. You’re experiencing pain, but is it really pain? Take a break and look after yourself. In that moment, I’m oftentimes just reacting. And my knee-jerk reaction is reaching for medication.

Second hand, pain was a huge part of my childhood, as the daughter of a rheumatoid arthritis patient. My dad developed RA when I was about 7, when we lived in Romania still, and what the first treatments were, I have no idea. I remember the conversation regarding the emigration to Germany was about reuniting with family, living in a democracy, being able to travel. But it was also, to a large degree, about the hope to be healed, because of better medical conditions in the promised land, which, sadly, did not come true.

At the time, as far as I know, the psychological aspects of his condition were not part of the therapy. They treated the flares with cortisone and the pain with opioids. The rest was a dire prognosis for a life of constant debilitating pain. It’s not surprising he lost the will to live, and passed away merely 5 years after we moved.

One thing I recently read is that there is research indicating suppressed rage manifesting as chronic pain. Interesting. Internalized anger, directed at yourself, hurting your body because of being unable to express that you’re mad? Wow.

My father’s family history was, as with many of his generation, determined by WW II. His formerly quite wealthy family was disowned after the war, reason enough alone to feel rage. Then, both his siblings were taken to Russian labor camps, which they did not survive, and I can’t even imagine the survivor’s guilt he must have felt. Could this explain his developing RA? Subconsciously punishing yourself for being alive by making your existence as painful as possible? It’s possible. Add to that the silent rage caused by being forced out of your family home, left with no possessions to speak of, very little perspective, trapped in a totalitarian country where you needed to keep your head down if you didn’t want to end up in prison … Stands to reason all that needed an outlet.

My own back pains are, of course, on a completely different pain level. They started with some discomfort during my second pregnancy and got worse over the last 10 years, to the point of my being unable to sit in a chair for longer periods of time, sometimes. When I get like that, I work in a nest, be it on the couch, in bed, or the hammock. Warmth is key.

If I take the time to think about it, I can literally feel my back seize up when I’m stressing over something, when an assignment or an appointment makes me anxious, when there’s just too many things, one on top of the other … When I’m caught up in the situation, however, I sometimes lose perspective, and I forget. It’s easy to let the pain get the better of me and just react. And my knee-jerk reaction is reaching for a pill box, because of how I grew up, I think. But interestingly, whenever I do manage to read the room and realize my overwhelm, I can get a handle on it by not treating the pain, but trying to do something about the reason.

That said, I mean absolutely no disrespect for anybody who suffers from a painful medical condition. I’m not belittling any of that, God forbid. This is just my own personal journey, and may not be valid for anybody else. In case it is for you, I’ll try to describe my emergency plan. Maybe it works for you, maybe you come up with your own strategy. The working theory is that the pain is not the problem but a signal from my psyche to look after myself, pronto.

When in pain, I ask myself:

  1. When did the pain start / what triggered it?
  2. Is it a symptom for stress?

If the answer to these questions points to overwhelm rather than having thrown out my back, I try the following:

  1. Carefully prioritize my to do list, and cross off things that don’t absolutely need to happen
  2. Ask someone to help out and/or bow out of things
  3. Take a break and relax: lie down and close my eyes; run a bath; take a walk with the dog; do some yoga or breathing routine; sleep

I question whether it’s really a painkiller I need, or if it’s relief. If the honest answer is the latter, this is the tricky part. Admitting to needing a break, or help, takes courage in a society that has little patience with inability to cope. A change of mindset is needed! In business lingo, acknowledging my pain as a symptom for psychological distress and working with that is actually a smart business decision. I’ll be 100% more efficient if I take a break to regroup, and continue refreshed later, or the next day.

I’m happy to say that it can actually work like that, if I manage to not be swallowed by the pain. This is not to say that a painkiller can’t help. Maybe it’s easier to think clearly when you’ve taken the edge off with an ibuprofen or whatever your meds of choice are.

Pain fascinates me, can you tell? If you’re still here, thank you for reading, and I would really like to know about your own perspective on this. Can you relate to anything I wrote?

I’m leaving you with a calming, beautiful image today, that makes me draw a deep breath. Be well, and thank you for reading.

Reasons for Loving the Fall

The colors are probably my favorite. The light on a sunny fall day can take red, orange and yellow to the next level; and on rainy days, a small bouquet of seasonal flowers can brighten an entire room.

Another thing I like is the crisp fall weather. Not a big fan of the heat anymore, I actually breathe a sigh of relief when I can finally pull on a sweater again in the mornings to go walk the pup, after the summer is over. The rain doesn’t bother me much, because once it stops, the leaves look even more beautiful :-).

Knitwear is definitely a third reason for liking the fall. Be it scarves, knit hats or sweaters, not to mention hand made socks – I really love the hell out of a good knit :-).

And finally, there’s the seasonal fall foods: pumpkins, apples, pears, quince, plums, grapes, blackberries – and of course it’s also wild mushroom season. When I’m in the country, I always carry a mushroom knife and small bag when leaving the house, and I rarely come home from walking Charlie without a handful of those oddly fascinating and never less than delicious woodland creatures.

Wild mushrooms can give a flavor boost to just about any savory dish, and for a few weeks every year, they’re part of the menu almost every day, in this house. I add them to soups, stews, pasta dishes, risotto, stir-fries, chicken, scrambled eggs or simply as a yummy topping for pizza, grilled cheese or a sandwich.

The last image is what we had for dinner the other day.

Hokkaido, Chanterelles and Rice for Two

Half a small Hokkaido pumpkin, cubed (1 cm)

1 large shallot, cubed

3 handfuls Chanterelle mushrooms, cut in bits sized pieces

200 g rice, cooked with a little salt

Olive oil, knob of butter

5 sage leaves, cut into thin strips

Put on the pot of rice, then prep the vegetables and sage. Heat the oil in a large pan and add Hokkaido, mushrooms and the cubed shallot. Season with salt and pepper, put on a lid and let cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want a bit of texture, but not too much. Make sure you don’t overcook the pumpkin. The mixture should be moist enough from the water in the mushrooms and shallot. Add the sage and butter or, if you’d rather cook vegan, a bit more olive oil. When the rice is done, add to the vegetables, stir, check your seasoning, and enjoy!

Usually, the fall truly begins for me when we pack up our stuff and come out to the cottage for two weeks. We don’t always have time off, but the school kids do, and there’s always fun things to do out here – feeding the horses on the nearby field, mushroom picking, riding lessons, pumpkin carving, baking challenges, and having freshly smoked fish at the eatery on the lakefront. It’s not a fancy place, but the view is truly spectacular. A wonderful place for a sundowner. When I sit on the pier and gaze out at the water, soaking up the last rays of sunshine, it’s easy to feel like everything is alright with the world.

This year, both my husband and I do have work, but at a reasonable work-life ratio. Which is a good thing, because next week, there are two memorable events coming up. Our 20 years wedding anniversary, and our daughter’s birthday, both life-changing events that deserve commemorating. Let them have cake, right?

After a few way too busy weeks, I’ve picked up my knitting again. I made a pair of socks for my friend C., and a pair of pink, diagonally ribbed socks for myself. When finishing my own private re-run of Friends over the weekend, I got as far as the heel of the second sock, so I’ll be done with that pair soon.

As for my sweater project, started with a lot of motivation in August, and abandoned it when work got the better of me. I did bring it with me to the cottage, but haven’t really been in the right mindset, for it needs attention, and I haven’t got a lot of that left right now; my brain is officially fried after a wild ride of about 500 pages in a matter of weeks. I do NOT recommend this.

The other day, my friend I. asked me for an estimate of how many pairs of socks I had ever made. It’s not easy to say, as I didn’t knit a lot after the first couple enthusiastic years of learning. Not sure if I knit at all during my 10 years of advertising. I really only became serious about crafts when I moved to Berlin in 2000, and I only began documenting my projects about 10 years ago when Apple gave me the great gift of inventing the iPhone. I know people feel the real revolution was the iPod, but for me, it’s definitely the having an uncomplicated, decent camera on me at all times that made all the difference… Back to the math. I probably made an average of 10 pairs per year, the last 20 years, maybe 250 pairs all in all – man, that’s a lot of socks! I can show you a few from the last couple of years:

Hopefully, I’ll be able to work on my sweater some more. It’s gotten chilly, and we’ve lit the woodburner:

And that’s why I love the fall :-). How about you? What season is your favorite? Any interesting crafts projects in your future … let me know. And thank you for reading!

Don’t Want to Day

When I was a young, bushy tailed trainee at a small ad agency, one day a new colleague was hired. Freshly tanned from a trip to Greece, happy and shiny, wearing fabulous golden ballet flats and displaying the hottest legs in the office, she was an inspiration and we were instantly smitten with her. She’s a bright, lovely, warm and wise person, and I’m happy to say we’re still friends.

One story she told from her former employer, a larger network agency, was the one about the colleague who would call in sometimes to say she was taking a day, simply calling it her ‚Don’t want to day‘. This greatly impressed me as you can tell by the fact that I still remember it 30 years later.

Even though I’m self-employed now, my work ethic kind of doesn’t allow me such a thing as waking up in the morning and saying to myself: You know what? I’m taking a selfish. But today, I feel like I might be ready for a little break from routine.

My morning started as it always does with getting my daughter ready for school (that’s right, I only have one school kid now!), after which I usually have 30 minutes that are my own – to sip my tea, check Instagram, knit, do a sudoku. This morning I suddenly felt a craving for scones, found that I had buttermilk in the fridge, and went ahead and made some. It’s a very quick process, craving to buttered scone can happen in less than 30 minutes.

I used no recipe but my memory served, and they turned out just fine. Here’s how I made them:

Quick Buttermilk Scones

100 g soft butter

300 g flour

2 TBSP sugar (you can use 3, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, it’s a matter of taste, really)

pinch of vanilla

pinch of salt

1/2 p baking soda

about 100 ml buttermilk, did not check how much exactly

Quickly combine ingredients to make a soft, fluffy dough, slightly sticky. Flour your work surface, gently pat down the dough to about 2,5 cm thickness (or even more if you’re feeling all baking show-y). Cut out using a glass or a large round cookie cutter, or just cut up in chunks if you prefer.

Set on a baking sheet covered in parchment, paint with egg wash and bake at 160 °C for 15–20 minutes, or until nicely risen and a very pale brown. I pressed a couple of tart little plums into some of the scones, but they’re equally good without fruit. You’ll probably want some jam with them.

Since this is not the UK, I have no clotted cream nor do I need it. The scone just as it was and a cup of coffee made me very happy after my morning walk with Charlie.

So, instead of being a good little translator, I’ve popped over here to chat, how’s that for playing hooky? As mentioned in my last post, work has been a little insane, and I’ve been very good about focusing on my tasks. Today I have another 8-10 pages due (in my own self appointed work load, not to submit), but I won’t think about that rn.

What else? Watched Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, and loved it.

Spent a few days in the country (working), and found the first porcini mushrooms of the season.

Went to the yarn shop for the first time in months …

… and started a new sweater:

I got inspired by this lady whom I follow on Instagram, and even though mine will probably be less perfect and less elegant than her knit-from-the-top-down pieces, I’m still looking forward to snuggling into that Mohair-y goodness once it’s done.

Oh, and also I cut my hair, and I couldn’t be happier I finally made up my mind to do it :-).

Other than that, as non-German readers may not be aware, we get to vote this September, and it’s a momentous election at that because Chancellor Merkel will be stepping down after her long years of service. It will be interesting to see whether people will trust the young (and female) candidate from the Green Party to fill her shoes, or choose the more seasoned male candidate from the Social Democrats to represent this country in the future.

It would, in my opinion, not be a bad thing to move ecologic matters to the political forefront. You’d have to live under a rock not to realize the planet needs humanity to change its ways, and even though the Green Party has made compromises not everyone who voted for them in the past agrees with, environmental matters are still what they stand for, so I guess my mind is made up.

And with that, I’m going to bow back out of here, wishing you a nice day, and thanking you for procrastinating with me for a while.

Ode to a Friend (and a Knit Shawl)

Let me tell you a bit about my friend, who has been a constant in my life for nearly 30 years now. We both started working for a small Frankfurt ad agency, importantly dubbed Junior Copywriters, in the summer of 1994. Me after having gotten my degree in marketing-communications, her after getting her M.A. in German Literature and both of us having stumbled into the place clueless, curious and excited.

Our bosses were both old war horses who had found fame and fortune in the 1980s, a somewhat legendary time for German advertising: generous budgets, successful German designers, photographers and artists. In those days, everybody who could rode that wave, hard. Anyway, those two took both of us in and put us to work. But since both of them were set in their ways, a never wavering daily routine of meeting time and Do Not Disturb time, also lunch breaks that involved quite a bit of wine sampling, we were left to our own devices a lot while the bosses quietly detoxed in their respective offices.

It was a good time, and we became fast friends over the 2 years we worked at that place, and that friendship stuck. Over the years, there were terrible boyfriends, new partners, a wedding, a divorce, two children for each of us, deaths in the family, financial calamities, moves, pets who lived and died, and career changes. Through all that, we had each other’s backs, and there are few people in the world I trust more. There is a deep understanding of one another, and even if we don’t see eye to eye about everything, we get and respect and love each other.

A. has an awesome sense of humor, impeccably quirky taste and really, God positively showered her with creative potential. She’s smart and opinionated and the kindest soul I know. We had not seen each other in a long time because of Covid; and now that we’ve both gotten our vaccinations, and her children graciously offered to go camping for a week without her and let her do her thing, she came out to the cottage for a week where we enjoyed something we hadn’t had in a long ass time: time for just the two of us. She knew the place from just after we bought it, but obviously it has undergone a great deal of change over the years as we slowly renovated and furnished it. Needless to say, her visit was a Big Deal for me, and I gave myself a few days off for the occasion.

My birthday present for her this year was hand-made. I’d begun pootling with the colors in the above pic mid July while on vacation in Croatia. The project was not all that quick to finish as I’d thought, which stands to reason when you make a triangular knit shawl that increases every row, but the fact of the matter is that I wasn’t finished yet when she arrived. I wanted a color block pattern, and after some swatching decided to work in garter stitch. The color sequence was subject to a few discussions with Yarn Friends, and I ended up using four of the five above. As you can see, I was working with leftover yarn (yes, of course I traveled with a bit of a yarn stash, why do you ask?). If that hadn’t been the case, I might have stopped at three. But as I was not in a place where I could have bought more yarn, I needed to make do, which as it often does worked out just fine!

That was the journey, and as you can see, I was still knitting the day she left (last pic on the right). What started with 3 stitches ended with about 350, ’nuff said! Since I still wasn’t finished when she boarded the train, I gave her the WIP and asked she finish it herself ;-). It was a good gift, she loved the color sequence, and since she is one of the few people I know who can pull off the golden shade of yellow at the top, it’s perfect for her.

We had 5 gorgeous late summer-y days. Having meals outside, lazing in the sun, walking Charlie, picking chanterelle mushrooms, swimming in the lake, driving through gorgeous lake land, having coffee … and also, we ate vegan while she was with us. A lovely couple of days I will carry with me for a long time.

Also, I tried my hand at a vegan lemon drizzle cake. You can tell from the picture that it broke when I unmolded it (chemically, it makes sense. There was no egg and butter in there. I was so annoyed!) But thankfully, it was good nonetheless. Using the formula for pound cake minus the egg, the cake was made from: 150 g margarine and a few TBSP oil, 200 g flour, 200 ml coconut milk, 200 g sugar, zest and juice of 1,5 lemons, 2 p vanilla sugar, 100 g coconut flakes, pinch of salt and 1 p baking soda. Mixed together, baked at 175 °C for about 50 minutes, unmolded, then glazed with this glazing: juice of 1/2 lemon, a shocking amount of powdered sugar and a knob of margarine instead of butter, stirred to a thick, spreadable consistency.

The reason why I’ve been making myself scarce over here is sadly not play. I have a very challenging workload scheduled for the next few months, so will probably have little time to chat. Apologies in advance, I know this is not proper blog netiquette, but sometimes them’s the brakes. Wish me luck for the 4 projects I need to finish by end of November. Bowing out today with an encouraging high five for everyone who needs it.

Class of 2021

Still a bit emotional from the unexpectedly touching graduation ceremony of my son’s class yesterday, I’ve been smiling all day, reliving the 2 solid hours of Waldorf spirit I absorbed yesterday. The kids had organized the event at the last minute, and everything was a bit improvised but charming, heartfelt and happy. It so happened that it was also Summer Solstice yesterday, which for many is quite a spiritual night. It felt very fitting because the grounds of the Steiner School have this extremely rich atmosphere with old trees and buildings, lots of animals and music and art all over the place, positively dripping with anthroposophic history. I felt blessed to be a guest there, and thought how cool it must have been to be a student.

For those who don’t know, our little Waldorf school ends with the Waldorf graduation in the 12th grade, which is not the same one you get from a regular school, which you need for applying to university. If you wish to acquire that, you go to a different, larger, Waldorf school in the 13th grade in order to acquire the equivalent of high school graduation. Our school partners with the esteemed Berlin Steiner School, so my son and his classmates migrated there for their final year.

Everyone passed, which is quite the achievement in and of itself in times of Covid and 4 months of online classes. But not only that – one of the teachers announced that the class of 2021 managed to score the highest grade point average in the school’s history. They must be quite the bunch, right?

So, there they were, leaning against the railing, holding their precious graduation certificates in their hands, big, big smiles on their young faces. There were moving songs, there was a touching poetry slam, and there was a wonderful speech by one of the German teachers, which ended with everyone reciting the famous morning verse together, which in English goes like this:

I look into the world
Wherein there shines the sun
Wherein there gleam the stars
Wherein there lie the stones.
The plants they live and grow.
The beasts they feel and live.
And humankind to spirit gives
A dwelling in the soul.
I look into the soul.
That living dwells in me
God’s spirit lives and weaves
In sunlight and in soul-light
In heights of worlds without
In depths of soul within
To thee O spirit of God,
I seeking turn myself
That strength and grace and skill
For learning and for work
In me may live and grow.

It was an uplifting experience, a crowd of about 150 people murmuring those familiar words :-).

Tonight, the class is partying on the big field near our cottage, which will hopefully be a memorable final get together, before they all disappear into their respective vacations and summer projects:

So. That happened! Other things happened also. Made a dent in the substantial dessert chapter of my translation of Julia Child’s Art of French Cooking, volume II. Ordered aqua shoes for Croatia, because sea urchins, ouch! Rented out our cottage to a British couple who are coming out to kayak for the time we’re traveling. Finished another pair of socks, because the European soccer championship lends itself to watching and knitting:

Pretty, huh? Couldn’t resist the color sequence! It gives me great joy.

And I made a coaster for this ridiculously cute teapot I got for a friend who said she needed a small teapot for work. I hope this isn’t too small for her?! It’s supposed to be for 2 cups. I promise it’s not a toy. But, I did keep the receipt, so we can return it in case she wants a larger one after all.

Food has taken a back seat the last week, because we experienced a sudden heat wave, and all I was capable of was cutting up water melon, throwing together a salad, and defrosting the occasional pizza. Thank goodness, the temperatures have dropped again. Not sure how I’ll survive 2 weeks by the Adria coast – oh right, we have a pool. That’s how ;-).

On this happy note, let me wish you a good rest of the week, and as always, thank you for reading :-).

Do you Have a Food Blog?

That is a question I’m frequently asked when I give in to my urge to snap a picture of my food, or something that looks like it has the potential of becoming something good to eat, or when I send or show my friends something I made. It’s not a coincidence that this is one of the more important categories on this site, here in my little corner of the Internet.

It’s the lovely month of June, and for 2 weeks now, the weather has been seasonally appropriate. This also means two blooming edibles I’d like to talk about today: elder flower and acacia blossoms.

From the former you can make a sweet and fragrant drink, elder flower cordial. I’m not sure I ever said how to do that on here, but I’ll tell you, if you’d like to make it – it’s easy, and delicious. From the other, you make yet another dish from my childhood. In France they go by the fancy name of beignets d’acacie, but we just called them acacia flower fritters.

So, the drink first. If you live in the vicinity of a park, go scavenging, and collect about 20 flowerets. Watch out for critters, as they tend to huddle on the stems. But you’ll be cutting those off anyways in order not to have a bitter aftertaste, so you should be protein free without much of a fuss.

1 kg sugar

1 l water

4 lemons

1 orange

In a large pot, boil down the syrup, stirring until sugar has dissolved. In the meantime, wash and slice up your fruit. Throw the largely stem free blossoms and the fruit in the hot syrup, let cool, cover and walk away for about 3 days.

Find some bottles with well fitting lids. I bought these when we needed them for the school bazaar a few years back. You can wash and reuse them, no problem. Remember to sterilize them right before you pour in your finished syrup.

Stir the concoction every once in a while, tasting the flavor. When you feel happy about the way it tastes, strain through a sieve in which you’ve placed a clean cheesecloth, to filter out unwanted particles. Pour the liquid back into the cooking pot and bring to a rapid boil. Then pour into the sterilized bottles and let cool. Dilute to taste, with either sparkling water or Prosecco. Chin-Chin!

The acacia flower fritters are, as many of my childhood foods, also a memory of my dad. To this day, acacia honey is my favorite, and this may well be the reason why: When I was little, we lived on a quiet cobble stoned street in a provincial city in Romania. Our street led to a tiny square, the Piata Schiller, which was, in those days anyway, flanked by acacia trees. They couldn’t have been very big, because my dad was able to reach the blossoms, which he collected in a basket. At home, he made some sort of pancake batter (no idea how, exactly), dipped the whole stems, blossoms and all, in and pan-fried them. There may have been powdered sugar on top. I never really connected the dots to trying this out myself, but this year, when walking Charlie at the community forest, I suddenly found myself with a few of these blossoms literally in my face, and happened to think of it. I brought a small, sweet smelling bag home with me.

Online investigation led me to beignet recipes, which call for separating eggs and beating egg whites, also lemon zest. Feeling too impatient for that, I just made a rather thick pancake batter of 2 eggs, flour, 1/4 l milk, a pinch of salt, and a few TBSP of sugar. Also, I zested a lemon and added the zest, because why not.

After careful washing and patting dry on paper towels, I heated a generous amount of oil in a frying pan, and then did what my dad had done like 4 decades ago. It was very exciting!

I’ll admit the shape could use work – but I was so happy with the result anyway. I let them rest on a paper towel to soak up the fat, and rather than adding extra sugar, I squeezed some fresh lemon on mine, yum!

Since it seems to be that kind of day today, I started cooking this morning, making my own version of eggplant puree, melitzanosalata in Greece, or as it’s called in Romanian, vinetesalata. This is also something my dad used to make, and it was a complicated process of roasting the whole eggplants on the stovetop, wrapped in aluminum foil, salting them when done, letting them cool, scraping off the charred peel, and chopping them up with this wooden tool, on this wooden board:

The wood is for avoiding oxidation – which would happen when you chop the vegetables with an iron knife, or something. This is a historic tool, no clue how old, a family heirloom, I think. So, vinetesalata is also a dish I never made before – until today, as you can see above. I live in a place where Greek restaurants, Turkish shops and Lebanese eateries are abound, so it never really occurred to me, I suppose. This morning I found an eggplant in the veggie drawer, and was inspired.

I did not roast the whole thing, but instead did this:

Vinete My Way

1 eggplant

1 green onion

1 clove garlic

sprig of fresh dill

salt, pepper, sugar, paprika powder

olive oil

lemon, a dash of white balsamic vinegar

Cubed the eggplant and fried it in olive oil with a bit of garlic, until the pieces got really mushy. Then I pureed them with a tiny bit of fresh green onion, some olive oil, a dash of vinegar, a pinch of sugar and some dill (because I did not have any fresh parsley), diluted with 125 ml yogurt, seasoned the creamy paste with some more lemon juice, salt, pepper and a tiny bit of paprika, added a good slosh of olive oil, and called it good.

The bread happened this afternoon. I’m really looking forward to a nice Balkan dinner tonight :-).

So, there you go, an all food blog post!

However, I do feel I should add this:

Thanks for the kind inquiries! Yes, our boy graduated high school, with decent grades to boot – and now the world is his oyster. There has been quite a bit of partying going on among the class of 2021. We’re very happy, relieved and grateful he could see all the hard work pay off. It’s just a great feeling, accomplishing things, isn’t it?

We’ll talk crafts when I come back. I have been knitting, a little, finished a pair of birthday socks, and started a new pair, nothing too exciting, but pretty anyways. Making socks is gratifying because, to me, it’s quick work – but more about that next time.

Enjoy your weekend, and thank you for reading :-).

A Weekend in Bed

Last week was memorable for a number of reasons. Our son passed his oral exams with flying colors, which is amazing. Also, said son and I got our first shot of Covid vaccine on Friday, which led to a weekend largely spent in bed with the side-effects. It wasn’t pretty. Fever, joint pain, headaches – in my case, lingering, and I’m a little stupid with it, after four days in a row. It’s not alarming enough to suspect thrombosis, so I’ll just have to sit it out. Good thing I submitted my manuscript early last week. And good thing I have you to talk to, since I can’t really concentrate on work.

Since I could do little else but veg out, play with my Sudoku app and drink copious amounts of tea, I decided some knitting in bed was indicated. There were projects to finish! What you see above is the Strawberry Hat, modeled by a somewhat disgruntled Charlie. Don’t worry, we took it off of him right away. No animals were harmed, not at this house! The hat needs a pompom still, but my daughter was so happy to see I was done that she made grabby hands and wore it all Sunday, which ended up being a Pyjamas Day for all of us. Haven’t had any of those for a while now, and once the pain meds kicked in, it wasn’t so bad.

Next, I finished the socks for Cousin A in the states.

Hopefully, they will keep his feet cozy. I like the color flow. It reminds me of the ocean, which I’d dearly love to see again this year. We’ll see if it’s in the cards. Infection rates have gone down, thank goodness, so we may get lucky.

On Sunday, I started the next pair of socks, birthday socks for a young friend, who couldn’t really make up her mind about color and said darkish, maybe navy, maybe grey – so this is what she’s getting:

I’m considering giving her a navy heel and toe in case I get bored with the soft heather grey. A bit like the one on the right, obviously with a different color scheme.

Not to give you the wrong impression – I may be bitching about the headache, but I’m really happy to put up with it as I’m sure it beats the alternative, by miles. I feel relieved, grateful, and so, so fortunate to live in a place where we have access to modern medicine.

Re. food: I was asked for the recipe for a cake I made the weekend before. It was a leftovers cake, mostly, for which I used random ingredients I found in the cupboard at the cottage, that ended up tasting yummy as I threw them together. Check it out:

Chopped Apple Cake with Hazelnut Praline

3 small, ancient apples from the veggie drawer (or 2 regular sized), peeled and chopped

300 g flour (I used spelt flour)

1 p baking powder

200 g butter, softened

150 g sugar

3 eggs

1 P vanilla sugar

Pinch of nutmeg

Pinch of salt

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Handful of hazelnuts, coarsely crushed

100 g yogurt

Handful of store-bought hazelnut praline

First, cream the butter until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until sugar crystals dissolve. Add salt , vanilla and nutmeg, and one egg at a time. Continue beating. Add yogurt, lemon zest and juice, and nuts. Finally, fold in the flour and baking powder.

Pour batter into a baking dish, top with the apples and hazelnut praline, and bake for 45-5o minutes at 170 °C.

The nutmeg was added on a whim, but I have to say it gives the cake a really nice and unexpected aroma.

Back to graduation – wish our teenager luck for tomorrow, which is the day they’ll be told their grades. It might mean he’ll get to sit a re-examination (he has the feeling he could have done better in math, and his GF knows for certain she could have). It might also mean that he’s done with school. Either way, the day holds great significance for this family and my son in particular, and we’ll take all your crossed fingers, please and thank you.

But since restaurants have finally opened for outdoor dining again, we booked a table at our favorite Greek taverna anyway. We have not had dinner at a restaurant in 6 months, I think.

Sorry if this post seems a little frazzled. At this point, I’m not sure what it reads like, as it is a precise reflection of my current state of mind. Thank you for reading it anyway!

Tipsy

As I may have written before, I don’t really drink; I’m not a teetotaler, nor an addict – I just choose not to drink because my body doesn’t handle alcohol very well anymore. There are occasions, though, when I don’t care, and damn the consequences.

The reason why we toasted with a glass of excellent champagne today is that our son just came home from the last oral exam of his high school graduation. Grades will be announced shortly, and he’ll know whether they will call for a re-examination or not, so the fat lady hasn’t sung just yet. However, this one was the last of six, and it’s fair to say the past few weeks have been a doozy.

Those who regularly read this blog are probably aware the boy is dyslexic as well as diagnosed with ADD; school has not been easy for him, nor for all other concerned parties. Some of his teachers – the majority in fact, were kind and supportive, as you would expect from people entrusted with your child’s education. Others, not so much. Since they are little more than a waste of space to me, I won’t bother talking about them.

The wonderful, knowledgeable and dedicated ones have been a treasure to know and to work with. They managed to turn around a miserable, frustrated child who had just about given up to ever be able to learn how to read and write, and make him like school, develop skills and become a confident human being.

Being a parent of a special needs child is challenging, and exhausting, but also really rewarding if things work out. I’m so proud of my son. So proud!

For anyone who has a dyslexic child, I encourage you to empower them, find help, get them educational therapy and teach them strategies suited for their special brains. Do not listen to the knuckleheads who tell you all your child needs is a bit of discipline and tough love – they are wrong, and should not be allowed around any kids, let alone those who are special. So, find them tutoring, find them a studying method that works for them, encourage them to believe in themselves. Ensure that their teachers take into account their being different. They can get there, I promise. Educate yourself, do not be afraid to address their needs, talk to your kids‘ teachers. Ask the therapist to explain to the teachers how they can best support them. Take the time to try and understand how their minds work. They are probably among the smartest people you know. You just need to catch up.

Yes, I am emotional today, but that’s not down to the champagne, I assure you. The past weeks have been nerve-wracking, to say the least. And even if there should be a re-exam in the lad’s future, it’s probably safe to say the worst is over. Today he gets to celebrate, and today he has reason to be proud of himself.

I’ve submitted a book translation this morning, so I guess I get to be little proud, too. Also I managed to get an appointment for my first Covid vaccination for tomorrow, which is really great. Not looking forward to how my body might react to it – I’ve heard this and that, and some people are out for the count for a few days. I’m making a pot of chicken soup in case I should feel sick. It’s always a treat, in sickness and in health ;-).

My daughter’s strawberry hat is coming along nicely, and since it is a bit too complex to knit when watching a movie, I’ve been working on my cute little nephew’s custom socks, check it out:

As the calendar tells us, it’s asparagus season, a fact not so much corroborated by a look out the window, necessarily. I swear I can not remember ever having worn this many scarves and coats this late in spring. But since asparagus grows even as early as March, it’s probably not bothered by the chill as much as are we.

Anyway, last weekend, I made a pasta dish with green asparagus and lemon butter, a combination I can highly recommend.

Pasta Primavera My Way

1 bundle green asparagus

3 green onions

1 lemon

handful of basil leaves

50 g butter

Parmesan shavings to taste

100 g linguine per person

First, wash and clean asparagus and green onions, and cut diagonally. Roughly chop basil. Boil pasta. In a non-stick pan, melt the butter. Add salt and a pinch of sugar as well as lemon juice to taste. Throw in the vegetables and sweat for a few minutes – they should be, like your pasta, al dente. Combine all your ingredients in a bowl. If you feel it needs it, you can add a slosh of good quality olive oil. Toss with Parmesan shavings.

If you happen to have a leftover egg as I did, by all means, add that ;-). It’s not necessary for the dish to be great, though.

So, wish me luck with my jab tomorrow, and thank you for reading!

So Fluffy

My history with pancakes starts at IHoP, moves on to Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix, makes a stop at Wince’s house in Silicon Valley, and finally graduates in my own kitchen. What you can see above is my latest batter concoction, which uses unsweetened shredded coconut in addition to flour. I’ve used almond flour before, which was nice too, if expensive.

One thing you have to know about me is that I get motion sickness, on planes, ships, sometimes even in cars. For long flights, I’m always on Dramamine or else I _will_ throw up. This was no different when I first visited the States in the early Nineties. One side-effect of the drug (in addition to feeling ZONKED!) is that I need lots and lots of food after I land, or else. So, having touched down in Boston, IHoP seemed like an adequate place to take care of that. Needless to say, the fluffy, buttery, syrup-drenched goodness of American pancakes found its way from my plate straight into my heart.

As a Young Adult, I did not cook much. Making pancakes seemed so far out of my league that I bought an honest to God pancake batter mix before flying home, and had anybody I knew who went stateside bring back a package if they could fit it in their luggage, because then you couldn’t find it here in Europe. Today, this seems ridiculous, but my mid twenties self did not think so ;-).

The first time I witnessed someone making pancakes from scratch was at my girl A’s then-boyfriend’s house some ten years later. And you know what? Those were quite good. Not saying better than at a good diner, but I took notes, and have been making pancakes ever since. There is just no decent diner culture where I live, so you need to make do…

My children don’t know any of this. They think my pancakes are the best in the world (which is sweet), and I try and live up to their expectations. Sometimes the plain version my daughter loves gets a bit boring, though, and I add fruit. Classic blueberries, but I’ve also done sliced bananas, sliced apples, raspberries and even tried strawberries but decided those were better as a topping.

I found the addition of shredded coconut was a good one. It adds a bit of texture and chewability that I’d urge you to try. Just substitute parts of the flour, maybe like a third. The ultimate ratio depends on lots of things, like how many eggs, what kind of flour you use, whether you use buttermilk or regular milk – generally, I use 500 ml buttermilk and three eggs for 4 ppl, add a generous slosh of maple syrup and a pinch of salt, whisk, and then add the dry ingredients until I like the texture. Batter should be viscous, gooey but not too thin. Finally, I whisk in 1 P baking powder, and then let the frying begin!

A week has passed, which I spent mostly out at the cottage, working, working, working, and walking, walking, walking, by the lake, in the forest, in the meadows. Home schooling may be challenging, but it certainly has its perks. If you’re lucky enough to be able to work remotely, it can literally be done wherever.

We had a bit of a Covid scare, again – a girl in my daughter’s class got infected, poor thing – and of course everyone was asked to stay home for a while to avoid spreading anything the girl might have given to the other kids, on the one day they were actually at school last week. We were spared, thank goodness, but it was an uncomfortable 48 hours. On a happier note, my husband got his first vaccination, which is awesome. One down.

Wishing you a speedy vaccination – which seems an odd thing to say, and I’m sure it will read even stranger a few years down the line. For now, I’m sure everyone who dropped by can relate.

Have a good week, everybody, and thank you for reading!

Poncho’s Done

There’s actually not that much to tell, really, but for those who asked, I will try and describe my process. I won’t be able to specify any numbers, for I honestly did not count even once! I began with a chain of as many as I needed to be able to comfortably slip over my head once joined, in light heather grey; I wanted that to be the primary color.

Then I went on to increase at a rate that resembled my comfortable greige sweater in width. In the beginning, this meant increasing every round. I alternated the granny pattern (3 DC in one stitch, two stitched not worked, then again 3 DC in one stitch) and rounds of HDC, increasing (i.e. 2 HDC every 3 or 5 stitches) all the while. As you can see, the piece is not all that flowy or loose – I know that some like that, but I wanted it sort of snug but still comfortable, a bit as if it were a sweater, or cowl – and that took some trial and error.

Once I had reached the chest I stopped with the constant increasing and the rest of the poncho was done in Granny rounds, with occasional HDC rounds in navy blue to sort of reign in the color sequence. I found that the width was perfect when I alternated 2 regular Granny stitches with 3 DC and one that consisted of 2 DC. The HDC rounds did all the increasing needed.

The length was easy to do because I simply stopped when I’d reached my waistband, knowing it would get a little longer when washed.

The border was a mix of input by the hive mind of my besties. M, la chefesse de la mode, suggested a wide stripe of one solid color, and I went with the turquoise because I love that yarn so much. The question of the pompoms was decided after I’d done picots and pompoms side by side, to see which I liked better; I was worried the pompoms would look too playful for my ancient self. But after giving it a go, I found that it looked nice when I made them in the same color, and not too many.

This I can actually tell you in numbers because I needed to space them out evenly: *9 SC, and then a two-faced bobble stitch*, all the way around.

The pattern for the bobbles works like this: chain 3, 3 DC in base stitch, holding back the last stitch, so you have 4 loops on your hook, YO and pull through all 4 in one go. Then chain 3 and work 3 DC in the stitch in which you crocheted all 4 loops together, again holding back the last stitch so you have 4 loops on your hook. YO and pull through all four, then slip stitch into the base – bobble made. Important point if you attempt this: Since they look so much better from the back, turn your crochet project inside out (or crochet from the back if it’s a flat one like a blanket) and work from the ‚wrong‘ side. I swear, it’s prettier that way.

So that was the Poncho Story. It was a fun process, and I enjoyed working with the pastels that are actually not really my color palette. I’m not even sure I can pull off the look – maybe a little better once my melanin deprivation starts to fade with the sunshine. But I’ve worn that thing every day since having washed it on Friday, and I’m really pleased with the way it looks.

My next project is a knit hat, despite the sudden heat (we’re at almost 29 °C which confuses the heck out of my system, resulting in a stupid headache). My daughter wants a strawberry hat, much like the one I made for a little boy for Christmas last year:

Nothing about this project really sits right with me at this point in time – the colors are not what I’d want to use in the spring, she wants two pompoms instead of one, and I honestly find the 5 sock needles very cumbersome because I have like 38 stitches on each, so I have to pay attention not to drop any, all the damn time. Also the green stitches may look strewn in but are anything but! – it’s a nightmare in terms of watching what you’re doing compared to crochet … But it’s a labor of love. And it is going to be pretty. Also I totally enjoy it when she asks for specific things. We all love giving our kids what they ask for, don’t we?

So, yesterday was Mother’s Day. I hope you had a good one and spent it with your loved ones. My two kids were really sweet and tried to make my day a lovely day, made breakfast in the morning, gave me a heart shaped macaroon, played cards and went for a walk with me … they were cute. Check out my gift:

It’s my wooden handled hairbrush, adorned with a pretty wood burned design; I had been wondering where that brush had got to and had to use my daughter’s all week ;-)). Turns out the kids weren’t playing Mario Kart but were doing crafts every night in my son’s room behind closed doors.

So that was my post of today. No recipes this time, but a series of blurry shots I took when we changed sheets and had some, um, help:

Hope that gave you a giggle. Have a good week, and thank you for reading!