Light, please!

A time capsule from two years ago, this picture still perfectly represents what can be so beautiful about the winter: steel blue skies, a hazy sunshine, the light reflecting on snow, and instantly lifted spirits. Sadly, we’ve had very little of this over the last few weeks.

This post is an attempt to remind myself (as well as you, kind readers) of the things that can help with low spirits when things are weighing heavily on us. All of us are fighting our own demons in the crazy times we live in, right? Struggling through the second lockdown, it’s more important than ever to try and be kind, to ourselves as well as to each other. Not an easy task when you feel so down you feel you have no fucks to give. But it is my true belief that the thing that will get all of us back on track again eventually is the qualities that make us human. Compassion, patience, sense of humor, appreciation of beauty.

Personally, I really like a clean apartment. It is truly uplifting to me to sit down at a free of dust desk, sleep in fresh sheets, and see the wood of my kitchen counters shine. Last Saturday was a day for deep cleaning, and it left me exhausted but very, very satisfied. I’d show you if everything still was the way my cleaning crew and I made it look, but you can probably guess that life got in the way of that! Anyway, it’s one thing that helps me, if only temporarily, to feel better.

Making something pretty is also a good thing. I had some time over the weekend, and finished another pair of knit socks for myself:

It’s no fancy quality yarn, just a ball of sock yarn I found at the supermarket, but I like the shades of green play, and they make me happy, and keep my feet warm.

On Sunday, we met an old friend for a walk. It was her birthday, we brought a thermos, and she brought cake (very good, but for later, because it needed to be eaten in a civilized manner, using plates and forks), and we spent a good hour walking and catching up. Sadly, our dogs don’t get along all that well – as you know, Charlie is small, and he has a hard time trusting larger dogs – and hers is a beautiful, statuesque Lab and Hovawart mix. She’s a sweetheart, as is her Dog Mom. We need to do more of that in the future, before all of this Covid business makes me forget I have real life friends!

Another source of happiness is food, of course. The newest addition to our repertoire is home made Vietnamese summer rolls – a thing I would probably not have attempted if not for my daughter’s sweet friend V. whose family apparently makes them at home on the regular. She told us about it, and we tried, and it wasn’t hard at all. You need a few ingredients from the Asian grocery store, but then you’re good to go – as you may be well aware but I was not, so you get to read all about it ;-).

You need rice paper sheets (which you dip in water very briefly at the table, lay flat on your plate and fill to your liking, wrapping them as you would a burrito), as well as any ingredient you’d like to have in there (the traditional at my favorite Vietnamese place being mint leaves, cilantro, lettuce, chives or green onions, cucumber, sprouts, and glass noodles, with a choice of chicken, prawns or tofu). We added peppers, avocado and extra lemon.

For the Satay sauce, you can be lazy and buy a mix, but it’s pretty easy to make at home. You need fresh lemon grass, ginger and garlic, which you chop, coconut milk, a good scoop of your favorite peanut butter, salt and pepper, some chili, if you like, a pinch of sugar and a dash of fish sauce, maybe some lemon to taste. Heat these ingredients slowly in a pan and cook for a few minutes. Then let sit for a while so the flavors can steep. For eating, you can reheat it, or serve it as it is. (Caveat: This is the way I make it – there may be other, better, more traditional recipes. I just go by my palate, and try to copy the best satay sauces I’ve had.)

The good thing about this dish is that everyone gets to make their own food at the table, and you can put ingredients in there to your personal preference … a laid-back, fun and healthy way to eat. Also, even my pickiest customer enjoys making her own special roll (always a plus), which contains carrot, cucumber and glass noodles, as well as, astonishingly, pan-fried tofu with ginger and garlic! If you prefer your dip more on the lean side, you can substitute the satay with the typical lime, fish sauce and chili pepper concoction served at Vietnamese restaurants.

Next, and very importantly, hot drinks. There are people in the world who don’t like tea. I know and love some of them, but to say I understand it would be a lie. My love for tea began as a kid in the Eighties, when flavored Chinese teas and green teas became popular. My parents were coffee drinkers and didn’t care much for tea, but at my friend B’s house, I fell in love with the magic of tea leaves, learned about steeping, and enjoyed many many different varieties. Her mom had this carefully curated mail order catalog she’d buy her tea from (Millenials: There was no Internet, then! Companies would send out printed brochures and you’d order by filling in what you wanted on a card, and send that in, and then your order would come in the mail. Quaint, right?) Anyway, we were always excited when the deliveries came. Over many steaming cups of black and green, flavored and plain, we became educated, adventurous, and also, in my case, hooked for life ;-).

I never start my day without drinking tea, which I always have long before I even think about food. It wakes up my soul, caresses my flavor buds, and makes me happy, every single day. My choice of morning tea is a very light Darjeeling first flush, delightfully flowery but not too playful – a serious and delicious tea. With breakfast, I have coffee to kick-start me off into my work day, but later in the day, it’s back to tea for me. We have many different flavors because everyone has their favorites (Husband: citrusy ginger mixes, Me: black tea, sometimes with fruity flavors, jasmine blossoms and chamomile, Son: Not picky except for his morning mint tea with orange peel, Daughter: sweet chai, with chocolate or cinnamon flavor). The herbal mixes we have come in assorted colorful boxes with poetic names. We also have a decent Earl Grey for when we feel traditional in the afternoons. I like it with a slice of fresh lemon rather than milk. For after dinner, I’ve gotten used to a boxed variety containing chamomile, verveine and lavender, appropriately named ‚Sweet dreams‘. It doesn’t actually make me sleepy, but it gives me comfort.

I’m not very big on eating chocolate, usually, but I do enjoy an occasional cup of hot chocolate – as a warming, sweet, comforting drink after a walk in the cold, or when working late. I’m sure it’s just as bad for me as a bar of chocolate would be, but sometimes, it’s just what I need, and I enjoy it with no regrets.

As I do fresh fruit. These global days, everything is readily available at all times, even in countries like ours, very far away from the equator where produce grow all year round. We try and stay within reasonable seasonal limits (for our neck of the woods). I never buy strawberries during the winter, for instance, just as I’d never get asparagus before March. But oranges, mango, cantaloupes and such I do buy on the regular during the dark months, and they brighten many breakfast plates, desserts and salads at our house.

All of that just because we don’t get enough sunshine? Well, I suppose it could be worse. In Nordic countries, the suicide rate is quite high over the winter, as is periodic drinking. With a bit too much sugar, we’re way better off, all in all, I think. Depression has spiked over Corona, and only recently, I read that it was even more so over the winter months. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, most appropriately acronymed SAD, and apparently, 6 out of 100 people suffer from it. Symptoms vary from depression to trouble sleeping, feeling unworthy and listless, and in extreme cases, even suicidal. It’s certainly a dangerous condition to have during lockdown, because the system-inherent isolation will affect SAD patients even more than it would everybody else. So, if you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, try and get in touch, because now is the time it really counts, and a phone call, email or text can go a long way with a depressed person.

Checking out today with an uplifting song from the past. I’m aware the artists had issues with the song being so successful, as it wasn’t really their usual jam. Nevertheless, I as a fan feel entitled to still love it now, just as I loved it when we were kids dancing to it at the club when it was Indie night. Enjoy, and let us all hope for some much needed lux in the near future!

Fall Post

Gorgeous shades of red, right? This is our kitchen window framed in luxurious fall colors, as every year, for a couple of weeks. It makes me very happy that I got lucky with the light and the angle, and caught it exactly as it looks like. 🙂

As the year starts drawing to an end, I’m looking at a trip of a special kind. I’ve written about my parents‘ grave site and its imminent expiration date before. If you don’t feel like reading an old post: My family’s time in the place they were buried is up – after being granted two additional years as an exception. I’m planning to go there one more time next week, to find closure, pay my respects, say a prayer, and then a stonemason will come and remove the construction. Said stonemason will also be kind enough to cut a piece off of the headstone for me, which I can come pick up and put in my garden, so I’ll have a memento I actually get to keep, and maybe give a final place of rest – for now.

Time off, for me, also means crafts, as you are aware if you’re here. I’ve had a long hiatus due to my broken elbow, but started again as soon as I was allowed to ditch the cast :-). I consider it to be a very effective type of PT, exceptionally good for the fine motor skills. As it is, both my orthopedist and the PT lady have been impressed with my healing process, so I guess I’m lucky on that front.

My current WIPs are:

The dog sweater is done,

the socks are not (but a few episodes of the latest Queer Eye season will rectify that). As for the blanket, you all know that is a process. Some take years to finish,

others are done more quickly:

The Waffle Blanket is turning out to be one of the former category.

Finally, a word on overalls. I’ve worn a couple of these over the decades, and it’s completely my old friend M’s fault who was famous for wearing them in the early Nineties. He also had an egg slicer necklace, which he always said was proof he was a crazy ass mofo :-)). He was the sweetest boy that lived in Frankfurt when I was young. He was the yin to my boyfriend’s yang, and we hung out a lot, the three of us. We took a long road trip all across the States, transferring a red GMC Sierra truck from Massachusetts down to the Tucson airbase. It was a great trip, and a wonderful ride. His dungarees were OshKoshs, and he lived in them, much as I lived in my 501s, then. Anyways, I blame him for getting me hooked on them. I got my first pair not long after.

My favorite pair were from a GAP store in Manhattan. They were forest green corduroys, and I wore them for years, but unfortunately lent them to a pregnant lady I knew, who never gave them back to me after she had her baby :-(. Then I had a pair made of black twill, which were great for the summer, and I wore those to death. My last pair were also lent out as pregnancy garb, which people evidently never return, and I guess I forgot how much I loved this Most Comfortable Garment in the world. Now that I finally have a pair again, I’ll try not to forget that again :-). They make me really happy.

I have no new revelatory recipe to share this time, probably because we haven’t been cooking elaborate meals lately. I was busy, so didn’t pay a lot of heed to what went on our plates. We had a lot of pasta, which is not great for my quest of minimizing my carbs intake, but it’s the best overlap with the kids‘ tastes, and also doesn’t take long. I tried to have more vegetables than pasta, at least :-).

Now, I’m off to this place with Charlie. Here he is in full speed:

Have a great October, and thank you for checking in!

p.s.

Mornings doing crafts in bed are a precious and rare indulgence!

Dodge the Burnout

This was this morning, when I decided to be naughty and ditch the screen for some self-care in the form of soaking up nature.

Now, I’m not really supposed to drive yet, even though I’m finally Free Of The Cast. My left elbow is still tender, the joint is a bit stiff from being confined to a 90° position for 5 weeks, and my left arm is as weak as a noodle, no joke. But how else was I supposed to get myself and the doggo to the forest? So I just got in the car, and everything was actually fine, until I had to parallel park the car when returning to our narrow street. It’s not a one-way, but it might as well be. There is not room for two cars to go past each other, and both curbs are lined with parking cars. Sigh. But I gritted my teeth, swore a bit because it hurt like a mofo, and the car is now beautifully parked.

But back to the self-care. Early this morning, I listened to an interview on a podcast called Fight The Burnout. The interviewee is one of my favorite people in the world, and to say we have a lot in common would be an understatement: genes, experiences, memories, history. She’s my sister from another mister who was actually my stepbrother, and we’ve known each other all our lives. I love her dearly, and when she tells me something, I listen. This is not true for many people in the world. Anyway, the podcast is ultimately about understanding and preventing burnout. Recognizing the signs, strategies for not letting it go too far, and help for when it already has.

On the pod, A. says at one time that one of her own self-care strategies is hiking by herself, and sitting down and listening to the birds. No phone, no book, no podcast, no music. Can you see what made me take my butt out to the woods today?

Being a working parent is challenging. We all know that if you really want to be accessible to the kid(s), something’s gotta give. Statistically, the general choices seem to be either the woman’s work, or the marriage, with a few notable exceptions where people actually manage to partner up and split chores, childcare and working hours.

Over the course of 16 years of kindergarten and school, I’ve met my fair share of families, and in most cases, there was one primary caretaker and one primary breadwinner. More often than not, the caretaker is the mom, as sad as that is from a feminist standpoint, me included. In my case, the choice was mostly dictated by finances. But also I stumbled into motherhood deaf, dumb and blind, and it was such a revelation to me that I was actually able to pull it off, that to my own surprise I found that I wanted to be a mom more than I wanted to pursue my career. The first years with my two kiddos are full of cherished memories, and I would make the same choice all over again if I could. I do know couples who manage to divide chores, childcare and work evenly among themselves, and I know at least two dads who were the primary caretakers. The younger generation seem to be better at that than my own.

So, strategies to dodge burnout might include:

Meditation, yoga, mindfulness

Healthy food intake

Enough sleep

Hobbies

Taking breaks

When you think about it, all these things have one thing in common: they concern you, first and foremost. Time to yourself, food that’s good for you, your own personal sleep or relaxation rituals, activities you enjoy, whether it be knitting or climbing a rope course. Taking care of yourself can have many faces. The important thing is that you actually stay mindful of your needs, listen to your body and soul, and give yourself a break, not when it’s too late, not in the nick of time, but as a regular thing. A. and the host of the pod call it ‚checking in‘. It’s good advice.

As you, dear regular stitch readers, know, my own personal strategy has been to adopt a dog. A few members of my hub were concerned when I did, predicting my imminent collapse under the pressure of having added yet another creature’s needs to my already full plate. Nobody really believed me when I said that I didn’t think it was going to be a burden at all. And it hasn’t been. Instead it has been, just like when I had my babies, a source of great happiness, love, laughter – and yes, a fair amount of exercise as well.

In this time of Covid, which has been serving each and every one of us their own series of shit sandwiches, it seems even more important that we look after ourselves. For only when we’re kind to yourself, can we be kind to others, be it a family, a company, or a community.

I’d be remiss not to mention (once again) my favorite television show, Schitt’s Creek, in this context. They won 9 (!) Emmy awards yesterday night, for their small-budgeted, big-hearted piece of ingeniousness. In his acceptance speech, Eugene Levy, the show’s co-mastermind, said it was „a celebration of inclusivity, a castigation of homophobia, and a declaration of the power of love“. It certainly was one of my happy places in challenging times. Go find it online if you can. It’s amazing :-).

Since having been relieved of my cast, I’ve practiced mindful crochet (is that even a thing?), one careful row at a time. It brought me great joy to finally be able to do that again!

And I’d like to share a recipe stolen from my fabulous friend F., whose birthday it is today. Congratulations to my favorite Wonder Woman Warrior!!! We used my husband’s tomatoes for it, and it’s a very simple, ingenious combination of cross-cultural spices and aromas. Here’s the

Hot Tomato Explosion Salad

6 large tomatoes

1 handful fresh basil

4 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP tomato paste

1 TSP harissa paste

Salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes into 1 cm cubes. Finely chop the basil. Add oil, tomato paste and harissa. Give it a thorough stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

We had it with Jamie Oliver’s stuffed tortillas (grated cheese, chopped green onions, chopped cilantro, thinly sliced red chili), and it was a beautiful combination indeed.

Have a good week, everybody.

Oh, Man …

I don’t know about you guys, but at this point I’m kind of resigned to the fact that 2020 is a bust, and a broken elbow (multifragmentary radial head fracture) fits in with the overall theme of things just being unexpected, and shitty this year.

Since I’m on a deadline (aren’t I always), I usually try to type for the translation only, in order not to overexert my right hand. Developing tendonitis in my good arm on top of everything else is all I need, right?

But today, I have to take a break from the manuscript, simply because I failed to pack it, so I thought I’d drop in and say hi. Injuries very effectively slow us down, don’t they? De-escalate us, as the new age lingo puts it. Now you would think I wouldn’t greatly mind that, in general, and I don’t. What I find challenging is not being the one who decides when to go at what speed exactly. Not used to being bossed around anymore, I suppose.

Also, asking for help is difficult. Especially since nobody is exactly thrilled to come do things for me at the drop of a hat … I’m sure I’m not being the best patient. My orthopedist suggested it’s an exercise in humility. He says he had the same injury himself, twice, so I guess he knows what he’s talking about.

So that’s my news, since my life came to a screeching (bone-crunching) halt ten days ago. And since I don’t really cook now, I’m posting a thing I made before the accident.

I was going to bake a loaf of bread, the one that uses a mix of oats, spelt and millet, when I realized we were out of oatmeal, and began rummaging for a substitute. I found cornmeal, which led to me thinking about tortillas, and so, on an impulse, I added more water and made a soft dough of spelt and cornmeal, and a handful of millet thrown in, also a baggie of dry yeast. After letting it rise, I formed little balls and rolled them out really thinly, then pan-fried them in olive oil. So that resulted in a sort of a tortilla flatbread, and I enjoyed dipping it into a basil-heavy, chunky tomato sauce.

Tortilla Flatbread Sorpresa

1 p dry yeast

1 TSP salt

1 TBSP sugar

250 g spelt flour

150 g cornmeal

Handful of millet

300 ml warm water (approximately!) to make a soft dough

Combine, let rise for 1 hour, then form balls of small handfuls of dough. Roll out to fit into your frying pan. Heat olive oil and fry from both sides until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.

They were very good torn into bite-sized pieces and dipped into tomato sauce, I’m sure they’d be great with salsa, and the next day they were also nice as a breakfast burrito. (Lettuce, tomato, egg)

Sadly, I have next to nothing new on the crafts front, as my right arm activities are rationed to typing now, and resting my right wrist is paramount. I’m still rewatching Star Trek Voyager, and enjoying it very much, especially Mr Tuvok the Science Officer, who is a distinguished Vulcan :-).

I did make a little something for Granny Square Day on August 15th. Always a happy occasion, and as good a reason to play with yarn as any! I must have liked 100 posts with that hashtag that day :-). Amazing what true yarn artists can do, I just love that community.

So I hope everybody is keeping out of trouble, wearing their masks, and enjoying the late summer – isn’t going to the market the best now? Grapes and peaches and apples and plums and blackberries …

The One About Being a Translator

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… was Saturday last week. This picture was taken after an extraordinarily busy week during which I translated a huge number of pages, participated in two parents meets, worried about my mother in law who underwent major surgery and tried planning our summer around three book projects, one wedding, a trip to France and two families‘ (located on different continents) schedules …

The week after that was basically more of the same, and therefore mostly remarkable for offering the perspective of a Week With No Alarm Clock to follow. Not that it means I have a week off, but sleeping in is usually only happening on weekends, and I’m taking full advantage.

Unfortunately, the weather has been more rain than shine, less degrees than we hoped, and a chilly Easter to look forward to :-/. But we get to be in the country, so we can run outside as soon as the rain stops. Also, we’re here with our friends, and that is a treat whether the weather be good or bad.

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And now for something completely different! People have mentioned that I never really talk about my work on here. It’s sort of true, I mostly discuss crafts and cooking and stuff that’s on my mind. This may give the impression that that’s all I’m about, and since nothing could be further from the truth, let me put that in perspective a bit.

As you guys know, I’m a copywriter turned translator. My former and my current jobs are similar in terms of requiring you to become familiar with a new subject matter in record time, enough to be able to credibly pretend you know what you’re talking about anyway. In copywriting, that’s usually all you really do. Obviously it helps if you love words and know how to be witty, but it rarely goes any deeper than that, mostly because lot of bomb-ass ideas get trashed before they ever see the light outside of the dungeons of the art department.

Translating is different. When I translate nonfiction, I learn so much from my authors – and if I’m lucky enough to translate something I love, like a cookbook or a crafts book, it all adds to my own expertise. This past month has seen me buckle down and learn about sewing. And it’s great! All the yummy new words I learned, all the insight on fabrics and patterns and needles and utensils. I had FUN!

When translating fiction, it’s great to transpose a whole world, a culture, the main characters, and to make the readers get them, or even like them. When the readers don’t really notice they’re reading a translation, I’d say I did a good job.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a weakness for (gay) young adults fiction, and the millennials in particular. So far, I’ve translated two novels by Santino Hassell, both set in the very diverse gay culture of New York. The first book, Sutphin Boulevard, was well received and got good reviews, even a little love for the translator, which was such a relief because as a hetero cis-gender female translator, I was apprehensive as to whether I had done the work justice. It’s a deeply romantic love story, but in parts kind of dark. Not an easy read at all, but it’s got great protagonists, interesting character development and (because it’s Santino) some very explicit and highly emotional sex scenes.

The second book, Sunset Park, came out mid March, and oddly, it seems the reviewers have little patience with the woes and struggles of younger people. Why then would they even buy a book like that, I wonder. Just go for the grown-up books section and skirt everything that reeks of coming of age, finding out who you are and what you’d like to do with your life, falling in love and discovering your (sexual) identity… I’m sure Sunset will find its readers anyway, because it’s a great story, and very very funny.

When translating the first book, I struggled with finding the right tone for the sex scenes – ultimately, in German, we don’t have the playful and fun vocab English has for anything sex related. German tends to be either overly romantic, off-puttingly clinical or flat out vulgar. It was a challenge, but in the end I guess I pulled it off. The second book taught me (among other things) about Grindr, the gay sex dating app. I liked the pragmatism, the acronyms, the lingo … the whole system was fascinating to me. And since Santino doesn’t do sex for sex’s sake in his novels, there’s a very intense Grindr chat in one of the first chapters that is absolutely crucial for the whole story arc, and I just needed to nail that (no pun whatsoever intended). So now I know my way around that (not entirely sure what good it’s going to do me – again, straight cis-gender female – but it was cool to explore that parallel universe anyway.) And of course, translating two characters who are both funny as all hell, snarky and sweet, one with a Latino background who sounds a little ‚hood, and the other a clean-cut white boy from Connecticut who went to Brown. I found both of them equally lovable, and they’re my favorite couple in that ‚verse so far.

I’m supposed to work on the third book over the summer. It’s about two guys who’re both almost 40, so the most adult people he’s written about so far. We’ll see how I do with them.

Until then, I have the great honor of chipping in on the translation of a true cookbook classic – not supposed to say which one yet, but it’s huge, and I’m loving it SO MUCH!

So there, now I have talked about work – to those of you who thought all I do is bring up kids and crochet and knit, sorry to disappoint, not that kind of lady.

But I do do these things all the time anyway, because I’d go insane if I didn’t. Here’s some things I made over the past few weeks:
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Look, the soft pink socks for Sweet C. are done :-).

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As are two new sofa cushions to add a splash of color to the solemn grey.

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Voilà, the latest glittery sock creation for my daughter.

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This was enlightening – can you believe I made all of those…?

Signing off tonight (for it’s late!) with a series of my teenager creating street art with garbage. Love the way his mind works :-).

Happy Easter, everyone – let’s hope the Easter Bunny will be generous this year!

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It’s Not About You

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Depression sucks for everyone involved. The patient is suffering, and if they’re not careful, friends and family will exhaust themselves in vain attempts to ‚do something‘. Trying to cheer the other person up, attempting to make them feel better and look on the bright side – it can get frustrating because that’s just not how it works.

When one of my closest friends got sick, my own approach (after silently freaking out for a while) was to detach myself enough to be able to be or do what she needed. It took 3 very long weeks of allowing her space to find out for herself what the heck that even was. I found a way of letting her know I was thinking of her without pressuring her, but the incommunicado was not easy for me. What helped me was to tell myself every day that it wasn’t about me. In the meantime, I learned that there will be good days, and there will be very bad days. It gets more complicated the more you love the depressed person, because you’ll see them fall apart, and there won’t be a damn thing you can do but listen, hold them, be there and pray they’ll eventually find it in themselves to climb out of that bottomless pit.

In the beginning, it was such a paradigm shift to understand that what is troubling her has absolutely nothing to do with me, or with what I did or didn’t do. This is probably even more difficult if you’re a spouse or a parent, because these relationships are more codependent than a friendship by definition. Not that friendships never are, and not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Depending on friends is what they’re there for, thick and thin, good times or bad. Right now, my job is to be there for my friend while being mindful of my own needs at the same time. And while it seems illogical to detach yourself in order to stay close, it seems to me that that’s one of the few things that can work.

I’m not entirely new to this. An ex-boyfriend of mine was both depressed and drinking. Our relationship was an absolute train wreck, but at the time, I genuinely believed he needed me, so narcissistic of me. In the end it was him who ended it, which, from today’s perspective, was the sanest thing he could have done. It broke my heart, but it was clear we really had nowhere to go – and I wasn’t even helping him with his issues. He did what he needed to do.

Then, there was a friend who became depressed over the course of a brief marriage that ultimately failed. There was really not a lot I could offer but a couch, a friendly ear and encouragement to seek professional help. She did, and she got better, and she learned to be happy again. But it took me years to accept that there was nothing else I could have done, and to be OK with that.

Interestingly, it was only recently that I understood the difference between feeling empathy for someone and trying to absorb their pain. It’s probably the secret weapon that enables therapists to do their jobs without going crazy themselves. This may be a bunch of BS from a professional standpoint, but for the current situation with my friend, it’s my strategy for standing by her to feel her sorrow but not own it.

Sorry for dumping this heavy business on you, stitch readers. I know you probably came to see some crafts projects, or check for new recipes.

If any of you know more about depression though, please let me know, I’m sure I still have a lot to learn. I read that doing crafts is being offered as a part of therapy in psych wards – guess we’ve come full circle there. Anyway, here’s my current WIPs:

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Birthday socks for my friend C., mom to my Most Excellent Godson R., in a lovely shade of soft pink called ‚Winter Sorbet‘ – poetic name, right?

The Dotty Granny Blanket may or may not, depending on my stamina, become a cushion instead. It’s a lenghty process, making all those pretty dotty granny squares. We’ll see.

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The one above is definitely a cushion front – a color explosion in rows of half double crochet, complete with bobbles that add to the Seventies lava lamp feel of the piece ;-).
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The back will look like this – a deep shade of blood red, also in HDC but without bobbles.

That’s all I got for today. Thank you for dropping by and reading.

About Pain

img_1513As the daughter of a rheumatoid arthritis patient, I’ve been familiar with chronic pain from a very young age. I’ve seen it reduce my sophisticated, witty, creative gorgeous hunk of a dad to a barely hanging in there shadow of himself – until the next dosage of his meds would finally kick in, and there he’d be, back again, (almost) his old self.

So, I basically grew up with a firm belief in Daddy’s Little Helpers, because I experienced empirical proof for their effectiveness on a daily basis. No wonder I’m generous with the Ibuprofen myself. Gotta watch that, I know.

I also know pain isn’t necessarily a physical phenomenon only. At least, it’s not the actual pain that makes it horrible but the way it eats up who we are, the way it makes us crawl into ourselves and hide like a frightened young child. It’s scary to feel overpowered like that, and as a migraine patient I’m aware it can hit you out of nowhere at any given time, and hold you in its clutches for days if you’re too late in taking your drugs. Some might argue that migraines are the worst, but after a while, you learn that they have a certain dependable rhythm, and that they eventually will go away again, a perspective that makes them bearable.

This isn’t the case when you’re unlucky enough to have a condition like my dad did. I got a taste of what that might be like when I found myself with an aching jaw last week, which I first assumed was another symptom of the bad cold I was recovering from, and maybe due to the chilly first nights at our country cottage (I think we had 3 °C in there when we arrived. My daughter and I both wore our knit hats to bed!).

img_1534It wasn’t so much a toothache. My whole lower jaw was hurting, and it gradually got worse. Unfortunately, there was no doctor to see out there, and besides, I was busy with wood-burner maintenance, catering for the brood and occasional strolls through the snow-covered forest.

Also, I was mentally gearing up for my son’s 15th birthday, so didn’t have a lot of time to think about myself. Finding him a cool present the last minute because he couldn’t make up his mind which new bike to choose … left me with no present, which was unheard of. Thank God for amazon prime! Have you guys ever heard of Fidget Cubes? They’re awesome. One of my son’s teachers actually allows him to play with his in class because she thinks it enhances his concentration. Well, as long as it doesn’t drive the others bonkers, right? I’d certainly kick his ass if I were to sit next to him trying to work on my French grammar or a math problem while he was click-click-clicking away …

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We went back to town on Friday. Can you believe I really only see how beautiful it was out there now when looking at the photos? I’d been popping Ibuprofen for 2 days, and when we got back, I was barely hanging in there as the pain got more debilitating by the hour. But my husband made me use our infrared lamp, and that did help a little, so when midnight rolled around, I had baked a pretty cake, organized our folks to come over for brunch, made a very yummy chicken salad and when we toasted with champagne around midnight, I was tired, but doing alright.

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Family brunch was great and the Fidget Cube was delivered on time. But as I was relaxing into our Big Boy’s Big Day, the pain came back with a vengeance. It hurt when I had salty things, sweet things, apples, hot beverages – in fact, everything I put in my mouth made my whole jaw hurt. It was starting to wear me thin, and by nightfall, I was actually considering going to the ER – but then changed my mind when I thought about how I’d be sitting there next to stab wounds and broken bones and traffic accident victims – with what exactly? A toothache? Come on. So, more painkillers.

My son’s friends came over, we gave them his favorite Chili and cake, they gave him a cool teeimg_1579

and then they watched a Marvel movie, munching on popcorn. I have to say I really don’t like the Cap very much at this point. He seems very … um … Republican? I get how he would be a bit conservative, and thinking inside his little pre-war-values-do-the-right-thing-box, because he was frozen for decades, I really do. But screwing over Tony Stark like that? Who does that? Anyway, after a fascinating post-movie discussion of superheroes and Avengers and whatnot and whether Marvel was superior to DC (duh!), eventually the youngsters retired to my son’s lair for the slumber part of the party, and I went to bed too.

I slept OK, and it actually seemed I’d gotten better in the morning – that is to say until I had my first sip of hot tea. The pain flared back up, and from then on it only got from bad to worse, and it’s no exaggeration when I say I was a complete mess when I finally sat in the dentist’s chair on Monday. They checked out my teeth, which seem to be alright, oddly, in fact the doc said they looked great. Plus, there actually are no maxillary sinuses in the lower jaw, so the source of the pain remains a mystery. Neuralgic something or other. Uh-huh. But I left there carrying a prescription for high-dosage Ibuprofen and an antibiotic, and praise be for Sir Alexander Fleming: after taking my meds like a good little patient for 2 days, I’m actually better, and my brain is waking up.

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So why am I writing about all of this? Because I find it interesting. I couldn’t have put down any of this yesterday – although I’ve reflected on the subject a great deal. But my brain kind of shuts down when I’m in pain, to the point where all I can do is exist and wait for it to stop. I’ve had two babies the ’natural‘ way, the first one without an epidural and the second one with, and I can’t even put into words how different the experiences were – complete helplessness, pain and horror versus feeling in control and actively participating in giving birth. I know many women don’t take any drugs and they can handle the process, too. And while I admire that, I’m self-aware enough to know I simply could not have done it. I don’t know how I would have delivered my son without medical assistance and a vacuum extraction. After 19 hours of constantly increasing pain, I was completely exhausted and unable to do anything but say ow, ow, ow – I didn’t even have enough strength left to scream. I think a few decades back, one of us wouldn’t have made it, probably me. Or they would have given me a Cesarean, which would have been absolutely fine with me after hours and hours of labor pains ;-).

So, pain management – a fascinating topic. I just read a novel about a soldier who is captured and interrogated under torture – grim stuff. He is part of a special ops unit and actually trained to withstand pain. What makes him break in the end (for, as his torturer informs him in the beginning, everybody does eventually, and I believe it) is that they tell him the love of his life is dead, thus taking away the one safe place in his mind, the perspective of reuniting one day. It made sense to me, even though I don’t know how that whole mind over matter thing even works.

My therapist once asked me what pain meant to me, and I think I answered that it was the most powerful force in the world. It dictated my childhood because everything in our lives revolved around my dad’s pain. And it’s a thing I feel I have no control over. Dr K. helped me see that the unusually frequent migraine attacks I was experiencing at the time were actually code for my feeling overwhelmed by other issues in my life. Pain, to my subconscious, seems to be a way of telling me to slow the hell down. It was easily the most enlightening of all our sessions over the 2 1/2 years I was seeing her. And of course it has to be noted that the migraines actually stopped after that session. How’s that for successful treatment? I’ll bet I made it into being a case study for her own supervision ;-). And I’m so grateful she always knew which questions to ask.

So now that I’ve shared all that with the class, I’d like to know about your own perspective on pain. I’m sure you must have something interesting to add…??

Also, I’d like to show off socks I made over the last 2 weeks – the green pair was finished while I was getting all annoyed with Captain America ;-).img_1591

And the first Very Pink Sock for my girl J. is done – I like it. And of course, so does my daughter who told me I needed to make her a pair just like that when I was done with J.’s.img_1529

Wishing you a completely pain-free February, I’m off to catch up with writing I’ll be paid for, too!

Choices

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If only every mistake in life were as easy to undo as a piece of knitting!

That up there was supposed to be a gauntlet. I swear this time I even looked at patterns before I started out, and then decided the ones that I liked were too complicated for me and went with a simple single cable. And when the first one was as good as done (which took about 3 episodes of Lethal Weapon) I decided it looked boring and ripped it back up. It felt good, because it just wasn’t right.

All the things I wish I had had the courage to go through with that easily in the past would probably fill a book, and it would not be a fun read either. Suffice it to say that I’ve lied to people by omission (to spare their feelings, or to spare myself having to lock horns with them, probably a bit of both), I’ve said things in anger that I regretted later (and apologized for some but not all of them), I’ve pulled back from people who depended on me when I couldn’t handle the extra pressure anymore (again to avoid confrontation), and I’ve dropped out of people’s lives altogether when I found greener pastures (how exactly would you even tell someone you’re going to do that without coming across like a major asshole?)

I’m supposing many people have done – or decided not to do – stuff like that themselves. As we get older and more experienced, we learn to avoid engaging with people we don’t find all that interesting in the first place. We learn to say what’s on our minds without being rude. And we know when taking a break can be more beneficial for a relationship than trying to work out issues for which there’s no solution that will make both parties happy anyway.

Assuming we’re for the most part responsible for who we are, how we feel and how we act is one approach (not my own, duh. The credit for the principles of Nonviolent Communications obviously goes to Marshall Rosenberg). Our actions may impact others, but ultimately it’s their own choice whether to be bothered by what we said or did.

Take He Who must not be Named on my blog who moved into the White House over the weekend. If he’s done one thing consistently over the past years, he’s been badmouthing immigrants, especially from Mexico, and women. And yet he had a whole community of Latino women voting for him. Their choice, I suppose, even if I don’t get them. At all. If I were an American, I’d have been on the streets just like all the others who marched on January 21st, more power to them.

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Apparently, making America great again began with taking (among other minor issues such as climate change^^) the LGBT rights page and all mention of LGBT acronyms off of the White House’s website. Approx. 9 million people, erased, just like that. I can’t help but find that appalling (my choice entirely!). And once again, I feel so lucky to be living in this very awesome city where seeing two guys kissing in front of the store just last week made me smile, as young love always does, whatevertheheck the gender.

Oh well. Crafts are comparatively easy ;-). I decided to set the red yarn aside for now and start on my new socks project instead:

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Very pink socks for my girl J in Frankfurt who asked for a new pair – at least here I know what I’m doing, knit 2 purl 2… but isn’t that shade of pink really something else? As you can see, I’m combining two thinner yarns in electric pink, one pure new wool and the other a very soft baby alpaca quality, which will result in seriously cozy socks, I’m hoping.

How about you? How have you chosen to begin the year, crafts-wise and in general? Let me know!

A Pure Food Post

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Bircher Muesli. Yum.

4 large apples, peeled and grated

4 TBSP ground almonds

6 TBSP oatmeal

250 g yogurt, plain (or more if you wish)

1 TBSP maple syrup (or more if you wish)

aaaand, as of last December, 1 orange, filleted, and its juice

A delicious, wholesome breakfast food, easy to make, and only using staples we almost always have at home. Therefore it’s OK to decide you absolutely need this spontaneously whenever you feel like eating this rather than other weekend breakfast foods. Have to confess I wouldn’t do this on a school morning. Those extra 10-15 minutes it takes to make go a long way around 6.30 in the morning. But on Saturdays and Sundays, it’s a thing I enjoy doing, for my husband, my teenager, and last but not least myself. Obviously my daughter detests it – mixed, no clearly discernible ingredients … no way José is she going to eat that and like it. Cereal for her, toast and jam, granola if we’re lucky, and fruit on the side please, only no oranges, no khaki fruit, and absolutely no kiwi. I’m hoping it’s a phase, sigh.

But about that famous Swiss concoction. You grate your apples, add the almonds and oatmeal, yogurt and syrup, then you fillet the orange, catching every bit of juice, so use a plate rather than a cutting board when you slice it, add that, fold everything in carefully, let sit for a few minutes, taste, add more of any ingredient you feel it needs. Then get out the bowls and spoons and call in the hungry clan members. That’s how it works around here anyway.

The orange was something I never used to do before my goddaughter J told me about having stayed at this fancy resort once where they soaked the oatmeal for their Bircher Muesli in fresh OJ overnight. That gave me pause because it never would have occurred to me to add orange to that mix. But I was curious enough to try it, and was instantly convinced I never wanted to change that recipe ever again. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! And by all means, enjoy  :-).

Oh, you want another? Hm. Why not eat our way through a whole day while we’re at it? Let’s make some lunch next, assuming I was good and productive for a couple hours in the meantime.

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Sauteed Winter Salad

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 small head radicchio, sliced

1 handful pine nuts, roasted

400 g cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup Mozzarella cheese (I used the baby sized balls to match the cherry tomatoes, but you could easily use the regular size and cut it up into cubes)

1 clove garlic, sauteed, then crushed in the garlic press later on

Very good olive oil

Dash of dark Balsamic vinegar

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Wee bit of sugar to taste

The way this salad came to be was literally by accident. What happened was that I had been storing all my veggies on my awesome shelf on the kitchen balcony – still proud of this, it was my son’s birthday present for me, yay! img_0183

Sadly, those days with the blooming oleander are so over, which brings me to the reason I sauteed the spinach and radicchio rather than use them fresh and crunchy: all my fresh produce had frozen out there over night, and the spinach in particular looked pitiful. I felt pretty damn stupid when I looked at the stuff as I was preparing dinner – and then it occurred to me the salad might be saved if I just threw it in a hot pan with olive oil, garlic and a wee bit of sugar – and it actually worked out beautifully.We had my mother in law staying with us over the holidays to boot, who hates throwing out food with a passion – so nothing was tossed, no precious food went to waste, grace was saved and nobody was any the wiser. Do I sound smug? Well that’s because I was. Everyone was praising my barely salvaged salad, hehe.

I sauteed the spinach and radicchio, sliced the tomatoes, roasted the pine-nuts, crushed the garlic I had sauteed with the leaves, added a generous amount of decent olive oil, baby mozzarella and a dash of Balsamico, black pepper and a bit of sugar to taste, and there it was. A nice winter salad. Next time, I may add some croutons like you do for a Caesar salad – that would be a whole meal right there. As you can see, recipes are, as so many things in life, a fluid thing.

So, that could have been lunch, with some nice, crusty Italian bread.

Now again, please assume I was busy working on my cookbook assignment in the meantime. The kids will have come home from school by now, making hungry puppy eyes at me. And as it’s so cold and dark outside, and we’re still processing the untimely death of our sweet kitty, we’ve been in dire need of comfort food lately. Which obviously brings me to my version of

Mac and Cheese

500 g macaroni, boiled

4 handfuls of grated cheese (anything with a bit of a stronger flavor will do – Cheddar, Parmigiano, Gruyère, Swiss … whatever you have at home will work just fine for this)

250 ml cream, plus 1 cup of milk

2 eggs

2 shallots, cubed

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt and black pepper

Olive oil for brushing the casserole

Since at our house, this is True Comfort Food, I’m usually on my last leg when preparing this meal. Therefore, I don’t make a fuss with preparing a roux, adding mustard or other condiments – what I do is I boil my pasta, cube my shallots, crush my garlic, grease my casserole, grate my cheese and whisk together eggs, cream, milk, salt and pepper. Drain pasta, add to casserole, add cheese, eggs-cream-milk mix, shallots and garlic and carefully combine. Cover casserole and stick in a 160 °C oven for about 25 minutes. Not much longer, and not much hotter, because I like the pasta to be soft and coated in a cheesy, creamy, yummy substance, but still have a bit of a crust if you know what I mean. In the end, it usually looks like this:
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Please forgive the very slice of life photo – the kids were way too hungry to take a picture before digging in.

There was, as you can see, a cucumber salad on the side. Oh, you want that one too? Come on, you guys know how to make cucumber salad, right? At the risk of being really redundant, here’s

My Kindergarten Cucumber Salad

2 cucumbers, thinly sliced

1 small shallot, very thinly sliced

3 TBSP cooking oil

1-2 TBSP white balsamic vinegar

Sugar, salt, white pepper if you have it, if not, don’t worry about it and use black

2 TBSP chopped dill (this you do need, and not the frozen variety either!)

100 ml plain yogurt

Dash of Worcestershire sauce if you like

I used to make this for the kindergarten kids all the time, who were really into it -hence the slightly nostalgic name.

First, slice your cucumbers. After a couple minutes, press excess water out of the slices by taking them by the handful and squeezing. Great for your hands‘ skin, too, as not many things in a kitchen are, so enjoy that!

Add the shallot and dill, make a salad dressing and combine. Let sit for 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to mix.

It truly is the perfect salad for Mac and Cheese, in my book. And what do you know, even my daughter eats it, so it must be really something else!

All these recipes feed 4 or 5, btw, in case you were wondering.

Wow. That was one long, food-y post, wasn’t it?

Crafts will probably be up again next time – for I have not been idle, knitting away some of the grief I guess.

Signing off today with an awesome piece of art by my son who is one lucky kid to actually be taught graffiti in school, look:

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and the sweetest birthday present ever – my daughter made this for her daddy end of December. Gotta love those kids :-).img_0847

Rest in Peace, Beautiful Friend

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Those of you who read my last post will probably guess what happened. Our sweet companion of 11 years is gone. I have no words to really express how much I’m missing her, but I’ll try anyway. Maybe some will find it weird that I hardly make a distinction between my kids and my pets, but I really don’t. Unlike my kids, this cat slept in my bed every night – come to think of it, even more regularly than my husband who travels for work a lot. How do you not miss someone who purred you to sleep and whose beautiful amber eyes you woke up to for such a long time?

Putting an animal to sleep is as awful as it is unspectacular. The first shot makes them very tired – it’s like the good stuff they give you right before the actual anesthetic you get for an operation. They go all limp and relaxed in your arms, and after a couple minutes, they get another shot that actually kills them, right into their rib-cage. They kind of curl up in fetal position, drawing in their limbs, it’s a reflex, nothing more, and then their hearts stop beating.

I’ve been through this with three cats, and I’ve sat with my mom when she died. And every time it struck me how absolutely unique death looks. It’s impossible to confuse it with sleep, and every time I see a corpse in the movies, I feel it looks completely wrong.

My children went with me to the vet’s yesterday. They wanted to, that is to say my son wanted to come and my daughter who as the (much) younger kid always worries she might be left behind for Something Important, wanted to go too, and so I respected that and hope the teachers will too. If they don’t, they can all take a hike. It was important to us.

Our vet is as much of a people person as he is an animal person – which certainly isn’t true for all of his ilk. I like him a lot, and he has the exact amount of reason and empathy I needed to be able to go through with everything yesterday. He seemed really moved by our little family affair – I think I saw him blink tears away himself. Dr S rocks, he really does.

Needless to say, we had a black day after we left around 10.30. We went straight back home, cuddled our bereaved (now only) kitty, made hot chocolate, watched movies and took turns crying all day. At my age, this leaves a highly unattractive puffiness around the eyes, and my son’s acne broke out like you wouldn’t believe. It’s fair to say we both looked like shit this morning when I woke the kids. But my therapist used to say that tears are good, and since I can’t stop the waterworks anyway, I’ll just let myself cry whenever the tears start flowing …

… and maybe write some of it out of my system. Thanks for reading, and thanks for calling and texting, everyone – you know who you are. You’re the sweetest, kindest and most understanding bunch a girl could ask for. Thank you for being my friends, I love you.