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 :-).
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
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!
Two years ago today, I went to bed with a heavy heart. First thing in the morning, I was to go pick up a dog I had seen only once before, take him away from his family including three other dog friends, and bring him into a completely different environment than he was used to: Big city, no yard but parks and streets, a family he didn’t know, and an old lady of a cat who had not really met any dogs before. To say I was freaking out would be putting it mildly.
As you can guess, it’ll be the two-year anniversary of one of the most life-changing days of my life: the day Charlie moved in. I remember not really allowing myself to be believe it was real, until we walked him to the car, strapped him in and drove away from his old home. And still, I was expecting him to cry, and he didn’t. Instead, he fell asleep on my son, napping all the way to Berlin, and after arriving, took a happy walk with me at the little park around the corner. Up in the apartment, he checked out his new digs and promptly fell back asleep again next to me on the couch.
At the time, I didn’t realize how many hours per day Dachshunds really sleep (up to 17!), and I was all sorts of worried he might be in shock, pining for his old home, people and dog friends, and want to go back home.
The things I didn’t know then were many, but my intentions were good, and I was willing to learn. All in all, everything went so much better than I would have expected, and Charlie seemed really happy with us. Not once did I have the impression he was missing something. To the contrary, he seemed to latch onto me almost instantaneously, following me around the house wherever I went (including bathroom), sleeping next to me burrowed under the same blanket, sharing my desk chair (talk about dynamic sitting!) …
Charlie came to live with us when he was 9 months old. He was not a puppy anymore, and had just hit puberty. The previous owners had already used him to make babies at 6 or 7 months old; the reason they had to give him away was a genetic incompatibility with one of the other female dogs (not the one whose 5 puppies he fathered), and they were nervous lest an unwanted pregnancy should happen. He had only been with that family for 6 months before moving in with us. You could say that he had a bit of a first year!
I made an appointment with a dog trainer right away, who taught me many useful things in the handful of sessions we did. The rest was flying by the seat of my pants, faith, and most of all, unconditional love.
The last one came easily. I’d grown up with a Dachshund when I was little, who was very much my mom’s dog; I missed him when I moved out, but there was never a question of me taking him with me, or wanting one of my own – it just didn’t seem practical. I was young, had classes and a student job, and later on work, and went out a a lot at night. So, no dog, but soon enough, cats. They were wonderful, and even though I always loved dogs, actually owning one, taking the responsibility seemed way out of my league. Cats, I could handle.
Then I had my son. I learned I could be a mom, that I wasn’t bad at it at all, and that it made me unexpectedly happy – suddenly, responsibility didn’t seem so scary anymore.
But it was only much later, when we went to see our family in California, fall of 2018, that the dog idea was born. We went out the night before my daughter turned 10, our folks took time off from work to do stuff and travel around a bit with us, their youngest and my daughter got on like a house on fire, and we enjoyed two great weeks with them.
Also, they have a dog, who was kind enough to let me pet him, a lot. One night, we were sprawled on the couch, dog in my lap, talking about what I don’t remember. I was stroking his silky fur, apparently looking blissed out or something, because suddenly my husband burst out: Alright, alright, alright!
So I can actually pinpoint when it was that I actually let myself think about the possibility of getting a dog. Not a Border Collie like our family’s in California, because I don’t have that kind of yard, and I’m not a runner or cycler, and those breeds need their daily workout. Something smaller, maybe. My husband said, maybe a Beagle? Very cute dogs. Maybe a Jack Russell Terrier. Maybe a mutt from the shelter. Maybe, maybe, maybe …
A few months later, I was looking for something on ebay Classified ads, and completely out of the blue typed in: Dachshund. And lo and behold, in the listings, there was a picture of Charlie. I was mesmerized. The kids were like: But … but we have a cat. This was true. My husband said: But … but you don’t have time for a dog! Or did I? I slept on it, then wrote to the lady and asked for details, told her who we were, and that I’d very much like to meet Charlie if possible.
She called me back right away, and we talked for a good while. Then she said she already had a few offers, and she’d get back to us. It was a weird couple of weeks in limbo, not knowing what was what. After a number of messages to and fro, I said: Listen. We’re spending our Easter holidays close to where you are. We’d be willing to come see you. Please let us know whether you want to meet, or else let us know if you’ve decided for someone else. We just need to know.
In the end, they came to see us at the cottage. Charlie seemed to like us, the dad was crying a tear or two at the thought of letting him go, but evidently we made a good impression, because the same evening she called and said they were willing to let us have him.
There he is, in my lap, and I touched him as carefully as if he was made of glass … and still, I didn’t let myself believe it was real, even though by that time, I’d realized I wanted it to be, so much – until the day that was tomorrow two years ago.
I do not have a single regret. It was the best decision ever. I’m deeply in love with Charlie, as are my husband and kids, and we cherish every single day with him. He makes me laugh, he makes me go outside and walk every day, and without wanting to sound dramatic, I can honestly say that I feel complete now. Who knew it took a small, bow-legged, big-hearted fellow with a long snoot to accomplish that?
My kids say he has my nose ;-). Isn’t it true that dogs and their owners often have a great resemblance?
Thank you everyone who has been part of that journey, and thank you, kind readers, for taking a walk down memory lane with me tonight.
Last weekend was a good one, that held all the things I like about our country cottage. There were long walks, there was baking, there was fresh asparagus because it’s almost May, there were friends – and also, very cool, all the four of us went out together – a thing not to be taken for granted. As my brilliant friend N said: When we were young, we fled from our parents. And our kids choose to spend their vacations and free time with us. What a blessing, right?
Anyway. What also happened was that I was able to put to rest a piece of my late parents‘ headstone. I’ve talked about the strange German regulations regarding cemetery use before. If you don’t feel like re-reading my rant, don’t. I was angry and depressed, lashing out because I felt helpless. Anyway, the gist is that in this country you (usually) rent the tomb from the city for a duration of (usually) 20 years. In some cases, you can renew the lease, in others you can’t. This was the case with my parents‘ grave, their time was up and I was asked to have removed the tomb and remains. I contacted a local stonemason to take care of it, and I asked him if he would cut off a piece of the headstone for me, and have it shipped to Berlin. This happened end of last year, and the stone sat in our shed, neatly wrapped up in bubble wrap, waiting for the right moment to find it a new (and hopefully permanent) resting place in our garden. Last Sunday, my husband and son helped me position it next to our old linden tree in front of the house.
I feel relieved and like I’ve found a closure I wasn’t even really aware I needed. (You’d think burying your parents would grant you that, but hey. We live and learn.) So thank you everyone who commiserated with me, and listened to me complain about the stupid law, also you people who helped me come up with this very good solution for a sad problem.
On to something a little less dark. I said I baked over the weekend, and despite this being a stolen recipe, I feel I should share it. The original was this one, and I was very happy to have found it when I was browsing. My version looked less perfect than the blogger’s, and I think I also know why. Cooling the dough balls dipped in powdered sugar _again_ before baking is key (you need space for 2 baking sheets in your fridge for that), as the blogger points out – unfortunately without specifying how long exactly. Next time I make them I’ll go with an hour and not 30 minutes. But they were very good, despite the less than perfect optics. The kids wolfed down the last four today :-).
If you don’t read German, no problem – just google Lemon Crinkle Cookies, and you’ll find lots of inspiration. It seems to be a popular variety. I can guess why!
And in case you’re too lazy to do either? Here’s what you do:
Lemon Crinkle Cookies
300 g flour (I used spelt)
1/2 TSP salt
1 TSP baking powder
peel of 1 lemon
115 g butter (not chilled but room temperature)
150 g sugar (I used less, about 120 g, but added 1 p vanilla sugar)
juice of 1 lemon
First, beat butter, sugar and lemon peel until fluffy. Beat in 1 egg at a time, then add lemon juice. Then flour, salt and baking powder. The dough should be smooth and sticky. Chill for at least 45 minutes. It should be firm enough to roll little balls between your palms. Dip the balls into powdered sugar and set on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. It should yield two sheets of cookie dough balls. Find room for those in your refrigerator, walk away and do something else. I’m serious. The cookies‘ looks will benefit from a thorough chilling.
Then preheat the oven to 175 °C, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy with a cup of tea, glass of milk, or espresso – these are good with any.
In crafts news, I ripped the crochet poncho up yet again, because I had messed it up in one place, and it didn’t really even out as I had hoped; to the contrary, the irregularity became more obvious as I went. So with a big sigh I frogged like twenty-five rows, again. I was a bit angry with myself and wished (not for the first time) to be able to follow a damn pattern like a normal person.
My friend A. whom I complained to said: But then you wouldn’t be you! She seems to think creative potential and following a pattern are mutually exclusive. Not sure if that’s true – what do you think?
Anyway, I doggedly started again, adding some rounds over the weekend, and will continue to pay careful attention as I go now. This was Sunday morning, and to me it does not get much better than this, crochet in bed, tea at my elbow, and my two li’l dudes sleeping at my feet while the sunshine streams through the window.
As anticipated in my last post, it’s been a busy few weeks. Apologies for my absence here, but there was actually precious little to tell. I got up, walked the dog, worked, walked the dog, worked again, made dinner, walked the dog, worked some more, slept – and rinse, repeat.
We had a wonderfully warm late February, after all the cold and snow and ice, and it felt awesome to finally wear something else than my down coat. But then temperatures dropped once again, and all the early blooms and budding shrubs seem to have stopped in their tracks. But it’s lovely to walk around our neighborhood this time of year, and see the snowdrops and crocuses poke their pretty heads out of the still mostly barren soil. I can’t wait for the scent of nature waking up and finally spoiling us with color and brightness once again.
Meanwhile, my kids are soldiering through home schooling like a couple of champs, my son is buckling down for his upcoming exams, and my husband went and got a hip replacement, defending his title as Bionic Man. He’s being amazingly brave, self-sufficient, and all mind-over-matter. I’m not sure I’d be any of that in his shoes, and I admire the heck out of it.
What has me so busy is the fact that I didn’t like to say no to any of my three current projects with kind of competing deadlines. It’s manageable, but there’s not a lot of leeway, on either one of the books, so I need to keep a tight schedule. I’m trying hard not to melt into the computer and transform into a sentient Translator Bot.
Not sure how much else I’m good for at the moment. I do try and cook every day, so there’s that. But there have been frozen pizzas (always with a home made soup or salad so we won’t die of scurvy), grilled cheese, and quick pasta dishes, more often than not.
I try to take weekends off, though, to catch up with chores (boring), sit and crochet (amazing), and try to spend some time with the family. How lucky am I to have had so many years of being able to adapt my schedule to the kiddos‘ needs? I don’t know how I’d have survived this kind of workload when they were young. Also, I doubt we’d have much of a relationship if I’d been as absentminded then as I am oftentimes now. They don’t seem to take it amiss, thankfully, and learning to be a little more independent is not a bad thing for them, all in all, I suppose. This is a conundrum every working parent needs to find their own solution for.
I recently remembered white beans the way my dad would make them. Here’s the convenience version that suited my schedule better than the soaking and cooking for a long time that he used to do. (Cooked beans, 1 shallot, 1 strip of bacon, cut in thin slivers, chopped parsley, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and 1 chopped tomato, bit of olive oil – 15 minutes in the pan, the end.) I mashed mine up with a fork and had a slice of crusty French bread with it.
Last Saturday, we had one of the school crafternoons – via zoom, these socially distanced days, of course. I was excited to learn how to needle-felt, a discipline I’d somehow never tried before, not sure why. I always did other things during the crafternoons. But I thought it might be nice to do that with my daughter, and produce something cute for the school’s bazaar stand. So we made fruit and other edibles, check it out:
A new skill, and a fun afternoon with my fellow Waldorf crafters. I don’t do as many zoom meetings as most people, and even after a whole year, it’s still a little weird for me. But it’s always really good to see everyone’s faces, and a nice time was had by all.
I’ve read a little about the various psychological side-effects of the pandemic, and discussed them with friends. One thing most people are saying is that it makes them lose focus, and start many things but only finish a few. Well, this tendency certainly manifests in my crafts projects. I have no less than four WIPs, each of which would require me to just sit down and do them. For some reason or other, this is just not happening. Socks are easiest, I find, and felting was the same. Small things, quick to finish, move on. When in a pandemic …
Last weekend, I _was_ going to finish my poncho, the one in what my husband calls the Winter Colors. Well, it turns out that I couldn’t. I found it needed to be looser that I’d made it, after all, and after careful consideration, I ripped it back up to a certain point below the shoulders (top down). Also, I ditched one of the colors (yellow) like my sweet friend M had told me to all along. She was right, and everyone who suggested it needed to be more flowy was right, too. This is what it looked like before I made the executive decision to frog:
This weekend, I look forward to some time for working on the looser version, having been a good little translator and meeting my target for the week.
Have a nice one, take care – and thank you for dropping in!
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!
Welcome to the first installment of this year, here in my little corner of the Internet. I hope you guys are well, and got to enjoy a bit of time off with your families and loved ones.
In the picture above, we were supposed to experience a rare astronomical phenomenon, the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which was happening on December 21st. We hiked up the only significant hill we have in the city, to have a vantage point as well as less light pollution. Unfortunately, as you can see, the only discernible celestial body was the good old moon, as it was a really cloudy night. Nevertheless, the city lights always look so pretty from up there, and that night, it was a truly magical atmosphere up there on the hilltop. There were at least 5 small bonfires. Some people played music, others just hugged their thermoses (us included) and stared up into the murky night skies, trying to see something exciting, and probably failing. Or not – who knows what they had in their thermoses! I still count the excursion as a success, because we went as a family, which is not a frequent occurrence anymore in this house, therefore these moments deserve to be appreciated. And they are.
The Christmas break began early for the kids, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t nice to skip the alarm in the morning! Over the holidays, we were quite lazy – lots of lounging around in PJs, listening to Christmas music, watching movies and playing with my daughter’s new Switch console. Who knew I’d get into Super Mario Kart at my ripe old age? But it’s nice to still be able to surprise my kids, teehee ;-).
I also made progress on the Waffle Stitch Blanket, and knit a pair of socks for a sweet 18-year old.
My own Christmas present this year is still on its way. It’s an Icelandic sweater, much like the one my husband owns and that I keep stealing:
I found the knitter artist on Etsy, and fell in love with this pattern she used in a cardigan. Isn’t it pretty?
I wrote to her and asked whether she’d make me a sweater with the exact same pattern, and she said she would. I’ll show you when it arrives. Fingers crossed the measurements worked out, and I won’t look like a sausage wearing it! And if you think that sausages are shaped by the contents rather than the skin, shush. I didn’t eat _that_ much over the holidays.
Anyway, after almost a week and a half of not working, I feel ready to tackle the next projects. Tomorrow will see us getting back to work, and both kids will be home schooling. Right now, nobody really believes schools will open again on the 10th. It seems a lot smarter for everyone to stay put a bit longer, and we all hope the ministry of education will decide for safety, much as they did last spring.
See that tree? I must have walked past it a hundred times without really looking at it. On our traditional January 1st walk, I consciously noticed it for the first time, and to be honest, wondered for a minute if it was dead. Realizing it wasn’t gave me pause, and I felt humbled by how nature always finds ways to prevail. To me, this strangely shaped tree seems like a good symbol for my hope for this coming year, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
I’d like to leave you with a little frozen leaf appreciation, because beauty can be found in strange places.
Have a good start into 2021, everyone, and thank you for checking in.
Talking to anybody at the end of the year, you usually hear the terms stress, hectic, overwhelm, exhaustion … so I’ve decided to do the opposite. Today, I want to talk about what the past year was like, reflect on the good and the bad that it brought, and maybe think about what I’ve learned. You good with that? Then read on.
Not to be obnoxious, but I have to keep repeating (to myself, as well as to people around me) how lucky we were. The pandemic has not hit our country all that hard. We are now in the second lockdown of the year, and for good reason. I don’t even know what it will do to small businesses to have to close shop like this shortly before the holidays, hopefully they were smart and set up a web shop wherever possible. One of my favorite stores in the neighborhood is a lovely Italian lady who sells Polish pottery. She has a small, very tastefully set up establishment on a quiet street in walking distance from our house. Her (brand) name is Athéna Panni – go check out her online shop if you still need a cool gift :-). I know that many of our local restaurants have been starting to sell takeout food, which we try and get every once in a while. It’s not much, but we feel we should at least try and support them.
I was thinking of doing a month-by-month recap of 2020, starting with January. It was a horrible month, work-wise. I raced through a wonderful cookbook, instead of enjoying it like I usually do, to make time for a complete rewrite of a novel translation. The client was impossible to please, and I was actually worried she wasn’t going to honor our contract, for a while. Maybe one learning would be to steer clear of authors altogether in the future, and leave it to a publishing house to deal with these aspects of the business. Trying to find the most positive image for that month, I found this: It was one of my favorite projects this year, the baby blanket for young J, my friend M’s third daughter.
February brought my beautiful boy’s 18th birthday, and a new (nice and highly professional) client. For me, it was a month of recuperating, shaking off the awful past month, and putting myself back together. Also, it was the last time we traveled, when we went to see our new baby cousin-nephew, K.
March memorably brought the pandemic, the first lockdown, and home schooling. Also, we learned about social distancing.
And our dear old cat finally succumbed to kidney insufficiency, after a few months of hanging by a thread. It was heartbreaking to let her go.
April and May were two months spent away from the city. We lived at our small cottage, kids homeschooled up in the attic, my husband worked at the kitchen table, and I established a workspace in my small bedroom. Also, mid May, we brought home from the shelter my son’s much beloved, beautiful new old lady of a cat, Elfie.
June was the last month of school. My son graduated from the Waldorf school – with less fanfare than would have been customary and, sadly, no class trip to Rome due to travel banishment :-/. My daughter transitioned from elementary school to the Waldorf, after two frantic weeks of making up her mind. We had our first Covid scare, which luckily turned out to be only laryngitis.
July was a summer month in the country, spent at the leisurely pace nature dictates. I remember canoeing, hiking, rafting, mushroom picking and swimming. Lazy hours in the hammock or deckchair, crochet in the shade, and enjoying starry night skies, which I can’t show here because my lens is not cut out to hack that kind of visual. A lovely young photographer from Boston who does that kind of pictures is Abdul Dremali – check out his awesome website to have your mind blown here.
August was mostly notable for me breaking my damn elbow. Unprecedented, inconvenient and annoying, it slowed me down like whoa. I managed to heal in record time, surprising even my doctor. I tried to eat well, get enough sleep, and stress as little as possible. Typing with only my right hand became a new skill, and deadlines were kept, even though I was slow AF.
September was a busy month for everyone, kids settling in their new schools, working and me finally ditching the cast. Man, was it nice to be able to put up my hair, and to do crafts again. Also: mushroom season!
In October, my son got his license, and has been driving us around with enthusiasm and skill ever since. There was an anniversary (19 years, incredible!), a birthday (12 years, mind boggling) and a notable trip to the Baltic Sea, where our dog encountered salt water for the first time (wildly unimpressed with the ocean after tasting it, but graciously and generously digging holes in the sand).
In November, my daughter cashed in her birthday present and chose her cat. There was also a crafts extravaganza, that had to do with school, but mostly with my love for all things Christmas! Oh, and good call America, for voting the way you did.
And now, in December, the year had to end with an injured pup (damn the dog owners who are careless with their dangerous pets). Immune system and antibiotics did their thing though, and I guess it all could have been worse.
Things are slowly winding down now. Jobs lined up for the next few months: check. Christmas mail packages wrapped: check. Christmas cards made: check. (Not written, yet, though). Plans for the holidays: check. Tree bought: check. Bills paid, invoices sent out: check. Since the stores are closed anyway, there’s not a lot more to do but deep clean the house, mail the parcels, put up the tree and decorate, and if I feel up for it, do a bit of baking.
All in all, I’m happy enough to see 2020 go. I had high hopes for it, right after New Year’s, but that really did not last. It feels like all year round, it was just one damn thing after another. What the pandemic will do to society remains to be seen. People died. Jobs and livelihoods were lost. So many businesses closed down. Social distancing makes people weird, and lonely. Some families couldn’t withstand the strain of closed quarters, and relationships broke under the pressure. Political change, extreme parties finding more and more followers, not to mention the crazies (pandemic deniers, anti-vaccinationists, conspiracy theorists) … Humanity has suffered a blow, in every respect. It’s up to us now to adapt, and to prevail. Be more thoughtful, kinder, and more patient. Take better care of one another. A coach friend of mine whose website I translated a few years back suggests that every crisis also provides a chance. It might be worth while to think about what that could be.
… And that is a wrap on the ruminations on the past 12 months.
On a lighter note, I’d really like to show you this year’s Christmas cards now. As you know, I’m usually a knit and crochet whiz rather than attempting any other crafts disciplines, so I’m really pleased. I like the simple design, inspired by a DIY project I saw online. The crafter was using a lint roller and shapes cut out from rubber foam, and I used – well, vegetables ;-)!
I had only ever used potatoes for this kind of thing before (did this a lot with the kids when they were younger). But today, I found a thick wedge of celeriac and a big carrot in the veggie drawer, so decided to give those a go. I let them dry for a while after carving, and went out to buy a few sheets of a lovely thick off-white cardboard. Then I did a test run on printer paper, tried out a few shades of green (from my daughter’s water colors), and cut my cards to size.
This is what the cards look like. Came out nicely, didn’t they?
The celeriac gave the print a lovely textured look, very different from what a potato would have done. Some of you (you know who you are) will probably receive one of these cards early next week ;-). Other readers, I encourage you to make your own, I promise it’s an easy and gratifying li’l project.
Is it too early to wish you guys happy holidays? Not sure. I might come back and post next week, or not. In case you don’t hear from me again before Christmas, merry merry to all of you, and thank you very much for reading this wall of text. Enjoy my favorite Christmas carol, sung by an angel with a huge voice.
Making an advent wreath has become an annual ritual that tells my lizard brain to catch up and understand that the year is drawing to a close. Of course, there’s still the holidays to look forward to, and I always enjoy those. Christmas this year will be a quiet affair, as will New Year’s, seeing that we’re confined to our homes – not the worst place to be, when it’s cold and dark outside, and we’re warm, have food and our loved ones. These things are not to be taken for granted, and it bears remembering that every once in a while.
Like many others, I have a tendency to fall into the pre-Christmas trap, the mad rat race of consumerism. Buying things just because, and ultimately confusing the indisputable joy of unwrapping gifts with holiday cheer. Mind you, I do like presents, receiving them and giving them. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to downscale material needs and stick to my mantra for this year: I have everything I need.
I am trying to give a few hand made presents this year. (Wherever practical. For transatlantic gifts, unwilling to pay ridiculous postage, we’re resorting to Jeff Bezos‘ enterprise, and creative as I may be, I am unable to crochet a functional Switch game ;-)). I have a mere 10 days left for finishing my projects, but I’ve done 1,5 of 3 knit hats already, and my daughter’s sweater only needs finishing – which requires a steady hand, decent morning light and peace and quiet. That will have to wait until the weekend.
So the Covid scare remained just that – thank you for asking. Thank goodness! It’s a mystery how my son managed to not get infected after he and his girlfriend spent a whole weekend wrapped up in each other. Some say it’s his blood type (he’s an 0). But at this point, I’m just grateful we were spared, again.
In other health news, my dog was bitten by a fellow canine two weeks ago. We’ve been in and out of the vet’s, there were shots, and antibiotics, and fevers, and swelling, and no doubt considerable pain. He’s been very clingy, and he’s been sleeping a lot, even more than his usual 17-18 hours a day. It was a horrible, traumatic experience altogether. Why people with dangerous dogs insist on walking them without a leash, I’ll never understand. Charlie’s still on antibiotics, and the vet says if these bites get infected, it’s sometimes necessary to have surgery to get rid of the necrotic tissue. Yikes. Hope with me that the antibiotics will take care of it!
It was difficult not to feel like I let my dog down. I wasn’t fast enough to save him, and I feel I should have been. Also, I must confess that the place feels haunted to me now. It was only yesterday that I dared to go back. First, Charlie wasn’t up for longer walks, and now that he is again, I find myself shying away from that spot. Yesterday my husband took us, to exorcise the ghost, as it were, but I have yet to go by myself. I know I need to. That place is one of our favorite hikes, and I’m determined to be able to enjoy it again. Acknowledging the trauma is a first step. (The dog seems to be less affected by this than I. He seemed quite happy and unfazed yesterday, to my relief!)
In the meantime, I learned to appreciate our little park close by, once more. The Gingko tree is always the last to shed its beautiful foliage, and I’m grateful for the final dosage of yellow of the season.
As I told you, we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before last, and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share the stuffing recipe I love. It’s great for turkey, and it was equally yummy for a chicken:
It’s the simplest recipe, and this is probably the reason why even my daughter appreciated it. It’s also pretty cool because it uses Johnny Cash’s cornbread recipe :-).
1,5 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 TSP baking soda
1 TSP salt
2 TSP sugar
1,5 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
4 TBSP vegetable oil
1 onion (or 2 shallots), diced
Mix ingredients together, pour into a baking dish and bake approx. 30 minutes.
Other cornbread recipes I’ve made use melted butter, some call for more sugar, or more eggs. I find the combination above particularly good. If you get the ratio right, it’s soft and a little bit moist, and can be enjoyed with a bit of butter, or avocado, or bacon, the next day. It’s the onion that gives it a distinctly savory character – which other types of corn bread don’t necessarily have. I love corn bread, can you tell?
After baking, let cool and wrap. Use no earlier than the next day, or bake 2 days in advance.
On the day of cooking, dice:
2 celery sticks
2 onions or 3 shallots
Add 1 tiny (or 1/2) parsley root, chopped
2/3rds of the cornbread, cubed (1 cm)
Prepare about 300 ml vegetable broth.
Chop 1 small handful fresh sage leaves, and pull off the tiny leaves from a good 6-7 large twigs of fresh thyme.
In 1-2 TBSP butter, sauté the vegetables. Add the herbs and cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Careful with the broth. You want the mixture to be soft and moist, but the bread cubes should keep their shape, so don’t add too much liquid. Season with salt & pepper. You can be generous, because when you stuff your bird, you won’t have to season it from the inside. I’m not too fond of touching the uncooked meat, so to me that is a bonus :-).
To roast the chicken, stuff it and put it in a fireproof dish of your liking, brushed with oil. Season with salt & pepper. Leave in the oven for about 1,5 hours. Basting every 20 minutes is key for a crisp skin, which looks prettier as well. Your meat is done if a clear liquid runs out when you poke a thigh with a skewer.
Trimmings in our case consisted of a very modest spread (in comparison to what I’ve seen people do). Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, a salad and corn bread. It was lovely, simple food, and it pleased both kids so much that we decided to make the same thing for Christmas dinner.
Dessert was more elaborate than I usually do: I made my first ever layered cake, a Torta al Pistacchio.
There it is, and it looked impressive, I thought. It was very good, too! However, next time, I will try making the frosting a little less fluffy and moist, and use buttercream instead, maybe with mascarpone, but definitely without whipped cream (like this recipe called for. If you’re interested, it’s on the same food blog I recommended a few weeks back, unfortunately only of use to those who can read German, mi dispiace!)
That was it for today, I think. I wish you a peaceful, happy, and most of all healthy final month of the year.
So, my son’s girlfriend was tested Covid positive, and we’re waiting for P’s test result to come in tomorrow; it would be short of a miracle if he didn’t have it, either with or without symptoms. Just in case, we’ve taken the necessary precautions inside the house. However, there is a high probability of us being infected as well, because we are a touchy-feely, affectionate family. In fact, that is the thing I find most vexing, not to be able to touch my boy :-/. I mean, I don’t wish for getting sick, I really don’t. In fact, we’ve been more careful than some of our friends, and doing our level best to avoid it, up to now. Still, a part of me can’t help thinking if it wouldn’t be best to just get it over with?
When I called our pediatrician, they recommended to isolate ourselves as a family, until the boy’s test result is in. So, to pass the time in a meaningful way, I’ve resorted to crafts.
This is my contribution to the festive decoration of the school building. With my fellow Waldorf mom E, I did three of these large twig stars:
You may not be able to tell by the picture, but they’re huge – like 1 m in diameter. Fun and cheap to make too. What you do is:
Collect a huge pile of thin twigs.
Cut out a circle of thick cardboard in the desired size.
Heat up the hot glue pen.
Keep the garden shears ready to shorten twigs to desired length.
And round and round you go!
(Of course you don’t need to make them this big – you can easily make them the size of a plate, or even cutesy little ones with the thinnest twigs, to hang on your Christmas tree as ornaments. Those might benefit from being double-sided.)
One of the branches I brought home wasn’t suited for the project, but I loved it so much because there was some very pretty moss growth on it.
So I was thinking it might be nice to use it for hanging stuff from. Something fluffy, seasonal – it made me think of the tiny snowflakes I crocheted when I was still learning, seven years ago.
Looking at my branch, and its size, I thought what if I made those with a really bulky yarn, so they’d be huge? In my stash, I had some single ply, squishy, ultra-soft merino wool and a few other yarns in the same color, and decided I’d use them all at once, crocheting with a really big hook. I looked up the pattern once again at attic 24, unsure whether the proportions would work, but then I gave it a try with a size 6 hook, and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out:
The Attic 24 blog has been one of my most important inspirations when I first started to crochet (the other being this YouTube channel – an amazing source for any and every question a knitting or crochet enthusiast, may they be beginners or advanced, might have. In effect, Elizza, the Nadelspiel host, taught me how to crochet!).
Lucy, the Attic 24 host, on the other hand, opened up a whole new universe for me with her impeccable sense of color composition and uniquely cheerful style. It may also well be down to her that I even started this blog. Her documentation of everyday life with children, and crafts, and her pretty pictures of the British countryside, as well as occasional recipes, sounded so appealing, and relatable. Her stories, told with little fanfare, but a lot of kindness and sense of humor, resonated with me to a degree that made me brave enough to start sharing mine.
Professionally, my life was at a crossroads then, and I had yet to make the leap to becoming a full-time translator. Crafts kept me sane (as they still do) and gave me something rewarding to do, over the many hours spent nursing my daughter whose immune system didn’t pick up speed until she was five or six, back to health, again and again and again…
Blogging about our life, my crafts projects and what was cooking turned into the classic weblog you know (and choose to read, thank you so much!) So, here’s to Lucy – who doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, but has been important to me, as a crochet artist and as a writer, all the same ;-).
As you can see, I’ve also made progress on my daughter’s pink sweater, while watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, enjoying the Agatha-Christie-y vibe of the cases, the gorgeous period-piece set and costume design, and Miss Fisher’s significant mischievous eyebrow quirk. The knitting is quick work, and I’m planning to try something new with the sleeves. Have you done dolman sleeves before? I have not, and we’ll have to see how it goes.
When making the cats, I found other patterns for Waldorf knit animals, and these looked easy enough to to, so I made one just to see if I could. Not exactly the most perfect design, and the proportions seem a little wonky – or is this just the way chickens look? As ever, my problem is more with the shaping and finishing than it is with the knitting…
Oh, and check out what I found at my favorite local yarn store! Isn’t it the most festive yarn imaginable? Soft, and deep red and glittery – Christmas socks, I was thinking :-). For whom, we shall see!
Since the flower stall isn’t off limits yet today (as of tomorrow, it may well be, should my boy test positive), I went out and bought a huge armful of fir branches to be able to make my advent wreath next week. It must be the earliest I ever did that, a week in advance!
Side note: I know that crafts are no real solution for dire circumstances (being out of a job, having financial troubles, health issues and dealing with close quarters related psychological problems). I’m not in any way trying to make light of the situation, for it is an existential catastrophe for many, and I’m well aware we have been so very fortunate so far, to be able to stay healthy and sane, as well as busy and getting paid for it. It’s just my go to thing whenever shit gets real to go and make something, or cook something, or take a long walk. These things make me feel better, but may not help you at all. Although, since you are here of your own free will, it’s probably correct to assume you enjoy these things, too ;-).
Leaving here today with a picture of this beautiful leaf (maple? sycamore? can’t be sure!) that had the first frost on it when I saw it while walking Charlie in the morning. It suddenly made me realize it’ll be Christmas in a matter of weeks. Hang in there – and fingers crossed for our virus situation.