Ouch, My Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When in pain, I ask myself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Want to Day

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Buttermilk Scones

100 g soft butter

300 g flour

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

pinch of vanilla

pinch of salt

1/2 p baking soda

about 100 ml buttermilk, did not check how much exactly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and started a new sweater:

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

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

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

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

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

Ode to a Friend (and a Knit Shawl)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Class of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tipsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pasta Primavera My Way

1 bundle green asparagus

3 green onions

1 lemon

handful of basil leaves

50 g butter

Parmesan shavings to taste

100 g linguine per person

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

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

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

A Dog Post 2.0

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.

Have a good week!

Place of Rest

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

2 eggs

powdered sugar

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.

Have a productive week, everybody!

All Work and No Play

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!

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!

January 2021 Post

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.