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Into The Unknown

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A secret door,
be-brambled, overgrown,
leading into the rocky cliff face –
beckoning, enticing,
daring you
to enter and explore.

What if behind that door,
in the gloomy depths
of the mountain’s roots,
you found
not dark
but light
and emerged to see
the skeleton trees
dancing with golden sunlit clouds?

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This was the sky this afternoon at sunset.

A happy and blessed  New Year to you all

as you dance with the trees and the clouds.

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New Year’s Eve: Taking The Plunge

Sylvester 2017.pngAmong the many Swiss customs marking the end of one year and the beginning of the next is the annual gathering around midday on 31 December on the shore of the Walensee, the beautiful lake next to Walenstadt in eastern Switzerland. I admire these hardy souls, who walk, run, plunge, or step daintily into the cold waters, regardless of the weather or temperature of the water.

This year, they were lucky: the weather was sunny and bright on Sunday, although it had been snowing on Friday and did so again on Monday. St Sylvester, the patron saint of 31 December, was obviously on good terms with St Peter, who is reputedly in charge of the weather and on New Year’s Eve, the sky was blue, and the water was a balmy 7°C.

A score or more of intrepid bathers, young and not so young, took on the challenge. Last year, they were served a hot dish of goulash as they emerged dripping and triumphant. This year, although they had made a fine fire beforehand to warm their blue limbs, the person responsible for last year’s reward felt his efforts had not been duly appreciated, and there was only a plastic beaker of wine to greet them – not even Glühwein. They seemed undaunted, nonetheless, and there was a general air of merriment and self-satisfaction at the accomplishment. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t allow me to upload the short video of this momentous event.

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Me join in??? NO WAY! I am and remain an onlooker. But I hope this custom doesn’t die out, and that Saints Peter and Sylvester will remain friends.

The Pursuit of Happiness

IMG_1828.jpgThose who pursue happiness as an egoistic end in itself will always be frustrated. It becomes the imaginary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and while trying to find that, we fail to see the beauty and significance of the rainbow itself.

Happiness is a by-product of pursuing something else. Nowadays we think of a pursuit as “chasing after” something. For the founding fathers the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are unalienable rights had a different meaning to what most people understand by it today.

This short article puts it more pithily than I can.

Whatever you may be pursuing in the new year,
may it eventually bring you happiness 

What Is Your “Pursuit of Happiness”?

Thomas Jefferson may have been borrowing from the 17th century English philosopher John Locke when he coined the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, nearly 100 years before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, Locke wrote that the foundation of liberty is built on the need to pursue happiness. Locke noted that this pursuit is not merely an imaginary quest or a satisfaction of personal desires, but an ability to achieve the greatest good free from any predetermined will or forced action.

This pursuit is one of the unalienable and natural rights that Jefferson found so irresistible, but it dates back well before his or Locke’s time. It is indeed traceable to the 5th century B.C., and the Greek philosophers. They referred to “eudaimonia,” the Greek term for “happiness,” connoted as performing the right actions that result in the well-being of an individual. Happiness is a state of being based in morality, virtue, and utility, not an acquisition. In other words, humanity achieves its peak actualization by living a good life full of positive actions, not by acquiring things to demonstrate one lived “successfully.”

As America matures, misguided policy and hostile culture risk foreclosing this pursuit to future generations. To preserve this right, happy warriors must fight to enable the enrichment of opportunity and must become champions of the modern-day eudaimonia, the ability to “earn one’s success.” To this end, happiness is a fight for people, not against things. (http://www.thepursuitofhappiness.com/pursuit-of-happiness/ )

Winter Solstice

 

Bare trees

The longest darkest night
Bereft of moon or stars
Cloud-shrouded sky
Morning muffled grey.

Soft snow that drifted
Light as down
And lay like crisp meringue
In whipped cream
Now starts to thaw
Weeping into the sodden soil.

This pallid day though
Dull and drear
Has one thing in its favour:
Turning point
It will stay
Minutes longer light
Than yesterday.

melting snow

Rainbow in a Box

Pink cable cowlRemember my pink cable strip?
I didn’t need to buy extra wool to finish it off, as my Darling Daughter (who supplied the first skeins) informed me that she still had another skein of it, which she posted to me. So I now have a cowl or headband, depending on need and fancy, that looks quite pretty.

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Around the same time, my Dear Granddaughter also sent me a large cardboard box filled with a rainbow of yarns to play with. I spent the first day just admiring the colours and squeezing the skeins, enjoying the feel.

I’m not alone in this: my second Dear Granddaughter, who has the nose of a parfumier, also revels in the scent of her newly purchased wools, caressing and nuzzling them.

Browsing cable patterns and Celtic knots – which are still beyond me but I live in hope of deciphering the charts one day – I came across a cushion with a tree pattern in relief.

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What it should look like ….

Now I know how to make relief stitches so I bought the pattern, selected a light green cotton yarn from my new stash, and set to work. Alas, I got tangled in the branches so my version isn’t quite what it was supposed to be; but I’m reasonably pleased with the result and will persevere with this pattern, since it cost me $5.10, and submit faithfully to its discipline the second time around.

The cable edging and the back of the cushion will be child’s play after this. Thank you to DG for supplying me with so much yarn that I can keep practising.

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The story so far …

 

 

 

I delight in the arcane vernacular of handicrafts. This particular pattern uses not only single and double crochet, but also half-double, front post double and treble, and a high falutin’ “modified tr3tog” which is a modified treble crochet 3 together. I’m patting myself on the back for understanding what these are, and am even more proud that I can actually execute them.

It reminds me of a rhyme I learnt as a child in the late nineteen-forties, when my mother was taking classes in basketry and kindly (optimistically) trying to pass on her skills to me:

I can rand
At your command,
Put on a decent border;
Upset tight,
Wale all right,
And keep my stakes in order.

At the time, she showed me how to rand, upset and wale, as well as how to secure the border and manage the stakes. I understood the theory, and knew how each kind of weave should look. I also remember lengths of cane soaking in the bath tub to make it pliable, and fighting with it as it refused to wind itself neatly around my stakes, which were also out of control and leaned in all directions. In my case, “wale” should have been spelled “wail”.

My mother on the other hand was gifted for any kind of handicraft, and we still have a few of her baskets (rescued during our house clearance) that must be getting on for seventy years old. Neat randing, upsetting and waling around perfectly spaced stakes, and borders that are only now beginning to come loose here and there as the cane becomes brittle and snaps. Cherished mementoes. I wonder if, sixty years from now, any of my descendants will be holding my handiwork and feeling as sentimental about it?

PS: I’m sorry, I forgot to say that the pattern is the Tree of Life Cabled Pillow by http://www.lillabjorncrochet.com (I found it on http://www.revelry.com) and I am using Gedifra Mayra 90% cotton and 10& polyamide, colour 2067. Not the recommended yarn, which should be Aran weight. 

In The Deep Midwinter

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The run-up to Christmas has never been so gentle.

In past years, there was usually a certain amount of international travel, which is stressful in winter. There were presents to buy or make and wrap, cakes and mince pies to bake and puddings to make, cards to buy and write (which involved frantic searching for lists from previous years to make sure nobody was overlooked, and the frustration of failing to find the correct address), shopping for the “right” turkey and accompanying vegetables, and general exhaustion by Christmas Eve.

This year, I bought Christmas cards way back in September while I was in England, where you can get a box of thirty cards for the price of one card in Switzerland. When I started to look at my address book, I realised how many names have been crossed out since last year: we are all getting older, and Death has claimed so many in the past twelve months. So my list was shorter anyway.

Then of course since almost everyone I know now has e-mail or is on Facebook, I was able to save time and postage by sending electronic greetings, reducing my card list even more. In the end, I only had to post about fifteen cards compared to a hundred or more ten years ago. In the past, I dutifully wrote a kind of annual report on our family’s doings; this year, again thanks to e-mail, Facebook and my blog, almost everyone is updated and as for those who are in the pre-digital age, I’ve met and chatted with most of them during my vagaries this year. So no need for a lengthy round robin either, saving time, paper, ink, and postage.

During our family get-together in October it was decided that we would each give one small gift only, and we drew lots for our Secret Santa (Wichteln in German). Much more sensible, there being fourteen of us gathered round the tree on Christmas Day and in past years it has sometimes been tricky finding suitable gifts for everyone.  Of course, ever since then I keep seeing things that would have made perfect presents for people no longer on my gift-list!

For several years recently I celebrated Christmas in England with my mother. It was her custom to bake several rich fruit cakes which she iced and decorated, and gave as presents, so when I arrived there in 2011 and found she was no longer physically up to that task, I had to take over. Hard work, though appreciated! In a way, I admit, it was a relief when the oven gave up the ghost a couple of years later and baking was no longer possible.

Sometimes a generous cousin invited us to join her family on Christmas Day, and fed us till we couldn’t move. Once we went to a classy restaurant with other cousins, and then in Mom’s final years, when going out was no longer fun for her, I cooked our Christmas dinner. Last year, with my mother in the nursing home, I had my first Swiss family Christmas for over a decade. We missed Mom, of course, and will feel her absence all the more keenly this year, though her spirit will no doubt be overseeing the preparations.

My life has been hectic these last two years, and so I am genuinely enjoying the peace and calm of this Advent. No dashing around the shops racking my brains for presents, no hauling shopping bags full of food through slush and ice, no slaving in the kitchen, no aching fingers from hours of writing cards and letters, no hanging around in airports.

We had our Christmas potluck meal in church last Sunday, sang carols with the children dressed up as angels, shepherds and wise men, and I intend to go to the service on Christmas Eve, too, unless the snow prevents me. Oh yes, we have snow, and very pretty it all looks: happily, I don’t have to drive any more! I shall make some more mince pies and on Christmas Day in the morning I shall take the train to my granddaughter’s house, and relax amid the jollity of the gathered clan as the privileged matriarch of my family, letting the younger generations do all the work. What a blessed peaceful Christmas!

May all of you experience the true spirit of Christmas, and may 2018 be the best year of your life so far. God bless us, every one!

 

 

Ding-Dong Merrily Mince Pie

There’s snow on the ground, and the mountains are dazzling in the bright sunshine, with a deep blue sky behind them. Yesterday was St Nicholas’ day, my little wooden nativity and angels inherited from Mom are up, and the Advent candles are all ready. What’s missing? Seasonal fare.

IMG_1960The supermarkets are full of Germanic Weihnachtsgebäck and Stollen, and my granddaughters are baking their own, but I’m on a high fat/low carb/low sugar diet. Supposed to be. I have resisted making or buying any gingerbread, cakes or biscuits and am feeling fairly virtuous.

However, nostalgia urges me to produce something British for Christmas. I didn’t feel up to making a rich Christmas fruit cake this year, and as I’m the only member of the family who enjoys Christmas pudding there seems little point in running around trying to get suet outside of the UK. The absence of suet here also led me to think that I wouldn’t be getting any mince pies, either, although the family do share my love of those calorie bombs and if I could make some, they would happily eat them. But like suet, ready-made mincemeat is not generally available here.

Then – Mary Berry to the rescue! She has an online recipe for mincemeat made with butter, and indeed, goes so far as to say that she (the queen of baking) actually prefers the taste of butter, and then adds: “I no longer use cellophane tops or wax paper. I simply use clean sterilised screw-top jars saved from bought marmalade or jam.”

For some reason, although we can get dried cranberries and several kinds of raisins and sultanas, here in Switzerland currants are not so current and we have to go to the health food store for those. I couldn’t find muscovado sugar, either – but does it really make such a difference? I spent a small fortune on all the other ingredients, and a very happy half hour mixing it up and making it nice, then pop went the weasel into the jam jars that had fortuitously avoided being recycled.

I’ve made mincemeat before, many years ago, to an old recipe that I believe is at least 100 years old dating from the days when you had to stone the raisins and chop the suet yourself. It also has orange marmalade in it. As I recall, it involved putting the jars of mincemeat in a slow oven to ensure it wouldn’t go mouldy. Mary Berry’s version is made in a large saucepan and simmered for 10 minutes, which she maintains is adequate to prevent any deterioration. I’m not quite sure about that, so mine is being kept in the fridge.

My idea was to make a few mince pies for a potluck Christmas party coming up, and some more for our family Christmas Day, and maybe give a jar or two away as presents. However, the quantities in Mary’s recipe only stretched to three jars, and of course I have to sample my product before thrusting it upon the world at large.

mince pies

NOTE that I deliberately abstained from adding a dusting of castor sugar!

Personally, I prefer shortcrust pastry for my mince pies because puff pastry leaves little room for the filling, as it tends to ooze out as the pastry puffs up: I can squeeze more into a shortcrust pastry case. Unfortunately, while I could always produce melt-in-the-mouth pastry in England, here in Switzerland the flour is less refined (or something) and the pastry turns out heavier. So I cheated and bought some readymade puff pastry from the supermarket, and made a dozen pies. They looked good, but I had to make sure they also tasted right. Yes, though they could have done with a more generous filling. I had to eat nine of them to be sure my mincemeat was OK. So much for my low carb/low sugar diet.

Tomorrow, I’ll make another batch of mincemeat so I can give some away.
Thank you, Mary Berry! (How do you stay so slim?)