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Back in Brittany

It’s been a long time. Three years, to be exact, almost to the day. 

In March 2020, my daughter and I came to our holiday home in Brittany for ten days and wham! Lockdown! So we stayed on – for five weeks, returning finally at the end of April (Easter). I wrote about it at the time, so if you are interested, look back at my old posts  from March & April 2020.

So this is all a little bit déjà vu. Much is the same, but there are a few changes both in the house – which has been used by the family without me in the meantime – as well as in the village and surrounding area. Sad to have lost a number of elderly neighbours, but fun to find new things. I have been coming here frequently since buying the house in December 1991, and my photographic record attests to the evolution wrought by the years. One thing that doesn’t change is the wonderful view with magnificent sunsets  mirrored in the sea. 

Last time I was here, I crocheted an heirloom bedspread, which now adorns my bed. 

An upside to my daughter having a dog is the necessity of taking regular walks, and there are plenty of opportunities for those here, quite apart from trotting along the series of fine sandy beaches just below our house. We also have woodland walks, which can be a little muddy underfoot at this time of year, and my daughter has introduced me to two of these already that I didn’t know about. In fact, as regards being muddy underfoot, the second actually traverses a marsh so is more than a bit muddy. The local authorities have solved that problem in the past few years by constructing a meandering boardwalk that also enables people in wheelchairs or parents with prams and baby buggies to enjoy the little wilderness. 

And this is what happens if you take a light coloured furbaby where there is no boardwalk:

Spring is working its magic here as elsewhere. Violets, primroses, ragged robin, daffodils, iris, pussy willow, crab apple and other blossoming trees, plus a myriad of wild flowers that are familiar to me by sight but whose name I don’t know.    

Traditional houses in Brittany are whitewashed or built of granite with a slate or red tile roof, and there are still a good number of those around, often tastefully restored. We also have a mini-château on the edge of the village, which is gradually coming back to life after a sleeping beauty existence. 

Maybe it isn’t clear from these photos, but we are having traditional Breton weather too: a very strong wind has ensured that we have had sunny intervals between clouds and showers, although the temperature could be a little higher (if I am allowed a small request to the weather clerk, that would be it). No complaints from us, anyway. This is still a little corner of Paradise.

Domestic Forest

It was the pencil started it. 


“I was once a tree!”

“Huh, so was I,” chimed in a match

In the box lying next to the candle

That sniffed scornfully.

“True,” declared the table, “I was a tree, too.” 

“Us too!” squeaked the blocks in the parquet,

“We came from lots of different trees!”

At this point all the furniture woke up and joined in,

And not to be beaten

So did the doors, windows and their frames.

And then it got personal.

“I was a Mighty Oak,”

“And I a Tall Pine.”

“I was a Spreading Chestnut.”

 “I a Graceful Birch.”

“I a Beautiful Beech.”

And my living room filled with a forest.

Do You Have German Ancestors?

For anyone researching German, Swiss or Austrian ancestors, it’s obviously useful to speak some German. However, if you don’t, there are certain pitfalls. Here are a few hints to help you avoid them:

  1. The letter known as “scharfes s” or “sz”: it looks like this: ß. It is not a B, but represents a double ”s” and derives from the use of a long s “∫” followed by a short s or z – “∫s” or “∫z” in cursive script. So a name such as “Hanß” is just a different way of writing “Hanss”. 
  2. Umlaut letters (ä, ö, ü): the two dots above the letter are the remnant of an “e”, so ä = ae, ö = oe and ü = ue. Sometimes you will find a name such as Müller also written as Mueller, or similarly Möbius as Moebius.
  3. Dialects: German has an infinite number of dialect variations, resulting in a range of different phonetic spellings for the same name, eg, Snyder for Schneider. This can also affect place names, so your ancestor might have come from Hauenstein in the Palatinate of the Rhine, which in local dialect sounds like “Häschde”. These variations can be very challenging if you are unfamiliar with the dialect.
  4. Variations in spelling: Not only family names but also first names can also vary greatly in the way they were written at different times. Johannes can be Johann, Hannes, Hans, Hanss or Hanß. Margarethe appears with or without an “h”, but also as Grete, Grethe, Gretha, Gretel, Gretchen, Margrit, or even Marguerite in the era when French was fashionable. I have also found a Scheneta in our tree – baptised Johanna, but living in a bilingual region, she was obviously called Jeanette in everyday life. Schmid, Schmidt, Schmied, Schmitt are all variations on the same name.   
  5. Diminutives: names such as “Hans”, “Fritz”, “Klaus”, “Grete” are short for Johannes, Friedrich, Nikolaus and Margarethe. Those aren’t so difficult, but what about these? Stoffel or Stophel(Christopher), Welti (Walter), Kop / Cop / Coup / Kobe / Köbi (Jakob), Jost (Justus), Clais or Gleß (Klaus). It’s customary in German to add the suffix –chen or -lein to a word or name to indicate “small”. In some dialects, these may be pronounced as “-gen” or “-lin” or (in Switzerland especially) “-li”. Thus, Vreny or Vreneli is Verena,  Vroni or Vroneli is Veronica,  Fritzli is Friedrich,  Glesgen, Gleßgen = Kläuschen = little Klaus or Nikolaus. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was «Wölferl» to his family and friends.
  6. Von: it means “of” or “from”, but is also used to indicate nobility eg, Johann von Goethe. In most cases, though, it can be a useful hint as to the person’s place of origin. It may refer to a town, a village or even a homestead, which could be difficult to trace and may no longer exist.
  7. Feminine ending “-in”: the wife and unmarried daughters are sometimes recorded under the husband’s or father’s name with the addition of this ending. It usually goes on the end of the surname, eg, Wendel / Wendelin, Michel / Michelin
  8. Latin Genitive case: where records are in Latin, especially in the Roman catholic church, the names of the parents will usually be in the genitive or possessive case. For instance “Hans, son of Jakob and Anna” becomes “Johannes, Jacobi et Annae filius”. In some families, this genitive form of the father’s name became the family surname borne by all his descendants. Most people were illiterate and names were spelled phonetically, so sometimes the final “-I” became a “-y”.This explains the origin of names like Jacobi or Jacoby, Petri or Petry (of Jacob, of Peter)
  9. Latinisation: sometimes, families rising socially liked to give themselves a more pretentious-sounding name and would therefore translate it into Latin. Thus, Schmidt (meaning smith) became Faber, and Schneider (tailor) became Sartor or Sartorius. Others simply latinised the German name, such as our ancestor called Langohr (from a nickname meaning “long ear”) who was latinised as Langorius. 
  10. Latin addenda: Roman Catholic church records in Latin sometimes contain additional information in the form of short notes, such as “pelegrinus” or “vagabundus” in the case of a person who was not a local resident. These are not part of the name nor are they pejorative! They simply indicate that the individual (or the parents, in the case of a baptism) had come from somewhere else. 
  11. Jewish name changes: Equality laws during the Enlightenment gave Jews equal rights (on paper, at least) and that also included certain obligations, such as adopting a standard family name (which had not been the case before). Hence they were able to choose their names, often romantic-sounding or flowery names such as Rosenthal or Blumenfeld, or based on the name of the house they lived in such as Rothschild (house of the red shield). Antisemitism is sadly not new. Many families chose an “ordinary” name like Müller or Weber in order to be less conspicuously Jewish. So if the line you are tracing suddenly ends in thin air in this period, it might be that your ancestors were Jewish.

I hope these hints are useful, and if I come across any other stumbling-blocks for non-German-speakers I’ll add to the list.

Caspar’s Kids

Now and then, we amateur genealogists come across a document from the past that transforms our ancestors into more than mere names with a record of birth, marriage and death. They suddenly acquire a context, and we catch a glimpse of a living, breathing human being. That’s part of the fascination of genealogy, because somewhere in our DNA we recognise that we also have genes inherited from those ancestors, and feel (or fancy) an affinity.

This week, while idly looking up names from fifteenth century ancestors in the Rhineland, I came across an extract from a book published in 1961 based on scrupulous research done long before the Internet made so much information available to us. A German family that emigrated to Brazil in 1846 had founded a dynasty, and one of their later descendants had painstakingly investigated his family’s history. We have no connection with the Brazilian branch of that tree, but a long way down the trunk we have numerous great-grandparents in common, and suddenly some of those people were waving at me from way beyond the grave!

There they are, living, loving and working in the picturesque little town of Traben-Trarbach – as pretty as its name, snuggled in a loop of the Moselle river and famous in the nineteenth century for its wine trade. It consists of two villages facing each other across the river. But what was it like 500 or 600 years ago? Certainly very different, because the town was destroyed by a great fire on 21 July 1857 that made 1400 of the 1700 inhabitants homeless. Only a tiny portion of the ancient buildings survived. However, the vineyards and the wine trade remain a constant right back into the early mediaeval period.

The first ancestors mentioned in the Brazilian book are some of my daughter’s 17th great-grandparents, born in the early 1400’s. On 18 October 1437 the Abbot of the Monastery of Himmerod in the Salm valley granted to the “ehrbaren” (honourable) Peter Birck from Dienstweiler, together with his daughter Margarethe and son Hermann, the lifelong tenancy of the Monastery’s farm in Traben, known as “Mönchhof” (Monks’ Farm). As there is no mention of Peter Birck’s wife in the lease, it can be assumed that he was at this time a widower with two children, who also died young. He must have re-married, but so far we have no record of either wife’s name. He had at least three more children, Peter Birck the younger, Clais, and Gele, a diminutive form of Angela, who was my daughter’s 16th great-grandmother (ca 1450-1506).

This gives a glimpse of another challenge facing the genealogist: the use of diminutives and the variations in surnames. Clais (a variant of Klaus, which in turn is short for Nikolaus) was a tailor by trade, and in official documents is referred to as “sartor” (Latin for tailor). In everyday life, he appears to have gone by the name of Clais Snyder, local dialect of the time for Schneider, rather than continuing to use his father’s surname of Birck. Several centuries later, without such documents as these, who would guess that Clais Snyder came into the world as Nikolaus Birck? Diminutives play a major role: for instance, the family name Coupen is derived from “Cop” or “Coup” (Jacob) and “Stoffel Coupen” simply means “Christopher, Jacob’s son”. Unless you have access to other documents this could be a dead end, because it gives no indication of Jacob’s origins. And, a practice still common today in rural German-speaking communities, the surname frequently precedes the first name, giving the hearer a general identification of the family before specifying the individual member. 

It was in fact very common for children to adopt their father’s first name as identification, if their father was well known in the community. This happened to Gele Birck’s grandchildren. Her husband Peter Holderbaum (aka Hullerbaum or Hollerbaum – spellings were phonetic and not fixed) bought a farm in Corvey in 1504 from Gele’s brother, Peter Birck von Dienstweiler Jr. The Trarbach Church annals show this transaction:

«8 alb Hullerbaums Peter von Corfey umb acht Gulden kaufft, des Brieffs Datum steet 72 Jahr»

That means that Peter Hollerbaum from Corvey received a loan of 8 Rhenish guilders (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhenish_gulden) from the Trarbach Church in 1472, for which he had to pay an annual interest of 8 alb. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albus_(coin))

Gele died two years later, in 1506, possibly in childbirth.

This same Peter Holderbaum was “Kirchmeister” – an important honorary position in church management – from 1508 to 1521, when he died. From these records we can assume that the family was fairly well-to-do and respected by their community. The plague was rampant in 1521, so it may have been his cause of death.

Peter and Gele’s son Caspar, born about 1470, took over the farm around the time his mother died. He is mentioned in 1507 for the first time as “Hofmann des Mönchhofs” (Tenant of the Monks’ farm), and became known as “Caspar im Mönchhof”. He must have been such a dominant personality that his descendants stopped using the name Holderbaum and referred to themselves simply as “Caspary” (Caspar’s kids), from the Latin genitive case Caspari (of Caspar). 

He was my daughter’s 15th great-grandfather, and married Agnes Noss, daughter of Peter Noss (another 16thgreat-grandfather) who became a Bürger (citizen) of Rissbach in 1465. Citizenship cost money, so he was by no means poor and by 1500 possessed a fortune of 70 Rhenish guilders. Agnes died about 1560, having had five children, named:

  1. Caspars Clesgen, Clasen or Class (= little Claus) born about 1500, died between 1570-79
  2. Caspars Joist, who inherited the Mönchhof on 30.12.1562
  3. Caspars Ella, who married Fritz von Zell (about whom I know nothing)
  4. Caspars Peter, buried 27.12.1608, who married the sister of one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ancestors – what a claim to fame! 
  5. Caspars Hans, born in 1523, “Aachener Hofmann” from 1555.    

In the 1599 Gültbuch, which records taxes paid on landed property and sales of wine, Caspars Hans was far and wide the richest man in the region, tenant of the Aacherhof (Aachen farm) and also known as “Acher Hans.” Born a catholic, he converted to Lutheranism and became the head of the protestant Caspary line. He was married 3 times, his first wife Girtrud Schneyder had 4 children before she died. His second wife was Barbara Bender, whose 3 children all died young, and the third was Apollonia, the daughter of Jacob Waffenschmidt, who remained childless. 

In the oldest of the Protestant church records of Traben it says:

“On 18 June 1603 the retired farmer Hanss fell peacefully asleep in the Lord, aged about 80, (having previously experienced the tragic case of his cousin Bastian Holderbaum who drowned in the river Moselle above Trier). He was given a Christian burial on 19 June, which was Trinity Sunday.”

His son Christopher (wonderfully titled “Caspars Hansen Acherhofmanns Son Stoffel” ie, Stoffel, grandson of Caspar, son of Hans who holds the Aachener Farm) officially inherited the Aacherhof in 1606 and continued the protestant Caspary line; when he and his little daughter Mariechen died of the plague they were buried together in one grave on 12 September 1614. Another son, Mathias (brother of Stoffel) remained a staunch catholic and headed that side of the family.

Our line derives from Clesgen (Nikolaus or Kläuschen) Caspari and his wife Eva Laux (possibly a variant on Lucas) who founded a family in Ittersdorf, a village near Saarlouis in the French- and German-speaking Saarland, west of the Rhine. Both Clesgen and Eva were born in Rinzenberg, which was famous in the 16th century for its Sauerbrunnen or sour spring from which flowed acidic water, allowing the village to become a prosperous spa. Why did Clesgen and Eva leave there and move to the Saarland? What was going on at that time, in that region? Did religion play a role?

Their daughter Katharina, born in Ittersdorf in 1537, married Peter (or Pierre) Buchheit (or Buchheidt) in about 1565. Few people could read or write so spelling was always a guessing game and by this time, the surname had changed to Caspart, Gaspard, and Gaspars, reflecting the varying pronunciations of people with different dialects. 12th great-grandmother Katharina or Catherine died in Ittersdorf on 5 September 1612. Her eldest son, a farmer and my daughter’s 11th great-grandfather, was named Gaspard Buchheit as a tribute to her line as one of Caspar’s kids. 

What Shall We Do With Granny?

What should we older folks do when we get close to our use-by date?

One of the bloggers I have been following for a very long time is Aunty Uta, who moved from Germany to Australia with her husband and young family in the late 1950’s (I think – correct me if I’m wrong, dear Uta!). See https://auntyuta.com.

Now that her children are grown and she is a widow in her late eighties with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she’s wondering about preparing to manage in the final years of her life. Should she hand over her house to her daughter and granddaughter, and restrict herself to just one room? A quandary that has set me thinking too.

My mother was running her own household, doing all her own shopping, cooking and cleaning, running upstairs and downstairs, managing her finances and everything else in daily life, until the age of 95. I went to help her for the last 5 years of her life, and as we had a very good relationship it worked out pretty well. It was tacitly recognised that she was still the boss, and that it was her house where she had the say-so. I was still her daughter, whatever arguments may have arisen! (See my blog posts from 2011 to 2017.)

That kind of relationship isn’t always possible, when roles are reversed and the “children” want to take care of their parents completely. They mean well but it’s very easy to start bossing the old ‘uns about, for their own good of course, and to prevent them running into any risks or hazards, but it’s an attitude that is very quickly resented by the elderly. “I’m not a little child!” is a frequently heard protest, and we are quick to perceive disrespect whether intended or not.

As for me, I started thinking vaguely about my old age (which seemed a long way off – it still does!) when I retired in my early sixties. I downsized from a very large house to a small rented 3-bedroomed duplex, taking far too much stuff with me, especially armchairs and sofas. After 18 months I downsized again and bought a much smaller 1-bedroomed ground-floor apartment leaving most of my seating behind for the following tenant. With hindsight, I acknowledge the value of making this adjustment in two stages. It would have been extremely difficult for me to go straight from my big house to my small apartment and I would have taken an awful lot of surplus furniture and belongings along, entailing much unnecessary work and expense in the removal.

I have now been in this apartment for 18 years, and am very happy here. It’s just the right size for me, in a beautiful location within easy reach of shops, the railway station and our local magnificent arboretum park with golf course (although I don’t play golf). I have good friends living not too far away, and now that the lockdown is over I am beginning to re-emerge from my shell, picking up on my social life again.

I purposely considered the advantages of a ground-floor flat should I lose my mobility. I’m grateful that, for the moment at least, I am still reasonably mobile and able to get out and about under my own steam. Having made a conscious effort over the past few months to improve my fitness, I can now walk without difficulty to wherever I need to go within two or three kilometres. I hope to continue in this way of life for a while yet.

However, I have to face facts and accept that there will come a time when I can’t manage all by myself and it can’t be too far away. The downside of living where I do is that I am a long way from my family – by Swiss standards at least; in Australia, we’d be considered as living next door to one another! But it’s about 150 km (because you have to go around mountains and lakes) door to door, and that isn’t always convenient.  

Traditionally in Switzerland, the old folks would hand over the farmhouse to their son or daughter and family, and move into a much smaller building across the yard called the “Stöckli”. For all I know, this may still be happening in remote rural communities. It has the advantage that each generation has its own private premises, but is close enough to interact with the rest and help wherever help is needed, whether with babysitting or geriatric care. But my children don’t live in a farmhouse with a Stöckli, so that’s not an option for us.  

Over the course of my quite long life, I have frequently been amazed by the way that what appear to be problems or dilemmas are suddenly solved by a deus ex machina.  Some think it’s coincidence or serendipity, but to my mind it’s deliberate divine providence. Yes, Someone up there is really looking out for me, and I am very grateful. 

Recently, through a series of coincidences, my Dear Daughter became aware of an apartment for sale in a block directly opposite her house. It had belonged to an old lady of 98, so was definitely suitable for the needs of an elderly person – and there’s also a lift in the building right next to the apartment.  On inquiry, DD found it would be ideal for my old age but the asking price was too high. She discussed this with her husband and me, and they put in what they considered to be a fair offer but well below what the owners wanted. 

After a while, they were informed that a much higher offer had been made; did they want to raise theirs? No, they didn’t. And we resigned ourselves to the situation. Then suddenly the agent rang to say that our offer had been accepted after all: the owners had sympathy with the idea that this was to be Granny’s home. Not surprising really, considering that it had been their Granny’s home, but sentimentality rarely wins over profit! A blessing for us, though, now.

What is particularly positive about all this is that there is no rush for me to move. Some refurbishing will have to be done, which will take a little time, and then either the flat can be let on a short lease or as an air bnb, or my daughter and son-in-law can use it as an extension of their own home, eg, as accommodation for visiting family members. When the time comes for me to move in, my present apartment can also be let. Win-win all round!

Well, as I said earlier, time is on our side right now and I can continue to rekindle my social life in my present surroundings and enjoy the company of my dear old friends until the moment of truth arrives. It looks and sounds too good to be true, and no doubt we’ll hit some kind of obstacle somewhere down the line, but it is so reassuring to know that there is, after all, a Stöckli waiting for me.

Where did January go?

I’ll start with an apology for my absence from this blog during January. Life has just been happening a little too quickly for me to sit down and update you, or share my labyrinthine mental meanderings.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve dared to join in social activities involving large numbers of people, but – fingers crossed! – life might gradually be returning to some kind of post-Covid normality. 

Did the fact that I actually tested positive in December affect my attitude so that I am less wary of catching Corona now, and less risk-averse? Maybe. I attended a very happy birthday party this weekend and also went to my usual church, where they haven’t seen my face for some time, so there was a lot of meeting, greeting and hugging going on. So far, so good! An interesting aspect – for me, at least – was that so many of those who hadn’t seen me lately commented on how trim and (almost) slim I am looking. 

Well, thank you, Noom! I was 10 kg down around the middle of December, but then hit a plateau where the scale has just been yo-yoing between 10 and 11 kg less than my starting weight. However, although I may have sinned a little foodwise, I have been walking and swimming regularly and my tape-measure shows a reduction of several centimetres. So maybe my fat is turning into muscle, which weighs heavier? Maybe! Maybe not! I’m not slacking, and am feeling way more energetic than I did only a couple of months ago, for which I am very grateful. One thing leads to another, and perhaps in a month or two I’ll be hopping and skipping around with the spring lambs! There’s also the comforting thought that I can wear my old “best” clothes again – and can find things in shops that look attractive and actually fit ! Another incentive to look for occasions and opportunities to go out and wear them.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions any more, as I know I can never keep them, but as I am well on the way to my target weight, I’m quite confident in saying that this year I’ll reach it. Also, I have noticed that in addition to the blogs I follow I’m also watching / listening to a number of podcasts every day, and possibly becoming addicted, so have decided to ration my screen time. Not easy, when some of the podcasts are over an hour long and on fascinating topics, and I suppose in the past I would have read books or magazine articles on these subjects. It never crossed my mind in pre-podcast days that I might be addicted to reading, though. 

Is this a valid comparison? I don’t have a TV or radio, so glean my information on what’s going on in the world from Internet news sites rather than newspapers. It seems my laptop and phone are replacing TV and radio as well as books but is this necessarily a bad thing? How life has changed in the last 20 or so years! 

Finally, since I’m apparently telling you about the positive things going on over here, I also have another piece of good news, which is that the book written by my Rwandan friend Apolline (already in its second edition in French) has at last found a publisher for the English edition and looks likely to come out within the next few months. That is very encouraging, and I’ll keep you informed. I wrote about this three years ago already in January 2020 at https://catterel.wordpress.com/2020/01/12/the-need-to-forgive/ and we have been trying to get the English version published for the last two and a half years. A reminder not to give up in spite of rejections and discouragement! I’ll let you know when it’s available for purchase. The English title is “As We Forgive Them”. Watch this space!

Goodbye 2022

Let’s end the year on a cheerful note: despite testing positive for Covid, I can’t say it felt any worse than a very bad cold or seasonal flu, and indeed had it not been for the fact that I’d been planning to let the new year in with my best friend, and didn’t want to risk infecting her, I probably wouldn’t even have done a test. 

Christmas itself was, once a again, a lovely, happy, relaxing family occasion with excellent food and drink. All seemed, as the carol says, calm and bright.

The coughs and sneezes began a day or two later, intensified, peaked and by today – following a lavish brunch – were no hindrance to our enjoyment of a walk around and through the woods with panoramic views of the Alps stretching from the German Allgäu (Bavaria) by way of Vorarlberg (Austria), Grisons, Glarus, and various other Swiss cantons all the way to the Bernese Oberland – a distance of over 300 km. And the weather was kind to us, allowing us to revel in the whole of that vista in bright, clear sunshine with not the slightest hint of a cold breeze to spoil the experience in any way. 

The canton of Thurgau is an insider tip for nature lovers. It has gently rolling hills with orchards, patches of woodland, streams and small rivers, and quaint half-timbered houses and farms. In the distance you see the mountains, but they don’t encroach on the local scenery, and it’s bordered on its northern edge by beautiful Lake Constance (Bodensee in German).  

Maybe I shouldn’t sing its praises too loudly, as it’s one area of Switzerland that isn’t overrun by tourists, and it would be good to keep it that way.

Anyway, we walked about five kilometres breathing in clean, fresh woodland air that must have done our lungs good because we are no longer coughing as we were yesterday. We met very few people but some interesting animals: a family of pigs with thick, coarse curly hair that skipped and danced around their long-suffering mother, and a couple of beautiful white draft horses. 

Pigs are a symbol of good luck in German, so hopefully these are a portent for the new year.

Home for tea and coffee with a slice of rich fruit cake – made to my mother’s traditional recipe – and finally were gifted a magnificent sunset to end the year in style.

2022 has been a strange year, leaving us with very mixed feelings as we think over the many events that have impacted our lives during the past 12 months. But this last day has been beautiful, and I for one am very grateful for such a lovely peaceful ending to it. 

I wish you all a happy, healthy and blessed 2023-

Alone at Christmas?

Let others hurry, scurry, worry, 

Rushing, pushing, in a flurry,

Christmas is a panic season

When normal folk lose all their reason.

When everyone is all stressed out,

Totally zonked from dashing about

Choosing presents and wrapping yards

Of paper and ribbon, and writing cards,

Making puddings, pies and cakes,

Decking with holly, till everything aches

From putting up baubles on Christmas trees

And crawling about on hands and knees

To find the one that dropped back there 

And rolled behind the big armchair – 

Cooking turkeys with all the trimmings

Eating food that’s far from slimming,

Then getting gifts they really hate

And feeling sick ‘cause they over-ate 

And drank too much, while the kids go wild

With toys unsuitable for a child –


YOU can curl up in your comfy bed

And pull the duvet over your head,

Do whatever you want to do –

Enjoy the peace, and don’t feel blue:

Because we’ll all be envying YOU.

Saint Nicholas is coming to town.

Reblogged from Sundry Times Too

Hobby-horse warning: I find it irritating that people confuse Saint Nicholas with Father Christmas. The first one, aka Santa Claus, was a bishop who lived in the 4th century AD. The other one is a descendent of the “Green Man” and Sir Christèmas with more in common with Discworld’s “Hogfather” than with Saint Nick. Put […]


November, November

“I’m busy doing nothing, 
working the whole day through, 
trying to find lots of things not to do …” 
(Song from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1949 film with Bing Crosby, William Bendix and Cedric Hardwicke, which is a weird combo in any film!)

Seems like my theme song just lately – where have the last few weeks gone? Vanished with the autumn leaves! Is it because the days are so much shorter now, that they seem to fly by so fast? 

There have been a number of not-so-good things happening to people around me, but I don’t want to dwell on the negative here. Let me see what – if anything – I have accomplished in this almost finished month of November. 

First of all, I am pleased to report that I have stuck with my Noom programme and am seeing results: I’m back to where I was pre-Covid. Nine and a half kilos (20 lb) gone – at least, that was the score last Saturday morning but then I went to a Thanksgiving Dinner in the evening so am ignoring the numbers that popped up on my scale the next day. It was brought home to me exactly how much of a load that is when I carried two bags of groceries home and realised that they weighed 9 kg. No wonder I’m feeling more energetic! Because yes, I really am walking much more and enjoying it. I am very blessed to live in a beautiful place and it makes little difference whether the weather is fine or dull, there’s always a nice walk somewhere. Thanks are due to my daughter in this respect, as she encouraged me to walk with her and her dog when I was staying at her house, and got me going!

I also spent a week with an old friend I hadn’t seen for four years, who lives in the wooded hills of the Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany) – another great opportunity for some picturesque hikes, with wonderful autumn colours. And lots of catching up, of course, until our jaws were too tired to wag any more.

What else have I to show for my busyness? The booty from my shopping in Germany, where the euro is now worth less than the Swiss franc and prices are lower anyway. Encouraged by the fact that I have dropped two dress sizes, and hence have a wider range of garments to choose from, I managed to fill my suitcase to bursting with a new basic wardrobe. 

On my return home, I moved some pieces of furniture around, which also meant that all the corners got cleaned out, much to the disgust of the resident spiders. And potted some winter plants in a window box that I can admire through my French windows, watching the birds coming to my feeders at the same time. Up to now, they haven’t paid my offerings much attention and can obviously still find plenty to eat in the fields and hedges. I heard – and then saw – the woodpecker drilling into my neighbour’s pear tree yesterday, and a robin dropped onto my patio just for a quick reconnoitre, but otherwise the feathered folk are busy elsewhere.

On one of my walks in the woodland park down the lane, I foraged a bag full of fir and pine cones and a few sprays of fir from a felled tree to make an Advent decoration. As it all dries out rapidly in my centrally heated apartment, the fir needles are falling fast so I’ll soon have to replace them, probably with yew from the tree in our garden, which doesn’t lose its needles so quickly. My crochet hook has also been whipping in and out very diligently, making inroads into a few large balls of wool my daughter gave me and so far producing a waistcoat and a few squares of Celtic knots that will turn into something– maybe a throw, maybe a cushion, we’ll see.  

Finally, I also baked a rich fruitcake for Christmas – my contribution to our family English Christmas dinner. This is now tucked up in its tin in the pantry and will be fed regularly with cognac to ensure that it doesn’t get too dry. Fingers crossed!

So on the whole, I haven’t been exactly idle: I also did some housework and a few translations in my spare time …