Catch Me If You Can …

“You need something to look forward to,” declared my best friend at the beginning of January, assessing my black eye. “Come and spend some time with me in Florida.” I looked out at the snow-covered landscape and we sat down there and then and booked me a flight. The end of April seemed a long way off in the future.

Then, my eldest granddaughter proposed a trip to our holiday home on the north coast of Brittany, with her children and my daughter. Granddaughters Two and Three said they would also like to join us – sadly, Granddaughter Three couldn’t get time off work, but the rest of us were able to set off on 2 April, a jolly convoy of females plus my two great-grandsons. My son-in-law was able to follow a week later, so we have had a very full little house, but there was room for everyone, and no problems with the sleeping arrangements.

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IMG_0836.JPGI am still in awe that with four generations in such a small space, we had such a harmonious time; we have several alpha types in our midst (I won’t say bossy boots) yet all functioned perfectly as a team and if there were any disagreements,I wasn’t aware of them – apart from the two-year-old’s occasional short-lived tantrums, which are to be expected at that age. He was startled out of one of them when he flung himself on his face on the beach – nose and mouth filled with sand came as an unpleasant surprise!

The death of my mother in February and the subsequent chasing around organising so many things have left me in a kind of zombie state: I have been running on adrenaline for so long, and suddenly all the tiredness and exhaustion that I had been defying has crashed the barriers and overwhelmed me. I really needed that break.

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sunrise …

… sunsetIMG_0817

We returned from springtime in Brittany in full bloom, with two weeks of sunshine, sea and sand (incredibly, no rain!) to a cold wet Switzerland, and today it’s actually snowing. Well, admittedly, we are at an elevation of 500 m above sea level, but snow …

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And my friend reports from Florida that they’re having a heatwave …

I’m wondering if I simply shouldn’t have just stayed in Brittany!

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Of Tin-Openers, Potato-Peelers And Weird Exotic Finds

Kitchen drawers fascinate me. No, not the neat and tidy ones of OCD owners, but those that are used as repositories by absent-minded people who aren’t quite sure what this is, or where it really belongs, but the kitchen drawer is handy. Over the years and decades, if nobody interferes with its evolution, a wonderful gallimaufry accumulates in a relatively small space. Gadgets, gizmos and widgets reside untouched and unused as their owners forget their original purpose, or the appliance to which they belonged dies and is thrown away. You can find cutters for turning potatoes or carrots into intricate chains, bought at long-forgotten domestic exhibitions,  or seals for vacuum cleaners that were disposed of back in 1995. Matchboxes with unidentified contents – seeds or gooey black stuff – mingle with parts of something that broke and was going to be repaired.

One of my granddaughters was puzzled a few years ago that she couldn’t find a potato-peeler in Great-Granny’s kitchen. She was looking in the wrong drawer. That is another aspect of kitchen drawers that fascinates me: the logic by which instruments and utensils are allocated to specific places. It may seem blatantly obvious to you that a potato-peeler should go in with the kitchen knives, but to my mother it belonged with the tin-opener.

Also, gadgets develop and change in appearance as they evolve over the years. Once my granddaughter had located the seven and a half potato-peelers in among the tin-openers, there was only one that she recognised as the object of her search (the orange one in this photo).

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Evolution of the potato-peeler – note the blade tied onto a clothes-peg! Wartime make-do and mend!

She also failed to identify two of the tin-openers as such, and was totally perplexed by the perforated metal discs attached to metal spikes with a ring handle. I have fond memories of using these as a child, when I was allowed to help with small tasks in preparing meals. Do you know what they were for? Does anyone still use them for that purpose? (If you are also perplexed, read on – I will explain.)

In a friend’s kitchen drawer, I came across this strange implement:

orange-peelerShe demonstrated how practical it is, and claimed that even though hers must be well over thirty years old, you can still get them.  She produced the second – newer one – as proof. We googled the item, and she was right, you can still buy them online for under £10 each.

Still wondering about these gadgets? Well, this picture might help with my friend’s treasure.

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It has a sharp lip in the middle of the blade that cuts a long narrow slice out of the equator of an orange. You can then insert the looped metal end between the peel and the flesh, and finally scrape off any pith with the edge of the blade.

As for the perforated discs, in my childhood we used them to beat egg whites into a stiff snow. The advantage over a normal balloon whisk was that, in the days when eggs were rationed, you could put a single egg white into a glass beaker and beat it quite easily by pumping the handle up and down. I have a modern gadget for frothing milk for my latte macchiato that works on the same principle. And the reward for the hard work was the fun of holding the beaker of stiff egg-white upside down at the end, to prove that the job was done!

 

 

Living In A Winter Wonderland

“You live in a Christmas card place!”

It’s true, I do.  And recent weeks have been ideal for anyone wanting to take Christmas card photos here. Mine are only with my iphone, and not improved by an unsteady hand, but not having sent Christmas or New Year cards gives me an excuse to share them – rather belatedly – with you now. So here goes.

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This little robin accompanied us on a walk, hopping along the path in front of us for several minutes, and posed most professionally multiple times.

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My friend called this a “Santa Tree” – I think it looks as if it was caught and frozen in the middle of a dance on the shores of the Lake (Walensee).

 

 

 

 

 

Do mountains need a caption? I ought to know their names by now, but don’t – except that this is Heidiland and at the back of my house.

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IMG_0572.jpgThe Tamina river, which rises in hot springs, has cooled down considerably by the time it reaches the village. img_0574

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Walking home in the evening, I find these homes look very invitingimg_0561

Nothing to do with any of the above: I simply like these rings for tying up your horse outside the local vet’s house. img_0568

And finally – my black eye has gone! Hallelujah!img_0679

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

She knows how to make a dramatic entrance. Exactly a week after the stork was due, my newest little great-granddaughter finally decided the time was ripe. She didn’t want to be a Saturday’s child (“works hard for its living”) but instead, aware that “the child that is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay” she delayed until four minutes after midnight before slipping into the world on the second Sunday in Advent, the day we light the candle for Peace.

Joline is here. My granddaughter’s children all have unusual names, but my instant reaction was, “What, Dolly Parton?” No, I am assured that the initial ‘J’ is pronounced as in French, like ‘jolie’ which is some relief. Because she is, of course, très jolie, beautiful. Like all my children (grandchildren, great-grandchildren).

I had just stepped out of a nice warm bath, all relaxed and ready to slide under my cosy duvet, when I received the message that my granddaughter had left for the hospital. It was just after ten pm. Knowing that my granddaughter is one of those truly fortunate women who give birth relatively easily, I decided to wait a couple of hours for further news. And yes, she didn’t disappoint: just as I was giving up and finally going to bed, a text message popped up announcing that Joline had arrived, weighing in at 3840 g, which is something over 8 lbs.

Few children get such a hearty welcome as this little mite. As is usual in Switzerland, her Daddy was present at the birth. Since it was the weekend, not only my daughter (Joline’s Nana) had gone to babysit the other children, but my son-in-law (their grandfather) was also there. So that was the reception committee when she arrived home from the hospital. And then such delight when her siblings woke up and rushed to cuddle their new little sister, not to mention that both her aunts and her paternal grandparents then turned up. I’d be there, too, if it wasn’t quite so far – my home is 140 km away, so I shall have to wait a while before I can visit – but hallelujah! We have the ability to share photos instantly nowadays, so here she is, just a few hours old:joline-04-12-2016

What a wonderful gift for Advent!

Until Death Us Do Part

A small group of old pals have been trying to arrange a little get-together including an old friend of mine, now in his mid-eighties. We knew that his wife was suffering from dementia and that he is her sole carer, but have been sorry to discover that although he has several grown-up children and grandchildren, nobody is available to spend an evening looking after this poor lady in order to allow him to have a couple of carefree hours. He defended his family, saying:

The problem is leaving her with anybody, even X (her daughter), as she doesn’t know who they are!  She asks me several times a day who I am and will I take her home to her Mom and Dad … Unless you have personally experienced the incredible effects of dementia it all sounds ‘made up’.  I assure you, it’s even worse than that!  They do hope to have a cure in 10 years’ time. Ha, bloody Ha.

I suggested she might be able to spend a day or two in a care home for respite now and then, to give him a rest. Or perhaps, since she was so disoriented and unable to recognise even her closest family members that she wouldn’t realise where she was, to place her in a home permanently, and I recommended the nursing home where my mother is.

This was the heart-rending reply.

Cat, I’m not sure I could afford it on my smallish pension. And I’d feel like a total traitor. We started courting nearly 69 years ago, have been married over 64 years and it did say, ‘for better or worse’. I’m not sure it could get any worse and I’m somehow surviving so I shall let it ride for now to see what fate has in store.

She clings to me so desperately it’s touching to watch.

I could do with getting out I’ll admit, just to chat etc.  But I can’t create the opportunity without enormous upset.  Let’s see what happens and if X can help. She has been tremendous. 

What makes this particularly moving is that I know they didn’t really have a good marriage and had considered divorce more than once. As the years advanced, they agreed to make the best of the situation for the sake of their family, and stayed together. They lived together but independently, each pursuing their own interests, and were able to remain friends, even occasionally going out together to concerts or the the theatre, interests they still shared. So this isn’t a case of a devoted, loving couple, but of an honorable man who made a promise he is determined to keep whatever the circumstances.

I think of so many couples in love who make their marriage vows easily and carelessly, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health*”, without any thought of what that might entail, and who give up and separate when the pendulum swings to the poorer, worse, and sick side. For our friend, who feels that he somehow failed to “love and to cherish” his bride quite as well as he might, this ordeal is his chance to make amends over and above any duty that could be expected of him. I pray it will not kill him.

 

*Wedding vows of the Church of England:

Groom: I,____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

 

Grassroots and Elefantillos

“What are you doing?”
“Nothing.”
It sounds like a parent/teenager exchange, but actually it was simply my weekday response to a full long weekend. My friend, an enemy of indolence, was instantly concerned.
“Are you OK?”
“Sure. Just relaxing, doing nothing.”

Actually, I was crocheting some white elephants, a blanket-edging pattern that caught my eye as I was browsing, and as the video tutorial was in Spanish I was pleased with myself that I had been able to figure it out.

Here they are:

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I’m not too happy about their tails, so was working on a way to remedy that, but I wasn’t about to explain all that on the phone.

I was also busy using up all the odds and ends of wool left over from my failed attempts at granny squares: I just couldn’t devise anything that I liked, but it meant that what had been quite large skeins to begin with had ended up as a number of small balls of different coloured wool, that was starting to unravel and looking not only fatigued but exhausted. It took me most of the week but by Thursday I had a cushion cover to go with my shell-patterned rugs (or “plaids” as the French and Germans insist on calling them). I still have some dark blue and white left, though only a few yards, following the elefantillos and the stripy reverse of the cushion.

I might also have told her that I was watching the grass grow. At the beginning of the month we had our garden rotivated, new topsoil spread and levelled, and grass seed scattered. It was very, very hot at the time and the earth looked extremely dry. My neighbour and I were quite concerned that the grass seed was a total waste, and we’d have done better to have had it turfed – the usual way of making a lawn in the UK, but considered an expensive luxury here in Switzerland. However, we were informed that it would germinate as soon as it rained.

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Well, yes, one day it did rain, but immediately afterwards the heatwave resumed and we couldn’t see any sign of life in our grass. The money we saved on getting seed instead of turf has gone towards a sprinkler and the promise of a robot lawnmower, so we turned on the sprinkler for a few days and my neighbour hosed the bits the sprinkler didn’t reach, until the ground did indeed begin to assume a greenish cast. I performed an unintentional Mr Bean act the first day by trying to move the sprinkler without first turning it off, which resulted in a drenching not only for me, but also for my neighbours in our house as well as those across the road and the lady next door. I hope nobody was videoing that!  grass-2

Meanwhile, three weeks later, with lower temperatures, a bit of rain now and then, and probably the effect of the morning dew, we now have what is indisputably a lawn. It’s very tender grass, like the hair on a baby’s head, and the area outside my patio is patchy, but I am optimistic that soon I shall be watching the robot mower instead of the grass. I check it every morning – not with a measuring rod, I hasten to add, but visually – and it is perceptibly growing. So that’s my latest hobby. And I’ve gained a suntan while pursuing it.grass-3

grass 4.pngAnd why was I so in need of doing nothing?
No complaints! I had a great weekend, starting with a wonderful party to celebrate the tenth wedding anniversary of my eldest granddaughter and her husband. About sixty people, many of whom had been guests at the wedding, feasted on a delicious so-called sucking pig (it was a young one, but no way was it still a suckling) roasted on a spit, masses of food and champagne, and all beautifully managed by my dear granddaughter, who is noted in the family for her efficiency ever since she attended nursery school and streamlined their systems for them at the age of two. She certainly lived up to her reputation, and as far as I could see, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

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Garden with tree house ready for the kids, and party tent for the gown-ups

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I was able to catch up with a number of people I hadn’t seen for a while, including my youngest granddaughter, and had the pleasure of the company of my middle granddaughter and her husband, who were staying overnight too, over breakfast and lunch on Sunday morning.

I had rashly agreed to lead worship at the Sunday afternoon service in our little church fellowship, and needed some practice. We are a small community, and very far from competing with the Tabernacle Choir. Some of us can play an instrument – piano, keyboard, guitar – with varying degrees of competence, and anyone who can hold a tune within about an octave is encouraged to join in as vocalist.

Last Sunday, we had no instruments, so had to resort to canned music. As leader for the day, I was allowed to choose the songs and hymns so I picked some old favourites and waited for the summons to practice. Unfortunately, although our “choir” consisted of only three of us, the only time we were all available to rehearse together was an hour before the service, so Fred, who is in charge and rivals my granddaughter for efficiency, sent us Spotify versions to practise with: a demo version and a performance version.

To my surprise, I was able to install the app without any trouble. But then – Wow! Were these the old familiar songs I had picked? Not the tempo I was used to in a couple of them, too much gospel flavour in that one (fine to listen to, but I can’t do it myself) and a bit high in another, and as I listened to the performance version, which is like karaoke, I was bewildered as to where I should come in. So Sunday morning we had a nonstop loop of worship playing in the background as I tried to familiarise myself with these arrangements. Middle granddaughter was highly amused that “Granny has Spotify!” and grandson-in-law was helpful in orienting me as I painfully navigated in the app to the places I wanted to be.

By the time I got to the rehearsal, I had some idea of what it ought to sound like but I wasn’t terribly optimistic, and hoped the congregation would sing loud enough to drown me out. Of course, Fred fixed it: he had listened to these tracks so many times, he could have sung them in his sleep, and I just watched him and came in when he nodded to me. We even managed a canon version of “You are my hiding place” and to my relief I didn’t feel in need of a hiding place as we finished up. In fact, we felt rather exhilarated at having pulled it off without live musicians to back us and the congregation seemed to enjoy singing the old favourites.

Afterwards, I was invited to spend a day or two with a good friend, so although that was in no way strenuous it did involve a lot of talk. So all in all, a lovely long weekend – but it was soothing to return to my crocheting and the excitement of watching the grass grow.

On The Hohen Kasten

Twenty years ago I was happily scrambling about on all the hiking trails visible from the top of this mountain,  including the one leading up to it. Now, I take the cable car, and discover that even walking down the well-tended paths on the summit with carefully carved out steps is tough on my knees. No way am I walking down to the village below, over any of the oh so familiar routes. hoherkasten1

I turn back and stroll around the beautifully paved summit platform drinking in the panorama: I know these mountains well, having lived so close for almost twenty years in my forties and fifties, when I was still fit enough for day-long hikes up and down the steepest tracks.hoherkasten

I know exactly what the path feels like underfoot over there, what the view is like looking up from that little lake, where the path from it leads to,  how it smells in the forest on that hillside, what flowers bloom on that mountain pasture, what lies just behind that craggy rock. Names I had forgotten come back to me as my eyes range over the hills and crags: Fänern, Kamor, Ruhsitz, Staubernkanzel, Saxer Lücke, Sämtiser See, Bollenwees, Fälensee, Alp Sigel, Äscher, Ebenalp, Füssler, Schöfler, Säntis, Bommern, Gartenalp, Kuhschnurweg … And there in the distance is the village where I lived until 2005.

Twenty years: yes, it must be at least that long since I last stood here. They have developed the summit for tourists, with a self-service restaurant downstairs topped by a more sophisticated revolving restaurant that opened eight years ago, so that’s all new to me and not unpleasant or ugly. I am grateful that I don’t have to stumble over the uneven stony surface that used to be here, and can lean on the railings as I gaze on this lovely scenery: gratitude for the convenience, mixed with a pang of regret that I am getting older and a bit wobbly and need that support.

My friend suggests eating in the revolving restaurant, but it’s just twelve noon and the Germanic stomachs of the tourists send punctual signals. They got there first. We aren’t really hungry so we go back outside, wander around a while and then sit on a bench in the sun. It must be about 30°C but there’s a breeze. At 1 pm we try the restaurant again, and find seats. The restaurant rotates through 360° in one hour, so you don’t really feel any movement; it’s just when you glance through the window now and again that you realise the Austrian mountains have slid off to the left and you are looking down the Rhine towards Graubünden, or the peaks of the Alpstein have hove into view.

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View across the Rhine towards Austria and Liechtenstein

For old times’ sake I take an Appenzell cheese salad, which turns out to be a huge plateful and delicious, and a glass of Bernecker white wine – you have to come to Switzerland to appreciate how good our wines are: I don’t think any are exported, the quantities produced aren’t so great so we drink them all ourselves.

Now there is no question at all of walking down the mountain. If I felt wobbly before, just that one little glass of wine, the rotation and the altitude (only 1795 m above sea level) combine to make my walking stick an essential third leg. Once more around the block, then back to the cable car. Eight minutes later, we are down in the village. I need a last photo before we drive away, but the sun is so bright I can’t see what I’m snapping, and there’s a Mercedes behind me impatient to move off the car park, so in my haste I find I’ve chopped the top off the mountain. Never mind: perhaps there’ll be another visit on an equally beautiful day and a chance for another pic, before the next twenty years are up.

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My apologies for the poor quality of the iPhone photos, due to the bright sun and my inability to hold the phone still, but you’ll find better ones on the website of Hoher Kasten.