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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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/ )

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!

 

 

Beanies, Minnie Mouse And Pompoms

My newest great-granddaughter was one year old last Monday: so what should I give her as a present? She’s the second little girl in the family and the youngest of four, so has more than enough toys and clothes. I want my gift to be something useful, something she needs. What doesn’t she have?

IMG_2788I look at her, and know immediately; the only thing she lacks is hair. This pretty blue-eyed baby is perfect in every way, but she has only the finest covering of down on her head, not a single little curl! No, no, I didn’t give her a wig – but the next best thing. I crocheted her three hats.

First, these two simple beanies from wool I had in my bag – I can’t call it a stash. You should see what my daughter has tucked away in drawers and cupboards! That’s a stash. You may recognise the wool in the white/grey hat as it’s the remnant from my cardigan and cobweb shawl. Perfect for a bald baby, very soft and light but warm. The blue one matches her eyes and has flaps to keep her ears warm.

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I was inspired to find a pattern for a Minnie Mouse bonnet with pompoms (two black ones on top for ears, and pink ones at the end of each braid) and a big pink bow on top. The bow looks rather sausagy on this photo, because of the angle – the hat is a shade too big – but in real life it looks cute.

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Thank you to my Dear Daughter for her invaluable assistance here. We have a knitting shop in my village, but I had only ever walked past it and never gone in. I decided about a fortnight before the Birthday that I’d support local trade, and get my wool there but unfortunately it was closed. The sign in the window said “On vacation till 25 November”. That was annoying, but it still left me a week for my project.

However, when I struggled through the rain and wind to the shop on Saturday, 25 November, it was still closed. At this point DD stepped in and offered me wool from her stash, so I was saved. I managed to make the little hat in the couple of days still available to me while I was staying at her house, and once again it was DD to the rescue when it came to making the pompoms, as we went out together and bought pompom makers (that’s a new invention since my youth: we just used cardboard cut into circles). That inspired me afresh. I have a few beanies I made last year that would benefit from being crowned with a pompom.

After I got home, I ventured out once again to the knitting shop in my village. This time, it was open. It’s very tiny, with some flashy hand knits on sale, a limited selection of extremely expensive wool, and an intimidating lady running it. I poked around a bit, but didn’t find anything that appealed to me so when SHE challenged me (I can think of no better word for the tone in which she asked me if I was looking for something special) I just stuttered that I was looking for white wool to make pompoms.

With that withering look sales assistants in boutiques cast at anyone over a size 0, she produced a plastic bag with several small balls of yarn, obviously leftovers. Yes, there were two skeins of white virgin wool. Fifty cents each. I paid and crept out.

To cheer myself up, I decided to learn some new crocheting skills from YouTube tutorials, and am now proficient in making fancy cables. However, cables use up a lot of wool so a whole 50g has gone into this little piece. That’s 100 metres of wool. What will it become? I’ll let you know when it’s finished. One thing is sure: though I shall need more wool to complete this project, I won’t be buying any from the village shop.

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Miss Sophie, The Sophisti-Cat

See those wise and wonderful eyes peeping out in my header? That’s Miss Sophie, my daughter’s cat, who could be aloof and proud or affectionate and fussy, as the whim took her. I’m very sad to have to announce that Miss Sophie is no longer with us. She was sixteen, a good age for a feline, and finally just too tired and fed up to go on. Her end was peaceful, gentle and stress-free. Such a small animal, but such a great character, and though she was by no means a noisy cat, it will seem strange without her presence in the house.

She was clever enough to avoid the street and its traffic that passed next to her garden, and so she survived. She was also clever enough to figure out that by jumping up and hanging onto the door handle, she could open most doors that barred her way. And she was authoritarian enough to keep that pesky cocker spaniel in order: after all, Sophie was there first. Now, there will be no more disputes about who occupies the dog’s bed.

Even as a kitten, she knew she was superior to dogs. The dog in the house at that time was a big Bernese mountain dog, and one of Sophie’s favourite games when she was tiny was to cling onto his tail, flinging her to and fro as it wagged. By the time she grew too big and heavy for that, she had secured her position in the pecking order. She never, ever used her claws – the only cat I have ever known who simply didn’t seem to realise that she possessed such a weapon.

Whenever I stayed overnight at her house, she would join me when I went to bed, purring her lullaby till she was sure I was asleep, and then, mission accomplished, return to her usual place. I had to be careful when my hair was long, as she tended to roll herself up in it and then I didn’t dare move my head until she had untangled herself.

Sophie wasn’t anybody’s cat. She was very discriminating, and it was a privilege and honour to be selected by her for her attention. She attached herself very early on to my dear middle granddaughter and was  the recipient of many confidences; when DMG married, Sophie was equally devoted to her new husband.

Yes, we always grow very fond of our pets and they become valued members of the family. Losing them is always hard and tears will be shed. I’m sure that even the dog will be wondering where she is.

Sophie’s staff wil miss her very much.

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Schooldays, Schoolmates

Mr Russell's class 1952

Every now and then, I try to go through the thousands of photos on my laptop and get rid of duplicates and any that really are a waste of cyberspace. And thus I came across this old class photo from my primary school, taken in June or July 1952 when we were all about 11 and about to depart from the safety and security of our little junior school, to start “big school”: following the 11+ exam, around half went to the local Secondary Modern, about a dozen to the Secondary Technical School, and nine of us to the Grammar School. That should have been ten, but the parents of one bright little boy said they couldn’t afford the uniform and all the extras that went with a Grammar School education, so he went to the Secondary Modern instead.

Being split like that meant that we generally lost touch with one another, especially once we had reached the age of fifteen or sixteen, when most left school for good.

All the more amazing, then, when I look at this picture and realise I still know everyone’s name! What’s more, in spite of having spent nearly fifty years outside the UK, sixty-five years on I am still in touch with eight of these former classmates and know the whereabouts and something about the present lives of at least another three. One other, for sure, has died; maybe more. We’re getting on a bit now.

But five of them came to my mother’s hundredth birthday party and six to her funeral, and others sent condolences. I suppose that is the key: although we have all moved away from the place where we grew up, even to Cyprus and Australia, my mother stayed put. When I went back to visit my parents, and especially in these latter years when I stayed with her, I would occasionally hear from an old school pal or we would even manage to meet up. They knew where to find me when I didn’t have a clue where they had gone, and the grapevine meant that even if someone had disappeared completely from my radar, someone else might yet be in touch.

A Grammar School centenary reunion in 2002 was instrumental in a couple of cases, where we really hadn’t seen each other since we were sixteen and were delighted to rekindle old friendships. Another occasion was when four of us who had lived next door to one another and had all been born within the space of two months (three of us in this photo), were reunited for our seventieth birthdays. That was a very joyous occasion, since I hadn’t seen two of my old playmates for over fifty years.

So I look at these innocent young faces, mentally trying to superimpose wrinkles, paunches and grey hair (or, in the case of the boys, bald heads – the good-looking lad standing on the far right is still tall but completely and shiningly bald) and wonder if, during the five years recently when I was more or less resident in my old home, we had unwittingly passed each other in the street or sat next to each other on a bus.

What would we have had to say if we had recognised one another, after all these years? We probably would have little in common, but I know for certain that one topic of conversation would have been the elderly gentleman who was our class teacher, and there is no doubt that someone would have said: “He’d never have got away with that today!”

He was a strict and harsh disciplinarian. Classes were large. Corporal punishment was standard fare in those days so most of us, girls as well as boys, had felt the flat of his hand or been caned. Yet he taught us well, and even if he didn’t manage to make silk purses out of pig’s ears, he produced very serviceable leather pouches, metaphorically speaking.

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Here are three of us who were partners in crime together throughout our primary and secondary school days from the age of five, and are still good friends (l-r: P, N and me in 2011). Can you spot us on the school photo?

We’re all on the second row, seated: N is 3rd from the left, I am 3rd from the right and P is last on the right. I think we were deliberately separated!