Floating Fairy Flies Again!

Twenty kilometres as the crow flies in just over one hour, and maximum altitude 1300 m above sea level. Air temperature around 25°C. That’s for those who need figures first.

No statistics can convey the deep peace and joy that comes with a ride in a hot-air balloon. Yes, there are those loud roaring bursts of flame now and then, but tranquillity is the watchword, as you dreamily drift over the landscape in your own little bubble.

IMG_1381This was among my birthday presents last year, as my family decided I may not be capable of struggling into the basket when I get to 80, so my round birthday gift came (symbolically) 5 years early. There was too much toing and froing last year for me to be able to arrange my trip, which has to be at pretty short notice since it all depends on weather conditions being as close as possible to ideal.

The call came last Tuesday: “Can you be at Lommis airfield for 5 am on Saturday?” Of course I can. Then, after I put the phone down, common sense kicked in. Lommis is about 120 km from where I live. I no longer have a car, and trains don’t run at that time of day. Darling Daughter and Son-in-Law live close enough to Lommis, but … they were in Lucerne.

Number One Granddaughter flew to the rescue: “You can stay overnight with us.” The Balloon Pilot offered to pick me up from Granddaughter’s home, but the great-grandchildren decided they would like to come and see Granny float off into the blue so Granddaughter kindly offered to drive me the ten-minute distance to the airfield. In the event, the great-grandkids were securely in the Land of Nod at 4.30 am on Saturday, so it was only my Granddaughter and I who left just before sunrise.

19748410_10154581431286811_6821676555048024159_nHow quickly and efficiently the set-up and take-off all went. Excellent teamwork by the pilot and her assistant, aided by four passengers: 3 senior citizens and a delightful young man who must have wondered if he’d accidentally strayed into a Pensioners’ Outing. It turned out he was indispensable, being tall, able-bodied and strong enough when physical strength was required. He also took some great photos, being armed with a professional camera and the eye to go with it. Thank you, Andreas, for sharing so many of your shots with the rest of us.

And so, as the sun rose above the horizon, so did we.

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Photos by Granddaughter No 1

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Copyright http://www.artaro.ch Thank you, Andreas, for this lovely photo.

Thurgau is a relatively unknown but nevertheless very attractive canton; arable farming country with colourful rolling fields, orchards, vineyards, woodlands, smooth-flowing rivers winding through rich pastures, and traditional half-timbered houses and barns dotted here and there among the boring quadrangular modern builds. Tourists in search of spectacular scenery don’t come here: no raging waterfalls or towering cliffs, just gentle rises and falls. From a bird’s eye perspective, it almost looks flat.

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Typical Thurgau scenery somewhere near Weinfelden

My last balloon trip, six years ago, took us from Kriessern across the Rhine and the southern end of Lake Constance into Austrian airspace, then over Lindau in Germany, to a remote field outside a Bavarian hamlet.

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View towards the Alpstein on the horizon. The heart.shaped pool is the Märwiler Weiher.

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This was now quite different scenery. In the distance, we could see the sun gleaming on the surface of Lake Constance, and gilding the river Thur below us. Cattle, sheep and goats grazed. Deer ran through the woods and across fields, kite and buzzard swooped beneath us. Perfect ballooning conditions.

After almost an hour we began our descent, alarmingly close (I thought) to the treetops and wheat fields, and scaring a company of horses peacefully grazing in their paddocks as we came roaring over their heads.

A field of sunflowers craning their necks to the east like soldiers on parade appeared to be where our pilot was aiming for, but no, we sailed over them and side-stepped an apple tree that loomed in our path.

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Copyright http://www.artaro.ch Thanks again to Andreas.

We touched down, bounced slightly once, then rested on what seemed to be a specially constructed landing strip next to the road. Long grass on either side of us in this pasture, but a lengthy stretch several metres wide had been mown just where we landed, to the exact dimensions needed when our balloon sank gracefully to the ground. A man using a scythe under the apple trees on the opposite side of the road continued his work, as though balloons landing in front of him was an everyday occurrence. Perhaps it is, and that really is a landing strip. Our pilot’s assistant was waiting for us with her car and balloon trailer, having tracked our journey from take-off.

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Teamwork again, as we squashed out the air and folded the balloon, rolled it up, packed it into its bag and dragged it to the trailer. Thank goodness for Andreas’ youthful strength! The burner and its mount were quickly dismantled, packed neatly into the basket and all stowed away very quickly.

Then came the solemn ceremony of the baptism of balloon passengers. This involves reciting the balloonist’s prayer, receiving a special nobility title plus certificate, and having a lock of hair singed as a token of the adventure. I had already been through this procedure twice, so was exempt this time. (I am Duchess Catherine Above the Clouds, and Gräfin Catherine Schwebefee über Fussach, which means approximately Countess Catherine, Floating Fairy over Fussach. Some fairy!)

The other elderly lady was wearing hairspray, so singeing her hair might have been dangerous, and the elderly gentleman had a large bald patch, so nothing to singe. These two were just doused with mineral water. Only Andreas had a suitably full head of hair so he alone underwent the singeing ceremony, and then we shared a bottle of champagne and munched on croissants. It was, after all, only just after 7 am so definitely breakfast time!

Then back to our starting point, where Granddaughter and three great-grandchildren were patiently waiting. (No, they hadn’t been there all the time. Mobile phones are a useful invention!) And home again, for my third breakfast of the day, this time at a more conventional hour.

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Getting good at squeezing into confined spaces!

Thank you so much, to everybody who made this possible, not least those who paid for it! It was a wonderful belated birthday present, and the opportunity to spend a little time with my younger generations was a great bonus. These are memories I shall treasure.

 

It’s Never Too Late …

Back in April, during my recuperative break in Brittany, I spent quite a lot of time crocheting. I find it’s a good Zen way of relaxing, and my energy levels were so depleted that it was about the only form of exercise I took in that fortnight, apart from shifting my bottom from the armchair to a dining chair and back.

I was fortunate to have been given several large skeins of lovely yarn by a dear friend at Yarnsmithery and some more by my eldest granddaughter, so I had quite a stash to play with. The colours very much reflected the hues of the pink granite coast, different shades of blue for the sea and sky, yellow for the sun etc. My five-year-old great-granddaughter, M, clearly blessed with a poetic soul, was very taken by the idea and immediately started associating each coloured stripe with something she could see around her: the greens of the grass and hedge, the ochre of the sand, the red of the camellias and so on.

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We noticed that we had virtually all the colours of the rainbow, so when my blanket was finished I made a cushion cover in rainbow stripes. IMG_0927

M also pointed out that the brown pattern against the blue in my granny square looked like the fence at the beach with the sky and sea.

Later, I found this photograph (below) and realised exactly what she meant, especially as from her perspective the sky and sea are directly behind the palings.

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All the women in my family have traditionally been good needlewomen, and my daughter and granddaughters are no exception. Hopefully, M will follow in their footsteps, and become as adept as her grandmother, mother and aunts.

Watching M reminded me of myself at that age, or maybe I was six. All the girls in my class at school were issued with small brightly-coloured knitting needles and a ball of yarn. The basics of knit and purl were explained to us, and we all eagerly set to work. One girl in particular, called Maureen, was amazingly good, but it turned out she was the middle child of a large family, with older sisters who had already taught her to knit, and she had baby siblings who needed all the knitted garments the girls could produce. Where we were struggling to make squares in garter stitch, stocking stitch, moss stitch and rib, Maureen was given 4 needles and shown how to knit socks. Wow! I was very impressed.

To my dismay I found knitting extremely difficult. I have always been somewhat dyspractic – in my youth it was just called clumsy – and my motor coordination has never been good. In fact, in later life it took me nearly 3 years to learn to drive and 2 years to learn to swim, simply because of my inability to coordinate the various parts of my body. I tried very hard to knit, helped at home by my mother and her friends, who were perplexed and frustrated by my failures. In the end, the needlework teacher excused me from knitting altogether and I concentrated on sewing and embroidery, which I managed quite well.

Now back to the present. It may be due to my recent birthday that I am currently very sensitive to the passing of time, and aware that I need to learn new things if I want to stay reasonably alert and not sink too rapidly into senility. Last week I recalled my laborious efforts as my daughter and granddaughter were discussing their various knitting projects, and commented that they appeared to use a different technique to the way I had been shown. Since Swiss boys also learn to knit in school, my grandson-in-law joined in the conversation at this point, wondering how I could have found it so hard.

Yes, said my daughter. The continental method is simpler than the English method. And she demonstrated. It does indeed look much easier. Could I really learn to knit, at this advanced age and after so many years of accepting that there are certain things (like paragliding) that I will never get to do? Why not? My daughter patiently showed me, guiding my clumsy attempts, so when I left I had two brightly coloured knitting needles and a ball of raspberry-coloured yarn in my bag, and instructions in my head.

I haven’t counted the hours I have struggled this week, nor the number of times I have undone my work and started again (oh yes, I did remember how to cast on!). I started with 20 stitches and after several rows, I had 29 on my needle and something lacy and lumpy that looked exactly like the “squares” I had produced when I was six. I tried to unravel it, but it turned out to be more knotting than knitting so I left it.

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Today I cast on 20 stitches and tried again. In the back of my head I could hear the voices of my teacher and my mother reciting “in, over, under, out” but that was unhelpful. In continental knitting, where according to my daughter you “pick” the yarn instead of “throwing” it, the yarn doesn’t go over and it’s just “in, under, out”.

At least this time I had the yarn properly wrapped around my index finger, under control, and the tension was steady. Suddenly, at about the sixth row, I realised that it was working. I was knitting slowly but smoothly, and it was coming out in regular rows! Okay, so by the ninth row I again had 30 stitches on my needle instead of 20, but I’ll surely figure that out and – watch this space! My square will actually be a square!

Next time: I’ll be learning to purl! Seems you can teach old dogs new tricks after all!

 

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

My attention has been drawn to the need to update my profile picture. Hair today, gone tomorrow – or rather, yesterday’s hair has gone today. In fact, it’s been gone a few months now.

No, it wasn’t a symbolic or meaningful gesture, and I wasn’t emotionally affected by the loss of my locks.  It was a purely practical measure. When I first began caring for my mother in 2011, I was very reluctant to leave her alone for the couple of hours it would have taken me to visit a hairdresser regularly, fearing that she might hurt herself somehow, maybe by falling as actually did happen once while I was out briefly. After a couple of months when my hair reached shoulder length there was no need to go to a hairdresser, as I could put it up, plait it or tie it in a ponytail with no fuss and it looked neat and tidy.

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However, last February I was thinking about my upcoming holiday in Florida in April and May and it struck me that I would be going swimming every day, whether in a pool or in the sea, where waist-long hair would be a darn nuisance. So as I was in England I called Kelly, who used to come to the house and do my mother’s hair, and asked her to chop it off for me.

She gave me a nice simple bob that needed no styling or fuss, and I sent my plait off to become part of someone’s new wig – preferably an alopecia sufferer.

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This new hairdo was unaffected by my daily sojourns in the sea and pool during my vacation and elicited many compliments. The downside is that I now have to fit in regular trips to the hairdresser to keep myself from looking like a Yorkshire terrier, as my hair does grow very fast.

Back in Switzerland again I needed new pass photos, so here’s my new look and my profile is now conveniently updated.

 

Move Over, R2-D2!

“Aha,” I thought, as I turned the corner of the house and spotted a dark grey entity lurking in the corner of the lawn. “The robot lawnmower has arrived.” But why wasn’t it moving? My neighbour informed me that it had run up against the wall and exhausted all its energy in trying to escape, so now its battery was flat. We pay a man to do our garden, so like my neighbours, I waited for him to come by and pop the little mower into its docking station.

Two days later, it was still stuck in the same place and in the meantime I had read through all my post and discovered that my neighbours and I had forked out four thousand Swiss franks for the thing, described as an “Auto Mover” on the receipt (obviously not written by an English speaker – it certainly didn’t appear to be a mover, though maybe it would turn out to be a mower eventually). At that price, it ought to work – not only cutting the grass but bringing me a cup of tea and some biscuits when I sit outside, or even a G&T at Happy Hour.

I picked it up and carried it to its kennel, shoved its nose in as far as it would go, and left it. According to my friend who also has one of these little helpers, it should take about 45 minutes to charge its battery. That was on Friday evening.

On Saturday, there was no sign of life from it. It remained dormant throughout the entire day and night, and comatose on Sunday. I decided to wait and phone the gardener on Monday morning, and worried that maybe I had docked it incorrectly. My neighbours, its co-owners, would not be happy if I had done something that invalidated the guarantee right at the start of its career with us.

Come Monday, I decided to have my breakfast first, before doing anything requiring any effort. As I sat outside sipping my coffee, I suddenly heard an unfamiliar but not unpleasant buzzing and rumbling: and there was the Auto Mover steadily approaching, munching at the grass as it came.  It paused next to my table.IMG_1135.JPG“Hello! “ I exclaimed with a smile, “So you are working after all!” and then I realised that if anyone was within earshot, they would be wondering why I was addressing this inanimate object in such a friendly manner. Did I say inanimate object? No, that’s really not true. There is something about robots that is very lifelike, and this one certainly seemed on a par with a little dog, or at the very least a Henry vacuum cleaner. I had a wild desire to paint a little face onto it. It really does need some eyes to see its way around.

I must have sat watching it for a good ten minutes, fascinated, trying to figure out how it knows where to go. A straight line, then a sudden turn to the right, straight ahead again, then a diagonal that brings it up against the hedge where it turns on its heel and runs along parallel to the hedge for a while, then an about-turn and back in a different diagonal … It appeared to do a little dance at one point, pirouetting on the path before taking off onto the grass border on the opposite side of the paving.

But why had it taken so long to charge its battery? Then it dawned on me. Today was Monday. I had docked it on Friday. This is Switzerland, where weekends and especially Sundays are sacrosanct: unlike in uncivilised Anglo-Saxon countries, you do NOT wash your car or work in your garden at the weekend. So our little mower, in good law-abiding Swiss fashion, has been programmed to observe both the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath!

Inanimate object? No way! It runs around indefatigably even in the rain, a busy little herbivore, and every time it passes my French window I greet it warmly. And if it gets stuck again, I shall rescue it and speak words of comfort into its little plastic ears.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside …

Where has the time gone? My six weeks in Paradise flew by far too fast, but I do have an impressive suntan to show for it, and having had so much exercise, I am looking and feeling fitter than I have done for a very long time. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve all these blessings, but am extremely grateful.  Especially for these wheels and the swimming pool. (Note the fancy pants!)

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The swimming pool seems to have been an insider tip, frequented by very few – in fact mostly the same little clique of around half a dozen regulars. We became very pally, and something of a mini support group for one another. The subversive submergibles!

On occasion, we were joined by some of the local birds – crows, doves and egrets – who not only bathed with us but also drank from the pool, obviously having developed a taste for chlorine. I managed to snap this little chap one afternoon, who was not at all fazed by the humans polluting his drinking water.

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Riding the tricycle afforded the chance to see plenty of wildlife that I wouldn’t have encountered had I been in a car, starting with this turtle trundling merrily across the road to join the alligators in the artificial lake.

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Walks along the shore brought beautiful shells and a gorgeous (dead) blue crab that had been colonised, presumably while still alive. An hour or two later, the colours had almost entirely disappeared.

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No dolphins this time, but plenty of pelicans, swimming, flying, waddling, and obviously thriving, and those cute little sandpipers racing along like clockwork toys.

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Some spectacular sunsets, of course, often enjoyed with a gin and tonic on the lanai. Lotos eaters indeed!

And now I’m back home in Switzerland, with a handful of photos and a suitcaseful of bargains from the thrift shop to remind me of a very enjoyable holiday. Another kind of Paradise, and a very different life to settle into.

Serendipity Strikes Again!

IMG_0990.JPGThe Sunshine State is living up to its name. Well, yes, we did have a downpour on Saturday night and there have been one or two short showers since, but that was very welcome rain. Now we are sweltering again, and grateful for the breezes that sway the palm trees and make air-conditioning unnecessary in this house.

My flight here was uneventful, but on arrival I found my luggage had been left behind somewhere. I came from snowy Switzerland wearing jeans and a cotton sweater, but those were too warm to wear here in Florida. My practical friend whose holiday home I’m sharing goes everywhere by bike on the island, and so has no car. She called an angel in disguise who came over early the day after I got here and drove us to an upmarket thrift store, where everything was being sold at half price.

I acquired a complete new wardrobe – shirts, shorts, tops, a tankini and underwear – for only $26! My friend takes the same size in shoes as I do, so I was able to borrow sandals and crocs from her. By the time my suitcase did arrive, two days after me, I had been to this special boutique several times and could almost have managed without anything I had packed. Guardian angels working overtime!

Stupidly, I had packed my medication in my suitcase, something I hardly ever do, but mercifully I had a prescription on my laptop that my GP had sent me. Alas, American pharmacies refuse to fill prescriptions from foreign physicians but then it turned out that another friend of my hostess is on the same dose of thyroxin as I am, so even if my luggage had been completely lost, I would have been able to borrow from her.  As it was, I only missed one day.

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My energy levels were boosted by all this excitement and I realised that if I’m to get out of the house at all, I need to learn to ride the tricycle that my kind friend has bought for my use here. Why not a bike? Because she knows that I am a public danger on the roads on a bike, so thought a trike would be better for me.

I was sceptical, and it did take a bit of practice, as you need different skills to ride a trike, but once the saddle had been adjusted to a comfortable position for me, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is. I did a 10km ride the next day, and have been happily pedalling around ever since.

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My little chariot has a basket on the back, so I can transport groceries etc. as well as the stuff I need on the beach. And though it would probably take me half an hour to walk to the beach, on my tricycle it’s only about 10 minutes. Of course, the island is flat which also makes it easier. I don’t know how I would cope in more undulating country, but there are beautiful bike paths alongside the busier roads, and so little traffic on the side roads that I feel quite safe. trundling along there.

Where we live is near the 19th hole of the golf course, where there is a convenient swimming pool – my friend is an associate member, which allows her to take me along too. The landscaping is very pretty, and a haven for wild life. We were woken this morning by an alligator in rut, dancing around in the little lake and bellowing his serenade to any female within twenty miles.

In contrast, I have also seen a dainty  little rabbit mama with her baby grazing at the water’s edge, and an osprey flailing its wings in a kind of breast-stroke as it swam through the water. First impression: that bird is in trouble and about to drown. When he came ashore, we saw he had a trophy fish too big to transport any other way. He certainly couldn’t have flown with it. A pelican that settled himself down in roughly the same spot a day or two later was driven away from this particular territory by two large crows dive-bombing him persistently. And we have a steady sequence of herons, ibis, egrets and many other natives to observe.

IMG_0951.JPGI’ve also had the pleasure of attending a Blue Grass concert, and a dog’s birthday party – the latter is one of those “only in America!” events, where the guest dogs appeared in fancy dress.

It certainly looks as if I’ve joined the Lotos-Eaters!

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 …

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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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