Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, December 24, 2012

reflections on a small child...

Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, is that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved. -Augusta E. Rundel

As we, tonight, remember the birth of a child, I am also reflecting on some of my favourite memories of other small children dear to me…along with a good quote or two:

I would actually be mostly content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. -Anna Quindlen

Layne would often come running over to me and jump on my lap so that she was facing me.  She would then, almost always, pull down the front of my shirt to below my neck and say “Where is your muskrat?” “Layne,” I would say, “it’s called a mole, not a muskrat.”

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” 
 Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

I asked Simone what she wants to be when she grows up and she said, “a fairy”.  She went on to say, “My mom said that I can be anything I want as long as I go to school to learn it, so I will go to fairy school and become a fairy.”  I said, “aren’t fairies really small?  Are you going to become really small when you grow up?”  She wrinkled her forehead and thought about it for a little bit and said, “yeah, I’m not quite sure how that works yet.”

Three wise women would have asked directions
Arrived on time and helped deliver the Baby
Cleaned the stable
Made a casserole
Brought practical gifts
And there would be peace on earth…-unknown

Jade ran to the phone as it was ringing, before her mom could reach it.  Her mom listened as Jade, after a few moments, said to the person on the other end, “no thanks, my mom can do that” and hung up.  Her mom said to her, “Jade, who was that?” and she replied, “it was just someone asking if we needed our carpets cleaned.”

Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the beasts and kings adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come O blessed one, with healing in your wings. -Frederck Beuchner (adapted)

Simone was walking outside with her Oma, after it had been raining.  They saw a beautiful rainbow and counted the colours.  A few minutes later, they heard a siren in the distance.  Oma said, “I wonder what happened.”  Simone said, “I know what happened.  A child went sliding down the rainbow and landed too hard and broke his arm. I’m sure that’s what happened.”

“Accept the children the way we accept trees—with gratitude, because they are a blessing—but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.”  Isabel Allende

The swan had followed Ella and her dad up the path to our front doorstep, where it proceeded to get a bit ornery.  It wanted more bread.  We gave him (or is it a her?) an old doughnut.  I’m not sure if that’s a healthy option for a bird – I’m guessing probably not.  But this swan was, as Ella’s dad put it, ‘agro’- aggressive.  As we weren’t feeding it quickly enough, it began to bite Ella’s dad’s pants and shoes, banging its head against his leg, while Ella on the inside of the door, screamed at it “papa nicht beissen, papa nicht beissen! (don’t bite dad, don’t bite dad!)”

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”  Rainer Maria Rilke

Their dad was tucking six-year-old Lyn and her little brother, Angus, into bed, as Lyn said to him that her husband was sleeping downstairs.  He looked at her and said, “pardon?”  She explained that Jack and Amelie, Angus’s wife (not their real names), were sleeping downstairs together.  Their dad asked “why are your husband and his wife sleeping downstairs together?” “Because they’re also brother and sister.”

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough…-Harry Van Dyke

A few days after little Cole was born, it was becoming clear that he wasn’t getting enough food.  He was losing weight and the doctor said if he didn’t begin gaining weight she would put him in the hospital.  My brother had to go back to work and so I (and her mom and sister, taking shifts) helped my sister-in-law feed the baby every three hours, until he was milk drunk.  That’s what the doctor ordered; the baby needed to get milk-drunk, and that is exactly what he looked like after we had stuffed him full of milk…drunk, like a cute little baby all hammered on milk.

"May the forgiving spirit of Him to whom we dedicate this season prevail
again on earth.
May hunger disappear and terrorists cease their senseless acts.
May people live in freedom, worshiping as they see fit, loving others.
May the sanctity of the home be ever preserved.
May peace, everlasting peace, reign supreme."    -unknown
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Friday, December 14, 2012

napoleon's gift

In Germany you need a license for pretty much everything; even though you can openly drink and be naked everywhere without any problem.  In order to fish you need a license for each river; to drive a boat on a river you need a license; to drive a boat in an ocean you need a different license; to rent a boat from a harbour you need yet another license; and, to use the water radio system you need a funk license…that’s my favourite one, a license to funk.

So a few weeks ago, great guy and I spent the weekend at a country estate in the neighbouring province of Saarland, close to the French and Luxembourg border.  He was taking part in a two day theory course for his ocean boating license, at a nearby sailing school…and I was just relaxing. 

The land gasthof where we stayed, once belonged to Napoleon.  Well, I guess lots of things once belonged to him.  Anyways, this particular estate he gifted to one of his top officers; his calvary colonel Louis Charles Narcisse Lapointe, for exceptional service.  Louis built up the estate beyond the existing buildings, to include massive stables, employee wings, a beautiful stone chapel up on the hillside; overlooking the main buildings, the pond and the surrounding forest.


He took each stone from his existing Parisian estate and erected the master house, stone for stone, on this property.  The feeling here was one of enchantment, possibly due to the mist hanging low each morning.  The air felt mysterious; like any moment Napoleon himself might come riding over the hill.



So, while great guy was learning ocean navigation, I was whiling my days away; wonderfully exploring the surrounding areas, including the oldest monastery in Germany, Abtei Tholley; hiking to the mouth of the Nahe river (the same river flowing past our house into the Rhein) where water bubbled out of the ground onto a stone marker; taking photos of misty moor-like landscapes; catching up on some reading; and even doing a little jogging.  I mean, how often will I get the chance to go running in Napoleon’s footsteps...and since they’re just tiny footsteps it wasn’t as exhausting.

On Saturday evening, after we had a sauna-goodtime, we took a walk out into the dark, foresty night.  We had heard of an old mill on the other side of the forest; now a great, little restaurant.  The lights of our estate waved us goodbye, as the wavering lights of the mill trickled through the trees coming ever closer as we walked.  Inside of the mill, the atmosphere was bustling and full of locals; it was quaint and smelling of hearty good food.  Unfortunately, there was absolutely no room at the inn.  All of the long, wooden tables were full and the apologetic owner (in Germany, the owner is almost always present and very often also the host) had to turn us away.  So we foraged for food elsewhere.

In the morning, while loading up on the complimentary breakfast (great guy always needs to make the most of the hotel fee), he discovered a new fruit – it looked like a mixture between a plum and a fig (I know now that it’s a maracuja), but inside it looked like a green pomegranate.  He said “this tastes just like New Zealand.” I’m like, “how do you know what New Zealand tastes like”.  He said, “because it tastes just like this.” I guess you had to be there, but I found it so funny.  Sometimes, I love it when this beautiful man, acts just like a little boy.

In one hour I’m off to Dusseldorf, another great city sitting right on the Rhein.  Ms. Potter invited me to hang out with her and her sisters for a couple of days of rock-concerting, Christmas-marketing, and even a bit of crazy dancing.  Great guy will be nestled up in our house, hitting the books, preparing for his ocean boat test on Sunday.  Wish him luck, then we can hit the seas!  I would love to float in the footsteps of yet another conqueror…a certain Spaniard who had a wonderful way with boat names.  Ahoy.

P.S. In honour of three very important people (to me) who are celebrating birthdays right now:

“I wish you Christmas, a merry Christmas,
A merry Christmas to remember all the year.
Old friends smiling, thinking of times gone by;
Young friends laughing:
Christmas is here,
Spirits are bright, and hopes are high.
I wish you loved ones around your fire;
May Christmas bring you all your heart’s desire.”
                                                     -John Rutter
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Sunday, December 9, 2012

ms. potter and peter rabbit move in


It’s 5:30 am and I awake to the familiar tune of my alarm clock.  What the?  Oh ja, right.  I get up quickly and quietly, throw on my yoga pants and a sweater over my nightie.  I slip on my shoes, run upstairs, grab the goodies and gently open the door.  It’s so quiet.  And so cold.

The air is fresh and beautiful.  It’s dark, with just the warm glow of the cathedral and castle lights; two giants looming large and comforting on the other side of the river, keeping watch over the creeping.

That’s what it feels like.  I’m creeping.  It’s so much fun.  I creep…well, more like scamper across the soft, frosty ground to the big haus.  There’s the first door.  I gently place the goody bag full of chocolate, nuts and oranges; propping it against the door.  I don’t really want it to get trampled when ms. potter or peter rabbit leave in the morning; but I don’t want it to be ignored either.

Then, off around the side of the haus I scamper.  Over the uneven stones of the walkway…man, it’s so quiet.  All of a sudden a train zooms right past me…okay, so not everyone is sleeping.  I wonder what the train dude must be thinking as he sees me creeping about.

I come to the big door, and try unsuccessfully to open it without making any noise.  This house, we just learned, was built in 1859…it’s like an old, creaking grandfather who is still very fit in the mind; but with a few operations (a new hip, a couple of new knees, maybe a new organ or two; but with the original heart) is functional and steady…and beautiful.

If you think the door is creaky, try walking up the ancient, wooden stairs without making any noise.  Impossible.  But, everyone is sleeping and so up I creep…as softly as I can.   The staircase is steep and it winds around, as I make it to the second door.  These inside doors are complete glass and I’m expecting just darkness inside the flat.  All of a sudden a light goes on.  I freeze, as julchen walks right past me.  She’s seriously two feet away from me, and I think if I make a movement I will scare the daylights out of her.  So, I just stand there, motionless and wait.  It’s not as if she’s expecting nikolaus to appear on her doorstep.

Then, I place the goody bag in front of her’s and rock ‘n roller’s door and continue on my creeping way.  Up the stairs again, this time trying to be even quieter since I know not all are sleeping, and deliver the last treats.  And then back down again and out the door, scampering and happy beside the river; home I go.  The only movement is a swan, gliding right along the shore.  He/she turns to look at me.  Pure white in the darkness.  So pretty.  I say hi.

My creeping nikolaus duty is over.  So much fun.  I decided that all in the haus had been good so far this year.   And on Christmas Eve the Christ child will come.  I guess nikolaus and the kid tag-team the gift-giving here in Germany.  Cool.

Ms. potter and peter rabbit moved into the ground-floor flat a month ago.  Great guy finished it on their moving-in day and, to say the least, we are so happy that the project is finished and that the new tenants have made it a home.  After receiving the customary loaf of bread and a pinch of salt to welcome them into their new home (a blessing for fertility which in actual fact they don’t need) they set about hanging curtains, putting up giant photographs of peter’s, and setting up funky, white furniture to compliment the dark, eucalyptus floor.  On the first morning ms. potter texted me saying that they’re lying in bed, taking in the view of the castle across the river, through their bedroom window…. loving it.

Great guy is also loving the view at night of windows on each floor of his haus lit up.  For years and years he came home to a dark, empty haus and now there is life and family on each floor.

And, I’m loving the traditions of Germany.  I grew up with some of them from my parents; such as celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve or opening up a chocolate calendar door each morning during the days of advent.   But, discovering other traditions and learning about them and then enacting them; making them our own is so much fun.  Great guy just looks at me like I’m crazy most of the time, but that’s okay.  He got a nikolaus treat too (a flying santa sleigh which zooms around our kitchen) making him as happy as a little boy.  Too cute.

The snow is now falling here, and it has inspired me.  Finally snow.  Finally inspiration.

“I wish you starlight on fields of snow,
The winter’s morning light and evening’s glow;
I wish you candles that shine from ev’ry tree
So all the world can see
The light that there could be.
I wish you music, I wish you song,
With voices echoing, joyous and strong;
I wish you church bells, ringing true and clear;
I wish you Christmas.” -John Rutter
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Saturday, November 17, 2012

black beauty and the boy


Do you know if black beauty was male or female?  I have no idea, but the black beauty that I know and who I hung out with while I was at home a month ago, is very much a massive, beautiful, manly horse.  I have mentioned him, and the sweet boy I was with, in my writing before.  I am a bit obsessed with the two.  My camera will happily tell you of the 2000 or more photos I have subjected it to on these subjects.  Both black beauty and the boy act like little kids and are the cutest things I have seen in a long time. 

Black beauty, or ‘Merlin’ as everyone else calls him, has a wild, black mane which hangs, tangled with a hint of dreadlock, down over his black eyes.  He is a giant; but mostly all he wants to do is eat and cuddle.  If it were physically possible he would curl up onto your lap and nuzzle his nose under your arm, looking up at you with his gentle, sweet eyes and he’d be happy.

The boy calls him “merwin” and, along with making clickety-clack noises (which he learned from his pa) he repeats the name over and over and over and over.  Until you show him a picture of a horse.  Really, all day long he will make the horse galloping noises…insanely cute until you want him to stop.

On the Saturday before I flew back to Germany, my brother and jai put the boy onto one of their horses for the first time.  We were all gathered at my dad’s for his birthday, in the beautiful, rolling foothills of the Rockies and there sat the boy on a real live horse, with the biggest grin on his face.  Stepmum led cal (merlin’s smaller buddy), while my bro held onto the boy, and they walked around and around and around.  Cal could not hide his boredom, and was not quite as taken with the event as all the adults gathered around snapping photos.

Someday, I can imagine my bro and the boy, out for a ride together through the fields and bushes; maybe on merwin, maybe not.  But, some black beauty I’m sure it will be.  The boy has some horsey love in his blood that’s for sure…like pa, like son. I hope he never stops making those horsey noises, but I guess it won’t make him the most popular kid when he hits school. I, for one, could only handle hearing him making those sounds, oh I think, every single day. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

Here, a quote I hope to live by (with God’s grace)…or at least try to:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

P.S. I sure will miss the fact that Danielle won’t be responding to this quote…which, if she were still alive, she would’ve done.  I miss you girl.  Danielle Oberle (1967-2012)



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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dear Danielle,


Dear Danielle,

one of the best decisions I’ve made is to come back home to visit you. 

That first morning, as I walked out of the hospice doors, into the bright, fall sunshine, I said “Thank you God”.  Those almost 2 hours, spent laughing, talking and crying with you were worth more than anything.  I was so glad that I had come. 

The time spent sitting by your bed; your voice and spirit as strong as ever…unchanging and wonderful, with your big-ass painting that you just bought staring at us, I loved hearing more about your life and your experiences.  So many excellent adventures…living in a London hostel for a year while working in a cool pub; moving to Montreal to brush up your French skills; training and travelling to run in half marathons or were they full? And, taking advantage of new career opportunities to challenge yourself and to learn.  You inspire me to keep doing and trying new things.  Stretch, learn, try.   Why not? 

Two years ago we were both standing before new, exciting adventures.  You were ready to move to Asia and I to Germany…well, maybe ‘ready’ is a stretch.  We talked a lot about our fears, our excitement, our worries; we supported and encouraged each other and then…then you received the shocking news.  I went, you had to stay.

And now, since your email in August, telling me the docs think you have little time left, I have been consumed with thoughts of you.  How does one process that kind of information?  I have been going over and over in my mind the thought:  Why do we wait until someone’s funeral to talk about why they are special to us? What they mean to us? And, how they are touching our lives?  I think there should be a global revolution to change this.  I really do. 

You are a treasured friend to me and, I know, to many others.  Your strength and fight and fearlessness in doing has inspired me since we met over ten years ago.  You don’t hold back; you say what you think and you work hard; whether in your job, in your treatment, in your play or in your house renos.  You keep going and doing and you get things done.  Of course, you create some shit along the way, with your no-holding-back ‘tude.  But, that’s who you are and the fact that you apologize when you need to and not when you don’t need to…I think that’s strength and perseverance and being true to yourself.  I honestly wish I was more like that.

We have always connected over coffee or drinks…bonding over the crazies who we used to work with and the crazies who we call family.  Especially our mothers.  For a while there I was convinced we had the same one, until mine died.  Then it was obvious that they were not the same woman.  I remember so many great, long talks.  Thank you for those, and for these latest ones.

Moments from a visit:

Laughing with you about your new, blinged out style…your new Michael Kors watch, iphone 5, Coach bag and how fab you feel walking down the hall with your new, fun things.  Love it.

Telling me how you are basically forcing your family to deal with all the issues that have plagued you all for 25 years; not pulling any punches, having no patience, but making sure that your fam members heal and become better people.  You care.  You’re strong.

Talking about the great things at this time; how blessed you feel for…excellent sister time which you three have never had before this summer; your brother coming and hanging out, taking care of you; and your treasured, strong friends who are doing all for you.

I love talking with you.  And your emails of support which you regularly sent, since I moved from Calgary five years ago; whenever you thought I sounded lonely or sad or frustrated helped me to think more positively and to try harder.

Thank you for being a steadfast and true friend to me, girl.  I appreciate you very much in my life and I wish so much that you could stay longer.

I love you,
Nina
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Monday, August 20, 2012

chasing nuns

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been having uncontrollable urges to be around a nun.  Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t want to be a nun, but just close enough to soak up some of their peacefulness…I’m thinking that it must work like osmosis.

I have received difficult news…which sounds so banal to even write.  I’m only hearing it, I’m not living it.  And, the last thing I want to do is to make this about me.  I want to be positive, as positive and full-of-life as my dear friend, the newsgiver.  My beautiful friend is a beautiful friend to me and to countless others and has impacted my life positively, with energy and wit, sarcasm and support. And, I want to feel like there is a purpose to all of our lives.  What is it?  Is it to impact the people around us positively; to focus on something beyond ourselves; or is it to plan for a life beyond?  That all sounds good, doesn’t it?  But, some people seem to embody all of this and seem to be confident and sure and peaceful.  Nuns.

So, I went running; running to where I know nuns hang out.  I ran and ran, trying to clear my head and trying to find a nun.  Through the forest, past stables with sweet-smelling creatures, down a narrow, gravel lane, along a field with four milk cows, past a chicken coup…and there was a nun!  She was doing chores, feeding the chickens.  I almost fell over as I screeched to a halt (okay, honestly, I wasn’t running quite that fast).  I stopped and stood there.  She had her back to me.  Then I thought, “what am I doing?”  I couldn’t think of a single thing that I could say to her, especially in German.  What was I going to say, “Hi, I just wanted to stand close to you for a moment, is that okay?” Doubtful. 

Few of us know exactly how much time we have here…and I think most of us waste it.  Don’t we?  We complain and fight and mope around thinking our world is crummy; wishing we had more or less or someone else.  We don’t see or feel or enjoy all that we do have. Do we?  We need to.  I need to.  Why do waste breath and energy on hurtful, critical or impatient words? What is the point of that?

A few days later, disappointed by my lack of nun-talking courage, I headed to Bretzenheim (which funnily enough, translated actually means ‘Pretzel town’…they even have a pretzel on their town logo).  It is a beautiful little wine town, nestled alongside the river.  There are vines, heavy with grapes, hanging across the small, cobbled streets.  And there is a hundred-years-old incredible, dilapidated villa unassumingly beached at the back of town, where…not a nun…but a Graf lives.  The Graf von Plettenburg.  This house is like out of a fairytale.  High, rusted, wrought-iron gates; wide, magnificent pillars laden with moss and vines; huge windows, dark and a little bit spooky.  As I stood there, peering between the iron bars, enthralled by the imagined stories of this place, a white-haired, creaky old man, slowly walked across the rundown garden and behind the house. The Graf von Plettenburg.

I didn’t talk to him either.  But, I think that I will start to ask a few more questions, to love a little bit more, to be kinder and more patient, and to try and figure out this rollercoaster ride we call ‘life’.  I’m challenging myself not to waste any more time.  And, I might even talk to a nun.

So, starting my new quest, I’m off to do yoga…I’m going to get positive and peaceful and calm…even if it kills me.  And I will continue to pray and pray and pray for my beautiful friend.  Namaste.

“If you get the idea that this is the moment you have-the only moment you have-then you live in the present and you move with the flow because this is the point, right now. “ – Deepak Chopra

“What I know for sure:  No matter where you are on your journey, that’s exactly where you need to be.  The next road is always ahead. “– Oprah

And, one that I can’t stop thinking about,

"It is not what we say or feel that makes us what we are, it is what we do...or fail to do." - Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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Monday, August 6, 2012

...and the recipes


Here, a few of the new recipes I tried out for the party:

Aioli - a great, garlic-y, bread dip, which is how it’s served in almost every restaurant in Spain, but also great alongside fish or veggies.

·         4 cloves garlic, minced
·         2 egg yolks
·         1 cup extra virgin olive oil
·         2 teaspoons lemon juice
·         salt to taste
·         ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
In a medium bowl, beat eggs well with a wire whisk. Stir in garlic. Gradually add oil in a thin stream, beating constantly until light and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon juice. Refrigerate.

Zwetschgendatschi (Plum Streusel Kuchen/Cake) – I love this, and it’s surprisingly easy!  It's great for a bunch of people, and like pizza it tastes great the day after.

·         1 kg plums, washed and sliced in halves
·         250 g + 150 g butter
·         150 g + 150 g sugar
·         1 pkg. vanilla sugar (probably equiv. 1 tsp. vanilla)
·         Pinch of salt
·         5 eggs
·         400g + 200 g flour
·         1 pkg. baking powder (equiv. to 5 leveled tsps)
·         5-7 T milk

Directions:
Mix 250 g butter, 150 g sugar, vanilla and salt until creamy.  Individually add each egg and stir.  Mix in 400g flour and baking powder and add milk as you stir.  Spread dough onto a greased cookie sheet or baking pan (35x40cm).  The place plums, closely together onto the dough, in rows, covering the dough.
For the streusel, mix 200 g flour, 150 g sugar and 150 g butter first with mixer and then with your hands until the dough is crumbly.  Spread streusel evenly over the plums.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 175 C (350 F) for 40 minutes.  Stand to cool.  Serve with whip cream if desired.

Basil Pesto Toasts – these little baguette toasts are so tasty even with nothing on them!  And the pesto topping is also great with baked potatos or as a dip.

·         Baguette
·         Olive oil
·         2/3 c. mayo
·         ½  c. basil pesto
·         2 garlic cloves, minced
·         Salt to taste
·         ½ c. parmesan, shredded

Directions:
First, slice baguette in 1-inch slices, lay out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 200 C (400 F) until golden brown.  Turn once.
Mix the remainder of ingredients, except the parmesan, in a mixing bowl.  Spoon mixture onto each of the cooled toasts, top with parmesan.  Bake for 6-8 minutes and then broil quickly until the pesto bubbles.  Serve immediately.

Spinat Blätterteigtaschen (Spinach Pockets) – so yummy!

·         1 pkg. (6 sheets) phyllo pastry
·         500 g. chopped spinach
·         1 medium onion, diced
·         1 clove garlic, minced
·         2 T. olive oil
·         Pinch of salt
·         Pinch of pepper
·         150 g. feta cheese, cubed
·         Flour for rolling the dough
·         1 egg for dough glaze

Directions:
Add onion and garlic to heated olive oil and fry until glassy.  Add spinach, cover and let steam for 3-4 minutes.  Add salt and pepper.  Roll out each phyllo sheets onto a floured surface and fold in half.  Into the middle spoon spinach mixture and feta cheese.  Brush the edges of sheet with egg and fold the sheets from each side into the middle, pressing the edges together.  Brush the each pocket with egg and place onto baking sheet.  In a 400 C (400 F) pre-heated oven bake for approx. 15 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm.
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a new day

On Saturday night we partied.  It was a new day; a different day on which to celebrate great guy’s birthday...the first time he’s EVER had a party the day after.  It proved to be a success, as most friends could then make it.  The thirty odd revelers lounged, clustered and strolled about; making themselves comfortable on the various green spaces and terraces this odd property offers.  With the river flowing softly just metres away, and great guy’s music system streaming out George Michael to Dixie Chicks to Bob Marley to Adele, the atmosphere was groovy and chill (or as great guy kept saying, “chilly”…and after correcting him twice I stopped and just enjoyed the “chilly-ness” of it all). 

In the days leading up to Saturday, we spent countless hours clearing the river bank so that we could actually see the water; we mowed and mowed and mowed; we cleaned the now-outdoor, ancient, 1970’s yellow, GE refrigerator (it’s so big it deserves the full word) and stocked it with wine, beer, water, and apfelschorle…and I grocery shopped.

I really like to plan a party, if I have the time, and I just so happen to have a bit extra this month.  So, on the various wooden tables which we had set up, we laid out baskets of fresh-baked langen bretzen (big, salty pretzels) and baguette; plates of antipasti and French cheese; old, einweck (canning) glass jars filled with olives; and various dips, salads, kuchen and canapés.  We placed cutlery in antique, metal, measuring cups (which I’m sure great guy bought at the fleamarket a hundred years ago); plates were stacked in tall, white columns; and the glassware had their own table conveniently located beside the party fridge.  And, as party time came along, great guy fired up the grill and brated the heap of bratwurst (birthday boy’s choice) and guests began munching happily; snacking and mingling all over.     

The evening was softly breezy, but warm, especially because of the great friends who made their way down our path that evening; wanting to hang out and spend some time.  There were some friends who we haven’t seen for a few months like Gert and Dora; some like Max and Bärbel who we get to see often; and others who are new to us like the Kluck Clan (with their 4 über-sweet daughters…winning great guy over with their tiny, blonde charm).  And, many more wonderful people who make up great guy’s (and now mine) freundeskreis (friendship circle…man, that sound dorky in English).

Thanks for a wonderful party, friends; and thank you great guy for being born so many moons ago…it’s a great thing to celebrate.  To many, many more.

Some wise words which I have been thinking about recently…

Do not give up when you still have something to give. Nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying. It is a fragile thread that binds us to each other. Do not be afraid to encounter risks. It is by taking chances that we learn to be brave. (Pradeep Tripathi)

and

Marriage is not a noun, it's a verb. It isn't something you get, it's something you give. It's the way you love your partner every day. (Barbara de Angelis) ....To love and to be loved is to feel the sun from both sides. (David Viscott)
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

if only I were elizabeth bennet...


The town square is filled with over-sized, comfy black cushions; double wide, red and yellow striped hammocks lazily strung on sleek, wooden frames; large market umbrellas looming overhead; and shelves and shelves of books.  It’s Stadtlesen (city reads) this weekend in Ingelheim on the Rhein and I think it’s ultra cool.  Well, actually it’s ultra hot.  38 degrees hot.  But, since I love books and I love the idea of getting more people into reading (just got great guy hooked on the great Margaret Lawrence!), I’m here, swaying in one of the ultra comfortable hammocks, and I’m reading.  And doing a little people-watching.  

A hot couple is snuggled up, sharing a book;  a small boy is nestled into his mother, listening intently to the story she’s reading to him; a few individuals are browsing the shelves of new books available, at no-cost to peruse for the afternoon; and a group of twenty-somethings are lounging in a cushiony circle, one reading aloud first, then after some discussion the book is passed to the next, and the reading and discussion continues.  The whole thing feels public, maybe a bit bohemian, but with a Parisian, salon atmosphere to it.

It suits perfectly that I am reading a decadent new novel, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.  It’s a mysterious, almost campy, continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  The latter is one of my favourite stories, by one of my fave authors, and I wouldn’t have touched an attempted ‘sequel’ with a ten-foot pole except for the fact that it’s written by another excellent storyteller.  So, I’m giving it a go, and am already very impressed and intrigued.  The beloved characters, so familiar, are alive and well, dancing around in my head.  Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are a few years settled into their happy marriage and have two small children.  It is the eve of the annual ball at Pemberley; everyone we know is invited, and then there’s a murder (dun dun da).

I’m a fan of Elizabeth’s.  I think I would’ve liked her had I lived in 19th century England and had she not been a fictional character.  She is strong, yet feels deeply; she knows who she is and what she believes in; she is optimistic, positive, utmost loyal and stoic.  She is kind, confident and fragile, and absolutely unapologetic about where she comes from, nor where she is now.  She also just so happens to have fallen for exactly the kind of man who I would fall for….capable and generous; an incredibly loyal friend; strong-willed, yet a speaker of few words; clever and silly; confident and yet not really; sensitive and moody; and of course sexy as hell.  Come to think of it, I have fallen for such a man, once or twice...I think one happens to be at home right now. 

Elizabeth handles stress with a calm, pull-up-your-bootstraps attitude.  She receives worrisome news and gets to work bringing the house in order.  She adds logs to the fire so the room is warm and enveloping, and calls for tea and cake.  (Now why didn’t I think of that a few days ago when I received worrying news from back home?  I should’ve just eaten cake.)  She is unflappable, yet speaks her mind.  She is proud but treats others with respect and fairness, demanding the same in return.  She is so cool.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been devouring stories, movies and articles about strong, yet sensitive, positive women (Coco Chanel-brilliant and fascinating, Romy Schneider-beautiful and dark, Queen Elizabeth-just surprising, Ann Romney-totally unexpected and in no way is this a Romney endorsement!) and the power of positive-thinking and unwavering faith, to influence your life, your health and your relationships.

As I lie in the hammock reading under the blazing sun, I can picture Elizabeth reading too, out on the great lawn amid the rolling English countryside.  Perhaps she holds a white parasol in one hand and a book of poetry in the other.  Mr. Darcy comes striding purposefully to her side, plants a gentle kiss on her cheek and sits down next her.  She starts reading aloud to him as he listens contently.  And, as long as there are no more murders, I think they will live happily ever after.
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

thistles and lilies

On Thursday afternoon, I accepted an invitation to accompany an American woman as she checked items off of her wedding planning to-do list.  We met in Mainz, a city on the Rhein with an incredible Altstadt.  I love wandering through this historically, beautiful part of the city, with its cobbled lanes and tall houses.   The tiny businesses, each unique and interesting, which line the small gassen (streets) house florists, clothing boutiques, cafés, and…a chocolaterie. 

The Schokoladenhaus.  I had to go in.  The shop was maybe 10 square meters in total, but so elegant and quaint.  The shelves were filled with pralinen, truffels, and chocolate boxes of all sizes.  Behind the small, glass enclosed case filled with nougat confections with flavours such as; ginger, almond mousse, riesling, grappa and coconut, sat a white-haired lady who looked a little-bit like a done-up Betty White.  She warmly asked me questions about where I come from and what it’s like there, as I picked out a couple of treats for Erin and me.  And, on my way out, she sweetly wished me only good things for my time in Germany.  What a treat.

As I returned to the florist, who we had come across an hour before, I found Erin busily ordering her wedding blooms.  This narrow shop, lined inside with  rustic, wooden counters was filled with buckets of happy sunflowers, white roses the size of saucers, violet flowers looking freshly field-picked (which upon asking I found was oregano!), pots of mini, fire-red peppers, and terrific, bright orange carthamus thistles.  These, Erin picked for her Tiger lily to nestle amongst in her bridal bouquet.  Personally, I think thistles and lilies are the perfect metaphor for marriage…combining to make something beautiful, and yet a little dangerous.

And, as I later sat on the train on my way home, I couldn’t stop thinking about a new song I had heard just hours before.  A guy in my business English class started singing it as he regaled us with his weekend plans of hitting the Rhein in his new boat.  I laughed and asked him for the name of the song, as the chorus has just a hint of familiarity.  Here is a snippet…hmmm…could great guy be a Matrose?  I have no idea what that is, but I’m pretty sure this could be his theme song:

Das ist die Liebe der Matrosen!
Auf die Dauer, lieber Schatz,
ist mein Herz kein Ankerplaz.
Es blühn an allen Küsten Rosen,
und fur jede gibt es tausendfach Ersatz!
Liebe der Matrosen!

(sorry, English-speaking folks, it’ll sound too harsh if I translate it..and I’m only mostly kidding...but for you I have another favourite sea-song, just don't mind the language, Captain Jack Sparrow)

For my new, positive out-look on life, here is a beautiful quote from Ms. Stobbe which I might hang on my bathroom mirror.  Accept everything about yourself - I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end -- no apologies, no regrets. — Henry Kissinger

P.S. Happy, happy birthday to the mother of my perfect nephew!
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Friday, July 13, 2012

train stop

This morning, I got off the train at the second stop.  I had never been here before, but in my quest to experience something new each week, I decided to venture out and see a new town.  My first impressions, looking through the window as the train comes to a stop, lots of grafitti (not uncommon) and a completely deserted platform (uncommon).  I step down from the train, look around and see the train station to my left…all boarded up, dilapidated and immediately I fight the urge to turn around, start running and to fling myself back onto the train as it’s pulling away...like I've seen people in movies do a million times.  No luck, the train is gone, and I am here to stay, at least until the next one comes.  Ok, no problem, I'm sure this place isn't that bad.  Let's explore.  

I head out onto the street, past the once-upon-a-time train station and looking up and down I see just rows of dull, faded houses.  In search of a main street I start walking. I really need a coffee and something to eat.  The yogurt I ate about five hours ago, before my business English class in the city seems like a distant memory.   I walk and walk, turning corners, seeing more and more houses.  Man, where is a bakery when you desperately need one?  Normally, there are about 5 on each block, in every little German town.  But, not here.  I haven't even seen a person...I think only houses live here.  I see street names like 'Klosterstrasse' and 'Goethestrasse' and, forgetting my grumbling stomach, am filled with hope that getting off here wasn't a huge waste of time.  I walk and walk, but not a convent or statue or cathedral or park in sight.  Nothing.  Just houses.  I'm beginning to think that I should've at least told someone of my plan to get off here.  They probably would've said, “You’re going where? Budenheim?”

I keep walking.  There has got to be a post office or store or bank here somewhere. I turn another grey corner and across the street, in front of me, is a massive chemical plant.  Super.  Why isn't this in my guidebook?  If I actually had a guidebook, it would most likely say, 'do not stop in Budenheim, unless you unfortunately have to work at the big, fume-spewing chemical plant with thousands of other poor souls".  But, I will say that the grounds surrounding the plant are very clean and manicured...I am still in Germany of course.

Then I feel the first raindrop.  Thinking that I should find the umbrella which is somewhere in my giant bag, the heavens open up and it starts to pour.  I quickly struggle to open my cheap umbrella which I have learned to carry with me now that I live in Germany.  I don't even think I owned an umbrella when I lived in Canada.  I had a sleeping bag, a flashlight, a bottle of water and some granola bars in my car at all times, in case I got stuck in a snowstorm, but an umbrella?  We usually just waited five minutes and the weather would change…to snow.

(Writer's interruption:  a train just flew by the platform, going so fast my heart almost stopped.  I'm writing this, while sitting on a beaten-up, old bench on the station platform and apparently so few people want to get off here that it’s a rare train which makes the effort to stop.  So, I wait and I write.  Luckily, I have nowhere important to be at the moment.  Great guy and the romanian are working day and night on the baustelle, trying to get the last flat in the big haus finished by August.  I have the good fortune of seeing them only when I call them in for supper, which also happens to be when I feel most like Caroline Ingalls...especially if I happen to be wearing my apron and bonnet.)

After passing the chemical plant I see a small hill and decide to go high and get a lay of the land.  I stubbornly think that there must be something redeeming about this town and I'm hoping that from above I will finally see all the pretty, cultural things.  All of a sudden, the wind picks up and tries to rip the umbrella out of my hands.  The spokes flip up and as I struggle to get them back down I'm pelted with rain.  Now I'm drenched.  I think I'm close to giving up.  At the top of the hill, all I see is a distant church tower, the fuming chimneys of the plant, and houses.  I can't even see the Rhein from here, and I thought this was a river town.

Oh, thank the good lord, a train just stopped.  I'm getting on it and I don't even care where it's going.  This was 25 minutes of my life which I'm never getting back, but at least I did what I set out to do...see something new.  Why, again, did I want to do that?
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