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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