New Year 2017

image4The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a time of reflection. We think back to what has been and what has happened during the last 365 days. What was good? What was bad? What did we achieve, if anything? Did we reach our goals or did we forget we even made a resolution at the beginning of the year? In most cases, we probably did forget or gave up. Why? Because life isn’t like that! You cannot rely on a blueprint, written in stone. You can’t wish for deviations and you can’t know about the things that might, or will, happen to throw you off course. Why did nobody ever think of selling us insurance for a good year? We try our best to make it so! More of us think of exercising more and eating less. Others have a bucket list with travel dreams and they vow to make at least one wish come true. Some even wish to be nicer to their parents, relatives, friends, or neighbours. This one only works if it comes from both sides – unless all is hunky-dory anyway – which, in most cases, is not so. Since I have listened to many people tell me their stories this topic has become quite disheartening for me.

However, we celebrate the beginning of a brand new year and hope for new beginnings. It’s like having a book with 365 empty pages. We intend to fill these pages with good stories and, before we know it, we write “The End” and look back on another year and wonder where the time has gone. I am reminded that life is like a toilet roll – it goes faster the close one comes to the end! So it goes, year after year.

I remember my teenage years when friends and I would peel an apple without breaking the peel. The peel had to be in one piece. We would close our eyes and throw the peel over our head. We looked for a letter in the way it fell. Rather like reading teacups that letter was the first initial of our future husband. The name of every boy we met meant a lot and we would always hope to find the one with that particular initial. Did it work out that way in my life? NO! If you dreamed you were dancing the waltz with someone, that someone would become your husband. When finally old enough to go to parties we would be dancing into the New Year. I usually went to the dance with a bunch of other girls and we all hoped for a good dance partner. If you didn’t like him you rushed to the bathroom shortly before midnight to avoid having to give him a kiss. Things were so different in my youth! There were lots of public balls and parties, now the celebration is mainly private.

When I was married and living in Canada I learned a new way of celebrating the New Year. It did not matter if you were at a dance in a club or at a basement party room in one of your friend’s houses. The midnight kissing was a big part of it. It wasn’t just your husband you kissed. Everybody kissed everybody and I hated it. It was so unhygienic and some men had so much saliva around their lips. Okay, go ahead and laugh, I don’t think I missed too much by avoiding it after the first year! I just couldn’t do it. I usually disappeared until it was over. I remember quite a few years when I shivered outside while looking for a falling star to make a wish. I wished to see a falling star and when it happened it was so fast that I forget to wish for something. Life can be so unfair!

image101I remember one New Year’s party in the exquisite Fort Gary Hotel in Winnipeg. I think it was the first time ever I was tipsy. I was coerced to drink too much champagne. I felt on top of the world in a wonderful ball gown and dancing every single dance. I was so happy, it must have been contagious because it seemed every man in the room wanted to have a dance with me. I didn’t feel tipsy at all, but when we went outside (it was -32° Celsius) and stood on the steep stairway waiting for a taxi, I had to hold onto my husband. I was terribly dizzy. I remember him laughing! He thought it was funny and found it even funnier during the night when I fought the effects of a horrible stomach flu! “Stomach flu?” He teased me and didn’t feel a bit compassionate – the miserable old bugger. I don’t like champagne anymore.

Waiting for the bubble to burst

Waiting for the bubble to burst

Another party, my best New Year’s party ever, was the Millennium Party of 2000! Friends, who are members of the prestigious Vancouver Club, had secured a table for twelve couples and we all had a whale of a time. I think we had to ‘endure’ a twelve-course dinner. The entertainment and the music were second to none and I tried to get as much dancing in as possible. I would rather dance than eat or drink champagne! When the band played a ‘Cha Cha Cha’ I was showing my partner the steps and in no time we were joined by eight or ten others who also wanted to learn this fun dance. The plan was to attend the next New Year’s Party in Vienna but it didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t in the ‘blueprint’ for 2001. That Millennium Party was the last real New Year’s party I attended.

image102The years have come and gone since that wonderful Millennium Party without making an impact or adding to unforgettable memories. Now, the New Year’s night is just another night and even trying to stay awake and watch the countdown in New York doesn’t always work. It’s part of aging. It must be. But the memories haven’t faded nor have the dreams of dancing into another New Year stopped.

Welcome and cheers to 2017!

Old-fashioned Christmas in Germany

The Christmas star

The Christmas star

Really? You want to know how Christmas was celebrated in the ‘good old days…’ in Germany? Let me go back about seventy-five years. And when I tell you how my family celebrated it, be assured it was the same way with all the families I knew. We lived in Pomerania and since Germany had many different parts or provinces it may have been a bit different in East Prussia, or Bavaria, or Holstein, or the Rhineland! Believe it or not, the people in Bavaria didn’t even think the northern Germans were Germans at all – and vice versa. The spoken dialect was (and still is) different and therefore the traditions with Christmas might also have been different. I wasn’t aware of it as a small child as my world was also small.

The exciting time started with an ‘Advents Kalender’ – a calendar with little windows for each day. Each window was marked with the date. We were allowed to open one window each morning and enjoyed looking at the picture behind the little window blind. It was hard not to open more windows to find the one gift we hoped to get at Christmas. You couldn’t open more windows because it was then damaged. On Santa’s list, it counted as being a ‘bad girl or boy’. We received this special calendar from one of our grandmas on the first Sunday of Advent.

Advent

Advent

The four Sundays before Christmas were special. Different Christmas cookies were baked each day and the house smelled wonderful. A few days before the First Advent, Grandma would take us to the forest. We would look for small pine branches to take home and make an ‘Advents Wreath’. The wreath was decorated with pine cones and four red candles, one for each Sunday before Christmas. The wreath would be hung with red ribbons over the main table or placed directly on the table. On the First Advent, only one candle would be lit, on the Second Advent, two, then three until, on the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles would be lit. By now, they were all a different length! Each Sunday we would sit around the warm tiled oven at dusk with our cats in our laps and listen to our grandma telling stories from her childhood or rekindling memories of our own Christmases past.

Shoe shineAnother part of the pre-Christmas time was St. Nicolas night celebrated with cleaning all our shoes, including Mom and Dad’s, on the evening of the 5th of December. St. Nicolas would come when we were sleeping, check the shoes and put some sweets into the shiniest pair. During the war we were told just to put one pair out to save St. Nicolas precious time. Most kids didn’t even have more than one pair of shoes anyway.

Christmas in the stores didn’t start before December. Christmas trees were sold just a week or so before Christmas. To look for and pick our perfect tree took some time. The tree was usually kept in a cold barn or shed. We children would never see it again until Christmas Eve. The parents (oh no, oops, I mean Santa!) would decorate it just the night before Christmas Eve. Even then, we still had to wait until late afternoon on Christmas Eve after the church service with the singing of the wonderful old songs, and the school children acting out the Nativity. The worst was that we also had to eat dinner with that, by now, knotted feeling in our stomach before we could even see our decorated Christmas tree. Dinner on Christmas Eve was always potato salad and wieners, or fried fish. Each family had their own special way of decorating their tree. Ours was always full of angel hair, tinsel, cookies with colorful sprinkles on them and twelve white candles. The tree was always placed on Dad’s desk. Our cousin’s tree also had tinsel but lots of colorful, different size shiny ornaments and different colour candles. No electrical lights – just real candles! They were lit with long matches and the parents always kept a close eye on the tree. There were times when Santa was too busy, so he had dropped off the gifts and they were all under the tree. Before we could touch anything we each had to sing a song or recite a poem we had learned for this occasion. It was so difficult for us children to finally arrive at the Christmas celebration.

Christmas Eve was the real Christmas for us and we could stay up past our bedtime. We would all sleep in on Christmas morning, even our dad. Poor Mother had to get up and look after the farm animals. She would also heat up the stove and the ovens to make sure it wasn’t so terribly cold when we got up. Pails full of water from the pump were kept in the kitchen and sometimes there were thin layers of ice on them. We were allowed to play with our new toys before we got dressed. We always received something for the body (socks or sweaters we needed anyway!) and something for the soul, toys or books.

On Christmas Day, we would either have relatives visiting for a noon dinner consisting of either carp with white parsley gravy or goose and red cabbage. If the relatives didn’t come to us, we would go to their house. Either the visitors or we would stay for coffee and cake, munch on home baked special Christmas cookies or crack nuts. Each child also received a “Bunter Teller” for Christmas. That was a colourful plate with cookies, candies, nuts, apples and oranges which we could eat without asking if we could.

My signature tree

My signature tree

Boxing Day was what we would now call “open house”. It was a day when friends and relatives just dropped in for afternoon coffee. Since all our Christmases were white, we children would be out with the sleighs to pull them up the mill hill to race down screaming “Bahn frei” – warning kids coming uphill to keep clear.

I don’t think kids nowadays would be happy with this kind of life. Do you blame me if I kept to some of the traditions during my adult life and am still dreaming of ‘my kind of a white Christmas?’.

 

A Brand New Life in Canada

My 'Max"

My ‘Max”

It was the 5th of October 1955. My father had helped me to make an irreversible decision. Without even saying ‘goodbye’ to my mother after our last meal I left what had been my home for the last ten of my twenty-one years. My heart was filled with anxiety but also sadness for all I was leaving behind – my parents, my sisters, my friends at my kayak club, my boat “Max” (the great love of my life), and my new sky-blue bike. All I took along was a very small suitcase containing one set of bedding sheets; a couple of towels and an evening gown a friend had just made for me. This was very unlikely luggage for someone escaping from a politically oppressive life into a totally unknown new one – and that was just from one Germany into another Germany. That ‘other’ Germany was known as “The Golden West”. Freedom! Chocolate and bananas and oranges and nice clothing were available if you worked hard and earned money. And I planned to do just that. I won’t even go into the “trials and tribulations” I had to endure. (Most of you read about them in my memoir anyway.) Those troubles finally drove me over the edge and I wanted to “escape” once again. This time, my luggage was a shipping container full of my accumulated goods of almost ten years, except for furniture and my beloved car. It all went across the ocean to another continent. The container later became part of a Volkswagen garage for a neighbour in Canada.

Every year, when the 14th of December comes around, I remember that day in 1963. I remember my feelings. I can see myself, see the way my hair was, the way I was dressed. I was floating in a vacuum. I couldn’t cry and I couldn’t laugh. I can still see my new in-laws and their faces as we said goodbye. Was it forever? I emigrated because of image1-002the little Canadian girl I had fallen in love with and right now she was tightly holding onto my hand. She was shaking. She was leaving her grandparents after a couple of months she had spent with them. I was taking her home to her daddy in Vancouver, Canada. I had married him after five months of lovely correspondence and hoped I would learn to love him after I had my heart set to be a mother to his little girl. She had picked my picture out of about three hundred replies to an ad he had placed in the German magazine “Constance”, and declared: “I want her to be my new mommy.”

image9

Language did not matter between us.

This year on December 14th it will be fifty-three years since I set foot on Canadian soil. I hardly spoke any English; the little girl became my first teacher. The YWCA in Vancouver offered language courses for newcomers; I booked and paid for several courses in a row. Did we receive help in any way from anybody? No. Immigrants were on their own. If you had a job, you might make about $50.00 a week. My husband had started with ‘White Spot’ in 1956 and had not even earned $20.00. When he ended up in the hospital needing a stomach operation, the doctor, who discharged him, had asked:

“What’s your address?” Since he didn’t have one, the doctor invited him to live in a cottage on his property. In payment, he did handyman’s work. But that is another story.

You worked hard, you did not care what the work was, and you just did what was needed to make ends meet. There was a time when I worked in an office, did bookkeeping at night and cleaned toilets on that business property on Sundays. Those were the tough years.  Now, fifty-three years since I first came to Canada and comfortable after a successful business life, I think back and try to figure out “What am I?” Am I still considered an immigrant (Which most Canadians are anyway unless they are indigenous) or am I really the Canadian woman I think I am? I have written four books in English, one of them is translated into three other languages.  I have now lived in Canada for two-thirds of my life. It’s a very long time, but looking back, the fifty-three years passed one another like sand running through my fingers. Life is like a toilet roll – it goes faster the closer you come to the end!

As I am writing the sequel to my memoir “We Don’t Talk About That”, more and more memories are flooding my head about my life in Canada, this enormous and beautiful country. One day, in about a year (?), you will be able to read about the new and different “trials and tribulations” I faced on this continent during those fifty-three years. While writing some of the chapters I can’t help but smile – while others give me writer’s block. Ce’st la vie!

How Hard Is It To Get Rid of Eggs?

anne-of-green-gablesLast night we watched “Anne of Green Gables” – the ‘must see’ delightful television movie, always shown around Christmas time. The scene of Marilla taking Anne (with an ‘e’!) into the chicken pen to collect the eggs, put a big grin on my face. Anne hesitated to touch the freshly laid but slightly dirty eggs with even little feathers on them. Why did this scene remind me of a recent visit with my friend Jane?

Let me tell you. We were traversing the ups and downs in a park along the ocean shore. Our conversation, the way it’s always among women, covered a lot of problems, from global warming to gardening, composting, and, from there, quite naturally to reducing our ecological footprint. Jane reminisced about her experiences while in Germany. She had been posted close to Baden Baden with the Canadian army.

“Giselle, believe it or not, it was 1971 and the Germans were sorting their garbage already then! I had been allowed to rent a small apartment in a house and did not have to stay in the barracks. The landlady showed me where to put my garbage in the basement, sorted by glass, metal, and paper. The rest I was to leave in the bag and just put it next to the container. For some reason, I had to ring her doorbell one day. I was shocked when I saw my garbage bags in her entrance hall. She was in the process of sorting through it. It had been the “time of the month” for me and you can’t imagine how embarrassed I felt for some of my garbage contents. She was quite nonchalant about it. She explained her brother had pigs and there is a lot of stuff in the garbage that can be added to their feed. A few days later she gave me a little package of pork meat…”

I told Jane of my upbringing on a small country farm. I can’t remember if we ever had any garbage that wasn’t used for something. My mother had a basket for shopping, small bags made out of old pillow cases for sugar, flour, salt with those names stitched onto them. Most of all the other food grew in our gardens or fields. We had a horse, a few cows, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens and my father had quite a number of pigeons. Jane continued her story, almost unbelievable for me, the country girl.

dirty-eggs“Oh my God, Giselle, I can’t believe I have to tell you this. With a proud gesture, my landlady handed me a brown bag with half a dozen eggs in it. This was quite a gift! When I looked at them in my kitchen, my stomach turned. There were little feathers on them and some spots of chicken sh#t. No way would I eat those eggs! How could I dispose of them? I didn’t even want to touch them. I couldn’t put them in my garbage because she would find them. The thought of washing them never even occurred to me. But never mind, I found a way. I jumped into my car and drove to a rest stop on the autobahn. The garbage cans were often quite full. I stopped next to one and put the bag with the eggs in it and drove away, relieved. It didn’t take long and there was a siren howling behind me. My goodness, ‘Polizei!’ I quickly checked my speedometer but I was well under the speed limit. I didn’t feel guilty at all and kept on driving. My thought was he surely must mean someone else…The police car sidled up to me and the officer waved me to the side to stop. When he approached me, he made a motion for me to roll my window down, which I obligingly did. He handed me the brown bag with my eggs and said sternly:

“Those garbage cans are for people resting and eating at the rest stop. The garbage cans are for them and not for people to drop off their garbage.”

Even now, with a lost expression, Jane said, “He didn’t give me a ticket when he realized I did not speak German. Apparently, he hadn’t even looked into the bag. For me, it was an embarrassing moment and terrible to have those eggs back. Now what? Then it came to me. I had to go to a meeting, held in a rather large hall. I took the eggs into the restroom there, cracked them over the toilet and flushed them down. I also crushed the egg shells and they followed the egg yolks. Aaah, problem solved.”

I looked at Jane and was wondering – but before I could even ask, she explained,

“Giselle, I was twenty-five years old. I was born and raised in a city and had never seen a chicken or knew or even thought about where the eggs we bought and ate came from…”

chickensWatching ‘Anne of Green Gables’, who was only eleven years old but apparently felt the same way my friend Jane felt, it occurred to me that there might still be lots of city folks who have no idea of what they eat or where it came from. But then – with the enlightening of the 20th and 21st century social media, television, picture books and Farmer’s Markets it’s hard to imagine that children only see the headless chicken carcass wrapped in clear plastic on the supermarket shelves. Seeing those it’s hard to imagine that they were once the creatures responsible for the existence of the eggs down the aisle, neatly and cleanly packaged in recyclable soft cardboard cartons.

Walls and Walls and more Walls?

 

Gate to Dionkelbuehl

Walls can surround you anywhere. You can build a wall around your heart. People build emotional walls around themselves. Your garden may have a wall for privacy. We had a wall built to shore up our garden against landslip. My favourite city of West Vancouver has a Seawall, the most wonderful place for walking or jogging. I have visited a great number of cities surrounded by walls, mostly built during the last two thousand years to keep out enemies or marauders. Surprisingly, many are still in good shape. And last but not least, I have lived and worked in the beautiful harbour city of newest part of wallStralsund at the Baltic Sea with a city wall which was rebuilt after heavy bombardments during WWII. Lest we forget! This wall is not for protection anymore – but primarily for its beauty, history, and tourism. (My guess!) Stralsund is now listed with UNESCO. You find other places with walls surrounding them along the Romantic Road and many other places in Germany. Some even have moats with drawbridges in front of the wall.

Some medieval cities have a small little door next to the big gate which was closed at dusk. A resident, coming home too late to enter through the big gate, had to make himself known to the gatekeeper. The gatekeeper usually lived in a small room above the gate. Giving the right name or password the small door would be opened. During a conversation about religion my old friend Fred had asked me:

“Giselle, do you know how a camel gets through the eye of a needle?”

Fred was a Sunday school teacher. When he asked me he was referring to the Bible, Matthew 19:24. I knew the term but I had no answer. That’s when he explained that the little door next to the gate in the city wall of Jerusalem was called “Eye of the Needle”. During a late arrival with a camel, both man and beast had to crouch and it was very difficult for the animal to get through. Jesus compared it to the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven.

The most famous and longest wall in the world is the ‘Great Wall of China’. I have climbed this wall to the highest point as the only woman of my China Tour group a few weeks after the horrific happenings in the year of 9/11. The trip to China was the most interesting trip I ever did. Climbing the wall started out easy enough but got harder as the stairs got steeper and narrower. With my western shoe size, I had been walking sideways. At one point – by just inches – I almost got the boot of the man in front of me in my face. Respectfully, I put a few more steps between us.

2-image1The part of the ‘Great Wall’ my group traversed starts not far from Beijing and was built to keep invading armies out. It runs on top of a steep mountainous landscape. Invaders would be seen early and would hardly have a chance before being destroyed from above. Needless to say, the views are stupendous. The ‘Great Wall of China’ is supposedly one of the very few constructions on earth seen from space. It took many Emperors, soldiers, and criminals over 2000 years to build it. Most of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and, naturally, it has been repaired constantly ever since. It measures 8,851 km (or 5,500 miles) but in ancient times, all the different sections together stretched over 21,000 kilometers.

Another well-known wall to most of us is the infamous “Berlin Wall”. It was built by the German Democratic Republic (DDR) during the night of August 13th, 1961. To this day it is a puzzle how nobody had known and nobody ever saw or heard the trucks bringing masses of rocks, blocks, barbed wire and fence materials to the different locations. To build this wall was the only way to stop people from fleeing to the west. Parts of the wall ran along the middle of city streets dividing neighbours, families or friends living in houses on either side. Imagine a wall with glass pieces and barbed wire on top where we have a yellow line to divide the traffic. Thousands had fled the DDR every single day (I was one of them) and more were trying to escape after the wall was built by digging tunnels, even constructing a balloon, swimming across lakes and needless to say, many lost their life trying. The East German police had strict orders to shoot to kill.

image2-002-1The Berlin Wall was just one part of what became known as the “Cold War”. After the Berlin Wall had closed the biggest ‘hole’ to stop the escapes, construction of a wall with mine fields, and guard towers was built around the entire communist controlled part of Germany. It was probably the only wall ever built to keep people “in” and not to keep the enemy “out”. Just as nobody knew that this wall was going to be built so nobody expected it to come crumbling down during anyone’s lifetime. Incredibly, during a huge mass demonstration on the eastern side of the wall when everyone expected the Russian tanks to crush them, nothing happened and the East German police, guarding the wall, put their guns down. The people stormed the wall, started hacking away at it and once a section broke down, the rush to get through before all hell would break loose, filled the night with screams. Screams turned to laughter as people were met by the waiting crowd on the western side with hugs and tears. With music and song punctuated by champagne corks popping, they started dancing on the wall. The night turned into the party of all parties, never experienced or dared to hope for, uniting people and families after nearly thirty years of being kept apart.

Brandenberg Gate

Brandenberg Gate

On June 12th, 1987, at a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, President Ronald Reagan had called out to Mikhail Gorbachev,

“Tear down this Wall!”

It happened unexpectedly on the 9th of November 1989. It was the end of the Cold War, the unification of the two Germanys and it started the break-up of the mighty Soviet Union. Twenty-seven years of friendship, rebuilding and a never experienced quality of life for many countries followed. Today, we ask ourselves what may lie in our future now.

Donald Trump promised during the American election campaign to build a wall along the Mexican border. Would it become the most infamous wall of all the walls in the world? From the English songstress ‘Adele’ to Pope Francis and many others, cries like “Don’t build walls, build bridges” are heard. According to Donald Trump, his will be the highest, the meanest, and the longest wall ever. Will it rival the Great Wall of China and will it be seen not just from the ‘Moon’ but from ‘Mars’ as well!? Just kidding…

Oh no, it will ruin my holiday!

Hotel Cebulj Oct. 2016

Hotel Cebulj Oct. 2016

I packed my suitcase on Oct. 2nd and looked forward to a great holiday. I was heading to the spa city of Bad Woerishofen in Bavaria, a place I had visited more than thirty times in the past. Over the years, I always stayed in the same lovely family hotel, even in the same room. It became my ‘home away from home’. A short 17 minute flight brought me from Nanaimo to the International Airport in Vancouver B.C. on the third of October. When I boarded the Lufthansa flight 477 to Munich and settled into my seat 2D, my anticipation of a wonderful three weeks rose by several degrees. A gentleman sat next to me in the aisle seat. Since I had the window seat I didn’t need to be concerned of being disturbed. I leaned back and with a smile on my face I closed my eyes and thought of the wonderful time awaiting me. When I woke up we were already flying into the clouds… We had an award winning Lufthansa dinner (no, I didn’t want any wine) and it didn’t take long before the window blinds were closed. Some folks settled down for the coming night.

a toilet trained pussy cat

a toilet trained pussy cat

One couple had a bag with a beautiful cat between them. I had met them earlier in the Air Canada Lounge ladies room. The cat was trained to do her business on the toilet. Incredible! I started reading a book I had downloaded onto my i-Pad. I was unable to concentrate. I soon took my glasses off, put them into their case and into the pouch on the seat in front of me. The man next to me was already sleeping; we never exchanged a single word during the whole trip.

I pressed some buttons and my seat extended to full length and I had a flat bed with pillow and blanket. Several times I had to climb over the legs of my neighbour – he never noticed. After a hot cloth to wake up and a breakfast in the middle of the night (my time), we touched down in Munich ten-and-a-half hours later. It was already October the 4th. My pick-up was arranged. My driver did not take the autobahn but beautiful country roads. Too much construction, he told me. The Munich Airport now has three terminals with a train running between them. I remember when there was only one terminal. Those were the times when everything was easy.

I was greeted with welcoming hugs at my hotel. My suitcase disappeared and I took the stairs up to my usual room. Unpacking didn’t take too long. I was anxious to send a message home and looked for my glasses. My glasses? Where were my glasses…Oh, dear God, I left them in the pouch in front of my airplane seat. I installed the hotel ‘Wi-Fi’ password and used my i-Pad to send a message to my husband. I asked him to get in touch with my travel agent. I figured they have a better chance to contact Lufthansa and their ‘Lost & Found’ than I did. I phoned my husband five times before I gave up. I went to the hotel office and the hostess spent the next three hours following the prompts “click this, click that” on the Lufthansa website until she finally was able to send an e-mail to the right place.

“Passenger G.R. in seat 2 D of flight # 477 Vancouver-Munich arriving Oct. 4th left a pair of glasses with a gold frame in a black leather cover and a purple cleaning cloth in the pouch in front of her seat. Please contact… or mail to…”

When I tried to use my i-Pad again a message in a little window told me that it was locked for my own protection. I couldn’t be in two countries on two different continents at the same time. My husband had needed to access my e-mail account in Canada! ‘We suspect a hacker. Once you are back in Canada you can re-set etc. etc.’ I was devastated. No chance to delete all the hundreds of e-mails I would receive? No chance to send any? No chance to read my e-books? According to “Murphy’s Law”, what else would happen? It’s always three things, right? Well, the third thing was my blood pressure monitor. Despite the fact that it was working at home, it did not work in Germany. So much for that! Now, what else could go wrong? The first week was alright.

Breakfast Buffet & Hotel Cebulj

Breakfast Buffet & Hotel Cebulj

I decided to enjoy the rich buffet and not eat just bran and soaked linseed with yogurt as I did at home. Cold cuts, eggs, wonderful cheeses and all those different types of bread and buns on the buffet and the creamy cottage cheese and the jams and fruits and and… Every day was a feast! My youngest sister and her husband stopped by with their RV on their way to Italy, my two cousins from Cologne came for four days – needless to say that we regularly visited one of the many cafés. We had coffee and sampled a piece of wonderful cake every day. Cheese cake, poppy seed cake, plum cake, you name it.

Lufthansa sent an e-mail to my hotel with a number to claim my missing glasses. When my cousins flew back to Cologne on the 9th they were able to pick them up at the Munich airport “Lost & found”. They took them to Cologne and mailed them to me from there. I had used a pair of magnifying glasses up to now, and my eyes had always hurt. Once my visitors were all gone I felt lost and lonely. I even cried a little. Will I ever be able to come back or see them again? I checked the hotel library and found some interesting German books. I read a lot! I also found a music channel on the TV and sometimes watched the international news about the upcoming US election. One morning, I got up and almost fell on my face. I couldn’t use my left foot, the big toe hurt something awful and the pain was ten out of ten. In the doctor’s office, I was told I have a gout attack. Gout? Isn’t that something old people get? The nurse said, “you are kinda old, aren’t you?” I got pills and a cream to rub my toe with. The pills made me double over, my stomach didn’t like them.

“What did you eat this morning? Cereal with milk or yogurt? You cannot have any milk products, no yogurt, no red meat, no coffee, no alcohol, no…”

“But what can I eat?”

I was advised to eat a piece of dry bread before taking the pill. After that nothing for a few hours. Apparently, I had enjoyed the buffet and the cafés too much and I now had to pay for my sins. The pounds I might have gained during the first week disappeared during the last two weeks of my holiday. I was mainly lying on my bed reading, afraid to eat anything. I was living on dry bread, horsetail- and stinging nettle tea to help my body to get rid of extra uric acid. This was not what I came for. I could hardly wait to go home. The Lufthansa service with wheel-chair assistance was second to none on my flight back. My doctor in Canada prescribed different pills which are not attacking my stomach. I still am on a restricted diet and the pain is less – but not gone. How long does it take to get rid of a gout attack? And how do you really know it is gout? What is the proper procedure to diagnose it?

I had 1458 e-mails on my computer when I came home. As I started ‘deleting’ more rolled in. One of them was dated October 5th from Lufthansa:

This is to inform you about a found property at our office for cabin lost and found items, which is probably yours: A pair of glasses in a black softshell pouch together with a purple cleaning cloth of the West Vancouver Optometry Clinic was found on board of flight LH435 from Chicago today. Your business card was inside the pouch.”

Kurpark Bad Woerishofen 2016

Kurpark Bad Woerishofen 2016

If I had received that on October 5th a lot of anxiety on my part would have been avoided. I couldn’t do without glasses but I discovered there is a life without the Internet. But gout is something else I would rather manage without.

Halloween – Ghosts and Goblins

Pirate Day

I couldn’t believe it! It was only the middle of September when I saw the first Halloween costumes for sale. Placed close to the entrance the sales rack had stopped a number of children in their tracks. Excitedly they checked the costumes and called:

“Mom, this is exactly what I want! Come, take a look. Isn’t this cool?”

I couldn’t help watching them. With rosy cheeks they would touch this one and pull out another; they started begging their parent to buy the one they liked best. They didn’t listen to Mom saying,

“Let’s go to other stores too, you might even find something better.”

No, it had to be right now! Many little boys want to be pirates and most little girls want to be princesses. Just a few years older and they want to be witches or devils or scary ghosts and even appear to be skeletons. It is amazing how many choices there were. What I couldn’t believe were the prices. They were rather high. When my kids were small we made the costumes at home since we couldn’t afford to buy any. I don’t even know if one could buy ready-made ones in the olden days because we never checked. Times surely are different.

dsc03802Next to Christmas, Halloween is big business with the highest turnover during the year. I read that in the USA alone people spend over six billion dollars for candies, decorations, and costumes. There is also the pumpkin business, fields of large and small pumpkins by the thousands and huge cases full of pumpkins in all the food shops. When I was a kid my mother would make a desert out of the flesh and if we were very good she would allow us to carve one for a candle. We collected and dried the seeds and ate them. We did not know then but I now know that pumpkin seeds are very good for your health because of the high content of protein, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. They make the best snack and are ‘antioxidant scavengers’ – busy to improve your immune system. A little-known secret is the enhancement of men’s sexual health.

Have you ever ask yourself what are the roots for this festivity? The history goes back about 2.000 years to the ancient Celtic festivities called “Samhain “. The Celts believed the ghosts of the dead came back on the evening before November 1st, their New Year’s Day, to haunt and scare them. They would light bonfires, wear costumes to fool the ghosts into mistaking them for their own kind and, to prevent the ghosts from entering their house placed food on the steps. In the 9th century, Christianity had created an ‘All Souls Day’ and the evening before was  ‘All-Hallows Eve’ and  eventually became Halloween or Hallowe’en.

Halloween came to America through the Irish immigrants and evolved during the last few hundred years to what it is today. It is big business for costumes, candy, pumpkins and all kind of decorative ghost items. A time for scary ghosts and superstition, apple bobbing (which goes back to the Roman times) and a much anticipated day for all the children, young and old. Don’t break a mirror on Halloween, don’t step on cracks in the sidewalk and don’t meet a black cat! I remember that I would not cross the road if a black cat had crossed it from left to right. It is bad luck! I would rather wait for another person to cross before I dared to do it. If the cat crossed from right to left you were not just alright but would be lucky!

halloween-costumesHave fun but be wary on Halloween! Make sure your children are safe and check their  harvest from trick-or-treating for needles in apples and tampered chocolates. It is sad but a fact that some bad ‘witches’ are still around. They are full of hate and resentment of  all the fun and don’t mind hurting innocent children.

 

 

Thanksgiving

turkey1It wasn’t about food or a turkey feast! For us, living in a small German village, it was mainly a special day in the church calendar. Nobody ever ate turkey, not even at Christmas or New Year. It was carp (fish), duck or goose. A great part of the celebration were the children. With their parent’s help, they decorated a basket with all kind of fruits or veggies out of the  garden. I envied the children who instead of baskets carried huge bouquets made up of dried wheat, rye, barley and other grain stalks. Those were so much lighter than our baskets! The girls wore a flower wreath like a crown made up of the last of the blooms picked in field and garden. The boys had corsages pinned on the jacket or a hat. We all felt excited and very pretty!

wp_20161006_15_47_39_proThe Pastor’s wife was in charge of organizing us in front of the church while the hymn singing congregation waited inside. The smallest, youngest children, two abreast, came first and were followed by all the others according to size. With the organ playing, we would enter the church and slowly walk to the altar. The Pastor, waiting there, would receive our thanksgiving gifts and place everything on or around the altar. Relieved of our burden we could now go and find a seat with our parents in the pews. The Pastor would pray, thank God for a bountiful year and a good harvest. He always gave a rousing sermon and made everybody willing to donate even more. This ‘harvest’ was going to the poor in the village and the soldiers on the front.

grain-lady-3Yes, we surely felt very thankful for every potato and carrot. We were still safe and were not starving. I remember these years during WWII so well. Life has changed a lot after the war. The number of church-goers is down in the big cities but, I can imagine small villages may still be celebrating Thanksgiving this way. The church and the pub provided the social life during my childhood, and it may still be the same. Since I have been living in Canada for the last fifty-three years I have no idea if the Germans adopted the turkey eating tradition but I’ll find out! I used to believe it was a healthy tradition since turkey meat contains tryptophan, a relaxing amino acid which forms the base of serotonin and gets converted in the body into melatonin making you sleepy. I’m disappointed to learn now that it is a myth because chicken and cheese also contain the same amino acid. On Thanksgiving, it is the mass of turkey with all the trimmings (and alcohol) we consume that makes us lazy and sleepy. Personally, I like the dark turkey meat. Restaurants hardly ever serve it because of its high content of cholesterol. On Thanksgiving Day I couldn’t care less!

Feel grateful for the bounty we still enjoy. And share. So many have nothing; millions do not even have a home.

The Last Supper

767 Dorchester Wpg.

767 Dorchester was an old house with a wonderful interior layout located in a quiet neighbourhood of Winnipeg. It was white with green trim and had flower boxes under all the many windows. I needed ninety-eight geraniums for planting the boxes every spring. It was a sight to behold. I would plant a hundred pots with cuttings and have those on the wide window sills indoors in preparation for the next season. Just imagine how long it took every day to water all those. In full bloom, they made the house look ‘rich’.

A bright hallway and a wide stairway leading to the second storey were the heart of the old house. Through French doors on either side of the hallway, one entered into a huge dining room on the left and on the right into a most charming living room with lots of windows and an open fireplace. A built-in breakfast nook in the kitchen was one of our favourite spots. All our family meals were served here. It was the children’s place to do their homework while I was preparing our meals. There was an ancient sink in the middle of the long counter, an old ‘rounded’ fridge and a more modern stove.

1-image0-001All of us loved this old house! Mr. Moffat had rented it to us. He not only came to collect the rent every month but occasionally stopped by to say ‘hi’ and chat. He always complimented me on the work I did in the garden. Spring flowers were followed by colorful summer flowers and big sunflowers stood guard. The tomatoes, thriving along the sunny side of the garage, still tasted like real tomatoes.

One warm July day Mr. Moffat turned up and was greated with welcoming smiles. But that day he seemed uneasy. He even sat down for tea and after a few minutes, he told us he was selling the house. He was giving us three months notice to find another home. I lost it and completely broke down. I cried and begged him to sell the house to us but, sadly, it was out of his hands. A lawyer had bought up the houses next to us. Our house was the last in the middle of all the others. Mr.Moffat said he had held on as long as he could. The houses would be demolished to make room for an apartment block. What a shame. It was heartbreaking.

We went house shopping and in the end decided to buy a bungalow from a builder in a suburb called ‘Southdale’. We were promised the house would be ready for move-in on October the first. The children started school in our new neighbourhood in September. Driving the kids to school each morning I loaded the car with ‘stuff’and brought more boxes in the afternoon when I  picked them up. Our friends Inge and Peter had offered their garage as a storage place. They had also bought and lived there already. Only our big pieces of furniture remained for the moving company.

Our last meal before the big day consisted of leftovers but I had baked an apple pie for desert. I had left the baking oven door slightly open so that the heat could dissipate but I did leave the pie in it. For the children, playing outside, the backdoor was always open. My husband and I drove out to the new house with the last boxes. When we came home I closed the baking oven door and started cooking. The family was sitting around the table in the ‘nook’and chatted excitedly about moving and sleeping here for the last time. I served dinner and switched the baking oven on to warm up the apple pie. We loved hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream! At last, I could sit down and start eating myself.

I was restless and got up again. My husband was annoyed. “Why don’t you finally sit still and eat, you drive me nuts…”

767 Dorchester entrance

Just to prove something I went to check the pie. I opened the baking oven door and stumbled back screaming as our neighbour’s cat jumped out of the hot oven and almost into my face. The cat ran like crazy for the back door, scratched the screen and meowed loudly. What if – oh my God!

The pie was half eaten. The other half went into the garbage. Luckily the cat lived and there was only vanilla ice cream for desert. I was so shaken up that I was in no condition to even eat my dinner.

Change of Seasons….

Not Just the Colour of the Leaves

Leaves - Changing Colours

Leaves – Changing Colours

Nothing touches my emotions more regarding the change from summer to fall than a poem by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, titled “Herbsttag” = “Autumn Day”. I see myself wandering the lanes, looking down and pushing millions of colorful leaves, yellow-orange-red and even a bit of green left over with my feet, thinking of my long gone childhood days, and my children digging themselves into piles of raked up leaves. My mood turns sentimental, even sad. Life seems so short looking back. There was the happy worry free time I have shared with my great grandmother and my grandparents, the years when I was loved, protected and guided by my parents. I see myself with my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Three generations… How many wonderful people I met throughout the years! In retrospect it seems I only did have very little time with any of them. I am thinking about how fast the generations have gone and how few of my loved ones closer to my own age are left. I am next in line, just a leaf blowing in the wind. I think of the many things I have done; the many things I wish I had done and the many things I might never be able to do now.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses these sentiments beautifully:

‘Lord, the time has come
A beautiful summer is gone.
Your shadow on the sundials changed
you let the winds blow over the fields.
Help the last fruit to ripen,
give them a few more, warmer days,
let them fulfill their destiny
and put the sweetness in the heavy wine.

Who has no house – will not build now.
Who is alone now will remain so, long.
Will lie awake, will read and write long letters,
will restless wander up and down the lanes, –
when the leaves are drifting….’

I can’t make Rilke’s poem my own. No translation does it justice. Other than in his words one cannot express all he himself felt when writing it. I feel him with me when I read it. I see myself sitting in a comfortable chair in a corner of a cozy room, watching him write it, a green-shaded lamp on the desk in front of the window, he himself bent over, his paper the only bright spot in the surrounding shadows. I feel he wrote it for me. When I came across it for the first time I choked, I knew I was receiving a message. The poem evokes many feelings, feelings about the past, feelings about giving thanks for the bounty of a season past and feelings of loneliness, of impending doom, of death and still, – feelings of hope invade my thoughts. Hope for another autumn day when the sunlight brightens the color of the leaves, makes the reds deeper, the yellows brighter and turns the already dying ones to copper. I shall push the leaves under my feet until they fly up into the air, feel like a child again, I want to laugh but feel too silly knowing there are people watching me. I look at the remaining colorful leaves on the trees and marvel about nature. An endless cycle of birth and rebirth, and every season has its own colors. As every generation has and still, they all are blending into and are part of our life.
‘Lord, the time has come….’
The time has come to sort out your harvest, to put the garden to sleep after planting next years crop, to reset the thermostat for more warmth and take the winter jackets out of storage. The time has come to be closer together with your loved ones, invite the lonely, share a warm drink and listen to each other’s memories, the stories of the ever-changing seasons of life.