31 December 2011

Sylvester and Horatio

It's New Year's Eve. Oddly enough, in German, it's called Altjahrsabend, Old Year's Evening. Which just goes to show that word-for-word translations are often quite useless. The English word "eve" usually means not "evening", but "evening before", whereas the German "Abend" only means "evening". So the Altjahrsabend is the evening of the old year, whereas New Year's Eve is the beginning of the new. The one to reflect on what's past, and peacefully go to bed, the other to look forward to what's coming, and throw a party and get drunk to get off to a good start.

Actually, most Germans don't call it Altjahrsabend, anyway. The official name is Sylvester. Now, that has nothing whatever to do with pugilistic actors or bird-stalking cartoon cats - nothing more, that is, than that all of them are named after the same guy, St Sylvester, who was Pope around the time of Constantin the Great. And he ceased being Pope on December 31st, 335, by way of dying, therefore making it his feast day.

There's a pretty nifty story about St Sylvester and a dragon, which had such bad breath it wiped out three hundred men a day just by breathing on them (what they were doing, hanging around the dragon's pit, is anyone's guess). St Sylvester, on the instructions of St Peter (whom he saw in a vision), went and recited a part of the creed at the creature, then wrapped a thread around its snout and sealed it with the papal seal, which apparently put paid to its halitosis. He and his two assistants, being equipped with heavenly gas masks, got out unscathed, but two pagan enchanters who had come for a looky-loo weren't so lucky; they were passed out at the gates of the dragon's den when St Sylvester came climbing back out. The Saint, being of the saintly sort, raised them from their near-dead state, and brought them along with him, and anon, the Golden Legend says, they "were baptized, with a great multitude of people with them".

Incidentally, I didn't know this story of St Sylvester and the Dragon, myself, until I looked up the Saint on the 'net just now so I could tell you about him.

And on a completely different note, here's a picture of Steve and his new companion, Horatio, who is a philosopher ("There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy"). Horatio is Yorick's little brother, and came to live with us at Christmas.

Life, the Universe, Sylvester, and Horatio. Happy New Year, all!

29 December 2011


Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. That's to say, I don't really have anything to say today. But being an inveterate driveller, I'm still going to say something anyway. That's known as waffling about nothing.

Which reminds me of a story a teacher of mine told once. He was from Franken, Franconia, which is the area around Nuremberg. In their dialect, so he said, "waffle" is a (not very flattering) synonym for "mouth", something like "kisser" in English. So there were these two ladies sitting in a café, eating ices, and they were ladies indeed. One of them was the wife of a government official, a Kommerzienrat (Councillor of Commerce, Alderman, something like that), which meant that her nose was planted firmly in the air. She was also a rather, shall we say, loquacious person. Now, eating ices in a café in Germany means that you get them served in an elegant bowl, with a spoon, and with a waffle stuck in the top, which you can use as the spoon substitute to scoop your ice cream with (stuck-out pinkie optional). Mrs Alderman had done just that, had picked up one scoop of ice cream on her waffle, but the latest gossip she had to impart to her friend was just too pressing for her to take the time to get the ice to her mouth. There she sat, waffle with ice cream poised in her hand, jabbering away, talk talk talk talk... The inevitable happened: the ice cream started to melt. Her companion tried to get in a word of warning, but could not get through the flow of words, until finally, in desperation, she blurted out: "Frau Kommerzienrat, your waffle is dripping!"

So there you have it; that's what happens when you have nothing to say but say it anyway.

I hope you're all having a great fifth day of Christmas, with perhaps the odd gold ring or two in evidence.

Life, the Universe, and Dripping Waffles. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

24 December 2011

On Christmas Trees and Nose Bags

It's Christmas Eve, which for us Germans means we have the big celebration tonight. Our Christmas customs are a blend between the German and Canadian styles. We do our present-opening on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day we have stockings and a big turkey dinner. And we have an Advent Wreath and light the candles on the Advent Sundays, but the Christmas tree gets put up about a week before Christmas, not secretly the day of Christmas Eve. It would be difficult to do that German-style anyway with the open floor plans we have hereabouts; you can't lock the kids out of the living room for secrecy when there's no door to lock.

Our Christmas tree came from the woods behind our house - that's another Canadian thing to do, to just get a free Christmas tree permit from the forestry department (nowadays you can just download it from the web), and go into the woods to find your own. You just have to make sure you carry that permit in your pocket, else if a Department of Forestries Official catches you, he might drag you off to the nearest lock-up and imprison you over the holidays on suspicion of trying to set up trade in Charlie Brown trees. They're coveted commodities, those trees, but residents are allowed three per household - with a permit, of course. Forestry officials are combing the Canadian woods in large numbers at this season, looking for Christmas Tree Perpetrators. You probably thought those roadblocks where the RCMP pulls you over and asks how many glasses of mulled wine you had are meant to prevent drunk driving, but in fact, they're a cover for checking for unauthorized Christmas-Tree-Transporting. RCMP and Department of Forestries are working together to prevent Dastardly Tree Crimes at this season.

Yesterday I turned on the TV, and it just so happened that my favourite Christmas movie was on. In fact, I'd already considered putting in the video I'd taped a couple of years ago to watch it (yes, I still have a VHS player. Antiquated, I know, but I'm unrepentant). But I didn't have to; they faithfully aired (cabled?) "A Child's Christmas in Wales", as they have done every Christmas the last few years. This is the version with Denholm Elliott playing the grandfather, telling his grandson of the snowy Christmasses he had when he was young ("I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."). If you get a chance to watch it, do; it's well worth it. But if you can't get a hold of it, here is my latest discovery: Dylan Thomas himself reading his poem/story, in measured, epic tones. Denholm Elliott does it more lyrical, lilting; but you can't beat hearing it in the poet's own voice. "There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; ... and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why." I think I had better go and crochet a little nose bag for one of my children, we don't have any aunts, whinnying or not, coming to visit this year to supply the want.

Life, the Universe, and Christmas Cheer. May yours be blessed and merry.

21 December 2011

Filthy Habit

I was awake in the middle of the night again. And you know how you think strange thoughts when it's 2:00 AM and you can't sleep? Well, last night I got to thinking about bad habits. Specifically, my bad habits. And I tried to console myself with the fact that at least, I don't smoke (tobacco, that is. What's coming out of my ears at times, that's a different topic).

I've never smoked. Neither have any of my family members, or most of my friends. In fact, I don't know of one close friend I have at this moment who's given to pipe weed. And don't you know, that makes me feel oh-so-smug. I mean, who needs that filthy habit? It stinks, cigarette smoke does, and it's horribly unhealthy, everyone knows that.

Smoking is one of those habits that has the lovely effect of allowing those of us who don't do it to feel really superior to those that do. I walk or drive by smokers, and I feel virtuous. There are, for example, the teenagers who stand by the street in front of the local high school - they're not allowed to smoke on school property, so they put one toe over the line onto the sidewalk, and practise their bad habit there. Now, my children would never do such a thing.

That's what I realised at 2:00 AM last night, that the way I feel about smoking is utterly saturated with that feeling of superiority. I like to think that because I don't smoke, that makes me better than you who does. And THAT, my friend, is a filthy habit. It stinks.

It's quite a lot like that story of the man who sits in the back of the church with his head in his hands, going "God, I'm such scum!" And at the front of the building, another person has planted their rear in the pew, saying "Thank God I'm not a loser like that guy back there! He probably smokes, too; I'd never do that." I don't think I need to spell it out for you which one of the two the storyteller thought was the healthier person.

And now, entirely apropos of nothing, here's today's picture, which is my cat Cleopatra. She really is a superior creature, indeed, but then all cats are.

Life, the Universe, and Superiority. I think it's time to kick some filthy habits.

17 December 2011

About Ticking and Tocking

My wall clock stopped - again. The first indication was that it said it was 10:30, when I only just got up a little while ago (I don't sleep in that late any more; my teen years were over some time ago). And the second, that it was really quiet in the kitchen. You see, this is a real clock; it ticks. And it tocks. With sort of a slightly halting, skipping rhythm, not that even ticktockticktock you would expect, but more of a tickTOCKtickTOCK. And for all that, it keeps excellent time, when it doesn't stop.

I love things that are real. In this case, mechanical; no battery power required, just a few turns of the key about once every other week or so. The clock claims to be a 31-Day clock, which, I understand, means that you should only need to wind it once a month. Doesn't work that way, though. I believe the springs that keep the clockwork and the chime going are a bit sticky; if I wind the clock fully, until I can't turn the key any more, it won't run at all. You set the pendulum swinging, and when you next come into the kitchen, it's stopped again. Kind of puts meaning to the term "wound up like an eight-day clock" - if you end up wound too tight, you just get stuck, and need constantly repeated restarting in order to unstick your springs again.

When I was a kid, every house in the extended family had one of those ticking, chiming, pendulum-swinging wall clocks. The ticking is a soothing sound - but the house has to be fairly quiet for it to be noticeable. To me, the audible ticking of the wall clock is the Sound of Silence (any resemblance of this phrase to Simon & Garfunkel songs, living or dead, is entirely coincidental). There was a time, some ten years or so ago when my kids were young, that their dad took all four of them to church on Sunday mornings, and I just sat in the rocking chair and listened to the clock ticking soothing sanity back into my life.

My clock used to belong to my mother-in-law. But she didn't bring it over from Germany on the immigrant's boat, back in the early 50's - no, it quite prosaically says "Korea" on the bottom of the clock face; my husband vaguely remembers the clock being ordered from the Sears catalogue when he was small. So even though the clock is not antique German- or Swiss-made quality ware, it's still a family heirloom of sorts.

To me, the sound connects me to my heritage, to the past. It measures out, in uneven ticks and TOCKS, the seconds of my life, as those other clocks have ticked out my ancestors' lifetime in their homes. Often enough I forget to wind it, and the ticking stops - but only until I open the door, take the key from its bracket on the inside of the case, insert it in the hole right beside the number "8" (can't wind the clock when it's eight, or twenty minutes to the hour), crank it a few turns, and then give the pendulum a gentle push to set the clock ticking again. TickTOCK, tickTOCK, tickTOCK.

Life, the Universe, and The Sound of Silence. Don't get wound up too tight, you'll only get stuck.

12 December 2011


My man is off in California again for a week. Oddly enough, one week apart seems like nothing, compared to the five months he was away from home this summer. Last year, having him gone for a week would have freaked me right out (spousal business trips have caused hysteria on more than one occasion); this time, I just shrugged. A week without him? Whatever, it's just a week. It's all in the contrast.

I also noticed it the other day, that difference contrast can make. I was driving home from dropping off the kids at school, and appreciating the lovely hot air blowing from the car heater vents. Now, I would not have been nearly as grateful for that warmth if I hadn't been so cold just a few minutes earlier. Going from freezing to toasty has a way to make you appreciate the pleasure of a well-functioning heater. In the spring, we take the warmth for granted, don't even think of it; and then come summer, we get too much of it, and crank up the air conditioner - aah, coolth. The contrast has it.

It's rather like that chiaroscuro thing I was waffling on about a few months ago, that contrast between light and dark in art. For me, a really good painting has to have those contrasts. My favourites, personally, are colour contrasts, the strongest ones you can get, which are the contrasts between the primary and secondary colours. I somehow get a charge out of loading my brush with a bright yellow, and splashing it across a page, then going back and picking up a brushful of crimson for a few more splashes, and then some solid ultramarine blue to fill in the gaps. Pow!

My cats, though, do not appreciate contrasts. The strawberry tabby (he looks like a ginger tabby that's been run through the wash with too much bleach) likes to sit on the pink shale rocks which are the exact colour of his fur, and the small fluffy black one usually chooses to perch on the lap of the person who is wearing black jeans. Failing the Men in Black, she finds the nearest black backpack which was conveniently dropped on the floor where it doesn't belong. And snowy winters are the bane of her existence - not only is it horribly cold and wet outside, but that stark whiteness, it obviously offends her tender sensibilities. Black kitty and white snow do not mix.

Life, the Universe and Contrasts. I think I'll have some hot tea to celebrate the cold outside.

08 December 2011


Life has been silly-busy lately. I had such good intentions of blogging at least twice a week, to keep you all current and reading, but it simply didn't happen. Just to show you how busy it was, here's Steve, hanging upside down over the screen, clinging on in desperation in this topsy-turvy time.

My November got sucked up in a major project (which I might tell you about some other time, but, suffice to say, I had a blast. Which is probably why I haven't blogged much, I've been having too much fun elsewhere.). Now it's December, and, well, you know what that means - Jollification, Deck the Halls, and all that jazz. This year, oddly enough, Advent came so early it totally threw me off, and I ended up being extra-late getting the Christmas decorations out. Which just goes to show that you can overdo anything, even the early onset of Advent season.

Fortunately, next year we'll be back to having the 1st Advent Sunday on a reasonable date. In case you don't know how that works, there are always four Advent Sundays before Christmas, so you take Christmas Day, and then the four Sundays before that are Advent. This year, Christmas falling on a Sunday meant that Advent started a full five weeks before Christmas, i.e. November 27th. I just wasn't in the mood for decorations yet then. But now I am, so that's all good.

Speaking of good(ies), my daughter is in the process of manufacturing her yearly offering to her father and brothers: very yummy Peanut Butter Balls. You could also make them in the bottom of muffin cup liners and call them Peanut Butter Cups (with which, however, you might lay yourself open for prosecution for copyright infringement. But you could always destroy the evidence; around here, it never lasts very long past Christmas Day anyway).

Here's the recipe:


1 1/2 c smooth peanut butter
1/4 c butter, softened
2 c icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c glazing chocolate

Mix together the first four ingredients, shape into 1" balls. Put in fridge or freezer to chill for a bit so they're firm. Melt the chocolate, dip the balls into it, put on waxed paper and let harden. Keep in plastic containers in the far back of the fridge, labeled "Leftover Fish-and-Liver Stew" to protect from marauding family members. Information about how long Peanut Butter Balls will keep, if uneaten, is, to date of this blog entry, unavailable.

Life, the Universe, Early Advent, and Peanut Butter Balls. Steve's still hanging in there.

01 December 2011


During the last couple of weeks, almost every time I drive the kids to school in the morning, I see a bald eagle. Sometimes even two. I live in a very beautiful spot overlooking a lake (long story, won't be told here); and that school drive I mentioned winds right along the lake for about six kilometres - steep mountain on one side of the road, lake shore on the other (yes, you're between a rock and a wet place on that road). The eagles live in the trees on the mountainside, and swoop right over the traffic to collect their breakfast from the lake.

So yesterday, I'm driving home after a successful offspring-drop-off, when out of the corner of my eye I see the eagle, probably only ten metres or so beside my car, swooping down on the lake, snatching a fish from the water, and soaring off into the woods with it. No, I wasn't getting a good look - didn't you pay attention about the rock and the wet place? That road is windy, as well as narrow. (I also didn't take that photo - I found it here.) But as I was whizzing along the highway in a homewardly direction, I had this idiotic grin on my face, and kept shaking my head, going "Incredible! Wow! Wow, that is so incredible!" Because it is, really. I'm meeting BALD EAGLES on my ordinary morning errands.

But then I got to thinking about the word I was using. Incredible. In-credible. As in, unbelievable, lacking credibility. And I was wondering why I was calling it "incredible" to see eagles by the lake in the morning. I mean, it's not like it requires an Act of Faith for those eagles to be there, does it? So is it that I don't really believe in the existence of the eagles, that I cannot trust my eyes to have shown me the facts? Because the eagles are there, no doubt about it. No doubt, and no belief, either. They just are.

(Now, if that poor Kokanee salmon which furnished the eagle family's breakfast yesterday had indulged in a hearty bout of disbelief, that would be a little more comprehensible - in his case, it would be a simple matter of denial of facts, which might have made his last few minutes on this earth a little more bearable. There he was, unceremoniously snatched from his watery home on a November Wednesday morning, borne away through horribly choking air to an awful death... [Don't you just love nature? Me, too.] Perhaps he was telling himself the whole time that this was incredible, unbelievable, and probably just a bad dream. Let's hope so, for his poor fishy soul's sake.)

The probable fact of this improbable matter is that we use the word "incredible" to mean that we have a hard time believing our eyes, or perhaps, that our friends would find it hard to believe us if we told them what happened (unless, of course, they're the credulous sort). Because the sight of bald eagles, on late November Wednesday mornings, is not something that's just ordinary. It doesn't happen just every day, for everybody. And that's what makes it "incredible" - by which I just mean very, very exciting.

Life, the Universe, and Bald Eagles Getting Breakfast. Believe it - it happened.