Archive for the 'family' Category

13
Mar
13

That time just before everything changes

When something suddenly happens to you that has the potential to change your life forever, you look back at those moments just before to search for some sort of meaning.  Was what you were thinking some sort of clue that went ignored?  Was choosing one path over the other just a decision among dozens we make every day, a different choice just delaying the inevitable?

I’m sitting here starting the second week of six with my right leg gripped in a brace from the ankle to hip after blowing out a tendon skiing, getting emergency surgery, and spending nearly a week in hospital.

I was skiing along a ridge following little red-haired girl as we made our way back to Samnaun, Switzerland, when I stopped to look at the vista spread out to the right.  It was like everything you dream a day in the mountains should be.   The sky a deep blue, the roiling froth of mountain peaks spread out in all directions.  No wind.  Uncrowded.  Just a Dad and his girl seizing the day we’d planned and looked forward to for months and months.  The second day of two weeks and it was already perfect.

Skiing Ischgl red-haired girl

We were in Austria, but the Swiss mountains loomed closer, and as I glanced over at to my right down the cliff and the blinding clarity of the snow across the valley, I called out ahead for her to stop and just take a look at it herself.  I wanted to catch up with her so we could stand there together, so that I could remind her that this is what it’s all about.   It’s not just the feel of your skis on the snow, the sweet spot you hit when years and years of practice lets you accomplish a fluid and effortless turn one after the other.  It’s not the speed – though that’s part of the exhilaration you kind of get addicted to – and it’s most definitely not about looking good or trying to impress anyone or comparing this one to that.

It’s about stopping to appreciate what’s all around you.  The feeling you get when you really see where you are among the mountains, the vista, the fresh air.

But she was already so far ahead of me that she didn’t hear, and I felt compelled to move on and catch up far sooner than I wanted to.

We met up at the top of a black run down to the left.  The ridge traverse led to a blue run – a much easier way down – which we could see in the distance further on and down to the left.

“So which one do you want to take?” she asks me.  “The blue or the black?”

“The black, for sure.”

OK!

We flew off beside one another down the wide, flat expanse.  There was no other skier near us.  The first few turns felt really good as they had both days, and I was thinking about which lift we might take first to get us closer to the Swiss border and home, and what we’d be making for dinner, when suddenly it felt like my right thigh burst out of its skin, and I was down.  I squirm and cringe just writing this, a feeling I get when I rehearse to myself in German what I’m going to tell the doctor.  The pain doesn’t come back, but it’s this feeling of helplessness and incomprehension, because I still don’t know how it happened.

In an instant I knew from the pain that something serious had gone wrong and that this would be my last time on skis for a very long Skiing Ischgl Ian injuredwhile.  I was just beginning to bounce head first down the hill on my back as that thought flashed, but by the time I’d stopped and rotated so I could use the good leg to get up to a standing position, I thought: this isn’t so bad.  I don’t feel anything at all anymore.

Two women stopped and asked if I was OK, as they’d seen the fall and heard me screaming.  They asked if they should tell the ski patrol at the bottom of the lift.

“I think I’m going to be OK,” I said, the red-haired girl standing beside me.  “I’m going to try to make it down by myself.”

No chance of that.  My first attempt at moving the leg was instant agony, and somehow I was on my ass again, sliding down a few metres further, my daughter scrambling behind to grab and stop me.

Refusing help was denial of that first thought that this was a serious injury.  This can’t be happening.  It’s never happened before.  It’s only the start of our ski vacation.  I’m healthy, I can ski well, I’ve got the rest of my life to enjoy this and I’m going to prove it.

Another pair of skiers stopped to ask the same thing, but this time we were pretty emphatic.

“I’m really injured,” I told them.  “I’m going to need to be taken off the hill.”

26
Feb
13

Is it legal in Germany to shower nude in front of the window for all to see?

I’ve nothing against nudity.  I’m nude quite a lot, especially in the German sauna, sharing space with genders masculine, feminine, and neuter

But there’s a time and space for everything, and this morning, I said to myself, enough’s enough.  Why do we have to avoid our front window every morning because we don’t want to suffer the sight once again of some asscrack who lives in an apartment across the courtyard on the same level as ours drying off his package?

If he were schlendering around the sauna landscape looking for his flip-flops while he flipped and flopped around, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.

But the window is as a thin layer that separates little from the public space and the private, especially when it’s dark out and you’re standing in a room with all the lights on.

So if it’s normally not legal to be walking around nude in public, is it legal to do so in your own space for all to see?

Do we have to put up with this?  I don’t engage my German-resident readers enough even when I’m blogging regularly, but I’m asking you now: what do you know about cases like this?  Can we do or say anything or is he free to carry on as he pleases?

23
Jan
13

Grinding it out with a grain mill

Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill wideOne of the first things I noticed about my wife K’s kitchen in Hong Kong was this big, blocky wooden thing in the corner near the back door leading out to the terrace.

“What’s THIS?” I asked, flipping a globular wooden knob back and forth.

“It’s a grain mill,” she said.  “A friend brought it from Germany for me.”

That really floored me.  Her flat was actually quite spacious by the cramped standards of Hong Kong, but the kitchen was little more than a narrow corridor wedged between an oversized living room and the tiny, windowless room we stored stuff in, but was designed as the maid’s bedroom.  We may have been cooking with gas, but you had to be really organised or you’d quickly run out of counter room.  You could stretch your arms across and touch both walls it was so small, so this glorified hunk of wood seems like the last thing you’d need.

But she swore by the results she got by grinding her own whole wheat flour, and I couldn’t much argue after she served up some Kaffee und Küchen for the first time. 

In Hamburg we have a much bigger kitchen, so the mill seems to take up a lot less room on our counters, and after 22 years it still gets used a lot, especially the last couple of years or so that I’ve been baking bread regularly.Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill cleaning

It’s a German product, dependable and built to last out of solid beech, but you have to take it apart once in a while to give it a thorough cleaning or it starts to look a little ratty.

On the inside you’ll find a powerful motor and millstones made of a hardened ceramic.  The first time I turned loose all the bolts and separated the parts to clean was after it hadn’t been used in a few months.

There were a few bug skins clinging to the walls of the flour chute and around the grinding face, which was a bit of a YUCK moment, but once it was scrubbed clean, put back together and burnished with linseed oil, it looked good as new.

For grain I head to the organic food store.  I’ve ground a variety of grains over the years, but usually stick to wheat because that’s what the bread recipes I use call for.  The only thing I’ve not tried is corn, because I’ve never found corn kernels that specially say they’re for making corn flour, but what I’d love to do is grind some corn to see if I can make some whole grain polenta from it.

Germany HaWo Kornmühle grain mill settingsThe manufacturer’s website has a variety of mills to choose from, and I like the fact they still make the exact model we own.  Their website gives you a bit of sticker shock, though.  Our model will set you back €454, but they’re guaranteed for 10 years.  Like I said, they’re built to last, so you should have it at least as long as we have with regular care.

If you want to see it running in this video, turn your sound down!  It is a bit of a noisy thing:

23
Oct
12

Two weeks in a tower in Tuscany

This might sound cliché and trite, but why did we wait so long to visit Tuscany?  Fifteen years living just up the road and we’d never made it?  It’s just a hop down the road and beyond the big hills!  If you like good food and wine, wandering around beautiful countryside, interesting cities, museums and historical sites, it’s got to be among the best places in Europe.

We arrived in Tuscany after a three-day drive from Hamburg.  That was one of our many firsts for this trip.  We’d taken our ol’ Swedish Tank on long road trips before, but this was the longest, and our first time driving in Italy.  The drivers weren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be, but one caution: if you don’t like being squeezed onto narrow roads with some guy less than six feet behind you all the time no matter what your speed, don’t get behind the wheel there.

Our second night on the road – and first in Italy – was still far from our Tuscany tower, but if we could have stayed longer, we would have.  Arriving late afternoon we managed to scrape out a room in Torno, a little town tucked into a nook on the shores of Lake Como way up north close to the border with Switzerland.

It’s just 20km or so up the road from the city of Como, which makes it sound close, but it was a narrow, twisting trail cut into the side of the mountain, and full of Sunday afternoon traffic, so the going was very slow.  I thought we weren’t going to be able to squeeze our Swedish Tank through a couple of the tighter spots.  Finding a parking spot for the beast was another trial, but we wedged into a space for the night up the hill and schlepped out gear down to the harbour once we found the room.

As we settled onto the terrace surrounded mostly by locals having an evening drink and meal in the fast-fading evening light looking out over the tiny harbour, the breeze from the placid lake like a warm bath, we felt lucky to be there, like we’d pointed a finger at the map and said: this is where it’ll be perfect, if only for one night.

Another first was the number in our party: Our red-haired girl is no longer little, and getting choosy about which trips she’s going to take with the rents, so it was also the first time in 15 years we’d been on a holiday as a couple for more than four days at a stretch.  Just the two of us, nobody else.

That was OK with us, because we knew we’d booked a place to ourselves, and were looking forward to getting up the morning and not having to deal with anyone or anything but deciding on what to do that day.

Just how much space we’d have around us became apparent as we approached the tower, driving through rows and rows of grapevines past the last house and then further up a small incline to the top of a hill.

The booking.com reviews warned that it was small, and that there was no heating, but we thought: who cares?  There’s a fireplace!  And, as it turned out: a gas stove, a decent fridge, a wide, comfy bed upstairs along with bathroom and shower.  Fully self-contained, and stocked with wine made from the thousands of vines stretching out from our doorstep.  We just let them know at the end how much we’d drunk, and they added it to the bill.

On one of our first outings a few miles away we found some firewood stacked along the side of the road and thought, naw, we can’t take it, what the locals saw us loading up on it?  German plates and all…  We like to be good neighbours.  But a few hours later we came across the same spot and said, screw it, let’s just take a few chunks, so we took a few armfuls and threw them in the back of the Tank.  No regrets, because late into the evenings and on the cooler mornings that fire was the best thing about the place.  We bought a couple of bags of good kindling in a store down the road so even though our logs weren’t quite dry, they fired up right away.

The only snag was during a bad thunderstorm the second week.  We’d shut all the windows, but the driving rain seeped through the framing around them, the water running down the walls in thin rivulets onto the upper-floor tile.  Luckily our host had come by the night before with fresh sheets and towels, so we used the old ones to mop up as the storm wore on.  A good thing, too, that we’d decided to stay home that day, or we’d have come home to a real mess.

Small-game hunters were our only visitors, but we caught only glimpses of them as they lurked off in the bushes while their dogs sniffed their way around the vineyard.  Their guns would go pop-pop-pop off in the distance, so we knew they were around, but they kept well away from the tower.

Tucked away as it was about half-way between Pisa and Florence, we did get around for a bit of exploring.  More on that coming up in a while.

 

19
Jun
12

Such an awesome lunch we had at the Squamish White Spot

Seriously awesome.

A friendly staff member showed us to our table and as we settled down to look at the menu, our early twenty-something waiter came by.

“Hi, can I get you anything to drink to start?”

“We’ll all have coffee,” my brother Bruce said, “and my younger brother here will have some water.  He’ll have his coffee after, because he told us the other day that having coffee before a meal other than breakfasts is SO American.”

“Awesome,” said our waiter.  “I’ll be right back.”

By the time their coffee and my water came, we were ready to order.

“So, can I take your order now?

“Sure,” said Bruce. “I’ll have the Fat-free Triple-O Leanburger with lettuce and tomato, no mayo, please.”

“Awesome.  And for you, Sir?”

“I’ll have the baked potato,” I said.

“Awesome.”

And so it went.  For every statement resulting in the slightest need for a response, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Awesome.”

By the time he was so awesomely fetching our bill I started to imagine what tired, overused, meaningless bit of oral fluff he would be coming out with had we been suddenly slung back to the late sixties, when the land upon which the clean, bright White Spot stood - and in which we were now able to enjoy such an awesome lunch - would still for another 20 years be nothing more than a poorly drained swamp.

“Hi, can I take your order?”

“I’ll have the Triple-O Fatburger with extra cheese, bacon and mayonnaise and a side order fries with gravy, please.”

“Groovy, man!  And for you, ma’am?”

The thing is, I’d always thought Awesome was already passé, flung onto the heap along with the rest of the Neats, the Keens, the Cools, the Far-out-solid-right-on Hippie-dippie Weatherman stuff that so dates the user, even the worst offender avoids the aforementioned and please-just-let-it-stay-dead forever Groovy.

Apparently not.  You have to plunge right back into your home country to find out what people are talking about and how they’re saying it, so that’s what I did.  I vowed from then on to keep my ears open and listen to every waiter, bank teller, kiosk vendor, fast-food order-taker and clerk, taking note of every Awesome I heard in the short two weeks I’d be there.  I thought it might be fun to do a final tally, plotting the utterances onto an Awesomes per Hour chart.

But it was like going on a car ride as a kid back in the day before backseat Blu-Ray players, Playstations and Smartphones, when passing the time meant counting the cars coming the other direction.  After a few hundred or so, you just got tired of it.

07
Jun
12

The Queen was right about my home town

I couldn’t agree more:

04
Apr
12

Edinburgh: finally seeing the home town of a grandfather I never knew

Sometime back before the turn of the century we had the vague idea of visiting Scotland to see where a chunk of my family’s history played out.  I’m a Canadian with Scottish roots on both sides of the family.  My great-grandfather on my father’s side was a fishmonger in Edinburgh before he emigrated to Canada with his children, my grandfather among them.  He died not long after the photo with me on his lap was taken.

Then when we were mulling over the idea of visiting back then a distant cousin, whose hobby was geneology, sent me a hand-written letter full  of details about my great-grandfather and his times back in the late 1800s in Edinburgh.  She had visited Scotland in the early 1970s and had tracked down many details of our Scottish roots going back a few generations.

One thing interrupted another as life happened to us in the meantime while we were making other plans, so we never did make it to Scotland.

I’d bought a guidebook we never used, but because we’re now definitely going to be there in one month, the other day took it off the shelf where it’s been sitting for the past dozen years.  I was thinking there must be some interesting stuff about Scottish history in it even if the practical information must be hopelessly out of date.

As I took it off the shelf it opened to the page where I’d stuffed a letter my cousin had written me so long ago, and quickly forgotten.  It’s better than any guidebook is going to be.  It’s got a little wander all laid out for us.   Here’s an excerpt:

Your great-great grandparents John and Isabella lived on Leith Street near Register House.  Your great-great grandfather John was a lithographer.  Your great-grandfather was a fishmonger and had three fish shops before coming to Canada.  Your grandfather James was a bank manager in Saskatchewan.  Your grandparents were married in the Tron Kirk, High Street and South Bridges.  (hmmm. they must have gone back to get married?  Must check this.)

Your Granddad and my mother lived as children in a house on Warrender Place (or Park) Edinburgh near Marchmont Road.  She and your grandfather were pals.  Most of her childhood memories were with him.  It is a lovely street, wish I had known the address.  Your great-granddad James (their father) had a fish shop on the corner of Warrender and Marchmont.  Mother and your grand-dad played on the Meadows nearby, and spoke of the huge jawbone they played under.  I found it, not so huge, must be a whale bone, would appear very big to a child.

Your grand-dad and my mother walked the Royal Mile every day because James had two other fish shops. They used to ride under Canongate Tollbooth, driver had to pay.  They lived in Duddingston for a while and attended school.  I have since been told that the school might have group pictures with them in it.  My mother always wondered what she looked like as a child.

Suggest you walk the Royal Mile.  Your great grand-dad sang in choir at St. Giles Cathedral.  It is beautiful.  Sundays the Pipers are there for church service.

(…) My mother’s memories of her fourteen years in Scotland made my visit to the homeland memorable.  I felt as though I belonged.

Another family detail gleaned from a photocopied Scottish newspaper clipping was their war record.  My grandfather had six brothers.   All seven of them fought in France during World War I.  They each fought in a different unit and never met the other during the whole conflict.  Astoundingly, all seven survived that most murderous of wars, which the clipping mentions must be a record for the whole country.

A clipping of my great-grandfather’s obituary was also among the papers stuffed in that guidebook.  Apparently I have another place to pore through: Carisbrooke cemetery.  Would the gravestone still be there?  It will take a visit to the Isle of Wight to find out for sure.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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