Among all the usual seasonal activities ; nearly forgetting to order the turkey , buying enough gift wrap to wallpaper St Peter's , buying yet more foil , lightbulbs and batteries , writing cards to relatives so distant that I can't remember what their children are called , hunting for globe artichokes that are smaller than footballs ... there now seems to be another :
crocheting a Santa's beard for yourself or for a loved one ... preferably out of non-itchy wool .
( Sorry for the graininess of the photo . Our local free paper seems to be having an economy drive and is saving on ink )
No , neither am I .
But , according to the local garden center , various supermarkets and generous amounts of junk mail , that's what we're going to get , Bing Crosby notwithstanding .
Pink tinsel ,
cup cakes ,
paper napkins and
three foot high glittery squirrels .
!!! Girl Power !!!
By which I don't mean feminism . ... no , I mean the Margaret Thatcher grip and iron control of the average seven year-old girl on her extended family.
Still , if your life is nor run by a small "princess " and you prefer a jokier Christmas tree , I've seen glittery tortoises in sailor hats , cows on skis and a bulldog in a feather boa ... oh sorry , he's pink .
Though you may , like this hairdresser in Groningen , have a more austere approach altogether .
A few years ago , somebody or other recommended eating 40 different foods a week and I remember trying , and discovering that it was perfectly possible but a bit of a nuisance , really . Dozens of boxes of grains , seeds , cereals , nuts and pulses filled the cupboards and made me feel oddly guilty . And did a handful of capers and some chopped parsley really count as two separate items ?
Every now and then I'm prompted to try it again , so when I saw Quaker's Multi Grain on the supermarket shelf it seemed worth widening my porridge-bound breakfast horizons . Oats , rye and barley !
If you've not yet tried it ..... in a word , DON'T.
If you really must have a go , ignore the cooking instructions entirely . Instead , unless you're smaller than a Borrower , mix two sachets of the stuff with extra water and bring to the boil , stirring ... you're aiming for the consistency of runny honey ... cook for 4-5 minutes , only letting it thicken/solidify at the end . Eat with lots of cream . Or , better still , throw it away and keep the cream for something nice .
I'll go back to making porridge my grandmother's way , soaking the oats overnight in water and then cooking slowly with a pinch of salt . A ham on rye sandwich for lunch and chicken soup with pot barley for supper will provide me with all three grains digestibly .
But I inadvertently discovered an instant answer to the 40 A Week quest when I grabbed a tuna and tomato sandwich at a station buffet on Tuesday . It tasted unremarkable if rather mayonnaise-y . BUT , when I read the list of contents I was astonished to see that it had 53 ingredients ! To be fair , 4 were water and 5 were E numbers but even so ... one of these a week and I could give up the whole attempt to include amaranth and goji berries in normal meals .
Anyway , if I'm in need of a change , our local supermarket has just started stocking chocolate covered grasshoppers ...
I know that 'matchy-matchy' is fashion death these days and one doesn't see many twin-sets any more , with or without pearls , but I have to say that having matching eyes again is rather nice . The second cataract has been removed and depth perception has been restored . Bliss !
No more gingerly tapping round with one's foot before going down unfamiliar , badly lit stairs .... though now I absentmindedly grope for my specs instead , till I remember that I don't have any at the moment . Once I've had a checkup I'll get some new ones , less strong and less like jam jar bottoms .
But of course , looking decidedly co-ordinated hasn't always been a no-no . Whole families went in for it ! From Hebden Bridge ( left ) to Belgium ( right ) it was considered very smart .
I caught the last half-hour of Gilles Porte's Autoportraits on TV5 Monde this week . So I've found a bit for you on YouTube , in case you haven't seen it . It's quite long ... every time you think it's finished , they show a bit more ... but it'll give you time for another cup of coffee ... and the children's faces are wonderful . Such concentration !
Now that I have a day to myself each week , the world's grown a bit and I can go to Groningen again for a couple of hours .
Just long enough to wander past the museum and through the town enjoying the sun , finding odd corners and playing the 'what would it be like to live in this street ' game
Rummaging for second hand CDs in the recycling shop to play at least once ... the soundtrack from a French film about Seville
and Verdi's Il Trovatore with Leontyne Price this time , both to be played again .
A 'Seventies relic which I bore off in triumph , much to the surprise of the junk shop's owner ... "It doesn't go any more " he warned . Good , these always had a deafening tic and only a masochist would repair it but I couldn't resist it for a Euro , could I ?
Treating myself to a quarter of exceedingly fruity Apple and Hibiscus tea and a cheerful Father Christmas tin to keep it in , lest the whole flat smells of it .
Buying good bread , runny cheese and tiny sweet tomatoes for supper and running to the train clutching a ham baguette . Putting my feet up in the evening with that morning's paper and a cup of gorgeously pink hibiscus tea .
Workshops are the thing these days . You can try anything crafty ; felt making , jewellery , papier machè , screenprinting , upholstery .... A few years ago , my great-aunts , then in their mid-eighties , started painting plates for their many relations after a workshop on pottery painting .... before they turned to ragdoll making after another .The trouble is I don't really want to do these things . Nor do I want to want to become an online fashion editor courtesy of a Guardian media course , 99 Pounds , book included ... I haven't got the clothes for it .
But after reading the Volkskrant weekend supplement yesterday , I was entranced by a workshop offered by skibuilding.com . In the space of two days you learn enough to build your own wooden skis . Pepperblue , a German company , give weekend courses in Beieren or Innsbruk . It woke all my old Chalet School fantasies .
Actually I've never skied and if I really wanted to , I could buy a pair from Zai in Switzerland or Ronning in Norway ... but I've never fantasised about Norway ....
While I was Googling to find a vintage Chalet School cover with skis on ( YD having taken all hers with her when she moved out ) , I was astonished to find that there's a fanclub www.chaletschool.org.uk . Perhaps I'll just join this instead .
P.S. At Friday lunchtime a student , cycling past back from the college , was singing Queen's I Want To Break Free very , very loudly . Whatever class he'd had hadn't gone well ...
There are hundreds of representations of The Madonna With Cherries , all of them beautiful . But today I stood admiring our local version and had to think that it was one of the best I've ever seen .
It used to stand , almost unnoticed , in a corner by the lift in the old hospital ... the one that was run by the nuns ,
and is still remembered with gratitude by generations of ailing Leeuwarders . The town now has a spiffy new hospital with dozens of lifts and every machine known to man and the old Bonnehûs ( St Bonifatius hospital ) has been demolished with exec. residences put up on the land instead .
But dotted about the splendid shiny new Medical Center (I still think Bonnehûs sounds more comforting ) there are little reminders .
This statue is perfect and children , in particular , must have loved it . Symbolically , cherries represent sweetness of character derived from good works and cherries in the hand of The Christ Child suggest the delights of the blessed .
And over his ears ?
The couple next door have a dog . Tiny , completely round with a curly coat and silent , Cindy resembles nothing so much as a pom-pom on a lead . She and her owner ; a pleasant mild mannered man as silent as she is , stroll sedately round the park three times a day . A model of urban pet ownership .
But there's a new cat round the corner ... a gigantic ginger tom called , appropriately , Jumbo . He's already terrorised the man downstairs' three cats ( all called Charlie for some reason ) and they've taken to hiding under the hedge and peering out nervously before crossing the road .
As I came home yesterday , neighbour and Cindy , wagging her tail politely in greeting , were off on their constitutional . Imagine my surprise when I heard her suddenly give a miniscule snuffly squeak . Neighbour pulled her to heel briskly .
"Now , now Cindy . Don't bully the cat ! ". Jumbo , who could disembowel us all , turned , smirked and swept off .
The local vet might consider giving self-defence lessons , perhaps .
It's that time of year again . I never seem to have put the right coat on and am usually overheated or rainsoaked .
Still , it definitely isn't this windswept and bleak , either . This is the cover of a 1947 pamphlet , advertising the Friese Agricultural Fair in September when , by the look of it , you'd have been advised to put on winter woolies and a hat , complete with hatpin . Proof of climate warming , if we still need it .
But , it prompted me to think about knitting again . Nothing complicated ... until the other cataract is removed , I have no depth perception , making sewing impossible , knitting interesting and cycling alarming . Well , I say nothing complicated , but led astray by Friend who'd discovered a new
woolshop , I found myself taking home rainbow wool and circular needles ... which I've never tried before . I'm a great fan of YouTube though , and always believe that there's the perfect video that will show me exactly How To ....
and there was . Or would have done had I paid attention . It turns out that when Miss Kaufman says , "make sure the cast on row isn't twisted " ,
she means just that . So I've now started again . Properly . This time it'll look less weird . I love the way it feels .
Friend had found a new cafè , too , that does delicious steak sandwiches . No photo since we ate them all up the second they hit the table so I'll show you their menu instead ... the bit where they explain their policy . Good food , responsibly sourced and served with a smile , preferably to smiling customers . So we smiled widely .
I saw today that the cafè in our local library has a more take-it-or-leave-it policy , judging by their sign outside ... 'geen' meaning no , in this case . They do have very nice coffee , though .
And , finally , a photo my colour therapy lunch today . Remarkably cheering . I even smiled .
On Tuesday , YD and I had a Girls' Day Out . After a hideously early start ... when did you last voluntarily get up at five in the morning ? ... it included taxi rides , endless coffees and the latest glossy magazines , a special hat for me , small displays of beautifully arranged antiques and excellent , friendly personal service with a smile .
Where did we go ? The local hospital's eye department and their cataract removal clinic . I'd been terrified ... scalpels ? stitches in my eyeball ? what would I see ? ... so it was perhaps just as well that YD kept a firm grip on my elbow while we went in but , once we were there , everyone was so welcoming that it would have been churlish to turn and run back whimpering into the dawn light .
And now it's done and I can see everything clearly again with my left eye , I only have one slight complaint . I've got to wait seven more weeks for the right eye to be done . Why can't I go back tomorrow ?
Me in my nifty new eye cap ... fortunately only to be worn at night . It keeps on sliding
down to my chin .
Before she left YD pointed out that I'd wrongly attributed the Henry VIII and his wives drawing to her . Apparently it was by Smitonius . "I couldn't have done anything so good . Besides I'd have given them mouse ears ". And , it's true . She'd have made dancing mice of them all . My abject apologies , meanwhile , to my eldest daughter
I've spent most of the last week rummaging , looking for an old photo for Middle Daughter . Elder Grandson is at the gappy stage , when teeth suddenly fall out , usually at inconvenient moments resulting in reverently wrapping tooth in a paper napkin and Not Losing It Till They Get Home . He's now keen to see how his parents looked when they were losing their front teeth ...
"If he just waits a few more years , he can see for himself . We'll be doing it again " , said his mother , obviously feeling her age .
Meanwhile , I'm hunting for a snap of a seven year-old MD in a poncho and toothless . Needless to say , I've found everything but . He'll have to content himself with images of toothless aunts , great aunts , grandmother , second cousins once removed ... even a dentally challenged , much younger Opa .
Which has made me wonder why I've still got all this stuff . How many generations of photos does one keep ? The one of a great uncle , aged one , propped in a chair playing a large drum is rather sweet , for instance and must be guarded . But a fuzzy-ish black and white shot of great grandmother's anonymous cousin's small son in full Highland dress , while equally sweet , seems less necessary , somehow . But I religiously put them all back in boxes , which will eventually be left to my daughters to store in their turn .
In the same case , I was amused to find a stash of drawings which I'd kept from their early school years
This one caught my eye , since I'm reading an historical novel , at the moment , about Henry II * . YD must have been doing English History at the time . I'm particularly intrigued by her depiction of Anne Boleyn ... the eyes ! ... The sheer brazen tilt of the hussy's head ! . Still YD's teacher was , after all , a Spanish nun so La Boleyna wasn't going to be kindly viewed , I suppose . One day I must organise it all and hand them on but I'm too fond of them to do it yet .
O.K. While not going overboard , I've done the mumpy bit and it's time to do something that involves less sighing ... so tiring ...
Given that Mrs. Laxmi Devi hasn't suddenly appeared outside my front door , rolling up her umbrella à la Mary Poppins , we've just been eating cottage pie or chicken fillets , slightly cheered by the last of the Dutch strawberries for pud. I've stoically eaten the last leaden Polenta Muffin and I've got Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty" out of the library to see if it can inspire me to cook something a bit more inspiring . I like his recipes ... so unjudgemental and very comforting . AndI do like aubergines .
The trip to the library helped in another way , too . At last I'd managed to creep towards the end of "Incredibly Loud etc." and returned it , glad to have read it but in need of something more relaxing . And I found Kate Atkinson's "Life after Life" on the New Book shelves ( English books take a while to get up here ) . "Oh , " said the librarian , "you'll love it ! " , And I did .
I finally got a haircut that doesn't make me look like an elderly Milly Molly Mandy
But more Christopher Robin-ish , which is an improvement ... I think .
And today we visited a Care Farm
that Husband liked and seems happy to go to one day a week . Chickens and cows , loads of cats and a beautiful Friesian horse , not too many people and the freedom to help out or just to sit in the conservatory admiring the view . It's beautifully and imaginitively run by a couple who watched their small farm become steadily less viable , while looking for a friendly day care place for a relation , and decided to kill two birds with one stone . The prospect of feeding the calves and the presence of a pair of very fat pigs clinched the deal . He goes for a trial day next week . His clogs and Benny-from-Crossroads wooly hat are ready and waiting . I could see the farmer looking at them with approval .
The same as I did before , really ... without the football avoidance .
Admiring the boats as they chug past , especially the huge ones whose masts tower above our three-storey building . Cycling through town , down Maria Luisa street and Button street to the gym and the odd desultory bit of exercise . Googling anything and everything ... pig gelatine and what it's doing in Becel Light , for instance . Cooking rather badly ( does anyone else have spells when they just can't cook anything edible , or is it just me ? ) and sewing something rather uninspired that will end up in the scrap box .
Having a post-holiday dip , in other words .
Luckily I haven't forgotten how to read . At the moment , I'm reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close in tiny bites ... it's Incredibly In Your Face and too sad and weird to read in one go . I've worked with quite a few autistic and ADHD children and tend to get sucked in , perhaps . But , while I can't say I'm enjoying it , I'm fascinated .
And , perforce , I'm plunking food on the table , edible or not . Çooking blight notwithstanding , I've found a chaas formula I like ( can't call it a recipe , really , since it's just buttermilk with spices and herbs , but wonderfully refreshing and good for you ) and , unexpectedly , a Cold Cure which I must share with you . In a little book titled Nepalese Kitchen , a Mrs. Laxmi Devi writes
"Doctor Turmeric ! For instant relief of cold , add 1/2 tsp. turmeric to a glass of hot milk and drink it ."
Not being fond of yellow milk I probably won't , but do let me know if it helps . She's obviously a splendid woman to have around ... her hiccup cure sounds failsafe , if less technicolour .
"Roast some peppercorns and breathe in deeply" .
She would probably whip me and my saucepans into shape in a trice .
It can't be .
I mean , I know we've been lolling about in blazing sunshine for weeks now , but there are lots of things I haven't done yet . Haven't had a picnic for instance , or got a suntan. I haven't gone swimming ... not that I ever do , if I think about it ... or gone to the beach ( ditto ) , or a barbecue
BUT I have encountered spacemen ,
seen the odd swan ,
been found wanting by squirrels,
seen lots of graffiti ,
gone on a guided city walk ,
eaten bruschetta in a field with half of England's middle-aged middle class ,
(* No , I didn't do it twice . Blogger's just repeated the photo )
I've been taught how to avoid being annihilated by the Joker ( this wasn't a wild success , the multitasking needed to play Batman 2 on Wii proved to be too much for me . "Never mind , Granny" . You tried ". ) and was taught by a two year-old the best way to deal with a condescending waiter ( you must turn right round in your chair to face him , pause , smile and repeat your order in exactly the same voice you used the first time ... well , it worked for Small Grandson , anyway . Might have been the smile ) .
I've eaten fish and chips , watched a waiters' Champagne race in Soho ,
eaten a fish cake at Muriel's , a gingerbread lady in Southwark
and a chicken wrap in MacDonald's .And gone to lots of exhibitions ...
And it's still only August , which gives me loads of sunlight hours to read , sew , eat tomatoes , find the right chaas recipe and to give the evil eye to whistling neighbour .... or even go for a picnic .
Well , it has here , at least . The country's gone football mad and , during the World Cup it might be seen as impolite not to sport the national colour . Everywhere you go is covered in flags , lions and giant blow-up footballs ( the care home up the street , full of very frail old ladies , even has one above their porch ) .
And nearly everyone has something orange on , though luckily most haven't gone this far ...
I think the prize should go to this little girl
Anyway , this was Groningen today :
But my favourite was a scruffy cafè down an alleyway . They'd spent nothing on decorations . They just had Pumpkin And Carrot soup on the menu . The way to a man's heart is his stomach ....
SmitoniusAndSonata is a mother and daughter collective blog.
London based Smitonius (Jessamy) makes one of a kind jewellery using vintage buttons, as well as a combination of beads from all over Europe: from lampwork ones by a range of UK artists to vintage and modern glass beads.
Sonata is a miniature quilt maker based in the North of Holland (Leeuwarden). Geraldine Keyzer is already known to collectors of Hitty dolls and owners of vintage dollhouses. She likes to use vintage as well modern cotton to create a range of quilts from simple One Patch to the more complex Grandmother's Garden.