Snow Melt Art

Until this year, the best part of snow was watching it fall and hoping it would stick. During the last snowstorm, I paused occasionally to watch it and was rewarded with about eight inches of it piled on the deck. Days of melt ensued. I had no use for this destructive process until I looked at the design where snow had melted. There seemed to be dark fanciful animals leaping there.

About half an hour later I looked at the white bits and saw a white Yorkie on the left, followed by others with their muzzles behind the dog ahead. On the right are several dachshunds.

Three days later there was a special design under a plant stand. I’m not sure if snow clung to the stand, keeping it from accumulating below, or if it melted and dripped on snow under it. Obviously, I missed the action as this was forming.

John and I were walking in a light flurry when we noticed Sadie licking the snow off the road as she walked. I failed to record that design, but I did catch her in the act of scooping up snow with her tongue.

I am so happy that snow now has two dimensions for me – one coming, the other going.

England 40 Years Ago — January 17, 1982

We came back to this country just in time for a total rail strike. According to the paper, only 5 percent of the riders depend on rails for getting to work. I find that hard to believe, but probably only because it affects us.

John went to work the day after our return, worked until early afternoon, came home to pick up clothes and went back to a hotel room his secretary found for him. He told me over the phone that it was a nice room – I had visions of his being stuck in a miserable dump of a dorm as happened one summer in Oslo.

Of course, it’s never convenient to have one’s routine disrupted. The day John left, I had a virus – the kind that gives you a headache so that being hit by a hammer would be welcome. The night after he left, Kate sat at the dinner table breathing heavily over the vomit basin. Nothing happened; she fell asleep in the living room, and I had to carry her upstairs. Then Lise woke me at 5 a.m. wanting medicine for a heavy cough that developed during the night. John returned at the weekend (English would say “at” rather than “on”) having been away for three nights.

I wouldn’t wish anyone ill health, but I’ve wanted to get inside a hospital since we moved here. I knew they were vastly different from American ones from reading English novels. I got the chance, and for the best of reasons. Paula [a young woman working in the supermarket who flirted with $ as she checked us out] had her baby a week and a half ago and was still in hospital. (They keep them for a long time for the first baby. Second and subsequent babies and mums are chucked out after one or two days.) I was told that visiting hours on maternity were from half past three to half past four. The hospital in Redhill is a conglomeration of odd buildings, most not connected to each other. I had to ask the way three times. “Straight ahead, turn right, go through that building, straight ahead, through that building, into the next, up the stairs and turn right” is what the first man said, I think. I might be there still if the way out hadn’t been marked. A nurse looked on her list for Paula’s name and directed me on the last turn. I saw a kitchen as large as mine with a cooker and a huge kettle sitting on it. I think the nurses make tea for their wards. Then on into the ward. There were about eight beds, four on each side and quite large windows. Past a glass partition were another eight beds. I tried to peer at each patient unobtrusively, but I couldn’t find Paula. One patient in the far ward didn’t know her name. Then I found one in the first ward who had known her. I was stunned when she said Paula left to go home half an hour before. I left in defeat only to return to the car park for more punishment. I couldn’t get the car up the icy hill! In only a few minutes one lady tried to help, joined shortly by a man. I was so grateful – the man put sand before the rear wheels, and the lady produced two pieces of card board.

Soon after I got home, I was able to get Paula’s mother on the telephone. She chatted for a long time explaining that Paula’s brother-in-law had taken her to the other hospital to see her baby. The baby had a spinal problem, was taken to this other hospital in Carshalton for an operation, and will be released in a month. Two weeks before the baby’s discharge, Paula will go to that hospital to live in for two weeks learning how to manage the baby. He will never walk, but his brain is fine.

I’m still adding to my vocabulary. Would you hazard a guess as to who the “roundsman” is? He’s the man who delivers milk to the front door.

Lisa has been teaching $ his first lessons in manners – shaking hands. One day he solemnly walked up to our bare old Christmas tree, with his right hand shook a branch and said, “How da do?”

[There were no photos linked to this letter, so I’m adding one of $ in the garden with the gnome. He loved the statue and probably talked to it.]

I’d used $’s usual mugs and gave him one of Kate’s for lunch. He didn’t want to drink from it, saying all the while, “Kate. Kate.” I was shocked that he would know whose it was since we have 20 to 30 mugs.

To put it in the words of the English, John has been made redundant. This week they gave him notice that he is not to work beyond 29 January. We knew it might be in the offing since a big company had been called in to do personnel studies. I think there will be only one American left after June. John is telling everyone he’s been given a five month vacation; the terms of the contract are that he is to be paid until the end of June. I don’t know the details, but the company has been most generous, and we won’t land in the poor house unless John fails to find a job by March 1983.

What we find odd is that they are willing to pay out all this money, getting no work in return. After the two next hectic weeks, John plans to do some of the school driving and concentrate on helping Kate with her homework. He does have a definite job interview next week with the president of a company in New York, and all his broker friends are feeding him with tips of other positions. At the moment, all our plans are up in the air. John hopes to travel as much as possible in Europe before starting a new job. (I should quickly add that the interview will take place in London, not New York.)

Don’t know yet what will happen about mail. Stay tuned, and we’ll let you know. Stay tuned means keep writing. Don’t use the above as an excuse, PLEASE!

Far from being upset, we are looking forward to this new phase of life, trying out retirement. We know the Lord sent us here for a reason; we know we will be taken care of, and if we do land in the poor house, then we know there is a mission there, too. Please save your sympathy and worry for someone who needs it, but do pray for guidance for us.

A Satisfying Snow

Before the snow began on Saturday night, we knew the church building would be closed on Sunday. We could sleep late, those of us not overly eager to see snow falling. I checked once in the wee hours, and our world was already white. That was a sweet sleep for me, knowing the storm had started and everyone was snug in bed.

I took the first video at 8:52.

Sadie seemed to love the snow as much as I did. John $pencer would take her out to play later.

I have often seen birds fly between the bars of the deck, but now I have proof. A song sparrow was feeding on the deck. When I startled him, he flew low enough to knock out a square of snow. I presume his landing gear was still down.

Square lined in green

I wanted a good shot of the snow on the deck.

Upon looking closer, I saw we had a new kind of bird on top of the stand. I labeled the picture Skunk Bird.

Skunk Bird
Striped skunk

While listening to our church service on line, I watched the snow and the birds flying to the feeder. That was double worship for me. John, son $, grandson David, and I spent time together chatting and eating, while I continued to watch the snow. What a satisfying day it was!

Puddle Tapping

On a day that was not so cold, I took a video of tapping ice. I find it almost irresistible to walk by a frozen puddle if there is white ice on top. Seeing white means there is air between the water and the ice. Tapping the brittle ice makes a crackling sound that is most satisfying. John was standing by, ready to assist. He gallantly offers his arm when the ice is thin, because I would get my foot wet if I lost my balance.

If any of you do this, please let me know. Finding a kindred spirit would be exciting.

England 40 Years Ago — January 12, 1982

We drove in rain up the coast to Ostend and went on to Bruges without getting out of the car.

I think we did two days’ walking in one, following suggested tours of Bruges. The city as I remember it, is a kaleidoscope of narrow buildings topped by interesting weather vanes mirrored in canals.

We noted many niches above doors of homes that had statues of the Madonna. Many window frames are red, the windows sparkling and the wooden doors polished. Post boxes are often in doors as in England, but we also saw many built right into walls of homes! Everywhere were interesting rooftops with tall spires of churches showing above them. Many windows have stained glass, others have medallions of colored glass, and still others have small clear green panes.

We went in several very old churches that were full of art works. I was amazed at two wooden pulpits in similar style – a central elaborately carved figure holds up the pulpit while two curved sets of stairs behind balance the whole thing.

We went in one museum just to see the van Eyck paintings and ones by Memling and Jerard David. Posted outside churches were death notices: John noticed them because they had black borders and RIP on them. (RIP must stand for Requiescat in Pacem.)

Dutifully we bought lace, some made with bobbins and some with needles. In one shop we saw a lady using bobbins – she just threw them around carelessly! She obviously knew what she was doing, but it looked chaotic.

Often during the day we heard the Carillon softly playing. It has 47 bells from the 18th century, and the belfry is the finest in Belgium – the most prominent feature of Bruges since the 13th century.

At different times during the day we bought little apple pastries in the open market, chocolate confections from a pastry shop, and went in an ice cream parlor to get warm. There had been snowflakes dancing around in short showers under blue skies until afternoon when a fierce black cloud covered the sun. The wind kicked up as we looked at two preserved windmills, and suddenly we felt we were in a blizzard. We took refuge in the ice cream place, ordering hot chocolate and pancakes. The chocolate came in tall glasses with a lump of sugar and a cookie on the side. Pancakes were two crepes each with a tray of sugar, chocolate sugar, raspberry jam, butter, and whipped cream. [Too bad Lise didn’t have her iPhone back then. She would have taken pictures of the lovely food.]

Front doors have little squares cut out and a metal muzzle protruding so that from inside you can open a small window and talk without opening the door.

We made one quick stop in Ghent, finding a parking space right in front of the cathedral. Inside we saw van Eyke’s Mystical Lamb. How on earth can paintings be so brilliant when 500 years old? The whole altar piece was breath taking. Also in that church in another side chapel was a Rubens.

Between Ghent and Brussels we saw any number of thatched roofs so very different from those in England. They are greenish – John thought they had a green net covering the thatch. We wanted to take a picture of one, but couldn’t find one when John could pull off the road.

In Brussels John guided us on the tram/subway at rush hour; he was in his element with excitement shining in his eyes. I felt the familiar rush of sheer panic being at the mercy of public servants and crushed among people whose language I couldn’t understand – just like my early days in New York!

We saw the Grand Place in the center of Brussels – a large square of Medieval buildings beautifully preserved. We also found the cathedral which made us aware of the good repair of so many. This one had police barricades to keep everyone in the front quarter of the building. Above our heads were safety nets, either to catch falling debris or for practicing high-wire artists.

The leisurely drive to Liege was along pleasant agricultural land where we found hills for the first time since leaving Dover. We looked for three castles, but the road markings were so poor that we found only one.

The battlefield at Waterloo is gently rolling farm land. It’s hard to imagine such a bloody, muddy battle occurred there.

Most of the areas we saw in Liege had lively modern shops. We walked from the cathedral to a palace and the town hall, also seeing the National Theater.

We started out for Luxembourg, but snow was accumulating fast. We ate at a lovely café in Bastogne, saw the monument to the American soldiers involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and crept back to the hotel. [Still a happy memory after all these years is my first taste of Béarnaise sauce in that café. It was served in a gravy boat to go with the beef we ordered. After we got back to England, I searched through my cookbooks and made my own recipe from a combination of the instructions.]

On Sunday we made the easy journey to Aachen, Germany, where we worshiped in the church built by Charlemagne!! His bones were in an elaborate gold coffin at the front of the church, and his throne in its original position in the gallery. As for the present, we thoroughly enjoyed the precise choir in their lively sanctuary.

We woke to heavy snow falling the day we were to return home. The expressways were barely open, usually with only one lane plowed. John drove us safely to Calais where our hovercraft flight was cancelled. They gave us a ticket on a ferry, instead. There was snow on the ground in England, but the roads were clear. Clear, that is, except side roads. Walton was a winter wonderland and our drive under five inches of snow. I think this is the seventh major storm to hit England this winter – most unusual.

Being Thankful

I’m thankful I can see and hear, having experienced a bit of blindness and deafness in the last few months. Skip this if you don’t want to read about some joys and drawbacks of aging.

We went to a Twelfth Night concert on Sunday afternoon at Lake Junaluska, the Methodist conference center near us. Our new church music director invited us, and we enjoyed hearing her sing with the Asheville Symphonic Chorus accompanied by a harp. This was the first time I heard live music while wearing hearing aids. It seems every new situation is an eye-opener, or in this case, ear opener. The sound was very loud to me, though I saw no one else cringe. I’ve always thought a harp was soft, struggling to be heard over the sound of an orchestra, but this harp never sank below the singers. David could empathize. He has extremely sensitive ears, so the music assaulted his ears, too. John asked me the practical question – couldn’t you have turned down the volume of the hearing aids? I never thought of it, wanting to experience the music as it really was.

I never realized people need time to adjust to hearing aids. My deafness was not profound, yet I had to get used to hearing things differently. The “s” sounds in people’s speech sizzled. Running water seemed loud, out of proportion to everything else. I discovered my camera whirred when turned on. Those were things to be thankful for.

I am still learning when to change the wax guards. On the way to meet friends for dinner, I realized I couldn’t hear out of one ear. Back home, I removed the aids and felt oddly unbalanced the rest of the evening. For me, having input from both sides of my head is important. I remember my dad standing before the big wall clock, setting the volume on his aids. He knew if he could hear the clock, he would be able to hear people. My test is touching the hair over each ear. If it doesn’t sound like two pieces of paper rubbing together, I need to check it. I’m grateful for having found this routine.

I continued to struggle with eyesight after fluid leaked into the retina of one eye. The retina specialist immediately began a series of injections, and I’ve just had the evaluation. (Many thanks to neighbor Shawn for driving me to that appointment. John was having a heart scan in Asheville at the same time.) Dr. K seemed a bit disappointed that I hadn’t noticed much improvement. He looked at the computer screen again and found the answer. There was dramatic improvement after the first injection and not much change over the next few months. Good to know! I needed to be told I had something to be thankful for. We will continue injections at six week intervals. After three, he will evaluate the eye again. If all is well, the next set will be two months apart. He said it is safe for me to drive again.

As I walked toward the living room, I could see ornaments on the floor. Either Sadie’s tail knocked them down, or they fell off the wilting branches. I’m thankful I see well enough to avoid objects at unexpected places before stepping on them.

Reading is still difficult. One eye sees things at normal size, and the dominant eye shrinks the image about 25%. They are fighting each other. Evidently, my brain has adjusted to this when viewing things at a distance. John pointed out that prescription reading glasses could correct that. I’m happy there is a question I can ask next time.

Walking to the Creek

I invited grand-dog Sadie to walk, and she just stared at me from the bed. It was her way of telling me I was crazy. Maybe she realized the cold might hurt her paws, since the thermometer showed 19 F (-7.22 C) outside. If she had been with me, I would not have gone to the creek, but would have turned around at the stop sign. Being alone freed me to frolic on the frozen puddles. I adore the sound of cracking ice when you tap a puddle that has frozen over. Most of them were frozen solid, but there were a few excellent ones where the water had evaporated, leaving an ice top hanging in place. If my fingers had stayed warm, I would have tried a selfie video to showcase the sound.

A man I didn’t know rolled his window down at the stop sign and commented on my being outside. What an interesting story he had! He grew up in Maine, moved to Florida, and then relocated here in North Carolina. He repairs heating and air conditioning systems. He said it was 84 F (28.9 C) on a winter’s day in Florida, and that was just too hot. If he had been in Maine, he would have shoveled snow to get to the heating units. NC is perfect for him.

The longer I walked, the warmer I got. With half a mile to go, I took off a headband, put the knit hat back on, removed gloves, and unzipped the coat. It was wonderful to shed the layers when I stepped in the front door. I checked the clips from the cam on the porch and extracted one frame of my going out and one when I came home. I waved at the camera in the first and fanned my face with the hat in the second.

While cooling off, I chatted with grandson Nathaniel via text. He is spending his winter break with his dad upstate New York. I was pleased he sent me photos of peanut butter pinwheels and rum-raisin cinnamon bread he had made.

I asked if he was enjoying the snow in NY, and he sent me a photo of the snow angel he made the day before. That tickled me, because I love angels. This one had to be the tallest one I’ve ever seen, because Nathaniel is 6 feet 5 inches (1.95 m) tall.

Whether you are in the northern hemisphere or down under, I hope you are enjoying appropriate weather.

End of the Christmas Season

I looked back at the photos I took this Christmas, wanting to savor the memories. The time flew by with no time for reflection. It all began with a gathering of all the neighbors at Joyce’s house on the 20th.

Anyone with a birthday in a week before or after Christmas knows they are celebrated in nanoseconds. That’s all I’ve ever known, so I was pleased. A very special find was a birthday balloon in the shape of a Christmas tree. That summed it up perfectly.

Christmas dinner was relaxed for everyone. I was glad son John $pencer took a video of the flaming Christmas pudding. In England 40 years ago, neighbor Gillian gave us one she had made and included the recipe. I still have that recipe in her handwriting and use it every year.

After dinner, all but the two Johns went for a walk. Neighbor Logan shared his scooter with grandson David, which delighted David.

Four of us waited for the new year to begin. Six were side-lined by having been with someone who tested positive for COVID.

North Carolina snows are often beautiful and disappear without freezing on the roads. Ours came on January 3. I liked the margarita-looking birdbath on the deck and Sadie’s exploring a snowman on our morning walk. She growled, backed away, ventured forward, and finally sniffed the white alien.

The rock that had been in the birdbath wore an ice halo. This morning I noticed miniature lights on the Christmas tree. The tiny ornament reflected all the lights around it. To mark Epiphany, we’ll turn off the tree tonight at midnight.

England 40 Years Ago — January 3, 1982

Happy New Year!

We had a lovely visit with John’s folks. I always intend to hustle people to and fro so they can see lots of interesting places, but I often fall down on the job. We did get to Brighton, but there were no parking places near the Pavilion. Each time we go, we get closer. Maybe one of these days we’ll make it inside.

We thoroughly enjoyed getting all the news of home and were content to sit and chat by the fire. The girls, too, seemed to join in the conversation more than before.

I’d never want to run a contest to see who misses whom the most, but John $ was a sight. He cried for half an hour after the crew left. That night we had invited the two Sutton girls to spend the night, so still had six places at the table plus the high chair. After I put the salads at each place, John $ touched each one saying, “Grandma, Pop-pop, etc.” Several times he has said their names with a question mark; he realizes they aren’t here, but can’t understand where they went. [He was 2 years old at the time.]

Last night for the first time since we came home from Christmas in Germany, there were only five at the table. Felt small!

Today we went down to the Wilson’s (owners of this house) to visit with them for an hour. They’d also invited old friends of theirs, the man a doctor, and the wife originally from Estonia. That was most enjoyable.

Tomorrow John is going to the airport early to pick up Gerhard who will have time for a short visit, lunch, and the trip back to the airport where he will continue his journey to Germany. We always look forward to seeing him.

John, Lisa, Kate, Gerhard

Tuesday we’ll get up early and get the Dover ferry on our way to Belgium.

England 40 Years Ago — Christmas 1981, Part 3

Nymphenburg Palace was as beautiful as Versailles. In fact, it’s put together more cohesively. In a huge circle are small palaces, stables, walls, and the big palace. The large mansion is Baroque – lots of paintings, gilded scroll work and lavish drapes.

We particularly enjoyed the carriage display with gilded sleighs, regal coaches of gold with paintings and a musician’s sleigh.

In the large park are other small buildings. One, the Amalianburg, is a hunting lodge encrusted with lots of silver, special wall papers and Delft tiles.

Yes, a hunting lodge!
A toilet in the hunting lodge!

The orangery in the park housed a delightful little restaurant where we ate large hot dog type things.

An hour away from Munich are the Bavarian Alps – gorgeous! We drove around a resort ringing a large lake. There were oodles of chalet guest houses and hotels besides swanky shops and tempting kinditoreis. We stopped at one for coffee and dessert – the coffee being served with a miniature pot of whipped cream. There we also bought marzipan pink pings, the standard shape and colour to have at New Year’s.

Instead of eating at our inn, one night we walked to a fancy pizzeria and ate the best pizza since we left New York.

We went with Armin and his mother to a downtown church in Munich.

John $ thoroughly enjoyed his Christmas. When we walked into Armin’s house on Christmas Eve, Ingrid pointed to a study little wooden train set. It was his gift from them! John walked straight to it, played intensely and never noticed a bowl full of cookies sitting next to it.

Ingrid offered cookies to the children, but we wanted them to have dinner first. I even sneaked two bowls back into the kitchen when no one was looking. She brought them out again with a flourish, and we agreed she could indulge them to her heart’s content. $ stuffed his mouth repeatedly and loved every crumb.

They served ham decorated with pineapple, mashed potatoes, beans and carrots and Pears Helene. They told us that the usual Christmas dinner for Catholic Bavarians is fish and goose. [I didn’t write about it at the time, but Armin’s mother and her twin sister were there. Ingrid, a wonderful hostess, had us sit at two tables. Armin was with us at the English-speaking table, and Ingrid was at the German-speaking table. That took the pressure off all of us. We had general conversation after all, because John could follow it. If I knew the subject, I could get the gist of a story. It was a marvelous evening, one I will never forget.]

Christmas morning we opened a few little gifts in our room, ate Stollen and drove into Munich again for church. What a marvelous experience to worship in a Lutheran church in Germany on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! For the first time, and probably the last, we saw two large trees flanking the altar softly glittering with real candles! When the music began we nudged each other with delight at every organ piece and chorale. John and I knew every piece of music in the whole service, and the girls recognized all but two! We knew all the melodies for the hymns.

We had feared going hungry all day since so many places are closed for Christmas and Armin and Ingrid were going away. We had no trouble. The most posh hotel in Munich had their very expensive grill open at $50 a head. Luckily John found a reasonable place in the basement where we could eat comfortably and afford it.

Anne John $ Lisa Kate

We started out for a different view of the Alps, but turned back when the huge flakes of snow began piling up on the autobahn. Instead we drove to Landshut – college friend Gerhard’s home town.

We rounded a bend, and John said, “There’s the cathedral of Landshut.” Soon the castle on a high hill dominating the town was in clear view. Breath taking! It was almost dark. After we ate sausages a few yards from the cathedral, we saw the buildings all lit up. The town looked rich with tastefully decorated shops, many Christmas trees, and quite a few people.

The Bavarian style of Christmas tree seems to be one with white lights only. We caught glimpses of white lighted trees inside, but the outside ones glowed with reflections on snow.

Our flight back to Heathrow was a few minutes early, but so was the Mehrling’s plane. John’s parents had waited patiently for us for three hours. Two men were there right on time to pick us up – we’d been afraid to leave our car in an outside parking lot for nine days since there would be no one to call to get it started if anything went wrong. England was closed up tight for Boxing Day.

The next day, Sunday, it was snowing hard when we got up. We took the easy way and stayed close to home, walking to St. Peter’s. The little church is particularly lovely all decorated with greens and flowers for Christmas.