Friday, December 31, 2021

Reflections on 2021


So much has already been said and written about 2021 that I want to keep this short. In general it certainly was a rollercoaster ride with vaccines being available and the hope that the pandemic would be way more manageable (it will never be completey gone, I think we all know this by now), with a lighter way of life during the early summer, then Delta struck, boosters were made available and then we got Omicron. Up and down. It seems we better get used to it.

For me personally it wasn't such a bad year. Yes, I did have some anxieties, but I have learned (still do) to deal with them by meditating and trying to look at the brighter side, at all the good things in my life. There is a lot to be grateful for and I practice that every day.

It is still hard for me that my daughter lives so far away and I have no idea when I will see her again. I miss her very much, but I work hard on living my own life and enjoying the moments of connection. Some days are better, some aren't. That's life I guess.

My best decision this past year was to quit my high school library job. I have been feeling so much better since then - I have never regretted taking this step. As a result I started creating again, playing with mixed media, making tags and cards and working in my long negelcted art journal again. I had time to read and, of course, work in the garden which gives me so much joy. I haven't blogged as much as I wanted to, but maybe this will happen next year.

I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with many of you again through participating in the T Tuesday posts. I loved discovering new blogs and revisiting "old" ones. It was wonderful to read so many lovely comments from you - thank you for all your kind words that were often encouraging for me. You are the best.

I wish all of you a happy, joyful and healthy new year. 

"See" you in 2022!


Thursday, December 23, 2021

The Silence of Christmas

Today, one day before Christmas Eve, I want to share a post again that I wrote several years ago. Recently, when I talked with my class about German Christmas traditions, I noticed how much I miss my native country around this time. So I thought I share our German Christmas Eve with you again.

In Germany, our “big day” is not Christmas Day (and we even have two of them!) but Christmas Eve – Heilig Abend (Holy Eve) as it is called. It usually starts out hectic, often with the last big shopping because all of the stores and supermarkets will be closed for the following two days. But around 2:00 pm the shops (including the grocery stores) close and by 3:00 pm at the latest a magical silence covers the entire country like a beautiful veil. The ideal December 24th brings snow in the afternoon and turns the world into a winter wonderland by the time the first church bells start to ring.

Oh, the sound of church bells – how much do I miss this! They ring every day (at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, at noon and again at 6:00 pm), but on Christmas Eve all the bells are ringing, from the smallest, highest pitch to the biggest one with the deepest, loudest sound. It’s a concert of bells that resounds through the silence, calling for mass. Christmas services start in the later afternoon, the first ones mainly for smaller children, showing nativity plays and involving the kids. Later in the evening follow the more “grown-up” services with meaningful sermons and the old German Christmas carols sung by the congregation. Everybody knows these songs and since the churches are always packed on Christmas Eve it is a strong and joyful singing.

After church it’s back home – and waiting for Christkind (Christ Child). Yes – it often is not Santa coming through the chimney (there are not that many houses with a fireplace anyway) but Christkind. When I was a child I always envisioned Christkind with golden curly hair and a flowing white dress, an angelic smile on its face. It would place the presents in “die gute Stube” (“the good room” = living room) and magically disappear, unseen by anyone. The children are called in and they stand in awe looking at the Christmas tree – that was brought in and decorated only the day before (or even in the morning) and very often carries real candles on its branches. I have always loved the real candles, it smells differently and the whole atmosphere is – yes, magical. After singing a few Christmas carols everybody opens their presents accompanied by Christmas music on the radio.

And if you’re still awake or missed the afternoon/evening service you can go to midnight mass – always my favorite Christmas service. A huge tree is lit (some with real candles – we live dangerously in Germany!), the atmosphere is festive and peaceful – it is our “Silent Night, Holy Night”.

May the magic of Christmas touch your heart, wherever you are.


Monday, December 20, 2021

T is for Tender-Crisp Gnocchi


The cooler season is the perfect time for enjoying brussels sprouts. I remember that as a child I didn't like this vegetable very much, mainly because my mom used to cook them in boiling water. They were mushy and that was the way my dad liked them and remembered them from his childhood. I am still surprised that my mom, who was a very good cook, made them this way and never tried a different approach. Because of this I always stayed away from brussels sprouts - until I came upon a recipe that I thought sounded too good to pass by. It has become a favorite in our household.

The recipe for the crisp gnocchi with brussels sprouts and brown butter comes from the cooking section of the New York Times, but of course I put my own twist to it.

These are the ingredients that you will need for my version:

1 pound brussels sprouts (give or take a few)
1 organic lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided in 3 TBSP and 1 TBSP)
kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 tsp red-pepper flakes (more if you like more heat)
18 oz shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi
6 TBSP unsaltetd butter, cut into 6-8 pieces
freshly grated Parmesan (for serving)

Trim and halve the brussels sprouts. Peel thick strips of lemon zest and coarsely chop them.
In a large skillet (I use my cast iron pan), heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the brussels sprouts, season with 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper, then arrange them in an even layer, cut-side down.  Sprinkle the lemon zest over the top and cook without disturbing them until the brussels sprouts are well browned underneath, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the red-pepper flakes, stir and cook until the brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl

In the same pan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high. Break up any gnocchi that are stuck together, add them to the pan and cook, covered and undisturbed, until golden brown on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Check after 2 minutes to avoid that the gnocchi burn which can easily happen if you're not careful.

Add the butter, season with salt and a generous amount of black pepper. 

Cook, stirring, until the butter is golden and foaming, 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir in the brussels sprouts until warmed through.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan - the cheese will quickly melt into the dish.

Enjoy this delicious dish with a glass of good pinot noir - my chosen drink for this week's T-post, hosted by the lovely Elizabeth of the Altered Book Lover

To all of you T gang people who celebrate it, I wish you a peaceful and blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2021

T is for 'Tis the Season


So this is Christmas - and what have you done?

I didn't even thought to start this post with these words, but the moments my fingers hit the keyboard, that old John Lennon song came to mind and the words were staring back from the screen to me. And of course, now the song is stuck in my head!

Here we are in December, it's a mere 12 days til Christmas. We call this season "Adventszeit" in Germany and it certainly is the time when I miss my native country the most. No one can do Christmas like Germany. I spent the Christmas season in several countries, but the magic happens in Germany.

Christmas has largely lost its magic for us, but one thing we do every year the day after Thanksgiving is hanging lights on our home and garden fence. The Geek and Kaefer used to do it together, but since the girl moved to Germany, the Geek has been doing it on his own (no, I am not climbing on the roof). He always gets a ton of compliments; some evening dog walkers told us that they explicitly walk this route in order to admire our lights. It does bring cheer and brightness into this corner of our street.

Kaefer, who is sad that the Christmas market is closed in Munich for the second year due to COVID, sent us a "care package" with all the wonderful German sweets that we like so much. Isn't she a darling girl?

She has had some snow in Munich and sent us pictures of the tiny snowman she had made.

In my German class we had talked about the Christmas markets, the cookies and, of course, Glühwein (mulled wine). So this past Saturday - our last class before the winter break - I invited all of them home for some Glühwein. We sat outside, it was sunny but chilly - at least the temperatures resembled a little bit the Christmas market atmosphere. 

There were Christmas cookies, gebrannte Mandeln (roasted almonds) and Lebkuchen.

On the stove the Glühwein was heating up (red wine, oranges, cloves and cinnamon; everybody sweetens their Glühwein to taste).

I had pulled out the few mugs that I had bought at the Tübingen Christmas market years ago. Each year I would buy a mug and then stroll along the streets with all the booths and get regular refills of Glühwein.

Guess what? This is my ticket for Elizabeth and the T gang!

We had a great time.

I enjoy showing my students our German traditions and introduce them to some of them. Plus, it's a great excuse for getting together outside of school.