Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas Memories: Bavarian Christmas

Yuletide in Bavaria is the quintessential Christmas experience! The place is like a Christmas card come to life. The food, the smells, the markets, the decorations, gluhe Wein and usually snow!

There are treasured memories of our 5 years in Tutzing are of the people around our table and being invited to share in celebrations with other friends -- German, American and British. There is the memory of our very first Christmas when it started snowing on Christmas Eve just as we were arriving back at our apartment. We had a ground floor flat that was accessible from the outside garden. I can still see The Man's face standing on the patio, his beaming face toward the sky and snow flakes falling all around him -- it was the first time in his life he had experienced snowfall at Christmas -- and it was just perfect -- in other words not too much, but on the other hand not to little! And the Bavarian winters we experienced did not have the bitter cold of New England either. It was normal to sit outside basking in the sun on a winter's afternoon skiing.

The Christmas season in Bavaria begins with Advent when the Christmas markets open. One of my favourite memories is walking down the pedestrian way in Munich -- it was late afternoon and had just started to snow when we heard the strains of Offenbach's Can-Can! We walked a little further and there to our right a stage had been set up -- and there they were eight or ten women in full regalia kicking high as the snowflakes whirled around them! The stalls at these markets are extremely varied -- from food to ornaments. It is true that many of them are filled with dross you can find anywhere, but there are also many with unique handmade gifts and ornaments the like of which you would never find anywhere but Germany: from complex hand-carved pyramids that turn from candle power to hand-blown glass tree decorations to angels made with delicate wax faces.

Christmas celebrations begin Christmas Eve (Weilnachten). The tradition for many is that the decoration of the tree is done by the parents of the household in great secrecy -- the doors are kept closed until the magic hour. When they are opened the tree is decorated and lit up -- often still with candles -- and under the tree are presents that have been left by the Christ Child (Christkind). The main Christmas meal is that night. Then there are two holidays -- Christmas Day 1 and Christmas Day 2 -- I don't recall hearing what the German words are for these!

New Year is known as Sylvester -- because it falls on the Saint's day. In our area of Bavaria it is traditional for families to go to go into the mountains surrounding Garmish-Partenkirchen and set off fireworks at midnight. The twinkling lights of the village below and snow all deep and crisp and  even crowned by a halo of light from the mountains is quite a magnificent way to see in the new year.

We celebrated 5 Christmastides in Bavaria. Because it is traditional for the Germans to celebrate their main meal on Christmas Eve, it was easy to incorporate German friends into our traditional time frames. One year my eldest son was with us and he was/is a good cook. We decided it would be fun to set up the barbecue and have a traditional summer barbecue cooked on the grill which stood in the snow in our garden. It tasted absolutely wonderful and was a huge hit with all our visitors -- who actually enjoyed going outside and keeping warm around the charcoal fire and sizzling pieces of chicken smothered in sauce! I think we did this on Christmas Eve.

In those days I would try to prepare the Christmas Day food as much as possible on Christmas Eve, so that my Christmas would be that much easier in the kitchen. Traditionally we would have twice baked potatoes and fillet of beef. We had lots of guests one year and friends in the neighbouring village had invited everybody to a Christmas Eve party -- which started in the afternoon. I was very busy with my preparations and said we should decline the invitation -- but The Man was determined to go and they all left me behind (yes, I was miffed) Anyway, left to my own devices I got on with the tasks at hand -- after having been lectured by my darling sister-in-law about how I need to learn how to delegate tasks! She meant that all the things I were doing could have been shared the following day with her!

Well, they all went off to party and party they all did -- until very late. The Man did get back, on his own, to take me to church about 10 p.m. There was lots of snow all around and by the time we got home it was snowing again. It was past midnight and they were all back and sister-in-law was in agony. In their less-than-sober state they had decided upon their return home that it would be great fun to take the sledge over to the park and slide down the new-fallen snow. Somehow it turned over onto sister-in-law and she did her knee in. She was in so much pain that the following day The Man and her husband had to take her to the hospital to get checked out! So much for delegating tasks to her! OHHHH! I was sooooo vindicated!!!! She could hardly walk for the rest of her stay, but since I had never learned to delegate, I could cope, dinner was served and 'the band played on ...', as they say!

Friday, December 30, 2011

On the Sixth Day of Christmas Memories: Frostbite

One year when I was a teenager, my best friend, her sister and I decided we would go skiing. It was a crisp sunny day and we set out in the early afternoon a few days before New Year. I was very proud of my ski outfit and my bright red skis. I don't think I could have been much more than 16 because my girlfriend was not driving but had her sister with us and had her car.

Our original plan had been to go to a nearby ski run, but there had been some good new snow and on our way we thought we could save some money on ski lifts and such like -- if we did our skiing at a golf course that was on the way. So we found a good spot with a nice little slope for practice runs, parked the car and walked through a bit of woodland to the slope. I had all the right gear -- woolly hat, ski gloves proper parka and ski pants. So I made ready to climb the hill in front of me, encumbered a bit by wearing my skis and using my poles for the climb.

It was the first time since I'd left the house that I'd been in the open. I knew it was very cold, but I had not reckoned with the wind -- until it proceeded to blow me up the hill! Initially I thought -- "Oh, this is an easy way to get to the top of the hill!" But it wasn't long before I started to wonder if I would be able to slide down the slope once I turned around. And so about half way up I turned around and found myself being blown backwards up the hill... The only way I could stop was to fall to the ground. Very quickly the wind was blowing through the hat and it felt like my ears were being whipped -- which they were -- by the wind! I took my skis off and tried in vain to get down the slope standing up and just could not. My hands were now getting colder and colder -- but the pain in my ears was the worst. I got down on my stomach and managed somehow to crawl, with skis and poles in tow back to my friends at the bottom and the shelter of the trees. This took about 10 excruciating minutes. I was nearly in tears, but finally got back into the car and back home.

In fact I was very lucky. I had merely had a 'brush' with frostbite! My ears were bruised and sore for some time. For a week or so after it happened I had to wear a covering over my ears indoors and out or they hurt. And for many years I could never let them get cold without have pain to some degree. To this day cold weather can give my ear a twinge that reminds me of that day when I was about 16. That experience taught me a very important lesson about the winter weather: it can be very dangerous so know what you are getting into. If you are not properly prepared you can be in big trouble. When I went out I did not realize there was wind -- but I should have.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

On the Fifth Day of Christmas Memories: Blizzard!

Christmas 2002 The last time we were all together...
Christmas 2002 was very exciting for us. We decided to spend Christmas in the States with my parents -- all of us from England and my son and his wife and my grandson, who would celebrate his 2nd birthday on the 27th of December. My son, Chris, was in the army and stationed at Ft. Lewis just outside of Olympia, Washington. He found a great deal on airline tickets if he took an early morning flight on Christmas Day. The Hartford airport was a good hour 15 minutes from my parents home in Kent so we were looking for them late morning sometime.

But they were racing against time. Against the time heavy snow was due to start to fall! As I recall we were expecting them around noon -- so we got our present giving out of the way and cleared up -- always keeping on eye out of the window looking for the now-dreaded white stuff. Well I suppose it was around 11:00 when the first flakes drifted down. The ground was frozen, it was very cold -- and would get colder -- so soon everything was white. But at just after noon the car pulled in. Their flight had not been delayed by bad weather, the roads were empty as they are on Christmas Day and they were able to get on their way without a hitch. Great relief all around. My grandson, Sam, was wide-eyed and shy with all the fuss. And it was then that the snow hit -- hard -- 18 inches by the time it finished!

 Two grandparents and two great-grandparents meant a plethora of presents for little Sam. And then two days after Christmas it was his second birthday and more and more presents. It's the first time I've ever seen a child completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of packages to unwrap. And then before he had a chance to look at or play with one thing there was another to take its place. It was the first time I'd seen a child back away from more!! So we decided it best to mete out the gifts over the week or so they were with us.

In the meantime for the rest of the day it continued to snow. The neighbour turned up with his truck with the plow attachment and gave the driveway a quick going over and the rest of the day we all took time out to keep the way clear as much as possible. This was a new experience for The Man and proved to him that the temperature could be well below zero and you could still get snow! And that there were times when every man and woman needs to don hat and gloves!!

The next day was bright with  that blue winter sky that almost blinds you as it glistens off the snow. I took Sam and tried to walk him down the icy path to the road. His father measured him against the snow -- he sank to his waist, but before he could be alarmed he lifted back on to the road and we continued to try to take our walk. A few paces up the hill and he was ready to be picked up and carried back down again!

The little tree before and after! 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Fourth Day of Christmas Memories: The Doctor Calls

As to the year I cannot recall exactly, but I would guess it was 1952. As usual I was up at the crack of dawn. That was the year the my curiosity got the better of me and I was unable to resist trying to have a peek at the stack of presents in the dining room. Of course I was sure my mother wouldn't realize that I had been trying to see by lifting the paper around the tape -- which of course ripped! And my grubby sweaty little fingers would have been another dead give-away.

When she discovered my attempts at discovery she was quite 'annoyed' to say the least! "Well, all right! If you are going to be like that come here -- we are just going to open them now"! And she grabbed the present wrapped in shredded red tissue paper and it looked for all the world as if she would indeed open it...

"No! no! no!" I wept. I really didn't want to open them. My desire to have presents on Christmas with everybody else outweighed my intrepid curiosity. Great relief -- Mom relented! Never again would I try to open a Christmas present before its time -- to this day!

Christmas morning finally came and Santa Claus, with the help of Gram Claus had one of my all time favorite presents. It was of course a doll. But with the doll came a wardrobe/trunk. And it was filled with beautiful hand made doll clothes! It's funny but the only thing I can remember of the clothes was a white furry coat and hat -- I can even remember the buttons, but I cannot recall any of the dresses.

I waited and waited for my little sister to join me and finally went up and woke her up and made her come down stairs to see the wonderful goodies on display for us. Mom and Dad joined us and presents were finally opened. It turned out that the present in the red tissue paper was a cowgirl outfit complete with holster and hat -- it was black with white fringe -- and there was one for me and one for my sister. We both put them on immediately.

It soon became obvious that little sister was not quite herself -- she was so quiet and just wanted to lie down. Dad took her temperature -- 104F. What a thing to happen on Christmas Day. I can still see her lying there on the couch, in  her cowgirl outfit -- guns in holster -- on her tummy fast asleep. Then Dr. Farmer came -- yes, once upon a time doctors made house calls even on Christmas Day!!!! In America!!! The diagnosis was almost instant: Measles.

From my point of view though, wicked child that I was,  it meant that I had several days of my doll with clothes -- as well as hers to play with to my hearts content.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas Memories: The Loriols

It was 1954 when the Loriol Family came to St. Johnsbury, Vermont from France. The family was a match for ours with two girls and a boy and we were all of similar ages. M. Georges Loriol was an English teacher in France and had come on an exchange program to teach French at St. Johnsbury Academy, where my father taught English. Both of our families lived in school accommodation and lived more or less across the street and around the corner from each other.

Christmas 1954 is the only time I can remember that our family ever had dinner at someone's house other than our own. I only wish that I had a better memory of the feast that was laid before us -- but 9-year-old cretin that I was, I had absolutely no appreciation of the culinary delights that would have been placed before us. I am sure I turned up my nose at almost everything though!

My memory of the day is mostly about events earlier in the day! Events that had everything to do with presents. And avarice ... mine! At that age Christmas for me was all about presents -- my presents! And the present I was always most interested in was what was my new doll going to be like. I had been told that this was the last Christmas I would be getting a doll because the next year I was going to be too old to get dolls. So I was really really hoping for something special! And in the back of my head I also worried that maybe I would like my sister Mary's doll more than my own!!

As usual Christmas morning came earlier than my parents would have liked and the two sisters clambered down the stairs and into the living room to find out what Santa had laid out for them. The dolls were a success and I liked mine as much as the other one. So we played and sooner or later Mom and Dad arrived to find out what had come down the chimney for their dear little girls.

Now it was the custom in our family that Santa Claus would deliver his presents around the room -- along with stockings. And we children were allowed to come down and discover our new treasures and play quietly until the adults came downstairs to join us. We would then have some kind of breakfast and after that it was time to give out the other wrapped presents from other relatives. These were all piled high in the dining room -- inviting all kinds of speculation and picking up and shaking and so on. This particular year there was a package still in its postal wrapping that my mother had surmised had come from my grandmother. But when she took the wrapping off there was a sudden mysterious exclamation -- she tried to hide it as soon as she saw that immediately my nosey little ears had pricked up and that I was aware that something 'big' was up!

Mom was being very coy and she and Dad said something about 'Maybe Easter' and the package was suddenly wrapped back up -- but not before I had seen loads of tissue paper and two great big boxes and heard the words "I thought they hadn't come and so I ordered new ones" -- and then I heard my father say,
"Maybe we should give them to the Loriol girls". And then my Mother said, "Oh, no that's far too much..."

Well! You can but imagine my indignation! My sense that I was definitely being done out of something that I would not like being done out of!!! Anyway, the mysterious box -- which I was convinced in my tiny little mind contained more dolls -- was put away and what with getting ready to go to the Loriols house for a meal around noon, I let my worries subside -- for the time being...

Now we had some little presents for Annie and Yvette Loriol -- some little dollies -- very little and very inexpensive -- the kind of thing you could buy in Woolworths for probably less than a dollar. We all piled into the car and just as we did who should arrive breathless and all smiles, but Annie. She was sooooooo excited -- about Christmas and just couldn't wait for us to get to their house. We were allowed to bring our new dollies with us and when Annie saw them she got so excited and oohed and ahhed with such enthusiasm that guess what happened! From the back seat of the car I saw my parents look at each other -- they didn't say a word. The next thing I knew my mother got out of the car and went back into the house. A few minutes later she returned -- with the mysterious box. Which I knew, just knew she was going to do!

I remember two feelings about this: my greedy little heart was not pleased; I knew my parents had done the right thing. Oh and they had. The dolls were exquisite -- just wonderful. And those two girls were so thrilled and surprised. And we received the most wonderful little kitchen that my sister and I would play with for hours on end.

And just today I received a letter in the post from Georges Loriol -- in response to my note and Chrsitmas card. He and his wife, Suzanne, are still in their house in Neuville de Poitou at 91 and 92 years! We have an invitation to stay over night with them on our way to and/or from our house in the Lot. I look forward to seeing them again -- with the proviso that he is still alive!!! These people are full of joie de vivre and if the good Lord is willing and the 'crick' don't rise we will share more special time together.

Monday, December 26, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas Memories: Christmas 1968

It's funny what one remembers about past events ... I remember my parents and my brother and sisters were all ready to leave for church on Christmas Eve 1968. I was wearing my brand new never-worn-before red winter coat!

The television was still on and suddenly NASA was broadcasting from the astronauts as they circled the moon and watched the Earthrise. It was an amazing thing to see and then to hear Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read from the first 10 verses of Genesis, was for me an unforgettable moment and one of my favourite Christmas Eve memories. Our whole family was transfixed and filled with wonder, love and gratitude for our planet and for the Creator in whose image we have been made...

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On the First Day of Christmas Memories: The Village

Merry Christmas to All! 
When I was a child we never had a real Christmas tree. Altogether we had three fake trees and there was a good reason for this ... we had a very special Christmas village. The artificial Christmas tree was the 'village' Christmas tree and could not be allowed to compromise the 'works' that made the village come to life!
My mother was born in April of 1919 and by the end of the year her father had hand made an exquisite village for her. My Grandfather was the youngest son of German watchmakers and jewellers which made him a dab hand at anything that required delicacy of touch.

There were 3 windmills and each turned at different speeds -- depending on the mechanics of the pulleys located underneath the table the village stood on. The tabletop had been covered in canvas, which had been coloured green and stuffed in places to give the appearance of hills. At the back of the table were two plaster-of-Paris tunnels -- one at either end. Running between the two tunnels was a wide piece of cloth tape upon which was glued a hand-carved steam engine, coal tinder and two passenger cars. The tape was pulled along from one tunnel to the next and then went under the table -- pulled by the largest wheel of them all. It is an abiding memory that whenever anyone came to see us over Christmas, the first thing that would happen was the curtain around the table -- hiding the works -- would be lifted and rear-ends would fly up as men and boys went down on their hands and knees investigated how things worked!
The roof of the windmill came off and thread would be pulled around a small pulley wheel and down and around through the table and over to a master wheel system and another wheel. The whole system was connected to a little motor of the kind you see with electric trains -- with a dial which dictates the speed that the rotor goes around.

The trees that you see are carefully selected twigs that my mother would periodically go out to find and the evergreens are made from steel wool which has been painted. These evergreens were very old. The trees were made to pierce through the canvas into the wadding of the ground beneath.

The mill to the right was placed next to an enamel basin. In this picture the original basin had been replaced and my father had not got around to plastering and painting it to look like the bottom of a pond!

When I was little the artificial snow was made of a
mica like substance that sparkled and had a real look of snow about it. By the time I was about 10 it was no longer availab and for years we could only get snow made of plastic bag like consistency -- it was horrible. Later my mother discovered this stuff you spray on and while it looked like snow, it stuck like glue to the houses and table and was impossible to remove. This was unfortunate as the beautiful detail of the houses and other buildings was difficult to appreciate.

The white house with black shutters was my favorite as a child -- and it is pretty amazing to me that we would evenutally live in a house remarkably similar to this one!

Every shutter and picket and pillar is an individual piece of work. All the windows are translucent and curtain and shades are hinted at behind them. The base of each building was solid with a hole about 2 inches across. This was so that the building could fit over Christmas tree lights -- yellow, white or orange, that were fitted into sockets on the table. The sockets were wired up to the motor with the dial I described earlier. There were two switches on the side of the table -- one for the big tree and the other for the table lights, windmills and train! Not bad for a baby in 1919!

The first tree was not realistic at all. Now artificial trees can be difficult to distinguish from real ones, but when I was little there was nothing more artificial looking! For one thing the branches all stuck out straight. And at the end of each branch was a red berry! But the ornaments were wonderful and it is a great shame that none of them survive today. At that time if you dropped a bauble it would break! 

A peek at the 'workings'!

What makes me laugh now is that when Christmas was over my parents would pack the tree away in its box -- fully decorated! Tinsel and all. When we lived in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, it was stored in a closet just off the living room. During the year it was the perfect place to the steal into when playing hide and seek and I remember clearly many a time ending up against the box with the tree. The sides of the box
had split over the years and I would indulge myself looking in and seeing the decorations and getting a magic injection of 'Christmas' throughout the year!

The pictures on this post were taken the last year my father put up the village. As he got older the rigmarole of getting it all out and setup and working was more and more a chore, not to mention the bore of having to put it all away again! For several years it lay packed away in boxes -- now my brother has it displayed in a wall cabinet in his apartment -- throughout the year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I May Be Slow, but Time Stops for No One

No matter how I try to arrange it, I always seem to be running out of time. I thought for a while it was because I was getting up late, but it's the same even whether I get up at 7.00 or 11.00. In my head I want to blog every day or every other day -- but finding the time and quiet required doesn't seem to mesh. The thing is I don't feel as if I'm doing that much that I should feel so behind the 8-ball!

Daily life is full of mundane little  tasks that make up a large portion of the whole. From the daily ablutions to lights out seems a non-de-script journey of this and that -- and this and that feels as though it's interfering with the greater tasks I think I have or should be setting for myself!

I cannot do anything in a hurry. The Man can rush around town in a flash. Everyone I know walks faster than I do -- I have always always ambled my way from here to there... The Man never ambles -- so I'm always 20 paces behind him! We live in the town center, but that doesn't make my trips to the high street any faster than when we lived in the suburbs and I had to take the train into town! There was a children's story when I was small called "The Pokey Little Puppy" -- well that pup is now a slow old dawg!!!

The problem with blogging is that I cannot catch up with the ones I am following and comment and write a post. I generally have to do one or the other. When I log onto blogger though I cannot resist having a look at the new postings and once I have a look I've got to go there -- and before you know it it's time to start a meal, or go here or there, or something's on television or whatever...

Oh, hell, I'd better go now and take a nap -- before I run out of time ... but maybe first, a nice cup of tea ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pondering Economic Crises During Advent

Well, "they" are all bickering. Even the television commentators are tired of the story of the current economic saga, which keeps repeating itself. It starts something like, "if a solution isn't found by Friday the world is going to end" and continues in the vein of 'really this time they can't just kick the can down the road'. Which we all know is going to end with the can being noisily and hopelessly being kicked down the road again and again. This time there was a variation to the story in that David Cameron vetoed a bill, which has everybody up in arms, but which hasn't stopped anything except our attendance at the 'table'. Which led to my favourite quote of a Euro-minister saying, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu"!

The Euro-sceptics are beside themselves with glee! The Europhiles are down-hearted and glum. The Liberals of the coalition predict dire consequences and all the European heads of state are on their high horses, but have not been able to come up with any solution without Britain, except the predictable kicking of the can down the street once again! I think until February or March. International political posturing is at an all time high! Merkel, Sarkozy, and Obama all want to get re-elected and David Cameron wants the Euro-skeptics off his back and on it goes...

The problem is, it seems, intractable. Each country is thinking of its own sovereignty first. There is much the same problem in the U.S. in China, in Japan -- everywhere. We live in a world of global economics, which none of us is really prepared for and which overrides national interests at every level. Our instincts nationally and personally are our own self-interests: "What's good for Britain! What's good for France! What's good for Japan! What's good for America!" -- ad infinitum ...

As individuals we bemoan losing jobs to other countries -- which is understandable on one level -- but what about the peoples of those other countries? Where is the morality of the 'common good' for all nations and all peoples? We live now in a global community but retain the motivation of self-interest that is set in the past when we were beyond the instant reach of other peoples who are now instantly accessible. This is not the way to find global solutions. This is not living in the 'reality' of where we are now in the world economy, which seems to be beyond our comprehension, let alone understanding.

Which brings me around to Advent. The time of preparation for Christians before Christmas. And the message of 'Peace on Earth and Good Will to All' ... 

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Some Fun!

Aviation crew on HMS Ocean made a Christmas DVD singing 'All I want for Christmas is You' to Mariah Carey! This should make you smile ...

Saturday, December 03, 2011

My Grandmother Was Sew Right!

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far way (so it would seem) when I was very young I was a seamstress. As an adolescent I learned how to sew from my adored and adoring grandmother.

Both my grandmother and my grandfather worked with their hands. My grandfather was a watchmaker and worked in miniature -- I will write more about him and the Christmas Village he made for my mother in a post I plan to do over the 12 Days of Christmas.

My Grandmother was very beautiful and had an innate sense of fashion. I was her first grandchild. I was born at the end of World War II while my father was overseas and my mother was living with them. So I was born in the same town as both my grandmother and my mother. She was also my Godmother and I never realized how important that was to her until very late in her life. Not surprising on my part as she never -- or hardly ever -- went to church!

She made mother's wedding dress. They lived in Paterson, New Jersey, which at that time was a center for making textiles. Paterson is located just outside of New York City. In fact my parents met on a suburban train, the Susquehanna, en route to work in the City. But I digress ... Gram and Mom looked at wedding dresses throughout the area of New York City and Paterson, New Jersey. They brought all their ideas together and created an original. It was made of French lace, had tiny covered buttons down the back, and up the lower part of the sleeves and a train about three feet in length -- and it was blue, with a white satin underskirt.

Fortunately, there is one full length snap shot of her in the dress. Unfortunately, it is a bit blurry. I have looked at the dress many times and when I was a teenager used to try in on from time to time ...

When my sister and I were very small -- we were born 14 months apart --  we dressed exactly alike and she made all of our clothes. In the picture on the right I remember that my skirt -- that's me on the left -- had a salmon color stripe, and my sister's skirt had a blue one. At the time my father took this photograph we were living in West Hartford, Connecticut, where my father was teaching at the Watkinson School. One of the things I remember about these photo sessions was that one or the other of us or both would end up in tears and I have photographic evidence of this -- both of us with eyes brimming!

Below are two more examples of my grandmother's handiwork for two! The skirts worn on the left were bright red. The dresses on the right were rose with polka dots -- and her trademark smocking was on all the clothes she mad for us at the time. In the photograph on the right, my brother had joined the group and we were by then living in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. By the time this picture was taken, my beloved Grandpa John had died. One of the results of this was that  Gram threw all her attention onto us.

 By the time I was interested in learning to sew, our family had left Vermont and we were living in Torrington, Connecticut. Some time in the late 50's my grandmother arrived for the weekend with her second husband, another wonderful man, who adored her. This time, along with the bakery goodies she always brought she also brought fabric and a Simplicity pattern for a skirt and a simple blouse. She had decided to teach me the rudiments of making clothes -- for myself.

I don't know why she thought I would take to it. I was quite a studious child and tended to always have my head in a book -- when I wasn't fighting with my siblings, that is! (By then there were four of us -- I had another sister!) At any rate, I did 'take to it' and within two years, I decided I was ready to make a dress or two -- in fact I made three! Well, my mother was so impressed and praised me to the skies! I couldn't wait for Gram to come and visit so she could see how accomplished I had become" -- all on my own.

Well she took one look at the dresses all hung in a row before her. "No, no, no!" she exclaimed. "The sleeves are all wrong".

"What's wrong with them?"

"They are not supposed to have pleats in them. You've put three pleats in each sleeve."

"But, but, but the sleeve hole was too small and the sleeve wouldn't fit," I explained, crestfallen.

Well ... before I knew it she had the pattern out and the sleeves off the first dress! Then she showed me the word 'ease' on the pattern where the sleeve was to be set in and then she showed me how to do it -- and then she had me do the other one -- and stood over me, explaining how to manoeuvre the fabric, with the point of a small pair of scissors, so the sleeve would fit into place and the hem would be smooth.

She never raised her voice and was patience itself -- she wanted me to do it right and she made me want to do it right. And do you know I never had a problem setting a sleeve after that. I think that somehow she understood that I had a need to do something creative with my hands. I have found that, for me, a needle and thread has offered comfort and solace and peace of mind for something I could do well. However, years later when I made my living as a seamstress it stopped being a positive and creative experience. It amazed me that people would come to me and expect hand made clothes, including tailored jackets and coats, to cost less than what they would have to pay in the stores. After all they had friends who could make their own clothes at a fraction of what you could buy them for! Oh well, I gave it a go and decided after a year or two that enough was enough and went back to an office job that was a lot less hassle and paid a lot more money.

And then I enjoyed sewing once again until married life interfered with the ability to have the space I needed for a working environment that conformed to my needs. The effort required to get things out and put things away whenever I had a project frustrated and irritated me -- and took away the joy I usually felt when immersed in a project. So ...

Over twenty years ago I put away my sewing machine and haven't used it until two days ago, when I decided  it was really going to make a very basic sewing job a lot easier than if I did it by hand. A simple task really -- The Man asked me if I could lengthen a pair of lined curtains for some French doors in a flat he is preparing to let. I groaned at the thought of hemming them -- yes by hand. It would have taken hours. It had been so long since I'd even seen the machine that I didn't even consider machine stitching! However, as it happened, I had bought some trousers recently that needed hemming and one pair that needs some alteration in the waist (taking in!!!) and so in the back of my mind the thought came that I could do this easily if I got the sewing machine out. Also, my new desk space meant that I had some room where I could spread out.

And do you know, that even though none of the paraphernalia that I needed was where I thought it would be -- I found everything without difficulty. My sewing machine, which was state-of-the-art when I bought it, cleaned up a treat and works like a dream.  I needed the instruction book -- found it in the first forage! Same with the box of tools and the little basket with spare bobbins. When everything falls into place, some might say that some things are meant to be ...

My Grandparents struggled mightily to get through the depression years. The above embroidery hung on my mother's living room wall throughout my life. Instead of throwing away a torn and threadbare pillowcase, Gram trimmed away the bad cloth and embroidered the rose, which she then framed and hung. I now have it hanging in my living room and it is one of my treasured possessions.