Somewhere else

This week, we had a rather more unusual destination north of the border. Business took us to Mannheim on the Rhine/Neckar rivers for a couple of days. Not terribly far from where I was born, it’s not a place I’d been to before, certainly not that I remember. A relatively small university town in Germany, its population is actually nearer that of our largest Swiss city, Zurich. Its location on the meeting point of three provinces and where the rivers meet, too, meant that we were quite curious to see it. Unusually in Europe, the centre of town was built on a grid system as early as the 17th century – apparently so that everyone would have a view of the palace, which, we’re told, is the second largest Baroque palace (presumably after Versailles).

  Sadly, the weather wasn’t playing along too well in the short time we had to explore the town and we didn’t get to go and look at the Luisenpark, which we heard has lovely gardens and other attractions. Instead, we did have a wander through the small park at the Friedrichsplatz with the large Wasserturm, which was much more cheerful with its spring plantings of colourful tulips, daffodils and violas than the heavy grey skies.

 With the university and important businesses being  based in Mannheim, it’s a surprisingly international place and we heard many different languages – and almost no local dialect in our two days there! Apart from the historical parts of town and the parks, the city comes across as fairly ordinary so one of the last things we expected was to find ourselves greatly enjoying two wonderful meals. Our rather run-of-the-mill hotel with somewhat helpless receptionists initially left us a little frustrated and feeling that we were having to settle for the hotel restaurant – which turned out to be extremely high class and utterly delicious! Thwarted by the weather on day 2, we accepted a recommendation to a restaurant at the top of a department store and again, wow! One of the best meals we’ve ever had – and we are truly spoilt with gourmet restaurants in Switzerland.

So a lasting memory of Mannheim, as we waited for our Inter-City Express train in a rather grimy lounge, was the unexpectedly exquisite food, from beautifully composed salads, duck and fish to exquisite oysters, pata negra, lobster and guinea fowl and finished by a touch of panna cotta with rose syrup, strawberries and rhubarb… sigh! The touch of Champagne was rather good, too :).

Perhaps next time the sun will be kinder to us and we will get to appreciate more of the sights – certainly, the food could tempt us…

 Ah well, back to the grindstone – though with the view above from my window, sunshine and temperatures at home due to go up to 26°C today and tomorrow, I have little call for complaint. :)

Saving Kermit

Although the Swiss are not, like the English, all that sentimental about animals, being more of a farming people, you may be surprised to hear of what goes on each year in early spring.

As seen on the main lakeside thoroughfare along Lake Constance as well as on many much quieter roads in our local countryside!

Literally, a frog-saving drive… although drive is not really the right word, since the object is to actually prevent drivers running over the frogs returning to their places of birth to lay their frog spawn. Since wild animals cannot be expected to have any road sense and silly humans build roads wherever they see fit, without these warnings, any number of little green amphibians would get squashed on their way home. Goodness knows how the population survives in the rest of the world, but Switzerland is always a bit different and special, and the Swiss have taken it upon themselves to save the frogs. (On exiting the stairwell from the subway to the platform in Lucerne last week, I noticed a chap scrubbing the walls with a stiff brush… and only in Kloten airport have I ever witnessed anyone washing the machine that takes your ticket at the exit/barrier… but I digress!)

In addition to the warning signs (and this one is 6 feet or more high), the most dangerous parts of the road (for the frogs) also feature little plastic fences about 8″ high pegged along either side of the roads…

Apparently, there is an American proverb that claims “You can’t tell by looking at a frog how high he will jump”, but the Swiss have obviously decided that about 8″ is the limit. I gather that this project does save thousands of frogs each year, which of course go on forth to multiply and therefore make it imperative that these protective measures are put in place year after year to make sure that Kermit does not become extinct. I know I sound flippant, but I do take the point – so many of our native species now have restricted habitats that it is important to make sure they don’t die out. Really, I’m very impressed by this initiative to save the frogs on their “amphibian wanderings”, as the frog-saving website puts it!

 Rana temporaria L. (apparently!)

 

Until next year…

Well, in case you did bother to count, I can confirm that there were 8 bunnies hiding in the last picture! Here are my little white bunnies who come out for a visit every Easter – and there were another four on the serviette :) There is one more little china bunny but he is keeping a birdie company elsewhere…

We are now in utter torpor after a huge family brunch, hoping not to have to think about food for a couple of days, at least! Actually, a bit like those bunnies up there!

 

Spring greens

 Clara dress by Karin Vestergaard Mathiesen in Peruvian 50% alpaca/ 50% wool by Isager in Chartreuse colourway

The most adorable little knitted dress in the softest, loftiest 2-ply Isager Alpaca yarn, which finished itself faster than you might think, despite small needles! However, beware – although this is the yarn originally recommended and my gauge was spot on, the sizing seems rather optimistic. This is supposed to be the 18 mth size and I’ll be lucky if it fits 6 mth old Mireille (who is average-sized) – plus, although I followed the instructions for the neckline and back fastening, I will have to steek for it to even go over her head… :(

Having said that, it’s a lovely little pattern and would be pretty in any number of attractive yarns of fingering weight and a slightly larger gauge to size it up a bit. (It takes well under 500m of yarn, I would estimate that a 100g skein of 420+m of yarn would do it…)

Jamieson & Smith’s is the last Shetland wool broker, sadly, but look what their Easter bunny sent me! A mixed bag of 8 balls of natural-coloured real Shetland wool destined for a Fair-Isle project – and a book of pattern inspiration. This really is a “pattern book” in the sense that it features several hundred traditional band patterns, with examples in a few colourways, rather than actual jumper/sweater/cardigan or other patterns. Whether you’re looking for an edging pattern for a border or want to combine a number of patterns all over a sweater or just around a neckline or a hat, here you’re spoilt for choice. Woolly eye candy.

 A Swiss Easter bunny sent me this box of goodies – the “Strickcafé” who, much to my surprise, had a couple of skeins of MadelineTosh hanging around, so I simply couldn’t resist!! Pretty, eh?! The Lace is a very fine Drops alpaca/Mulberry silk lace which is so light as to be practically featherweight, as well as beautifully soft, while the darker red yarn is the same mix (70% alpaca/30% Mulberry silk), also by Drops, but dare I say it, “heavier” yarn at 167 m/50g – it’s still wonderfully airy and weighs almost nothing. Yum yum yum. And better for me than chocolate!

Ladies who lunch

One of the nicest advantages of being a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) and self-employed is the freedom to shuffle the “must-dos” around to suit and to get to do things in daylight hours that much of the workforce must either cram into a short evening or else save up for an often packed weekend. And one of those treats is to be able to jump in the car or onto a train and meet up with a friend, relative or partner for lunch!

Helen, a lovely blogger (at http://www.runquiltknitwrite.com), has become a friend to meet up with regularly, and we’ve had some fine jaunts in the year we’ve known each other. As we have a lot of parallels in our lives, there’s always lots to chat about and we enjoy being on the same wavelength – including the fact that we both knit. With another month having gone by and the bright spring weather having dwindled into low temperatures and drizzle, it was about time that we actually got together for some real knitting in among all the chinwagging! 

Lang’s Mille Colori yarn is giving me the most delightful fabric for my “Lanesplitter”!

It so happens that there is a Starbucks in a shopping mall at halfway-point between our homes, so cosily ensconced on our respective sofas, surrounded by our paraphernalia, we proceeded to ignore the rest of the world and knit and chat to our heart’s content, well supplied with the necessary beverages and a couple of hours to spare. Actually, Helen did more wool-winding, but that’s all part of the fun – and I got the opportunity to teach her a cast-on technique that I was taught nearly 30 years ago by a girl in our office who took me, pathetic English knitter, under her efficient Swiss knitting wing… (thank you Judith, wherever you are!)

I have never seen this method shown in any book of knitting techniques, yet it is as simple as any other method (perhaps barring the Old Norwegian cast-on – Helen and I agreed, I think, that the effort to make each individual stitch with that is perhaps out of proportion to the desired effect!). It is perfect for any kind of 2/2 ribbing, as each set of 2 stitches is neatly edged as a pair. While the first of the two stitches is cast on in the usual long-tailed manner, the second requires a slightly different technique, with the right-hand needle dipping behind the front strand of yarn coming from the thumb and picking up the thread lying in between the hand and the thumb, before bringing it back up through the usual thumb loop. Interestingly, we discovered that this is a little more difficult for those who knit at a tight tension – it was amusing to see the difference between my loose cast-on and Helen’s!  Eventually, it’s easy to get the hang of and does produce a very tidy result…

Only the most observant can probably tell the difference in my not-so-marvellous pictures, but the top one is the 2/2 special cast-on and the bottom pic is a regular long-tail edge. (And yes, those are Knit-Lite needles, battery-operated with lighted tips :o Fun fun fun!)

At some point, we did notice that all around us had moved on to munching, so we packed up and headed to the nearest pizzeria… thereby confirming that we are, really, ladies who lunch!!

 

 

The last ride

It’s been beautiful spring weather for a while, now, after a relatively mild winter (bar the two weeks of Siberia we had!) so nature is off to great start. Two Thursdays ago, therefore, Sturuss and I set off for a ride amongst trees whose leaves hadn’t quite opened out but whose buds were already bursting with promise. Sturuss had had a cough the two weeks prior to that, but with quick intervention and a few gentle walks instead of riding, it had been nipped in the bud and we were glad he was looking fit and greedy and yearning to get out into the field. He has always made everyone laugh, and Thursday was no exception, but he was calm and interested and so there were – for once! – no hiccups while we were out. Sure, he took an extra look at one or two things the sun was twinkling off or a new sign that had been put up, but as we headed homewards alongside the stream that was trickling and gurgling quite prettily, there was the usual quickening of pace as he became eager to get home to his lunch. A lady on a bicycle seemed to be keeping a look-out for the first young shoots of wild garlic, but otherwise, on this occasion, we didn’t meet a soul while we were out and we trundled quite happily back into the stableyard without incident.

The warmth of the sun and the excercise had brought out a bit of a sweat and as ever, Sturuss collapsed into a wriggly roll to “bread” himself with bits of straw and bark in his enclosure before plunging his face as deep as is equinely possible into his bucket, hardly stopping to take the banana I’d brought him as a treat. Life was looking good.

 It was therefore with some surprise that I took a call from my stable mistress on Tuesday to say that Sturuss wasn’t eating properly, looked a bit listless and worst of all, had developed a temperature. Only the week before I had been discussing with the vet how well Sturuss seemed for his age and how he would be going strong for a long time, yet, despite a few natural signs of ageing. Unfortunately, blood tests showed that something was very much not right – although his kidneys were fine (the initial suspicion), his whole organism seemed very suddenly to be giving up and by Tuesday evening, it was clear that oedema had developed, he was uncomfortable, and a decision had to be made, since medical care would be long and expensive and wouldn’t extend his time by very much.

Very sadly, then, we had to agree to end Sturuss’ long life at the age of 28, on a bright, sunny, windy spring afternoon in his field. He munched a bucket of carrots, got to graze a little and then it was very quickly over. Our beautiful little Haflinger went down peacefully in mid-chew, as we talked him through it all and stroked his face and mane. We spilled many tears – but we also laughed a lot as we sat in the grass next to him, reminiscing about his funny and endearing ways. Everybody loved Sturuss and he had friends wherever we went, amused by the cheeky-faced pony with the blonde mane and eyelashes. He had us all very well-trained! From the first shove he would give when we went in to him, to his cute ways of begging for treats and a serious case of “the eyes”, to his wiggly lips he used both to beg and to show his approval – or disapproval – here was a pony who had humans sussed. He got it, all the way to knowing when to give in and be nice, even when he didn’t really feel like it, eventually, he would always co-operate, nudging you as if to say, oh, go on, I was just trying it on to see if you’d budge… So much character in 141cm, 430 kg of chestnut-coated pony.

 Look what a baby he was! He and my eldest daughter were both 3 1/2 when this photo was taken, nearly 25 years ago. Don’t let the lack of muscle fool you – youth came to his aid and we had fun and games in this initial training period! But essentially, what you see is what you get and a more honest, loyal and altogether perfect pal would be hard to find.

Sturuss, you will be very sorely missed – my companion throughout my adult years so far, a quarter of a century. We can only hope you’re happy in Horse Heaven or Pony Paradise and are galloping around up there in luscious green meadows with the friends who left before you did…