More history and another challenge

From the age of 10 or so, I spent my long summer holidays with my English grandparents. We generally had 8-9 weeks, so it was much longer than the standard 6 weeks (or 5 if you’re a Swiss child!) and although there was plenty to do and see, there were times when I went looking for something to read or make. On my quests for inspiration, I frequently browsed a large collection of Family Circle magazines that my Granny picked up at the supermarket and kept in a cupboard. They were full of all sorts of fascinating information and tips, and yes, ideas of things to make. Within reason and if Granny had the bits and bobs, I spent many an hour crafting something I’d seen. It was understood that eventually, I would inherit this collection! Especially as I have gone on to develop a love of vintage magazines and books…

Unfortunately, the pile of magazines turned up so late in our packing-up of Granny’s belongings that I was restricted to a small pile to bring home with me, and I sadly had to dump the rest (though not without scouting through them for knitting patterns!). Now I am back home and the weather has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve started reading them and found myself taken back in time.

The first issue of (British) Family Circle came out in October 1964, shortly before my birth, and this issue has been faithfully kept – probably in the hope that it would become valuable! I did check online and it seems that it has gone from an original price of 1/- (one shilling in old English money pre-1971) to a value of around £20 now, so not bad. I suppose there aren’t many that have survived 53 years.

Domestic bliss was the aim for the 1960s housewife, but she was a modern miss, too. The title page advertises the competition to win an all-electric £5000 house – a real 1960s detached with all mod-cons, even things like dishwashers that didn’t become common in the UK until 30 years later.

Scandinavian style had reached the British Isles and jumps out every couple of pages – much like today!

Some of the fashions wouldn’t look out of place in 2017, either, albeit with slightly different styling. but really, Mad Men?!

It’s a treat to read real English that has been proofread, too, and the level of common sense is fantastic – sigh. The recipes look tasty and simple (in those days, few people were prepared to attempt any funny foreign food…), the embroidery timeless and the adverts no less ridiculous than in a modern magazine. I spied a few things that are of their time and yet – my mother still has a bamboo rocking chair exactly like the one in the home decor section

and I could knit up several of the patterns without the garments even looking “vintage”.

Tweed is in!

To a young 2017 mum it might seem shocking to see that babies were being given additional foods from the age of only 2 weeks, but the article about children’s imaginations v. lying is just as topical for any mum of a 4 year old, I’m sure. PG Tips and Ovaltine (Ovomaltine here!) still exist, while most of the offices you could write to (with a stamped addressed envelope, please…) probably do not.


So, the challenge I am setting myself is to implement some of the things I found in this stack of 1960s magazines! Let’s see how I do, shall we?

C for Chur

This post is dedicated to my friend El and happy memories of our trip to Coop…

1_Schweiz_Karte_GraubuendenAn Alpine town, Chur seems to be one of those places that people don’t really visit until they’ve exhausted other, more advertised attractions. The last larger German-speaking town before you start climbing up and over mountains is the gateway to the Alps and an often remote world – and yet it’s not a long drive from Zurich or Lake Constance. The capital of the canton of Graubünden, it’s not a very big town (about 35’000 inhabitants) nor is it a busy or bustling town, as a rule. Like most towns here, it has an “old” town and has then inevitably spread out and grown. In fact, it’s considered the oldest town in Switzerland – 5000 years old! chur_hof_altstadt

Although it is situated in the Rhine valley, the river Rhine itself is actually pushed off over to the foot of the other side of the valley and the river Plessur is the one featured when you look out from the oldest part of town, below the cathedral. There have been bishops here since St. Lucius* (rumoured to have been an English king) was martyred here in 176 AD, so quite a tradition with the first bishop Asinio being mentioned around 450 AD. The cathedral and other church buildings were erected on the Hof, a raised area which still looks down over the town. Because of it’s situation at the entrance to the mountains, it has always been a strategically important area and there are signs of this history all around town, if you care to look – they are subtly integrated and accepted as a part of everyday life (both the Magyars and the Saracens got this far west and north!). chur winter

Chur has a certain atmosphere – the Germanic (over 80% are German-speaking) but there is also a distinct sense of italianità and you can sense that the first town of the Tessin/Ticino (the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland) is just a hop, skip and a jump over the mountains… the easy pace of life, the street cafés, the cheery tone, all contribute to that holiday feeling. Chur old town

The local accent is one many enjoy hearing, with it’s sometimes foreign-sounding clippedness and the strong guttural “ch” sound so common to Swiss-German becoming more of a simple “k” – where we roll the “Ch” of “Chur” (very difficult for a high German speaker!) the locals pronounce it “Kurr” and roll the “r”, instead. However, remember that this is also the first area where Romansch or Rätoromanisch is spoken (5% of the population), that elusive range of dialects that is now only spoken by 40-60,000 people. Sounding like a curious mixture of German, Italian and French and with at least 4 or 5 variations (that can be incomprehensible between themselves), this is what happens when languages “meet and greet” and borrow from each other… In the 1970s, a form of Romansch was invented to be the “official” version and taught in schools in an attempt not to lose the idiom, but these days there is once again a lot of discussion about how to preserve the individual forms, too, even though in some places it is the main language at primary school. We spend our winter holidays in the Lower Engadin (also Graubünden) that has a dialect of its own and find it fascinating to understand a good portion of what is said and almost all that is written – and yet, what would it be like to learn?! Interestingly, the language is now being kept alive by immigrants: a lot of Portuguese families have moved to the area (mainly because of the building and tourist industries) and surprise surprise, they find it very easy to learn the language, with their children adapting within a very short time frame and far more quickly than any Swiss-German kids whose parents have moved them there! That Mediterranean feel again, I suppose. chur

Another feeling entirely greeted me on one summer visit. Wandering the streets with a young child in a pushchair, I spied a lovely park with lots of trees and headed in to let my daughter stretch her legs on the playground and to sit in the sunshine for a while. To my amusement, there was a full-blown cricket match going on on the park lawn by a large group of Tamil Sri Lankans, smartly dressed in their whites and taking their game very seriously! But business and design have altered Chur a lot in the past 20 years. Even before that, the town had grown (if not exactly boomed) but now there are smart glass-fronted buildings which compete with and sometimes dominate the old town and the art nouveau villas that have been there for so much longer, and yet this is still a country town with quick and easy access to farm country and some of the local architecture goes distinctly in the direction of the squat trapezoid-style “Bündner” house that is so familiar higher up in the mountain resorts. rätisches museum

For those in search of some culture, there is plenty to see. The bishop’s palace and cathedral dominate, but there are museums such as the art museum (Angelika Kauffman, Giacometti, Hodler… but sadly again, closed until 2016 for refurbishment) and a vintner museum, as there is plenty of wine-growing in the area – head down the valley a couple of miles to the Jeninser Herrschaft and try the Jenins and Malans wines with some local specialities of cheese and dried meats…! Theatre, music and the arts are well-supported and there are both local newspapers and radio; this is, after all, the capital of what is a large canton so that it is the cultural and educational centre for the whole region, as well as having its own courts and government. Gastronomically, don’t forget to try Pfirsichsteine, a sweet almond-paste confection! Bündner Kunstmuseum Alberto_Giacometti_by_Cartier_Bresson

*see the book King Lucius of Britain by David J. Knight – fascinating stuff!

So if you’re ever going up to St. Moritz, Klosters, Davos or Arosa, don’t simply bypass Chur – stop in and have a look!


A for Appenzell

February, a short month, gives me an excuse to do a personalised short introduction to Switzerland, A-Z, so let’s see how we get on…! schweiz2

I could have chosen a number of things for each letter but decided to be spontaneous – and that is what came to mind first!

hotel-appenzellAppenzell, for those who don’t know Switzerland at all, is actually two of the 26 cantons, areas that in many ways are self-governing within the Swiss Confederation: the small area around the village (and capital) of Appenzell is known as Innerrhoden, and the lush green hilly area that surrounds it is called Ausserrhoden – this is not necessarily apparent at first glance, though if you look at the cars, you will perhaps notice the prefix AI or AR to the number. Reute_ab_Steinegacht

You would have to know the area very well to identify other differences between the two – one is predominantly Catholic, the other Protestant, the dialects are slightly different (both mountain dialects that are relatively difficult to understand!), the traditional costumes can be vastly different and even the houses are different: more colourful in AR and more austere in AI, though the architecture is similar. Appenzellerhaus

This architecture is very distinctive in the pretty undulating foothills of the Alps, farmhouses that look as if they have been tipped out of a basket, scattered over the landscape more often than clustered into villages. The oldest houses still standing date from the 15th century and the architecture hasn’t really altered much since then. Because of the harsh, snowy winters, the farmhouse and barn are usually one building, with access to the animals’ quarters through a side door from the house for ease of care. There is usually a water trough just outside the barn, so that the farmer need only clear a small area between it and the barn in order to water his stock – a few doe-eyed brown cows, some agile white goats and perhaps a pig or two. Barns are kept scrupulously clean and fresh with utensils neatly hung on the walls and beams and kept in good condition – the hilly country means that even today, much of the haycutting is done by hand… Extra hay is stored in small barns dotted over the hillside and there is commonly a large, simply-constructed haysled stored in the hayloft for the farmer to fetch supplies if the winter is long and to spread the risk of vermin or fire. No need to transport the hay far from the meadows where it is cut, though that is done by gathering it up into large squares of cloth and carrying it on the back – probably why so many Appenzell farmers are so bent! They are immediately identifiable in their everyday work garb: light blue fine-woven and patterned cotton collarless shirts worn with waist-high brown work trousers that barely reach the top of their boots. If they wear them; most Appenzellers prefer to go barefoot in the snow-free seasons and the children save their parents the expense of footwear by becoming accustomed to this from an early age. Other identifiers are the single long spoon earring to keep away evil and the pipe hanging upside down from the corner of the mouth… supposedly to keep the rain out. Appenzellerlandappenzeller_tracht

On the domestic side, the Appenzell farmhouse is also easily recognised by it’s long bands of windows that let in as much light as possible. The houses are constructed to catch the most light, vital for the cottage industries that grew up around St. Gallen’s textile industry only a few miles away, weaving and embroidery. In fact, the pretty house fronts are the only inhabited side of the house – the whole back of the house was originally only one room from foundation to rafters, housing the smoky kitchen fire, and only in relatively recent years have floors been inserted to make additional “back” rooms and bathrooms. Originally, a house had a main living room and a side room downstairs, with the same arrangement upstairs and some form of “little house” toilet (Hüsli…) behind the barns – or at least just outside the back door, again for accessibility. In the living room there would always be a tiled ceramic stove, fired from the kitchen behind, and many of these still exist – they are extremely efficient heating systems. Kachelofen Ebnat-KappelOften, a hatch above the stove gives access to the upstairs rooms via a steep ladder or at least for the warmth to rise and spread, and the niche next to the stove was always a popular place for the very young and the very old who feel the cold more. Another necessity was a simple wooden bench, both around the two or three sides of the stove and around the walls of the room, especially under that long band of windows. A table and a couple of simple chairs (Stabellen) completed the furnishings. The girls and women would sit on these benches in the light and embroider in piecework for the St. Gallen factories. Or, less picturesquely, the adults of the family would be in the cellar – you can see the shuttered “windows” to the cellar just above the foundations in many houses – trying to keep up with demand by sitting at their looms weaving the textiles the region was famous for, while the children helped by threading needles or running small errands and contributing to the meagre income as soon as they were able. All this in addition to running a self-sufficient farm, for most families. StickerinnenWebstuhl alt

Appenzell is well-known for it’s colourful culture – the Sunday and holiday costumes in bright red wool, yellow goatskin, black lace and silk, starched white lace caps with gold detail, heavy silver tooled jewellery and watches, tooled brass ornaments on black leather braces, heavy decorated bells to be swung by hand or fitted to the lead cows when they’re taken up to the Alpine pastures for the summer (or brought back down again), barefoot children running alongside goats and shiny black and tan dogs sporting a white bib, the stamping dances, the eerily beautiful style of yodel, nothing like that of neighbouring areas of Austria or Germany… There’s a lot to take in when you go to Appenzel on a day of festival and most striking of all, they don’t do it because you’re there, they do it because it’s their life and they want to carry on their own special culture into the future and beyond. appenzeller-alpaufzug-687d32ee-f88e-4cdd-8395-8c4ed2e4e28fIf you are in Appenzell in March or September, there is a strong chance you will see something like this, the Alpaufzug or Alpabzug, the coming and going to and from the Alpine pastures. Mostly, there is nobody else about and you can just enjoy watching them all file past, the smartly dressed “Senn” (Alpine cowherds), the children in their Sunday clothes, the cows with their bells and flowers… and it’s a very popular subject in art. The naïve style of art that is typical to the area captures the traditional way of life for posterity, passed on in delightful children’s books – albert_manser_bauernstube_mit_jassern_1970_d5413720hLily Langenegger, artistPictures from books by Albert Manser and Lily Langenegger, perhaps the best-known contemporary Appenzell children’s book authors

So you may have heard of Appenzell cheese and its secret recipe or seen what look like kitschy tourist posters, but believe me, there’s an awful lot more to it than that!!


I could wax on much more (if not lyrically) about all sorts of special Appenzell things, but for now, I think that should give you a taste?! 


In only a couple more days we will reach the shortest day of the year and then the days will begin to lengthen again – having closed the curtains around 4.30 today, I’m looking forward to a little more daylight once the festive season is over!!

But since that’s where we still are, let’s enjoy the moment –

16. On the table – is a small hand-thrown dish I bought at a farm shop a couple of years ago. Since it’s the season of nuts and mandarines, as well as candles, and we all tend to gather around the table, there is always a bit of peel, shell or match to put aside and I collect it in here for periodical emptying. IMG_404317. Triangles – not a shape I really “do” (it’s curves and geometric for me!) but who’s to say a triangle can’t have a curve?! IMG_4013Stein-am-Rhein is a very pretty mediaeval town I’ve mentioned here before, and fittingly, it has a mediaeval Christmas market in St. George’s monastery yard – there were many cloaked figures (LARPs? Re-enactors?) and a good choice of furs, carved goods, leather items, clothing and jewellery to be had, some ironwork and a fortune teller… This is on the way out into the town, the “lemon-tree house”.IMG_4009Our weather was simply gorgeous, far too warm for the season but easily enticing us to wander down along the Rhine and sit on a bench soaking in the sunshine! I loved this little house and must investigate what it was originally used for, perhaps something to do with customs? IMG_4021 IMG_4019Up above the little town is the castle of Hohenklingen – in German because sadly, there isn’t much about it in English. Briefly, it sits 200 m above the town and as it’s never been seriously attacked, it still looks as it did from 1200 to 1422… Its position has meant it’s been strategically important for all of its history, from the original wooden tower, through the Thirty Years’ War to helping to defend Zurich and including WWII. IMG_4024Last but not least, as we wandered back towards the railway station (and not this miniature one!) IMG_4015we passed the local cinema… IMG_402618. 15 Years ago – ooh, my goodness! 15 years ago we had a young family with three girls aged between 4-15 and lived in a large and rambling house. It wasn’t exactly a farmhouse, as it had belonged to the village vet, who was considered a Herr Doktor, who went in for luxuries like electricity, parquet floors and central heating – as well as a telephone. It seems he was a little eccentric, but he was obviously respected in the village and we were told that he carried out his duties by horse and trap until he retired, which we worked out must have been in the ’60s or ’70s! Older people in the village tended to come to the back door, as this was the official entrance to the vet’s and they had often been sent along as children to fetch him – it didn’t even occur to them to come to the front door and ring the bell, which sometimes startled us at first! This included the midwife from a smaller village up above ours, who checked on me daily for a couple of weeks after I’d had my last daughter. She was in her 70s, very brisk and efficient and had brought her only son up single-handedly after she was widowed very young – a most imposing, matronlike lady!

IMG_2005It was a nice house for a family and we had lots of space and invested a lot in the garden, however it was also a lot to deal with and we were quite relieved when we moved to a smaller place. In the meantime, the roof has been replaced and has solar panels on the other side, and a hedge, too, has been removed, so you can actually see the house from the road! Still, happy memories!


PS Scherenschnitte – Papercutting

I have just seen that the papercutting exhibition I wrote about back in the spring ( has been extended and will be shown at the Landesmuseum Zurich ( from January 9th – April 19th 2015, so plenty of time to arrange to see it if you’re interested!!

Meanwhile, one of the local banks is using illuminated papercuts as their Christmas decoration… very attractive and in its own sweet Swiss way, understated!IMG_3891 IMG_3892I wasn’t able to avoid the reflection of the glass, sorry!! 


Advent – St. Nicholas’ Day

“Sami, Nicki, Näcki; Hinterm Ofe steck i; Gimmer Nuss und Birre; Dänn chumi widr füre…”

That’s one of the most popular little verses that young Swiss-German children learn to recite to Santa Claus – St. Nicholas – when he comes knocking on the 6th December! It’s a tradition that a lot of families still keep up and it leaves a great impression on the kids when the big red-clad Santa and his assistant Schmutzli, in a plain dark brown hooded habit, come to the house and read of their misdemeanors from a big, heavy book… The reward is a bag of nuts and chocolates and mandarine oranges and although our Santas don’t say “HoHoHo”, they still have a deep and friendly chuckle 🙂

IMG_2172In Switzerland, some parts of Germany and Holland, a lot of boots and shoes will be left out in the hope of being filled with goodies, maybe the origin of the Christmas stocking, which we don’t have at Christmas itself.

We no longer have young children at home, but even our 18 year old seems to have been pleased to get a “Chlaussack” bag of nuts and sweets and my husband’s chocolate Santa disappeared rapidly, so I think it’s a tradition that we’ll be keeping up for a while, yet! IMG_2264Seasonal consumables is fine by me 🙂 IMG_2263

Swiss Christmas

While the Americans are recovering from Thanksgiving and Hannukah (hope it was lovely!) and/or indulging in intense consumerism on Black Friday, here in Switzerland, we are heading into Advent, which begins on December 1st – today – this year. Advent

It’s meant as a time of preparation for the actual Christmas celebrations and whether you’re religious or not, I think that’s a good concept for a quiet run-up. Of course Switzerland is right up there in 2013 with the best of them, pushing the spend, spend, spend message and suggesting that we need all kinds of things that we really don’t…

So I’m glad that my experience of the season here over the last 30 years has not really been anything like we see in adverts, even here. None of the people I know or who I see interviewed in local papers or hear about through my children actually seem to even be trying to achieve what the glossies think we are (or try to get us to think we are!). On the contrary, it all seems pretty low key, fairly quiet and introspective and the worst thing I have come across is intense competition on the Christmas biscuit baking scene, where perfectionist housewives try to outdo each other with the number of different and exquisite creations they’ll be putting on the coffee table. It’s a deadly serious thing! chlaussaeckli_jute_dekor

But they will be putting them out along with traditional peanuts (in their shells), mandarine oranges and simple foil-wrapped chocolates, offering a spicy herbal fruit tea or a particularly high quality cup of coffee with it, and the decorations will probably just be simple greenery and pinecones. And really, a lot of women will just buy the beautifully presented biscuits from the supermarket! Mandarines will be handed out to adults and children alike when December 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day, comes round, and the children will get a bag of the afore-mentioned goodies – if they can recite a little poem to one of the many St. Nicks who will be patrolling the streets, along with their dirty assistant “Schmutzli” and his donkey. And the really naughty children might get a switch of twigs – though these days that will be decorated with chocs, so a win-win situation!

For children, the most excitement is the Advent calendar which, depending on the parents, could just be windows to open, candles to burn each evening with a bedtime story, a chocolate each day or even a small gift each day… some like to do the same thing every year and others do something different every year, but I think it’s the absolute highlight and the tradition is carried on in schools, too, where each child brings in a couple of tiny gifts (a glittery tealight or mini-soap, for instance) for other children so that nobody is forgotten and the countdown is taken very seriously indeed! teelicht

The four Sundays in Advent are popular with everyone for getting together either for a brunch or for coffee and cake – or rather tea and those biscuits! A Sunday afternoon walk is still a mainstay for a lot of families and you’ll often see three generations out for a healthy stroll, come rain or shine. Hardly any home would not have some kind of Advent decoration, wreath or otherwise, with a candle for each of the four Sundays and just by the existence of such a thing, a pause is automatically marked. Sunday shopping was only introduced quite recently and only on specifically advertised Sundays in Advent for a couple of hours (with special permission – and usually only one or two of those Sundays, too!). Unless there is really no time in your working week to shop or browse, it’s not really the “done” thing… though a browse through the Christkindl market followed by a Glühwein or a fancy cup of coffee at a pretty café can’t really be beaten for cheap entertainment :).

Christmas itself is a far quieter affair than what I know of English-speaking countries. For one thing, we celebrate on Christmas Eve. The shops are open until mid-afternoon for last-minute gift-buyers – often the men! But then everything shuts down, the roads empty quickly and families are busy putting up their Christmas tree as it begins to get dark. I’ve noticed the Swiss don’t go so much for the very full trees, but often prefer a sparse, airy tree upon which they’ll hang a few colour-coordinated baubles and clip real little candles, really quite minimalist. Families more orientated towards Germany might hang some “lametta”, silver stranded tinsel, over their tree, but more often than not, a few baubles or specially-designed hanging chocolates is all the tree gets. And it’s topped with a star, not a fairy! Lights as decorations (inside and out) are definitely on the increase but hardly ever blink and coloured lights are considered tacky – there didn’t used to be much in the way of lights, apart from candles, at all… and candles are certainly very popular indeed in all variations, even in wooden houses. Schweizer Christbaum

At the same time as the tree is going up on the 24th, a special meal will be prepared – most Swiss will look consternated if you ask what they typically eat for Christmas! Some have a cheese or meat fondue, others prefer fish or a ham, but often it’s simply a meal that involves a more expensive cut of meat (veal or filet, perhaps) and more courses, attractively presented, than the quite simple everyday meals common here.

If there are children, there will be recorder-playing and singing, though not so much ‘carols’ as simply traditional children’s Christmas folk songs. Then the children will be allowed to open their presents, again usually a pretty reserved occasion of careful unwrapping of a very few, if not always cheap, gifts. Adults often don’t bother with presents at all, bar a bottle of good wine or a foodie treat, and there aren’t a host of stocking-fillers or gimmicks, as a rule. It’s all about family, and usually exclusively so on Christmas Eve, though extended family might get together, and Midnight Mass is quite popular, too, often beginning around 10 pm – if you’re lucky, with some gently falling snow!

As rapidly as Christmas worked up to its peak, and although Christmas Day and Boxing Day are official holidays (known as the 1st and 2nd Days of Christmas), those appear to be days of rest. If you didn’t get together with family on Christmas Eve or want to get together with friends you’ll do so between Christmas Day and New Years’ Day and many homes lose the Christmas tree almost as soon as Christmas is over, rather than waiting for Epiphany on 6th January, the traditional time to take decorations down. That’s when special “Three Kings’ Bread” is bought or made, with a little plastic king hidden in it, to establish who will be King for the day and wear the gold paper crown…

And that is a Swiss Christmas over and done with! Now to get started 🙂 IMG_2193

(It’s New Year’s Eve that is party time – it’s the time for fancy food, glittery clothing, fireworks and champagne. Or an early night! In most places, the 1st and 2nd January are holidays, so time to recover, take a bracing winter walk and make all those New Year’s resolution…)

Bridging the gap… and Advent 1

They say no news is good news and everything has been fine – just really busy and intense!

IMG_0796 So a long post is probably due…!

Following my last post, my friend and I did indeed visit the Birmingham Art Gallery. The fantastic Edwardian Tea Room impressed us before we even got to the Pre-Raphaelites!


The Art Gallery was purpose-built (though this hall probably wasn’t originally intended to be a Tea Room!) and was definitely intended to impress and show off the collections in Birmingham, of which the Pre-Raphaelites are only one, and which we simply couldn’t take in all at once. It’s obviously a matter of taste, but I did enjoy looking at the varying styles within that category and finding little details that are simply pleasing…IMG_0731IMG_0732 Isn’t this cat gorgeous?!

Although we are close to Birmingham, I have never really known the city very well and even less so since it’s all been renewed, refurbished and in many cases, utterly changed (i.e. the “new” Bullring Centre!), so I was pleased and surprised to see how grubby old canal areas have been made trendy and lively with a huge amount going on from shops and restaurants to galleries and businesses. As there was a family connection, we also visited a small gallery called the Ikon, thinking we ought to be open to some more modern forms of art… I’m afraid that is all that can be said, as we thought the exhibits more than a little strange and an understanding of “art” that clearly supercedes anything we would consider in that category! But it was interesting to see something different, nevertheless, and we were extremely impressed at how beautifully the old school building had been restored and could appreciate the juxtaposition of the 19th century brick and stonework with the modern additions of glass and steel.  IMG_0734 IMG_0736IMG_0737IMG_0740

Not long after this nice little jaunt, it was time for me to head back to Switzerland, where my family had had to manage without me for a month – unheard of! Finding everything in good order and a warm welcome, I set about preparing for my next absence 😮  IMG_0811

As I knew I would be away during Advent, a time of year we all enjoy so much, it seemed to me a logical conclusion to spend the rest of November in a state of pre-Advent, including all those restorative elements such as baking, candles, decorations, downtime with tea, reading, knitting… you name it! It’s the little things like mandarines (clementines/tangerines) being available and an abundance of greenery and plants like poinsettia that make the difference, I suppose. In any case, we managed to spend a lovely three weeks of home comforts and seasonal activities to rival any other perfect Advent: wandering the pretty boutiques and Christmas markets of mediaeval towns (Stein-am-Rhein and Colmar), a little bit of non-stressful Christmas shopping, plenty of tea, cappuccino and hot chocolate, the aforementioned fruits and biscuits and then also a big dinner event with a Christmas show and another evening comedy event with a Christmas theme, plus a couple of visits to the cinema (that would be the new Bond – ace! – and Kristin Scott-Thomas’ latest offering in French – “Dans la maison” – which she does so well). I had time to see my friends for birthdays and days or evenings out or just a cup of tea and a chat, and to spend time with each of my daughters and grandchildren. My youngest daughter and I found time for a baking session (cinnamon stars!) and a couple of shopping trips in preparation for Christmas but also to feed her newfound enthusiasm (via her vocational training) for sewing… All in all a very successful and intense period of time that I thoroughly enjoyed!!

IMG_0767 This young lady is now walking… and still can’t keep still for a photo!

IMG_0784 Gallivanting with Helen in Baden – The Brown house with its collection of Impressionist paintings, interesting family history and beautiful interior IMG_0780 I thought the gardens and topiary very pretty, along with the garden furniture 🙂

IMG_0788 Still in Baden, one for my husband! The cold, dark day merited plenty of woollies…

IMG_0819 PERFECT weather in Colmar (Alsace, France) – I could bore you stupid with beautiful photos of the mediaeval buildings in Colmar, but thought you may not know that Auguste Bartholdi designed the New York Statue of Liberty, a miniature of which is standing on the little plinth next to him in this monument! IMG_0826IMG_0821IMG_0831IMG_0848IMG_0843IMG_0869IMG_0838…with a pike that probably doesn’t quite rival my grandad’s stuffed one…! IMG_0851Wonderful food in Colmar, too – this was an Apple Strudel that was delicious as well as beautiful!

While on the subject of food, I hasten to recommend the restaurant “Au Rendez-Vous de Chasse” of the Grand Hotel Bristol, just across from the main railway station in Colmar… Both buildings are art nouveau and retain all their turn-of-the-century style. The hotel is very nice, not overdone, and our rooms were lovely, plus the brasserie and breakfasts were excellent. The restaurant, however, is a proper posh French restaurant and my birthday menu was out of this world… takes you to the website with some beautiful images of the delicious food and how it’s presented!


Making Lemonade

Once again, it’s been a while. How dare life get in the way of blogging?!

Well, it has its ups and downs and while there was plenty of anxiety upon hearing that my mom had to have major surgery, we were very relieved that she got through it successfully and is now making a good recovery. Family matters and is a priority for all of us, so that as my mom has been there for her mom in the UK in the last years, there is no question that I would step in to help out in the meantime – and we’re so pleased that our daughters feel the same way. In fact, without my middle daughter stepping up and taking over my granny’s care until I could get there, things could have got pretty hairy. In any case, it all means I am spending a good deal of the rest of the year in England, sharing the care – and we all actually seem to be enjoying the opportunity to spend time together, four generations in harmony, which really is quite something!

Just before I left, little Mireille had her 1st birthday! We had a little get-together to celebrate and I enjoyed using the theme of her main present – a collection of small classic animals – to decorate the table for our brunch.

I made some animal-shaped iced biscuits for the occasion, used owl serviettes and printed out place-mats (that I laminated) from Martha Stewart’s website (!) that have Steiff stuffed animals all around the edges. Mireille enjoyed looking at them!


Animals seem to be more interesting to Mireille than cars and she enjoyed playing with them 

There were other presents, too. A headscarf that is still a bit big (she needs to grow some hair LOL!) and a book… 

Mireille’s book this year is one I think is extremely cute and I’m happy to promote it here: 


Having been practising for a year, our little granddaughter is now also walking! But the thing she enjoyed most on this visit was a little wooden footstool made by my husband in his woodworking class as a teenager! It was good to push around, climb onto, ride on and excellent to stand on to reach higher up the bookcase… and for stacking cups 🙂 


A Grand Day Out

Autumn has definitely arrived, even the calendar says so. Now we really are into the last quarter of the year, and the weekend was quick to confirm it, with cold, grey rainy days that had us hunkering down with pumpkin and other soups and seasonal fare.

However, Friday dawned beautifully bright and sunny with a clear blue sky that stayed with us for the whole day and as one of my best friends was visiting, it was a great opportunity for a Grand Day Out!

We started off with a pretty quick drive to Lucerne for lunch, probably one of the last we’ll enjoy outdoors this year (and even now we were glad of the warm red blankets supplied by the restaurant!).  And that is just the coffee and dessert!!

We did find it necessary to have a stroll for the sake of our digestion and for some, a bit of a swim among the ducks and as far as we could get away from the swans…

Wool was bought, too – we’re going to make these:       🙂 🙂 🙂

My husband had an appointment up a mountain, and while we waited for him, we were amused to witness the tail end of the local cattle market! This was very much a village affair  with not a tourist in sight, and is proof of a couple of things you might have heard about Swiss country life: the cows were wearing big bells and were herded off up the road, clanking their way out up the village high street, and we also saw a dog-cart pulled by Bernese Mountain dogs (wagging all the way and with happy laughing faces!) and led by a couple dressed in the local Sunday traditional costume. (I have video proof but can’t seem to embed those here, unfortunately!) There were also a couple of young women and girls in the workday costumes and most of the men and a lot of children were wearing the typical Edelweiss workshirts…

(The one we saw had two dogs pulling the decorative milk-cart filled with flowery churns!)

Another short drive took us to another lake, further east, to the southern end of Lake Zurich at Rapperswil. Others had taken advantage of the gloriously sunny afternoon for a trip on a big old boat    With weather like this, we had to climb up to the top of the little hill the old town is nestled into, up to the castle 


From up here, there is a wonderful panoramic view both up the lake to Zurich and down over the town to the mountains behind – Although Rapperswil is a town of roses, it was figs we found growing up the castle walls! After admiring the old town from above we finished the afternoon off in style with this Sour cherry, redcurrant and blueberry tarts… yum!