Year of Grace Day 164. The magic of wisteria and clematis

Wisteria and clematis are two of my favourite vines. Every spring I eagerly await their blooming. Here they are, magically  transforming the grim and forbidding façade of a derelict building, apparently a former air-raid shelter from World War II.  At least once a year, this unsightly structure is endowed with breathtaking grace (and scent too). These photos were taken in my old neighbourhood of Dottendorf, on Quirinusplatz.

Year of Grace Day 163. Elderflower pressé

Nothing evokes an English summer’s day as a cool drink of elderflower pressé. And making elderflower cordial, the base for this refreshing drink, is extremely simple. All you need are very fresh elderflowers (preferably picked just before), sugar, organic or unwaxed lemons, citric acid, and water. I used to make it every year in Leamington Spa, gathering the elderflowers from the hedgerows. In early summer Newbold Comyn — the extensive common grounds just behind the house — would be all frothy with elderflower umbels. And beneath them, similarly a-froth, would be the lacy umbrellas of wild carrot. This is what I loved most about living in the English countryside — being able to gather wild flowers and fruits (damsons, sloes, plums, blackberries) from the centuries-old hedgerows, much as countrywomen of bygone years must have done.

And I am truly glad to see that elder (Sambucus nigra) grows all over here in Bonn as well. It is considered by my neighbour as a weed – I don’t, and it is such a delight to have it blooming in my garden. (English lore has it that witches do not like the elder tree. It is apparently forbidden around the vineyards whose grapes go into the making of port in Portugal — a throwback to less scrupulous periods when ripe elderberries were used to add substance and colour to port.) I love the flowers’ fragrance spreading throughout the garden, especially in the late afternoon, when M and I sit outside to enjoy the close of a mild summer’s day with a relaxing drink.

Elderflowers bloom just in the gap after the yellow laburnum is spent and before the roses and the jasmine-scented Philadelphus get into their stride. And in the autumn, there are also its purple berries that can be made into syrup (if the greedy birds leave me some, that is) – good for winter colds with its plentiful antioxidants or as a hot drink mixed with something alcoholic to warm up chilled bones.

There are a couple of trees in my garden – one in the back, and another, self-sown in front. Last year was so rainy that the elderflowers never stood a chance against the onslaught of daily rain. Nor did I have a chance to collect them at the peak of their bloom – they need to be creamy, full of pollen, and fragrant, best collected after morning sun has dried the dew on them.

This year, I’ve been lucky that the rainy days have alternated with sunny ones, so that I was able to gather quite a goodly quantity the other day. I also hope to make some other things I’ve never had a chance to make before – elderflower jelly and elderflower champagne. I might even try them in fritters or tempura. If you’d like to have a go at making your own elderflower cordial, I’ve included a recipe below.

Elderflower Cordial (adapted from Sophie Grigson’s recipe)
1.2 litres water
1.8 kg sugar in a large, heat-proof mixing bowl holding over 3 litres
85 g citric acid
30 umbels of fresh elderflowers – pick on a sunny day before it gets too hot; choose newly opened ones with plenty of pollen; quickly swish umbels into a bowl of cold water to dislodge insects
4 unwaxed lemons, washed

Bring the water to a boil and pour over the sugar in the bowl.
Stir thoroughly and repeatedly to dissolve the sugar, and allow to cool.
Meanwhile strip elderflowers from their stalks. You may use the tines of a fork to do this. The stalks give a foxy taste to the cordial. The tiniest twigs are fine to leave.
Peel off the zest from the lemons, making sure to do this carefully or with a very fine peeler so that only the yellow part comes off. Remove all the white spongy pith, leaving only the translucent parchment that surrounds the lemon segments. I found that the pith comes off very easily with a small knife.
Thinly slice the lemons crosswise.
When the syrup has cooled to room temperature, stir in the citric acid until dissolved.
Stir in the flowers and the lemon zest and slices.
Cover with cling film and leave in a cool, dark place for 6 days.
Filter through cheesecloth and store into sterilized bottles. (Put bottles and caps in a large pan with water to cover; allow to boil for 20 minutes. Take bottles out of the water, shake the excess water off, fill with cordial, and cap.)
The citric acid and sugar are preservatives, and when kept in a dark, cool place or refrigerator, the cordial lasts up to 6 months.
Alternatively, you can freeze the cordial in an ice cube tray, and once frozen, pack the cubes into freezer bags. I have also half-filled plastic bottles with the cordial and put them in the freezer. To use, allow to thaw in the fridge, and use it up within a week of opening.
To prepare elderflower pressé: pour 2 – 3 (or to taste) tablespoons of cordial or 2 – 3 cubes of frozen cordial in a tall glass, top up with sparkling water or plain cold water or chilled white or sparkling wine.
You may also drizzle elderflower cordial over vanilla ice cream or custard or pancakes or crepes, or add its alluring, summery fragrance to a fruit salad.

Year of Grace, Day 162. Traces of ancient Rome

Just when I thought summer was settling in at last, we’re back to colder weather and rain. The rain I don’t mind at all as the plants love it – after a few days of steady gentle rain, they put on so much growth. And I have to admit, flowers tend to last longer when it’s cooler. The pink roses, the old-fashioned quartered ones, are ready to bloom and perhaps because of the humidity from the rain, their sweet perfume hovers delicately, suffusing the air all around them. What joy to be near these beauties surrounded by such gorgeous scent!

The other day we spent a few hours in Xanten, an ancient Roman city close to Düsseldorf. Unearthed some decades ago, it is extensive, with an ampitheatre and temple, and many reminders of everyday life as it was then. A few craftspeople’s workshops and living quarters had been reconstructed over the foundations of the original (left in their excavated state with ramps for viewers). There was a building devoted to Roman games and amusements – and it was good to see children in twos or threes happily engaged on the boards – a sight rarely to be seen in this age of electronic games and solitary absorption. A group of tents had been set up on the grounds, and history enthusiasts clad in garments of the time injected life into their displays of tools, weaponry, armour, and other household goods with explanations and demonstrations. There were even children dressed to match. Please click on the photos below for a larger view.

And while sitting down and resting on the lawns that had once been a bustling Roman colony, I was reminded of Shelley’s poem about Ozymandias. Two thousand years ago, this had been a place to which the power of Rome had extended, and of those ancient structures of marble and brick and stone, very little remained. And two thousand years from now, what of our cities, the skyscrapers, the malls, the shops? There was a slight dig at our disposable culture in one of the displays: Latin inscriptions on stone are still legible thousands of years on, as compared to the average lifetime of a USB stick or hard drive.

Year of Grace, Day 161. Haunting melodies

Every so often in the past I would hear brief snatches of music in my head, but I could never place them. The melody was vague — a few disconnected notes. Could they have come from a song, and what song was it from and where had I heard it before? Or had I just made it up? This went on for several years, and although the melody popped up only rarely, the fact that I could not trace its provenance bothered me, but not unduly. How ever did it come to lodge itself in my head? One of life’s mysteries, I concluded – to be wondered at and be amused and bewildered by.

And then one day it came to me. It was from The Mikado: Katisha’s song – full of deep yearning and melancholy –“Alone and Yet Alive” – the part where she sings “O living I…” I had once been in the chorus of a light opera group that performed The Mikado, and the voice of the lady who played Katisha had been especially stirring. That was so long ago that the memory and the melody had gotten buried so deep in my mind.

Similarly almost a lifetime ago, I learned the song “Eli, Eli” while learning Hebrew at an ulpan (an intensive language-learning school). The song’s haunting melody moved me to the core – I don’t know why – and whenever I hear it or sing it, I feel tears welling up, unbidden.

Remembering the first time I heard that song brings back my class — a miniature of the world. Two young Ethiopian men from Tigray and Gondar; a Mexican soft-spoken lady of middle-age, a petite concert pianist; an ageing Polish artist: his wife, classically beautiful and looking so much younger than him, and as well seeming somewhat malcontent; a Bolivian young man in his early thirties, a real-life Adonis; a recent Physics graduate from Romania; a rotund chef from Alsace; a young mother from Russia, a costume designer with a profile like Nefertiti; a well-built matron from Egypt; and a lady translator from Romania. We had learned the song and its lyrics — a poem — in connection with a field trip to Caesarea. The last two women shared their picnics with me on the trip – the same place that had sparked the poem by Hanna Senesh, the Hungarian poet who at 18 was executed by the Nazi regime.

I remember now our shared picnic  – rolls of stuffed cabbage from the Egyptian lady who’d made them herself. She said they had to be made the day before, for their flavour to develop with standing. The rolls, stuffed with rice and a few raisins, no meat, were tasty and redolent of spices – cumin and coriander – and lemon. The Romanian lady had brought a couple of dry, piquant sausages from her stash of goodies from home. And I? I’d brought norimaki stuffed with vegetables. As you can tell, my memories when linked with food are so much sharper and more detailed.

Here then is the song and its haunting melody. There are some lovely images too, to go with it. Here too is a view of the same sea — the Mediterranean — though not at Caesarea.

Sundown on the Mediterranean

Sundown on the Mediterranean

Year of Grace Day 160. First artichokes of the season

Yesterday I harvested the first artichokes of the season – only two, the topmost ones. Cutting them now will enable the lower ones to flourish, as the plant’s energy can now be diverted to them. These baby artichokes I expect to be quite tender and without a choke at this point,  good to briefly braise in white wine and olive oil, garlic, and some herbs. They’ll be perfect as a starter for M and me. I might add a bay leaf or two as well. I’ve got bay plants whose leaves I love to use fresh, snipping them off just before use.

First artichokes 2015_7687

I love it when I can step outside the kitchen door, walk a few steps into the freshness of the garden in early summer — which is now — and pinch between my fingers a few bits from this herb and that, their scents wafting in the air and lingering in my fingers.

There’s no comparing fresh bay leaves from dried — fresh ones have more complex flavours and scents. Bay plants are usually sold several to a pot, and I separated them two years ago, planting one in the ground and the rest in large pots. The one on the ground (thank goodness it has not been devoured by the resident voles) gets more sun as it’s on a southern exposure and has more room to spread its roots. It has now grown to a bush of about a meter, with many side branches.

There’s also marjoram flourishing just outside the kitchen door in a large blue ceramic pot, keeping company with a passionfruit vine that I’m hoping will give more than the one fruit it did last year. I never got to taste its first fruit – doubtless scoffed by a passing magpie – one of three thuggish magpies that hang about. (They bully the blackbirds mercilessly. There’s one in particular that harasses and scolds a female blackbird who likes perching on the yew.)

The other herb that has done well, surviving its first winter, is also in a matching blue pot perched on a ledge on the dining room window – it’s a winter savoury, called Bohnenkraut (‘bean herb’) because it’s commonly added here to bean dishes. Interestingly, the thyme that I thought would be hardy and tolerate winter has not done well. It was in the same pot – a rather large one with holes on its sides — as the marjoram. The holes are deliberate – they’re big enough to insert herbs that like good drainage, or even strawberries. I’ve also stuck in a few sedums and one of them is in bloom – tiny bright yellow stars.

The chives are also in bloom – some are doing rather well around the roses, and I snipped a few yesterday together with its flowers to add to the tuna salad that we had for lunch. I love separating the little mauve chive florets and scattering them as edible decor. It is common wisdom that chives and its relatives (garlic, leek) are good companions for roses as they deter aphids and other pests. It’s the first season since I planted a clump of chives close to each rose bush in the front garden. The interaction must be efficacious, as I don’t see any of the usual pests that mar the rose buds. The rose bushes are also looking much healthier than in previous years – their leaves are shiny and their new shoots plump and robust. The roses that haven’t got chives around them are already harbouring aphids and other unwelcome pests on some buds. I don’t spray however – I just wait for the hoverflies and ladybugs and other predators to come and take care of these pests for me. I do hope they come soon.

Today is a milestone: the 160th post on my grace journal. Writing these has become an early morning ritual for me, and on the days that I cannot post for some reason or other, I feel as though something is not quite right with me.

My original intent was to post something to be grateful for every day. I haven’t been saying thank you repeatedly, as that would make tedious reading. I have hoped that by expressing my wonder and amazement at the simple things that grace my days, it is to be understood that I am, by doing so, expressing my thanks as well. But perhaps every so often, I believe I ought to expressly and explicitly say so.

I am deeply thankful for the beauty of the world around me – the plants and the wildlife that thrive in my garden and the surrounding woods. It is heaven to wake to the cheerful chorus of birds in the early morning just before dawn. I find it a privilege to have birds – especially one cheeky robin — keeping me company as I work in the garden, to listen to the lot of them chattering or twittering to one another at odd moments as they flit in and out among the trees throughout the day. It is lovely to see birds courting in early spring, flying close together, keeping in perfect synchrony with one another, and chirping out to each other companionably in mid-flight. (By the way butterflies do so too, fly close together in synchrony that is, except they don’t do any chirping.) Again at the close of day when there is a tumult of birds perhaps all simultaneously putting their young to bed and telling them bedside stories, it is a joy to be an unwitting audience to such a babble of birdsong.

May I continue to be so blessed to see and to hear and to enjoy with all my senses all of nature’s wonders. This poem which is also a song with a haunting melody, by the Hungarian-Jewish poet Hanna Senesh, expresses my feelings poignantly.

Eli, Eli, Halicha le Kesariya
Eli, Eli she lo yigamer le olam
Ha chol ve ha yam
Rishrush shel ha mayim
Berak ha shamayim
Tefilat ha adam.

My God, My God, A Walk to Caesaria
My God, my God, may these never end:
The sand and the sea
The rustling of water
Lightning in the skies
The prayers of mankind.

Year of Grace, Day 159. Rübestiel: Rhineland spring greens

The subject of greens and how delicious they are (and oh so good for your health too!) has been very popular among my group of friends lately. The earliest of leafy vegetables here in the Rhineland are Rübestiel, which translates into English as root stalks, and are also known as turnip greens. (Incidentally, beets are also called Rübe.) However I believe the Rübestiel plant does not develop the swollen root balls that we recognize as turnips but I could be mistaken, as I have yet to grow them.

These greens are rarely seen in supermarkets, and the first time I spied them was at Schneider’s, a greengrocer chain in Bonn that specializes in locally grown, mostly organic produce. (Btw, there is a Schneider’s stand in Dottendorf, near the cemetery; another in Venusberg, near Casselsruhe; and another close to Wachtberg.) The unfamiliar greens looked so like Oriental leafy veggies that even without knowing what they were, I was instinctively drawn to them and compelled to buy them. There is such a lack of choice of fresh leafy greens in standard supermarkets here that my fallback greens are rucola, as arugula are known here. But one can get jaded with the same leaves all the time, no matter how delicious. So when spring comes, I am excited at the thought of fresh Rübestiel.

I’ve always cooked them simply – a quick stir-fry with garlic and perhaps a few flakes of dried chilli. Passing by the Schneider’s stand on an empty lot just outside Wachtberg the other day, I was delighted to come across a fat bunch of Rübestiel. I remembered I had some frozen prawns and was inspired to make a Thai-style green curry. I also had on hand green curry mix to which I added a tablespoon each of “fresh” ginger, galangal, and turmeric. I say “fresh” as I keep these roots in the freezer and just grate what I need on the spot and put the roots straight back in. I was delighted with the outcome, and the Rübestiel, darker green than the usual, were rather sharp and mustard-tasting. Lovely! If you wish to recreate it, here’s my recipe. You may omit the prawns for a vegetarian option and use any greens you’ve got on hand, even rucola. Just the thing to gladden an Oriental green vegetable lover’s heart!

Rübestiel and Prawn Green Curry

2 – 3 tablespoons coconut oil

1 onion, finely sliced

1 teaspoon Thai green curry mix (available at Asian food shops, a level teaspoon for two people is as hot as we want, but you can add more if you like it really sizzling)

1 tablespoon each fresh ginger, galangal, and turmeric (you may use powdered turmeric but only a scant teaspoon)

1 lemon grass stalk, cut in half crosswise then lengthwise, and crushed (but keep intact so they can be taken out before serving)

1 tablespoon s’chug (prepared cilantro-garlic sauce from Middle Eastern food shops; substitute finely chopped cilantro and garlic)

2 cups thick coconut cream (I used powdered coconut cream dissolved in hot water)

salt or fish sauce (patis, nuoc mam, nampla) to taste

1 kg fresh Rübestiel (substitute any fresh leafy greens: mizuna, mustard greens, pak choi, kai lan, pechay, etc.), separated into stalks and leaves and sliced into 5 cm (2 inch) lengths

150 – 400 g ( ~1/3 ~ 1 lb, as little or as much as you like) shelled prawns (frozen or fresh)

Preparation: in a wok or large saucepan, heat the coconut oil; add the onion slices and stir over medium heat until wilted and aromatic.

Stir in the curry mix, the rest of the condiments and coconut cream, and season to taste.

Reduce the heat and when the cream starts to boil, add the stalks and the prawns. Stir to prevent the cream catching and scorching.

Once the prawns have turned pink, stir in the leaves, and cook for just 1 or 2 minutes more, then turn off the heat.

There is enough heat to finish cooking the leaves. The stalks should still be crunchy and the prawns juicy and not overdone.

Serve at once with plain, just cooked rice.

Guten Appetit!

Year of Grace Day 158. More on the vine of immortality

Yesterday M and I had afternoon tea with Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum). I noticed that when the leaves steep longer than 5 minutes, the tea becomes bitter-sweet. However I didn’t detect the liquorish notes that the German herb and spice grower Rühlemann’s mentions in their description of this vine. Perhaps once my vine gets into its stride (it has just began to shoot), it will acquire some other flavours, instead of just being sweet and bitter. The herb and spice nursery lists 12 beneficial effects of Jiaogulan, which also happens to be their best-selling plant for use as groundcover, due to its rapid growth under good conditions. (I have translated the following from their website).

1. adaptogen: Jiaogulan contains saponins that have a balancing effect in the body: some are chemically identical with those in ginseng, and some are a separate class of saponins called gypenosides. Prevents stress-related illnesses.

2. antioxidant: contains the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), an extremely effective antioxidant.

3. cardiac tonic: improves the pumping of the heart, and thus general blood circulation.

4. against hypertension: maintains blood pressure in the normal range.

5. excess cholesterol: Jiaogulan lowers LDL levels and triglycerides, and could lead to weight loss among overweight individuals.

6. against stroke and heart attack: Jiaogulan prevents platelet clumping, thus decreasing the occurrence of life-threatening blood clots. Also a preventative against thrombosis.

7. immune system tonic: lymphocyte activity is enhanced in ill and healthy individuals.

8. blood formation: boosts the formation of white blood cells; beneficial for recovery after chemotherapy or radiological treatment.

9. against diabetes: lowers blood sugar and blood lipids.

10. cancer retardant: Jiaogulan contains the same tumor-inhibiting glycoside found in ginseng (ginsenoside Rh2), but in much greater concentration.

11. stress elimination: Jiaogulan has a balancing effect on the nervous system: frayed nerves are calmed, while listless nerves are stimulated. The results are better stress tolerance and, for athletes, increased endurance and thus better performance.

12. promotes metabolism due to better capillary and cardiac functioning, as well as improved blood count and other factors.

However, further reading uncovers precautionary warnings for those with auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatic arthritis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which I have). As well it is good to note that Jiaogulan could interact rather negatively with certain drugs.

So… point well taken — everything in moderation, and I intend to drink Jiaogulan tea once a week or two weeks, the same frequency as I drink other herbal teas. Besides, my plant is just waking from its winter sleep, and needs to build up its strength before I snip any more shoots.

Rühlemann’s gives more ways of enjoying the benefits of Jiaogulan. Nibbling one or two fresh leaves apparently gives some of the nursery’s workers an energy boost. The tender shoot tips can be added to salads. And a few leaves can be crushed and macerated for 1 – 2 hours in the fridge in Sekt or Prosecco (or your favourite bubbly) for an unusual health-boosting cocktail. Zum wohl! To health!

Year of Grace, Day 157. A vine for immortality

I’ve been growing Jiaogulan — also known as the plant of immortality — for two years now. It’s only this year though that I started to make tea with it. The amount of shoot tips (about 6 or 7) in the photo were sufficient to impart a pleasing sweetness to my small tea pot holding about 2 mugs’ worth of tea. A pity the leaves are scentless, and I meant to add lemon balm leaves (shown surrounding the tea pot and bowl on the table) to make up for it, but didn’t.  I had wanted to enjoy the tea of immortality in its pure state. I nibbled on a raw leaf, and found it surprisingly sweet with a bitter aftertaste. I ended up eating the “tea leaves” once I’d drunk the tea — for even greater benefit. The vine is promoted as “like ginseng but works better than ginseng” by the German herb and spice supplier Ruehlemanns, who also recommends the leaves in stirfries.

Why immortality? Apparently in the mountains of Southern China where it originates (Guizhou), those who drink or eat it regularly are noted for good health and longevity. It is recommended for lowering high blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar, lowering bad cholesterol, and anti-tumor activity, among other all-round beneficial health-boosting effects. Botanically known as Gynostemma pentaphyllum (each compound leaf has five parts; other related species may have three, seven or nine), Jiaogulan is regarded as an even better adaptogen (health booster) than ginseng for its greater store of antioxidants, discovered inadvertently by the Japanese researcher Masahiro Nagai, while searching for an alternative sweetener. (In Japan the plant is known as amachazuru, sweet tea vine). These antioxidants are doubtless what give the bitter aftertaste.

Speaking of bitter, in many foods such as tahina and coffee, those who regularly have these don’t sense or realize the bitterness, and shudder when I suggest bitter melon (Momordica charantia) to stabilize blood sugar levels (clinically tested btw). We’ll see what effects we get from immortality tea ☺.

Year of Grace, Day 156. Yesterday’s Grace

The honking of geese overhead at first light — a frightful cacophony to be roused by, but though muddled with sleep I manage a faint smile as I recognize the sound. They’re flying back home, I say to myself — winter is truly, definitely past.

The day turns out to be warmer than predicted – it is 20ºC and sunny. We take a slow stroll along the Rhine, relishing the unobstructed view of Petersburg up on the mountain and the castle on Drachenfels. I wish I’d brought my camera along.

There is a bikers’ path, and on this early summer’s day, flocks of cyclists make for unceasing traffic. An occasional rollerblader glides by, crouched low, almost as if skating on ice. I am glad to be out of their way on a separate path for walkers and hikers, higher up the bank.

Afterwards resting on a bench, we watch barges laden with containers headed downstream to Cologne and leisure cruisers bound upstream with daytrippers to Koblenz or Linz and the quaint green train to Bad Honnef on the track parallel to the Rhine. A couple in a boat energetically sculls as they chat, rather loudly as they cannot hear too well, being seated one behind the other; a cabin cruiser with a young family churns the water. Away from the river traffic, a cormorant dives repeatedly, surfacing further along. I try to catch a glimpse of fish in its mouth. How much fish does a cormorant eat? It doesn’t seem to stop. A lot, says M.

A goose, which we at first take for a duck because of its strikingly coloured feathers, is on its own on the edge of the water, calling out in that startling goose honk, like a donkey braying. Its feathers are a warm mix of amber and butterscotch, orange, and brown, with black edging. And its eyes are surrounded by a dark brown patch. Perhaps it’s looking for a mate? Or else it has lost its way, got left behind by its mates who’d flown by earlier? As we make our way back, the goose is on the bank, waddling back towards the river. Could it have a nest then somewhere in the thickets? Later I find out it is an Egyptian goose (click on link for images).

I am ever on the lookout for wildflowers or fungi on these walks. Little white daisies cover the grassy verges like galaxies of stars, and on one spot close to the outdoor swimming pool, already filled with water but no swimmers yet, there are wild geraniums with tiny pink flowers, a bit larger than Robert’s Geranium (also known as Herb Robert), and near them, some blooming white bladder campion.

Back home, I leisurely peel, core, and score apples for an apple cake from the book Backen Macht Freude (Baking Makes Joy). I adore cakes (and pies as well of course) made with fresh fruit, and my fanciful thoughts turn to Eve – our proverbial ancestress — as I prepare the apples. Would she have made cakes with this symbol of downfall – hers, Adam’s, ours? (Yes, I do have rather whimsical ideas. Often!)

Apple cake (Apfelkuchen)

Apple cake (Apfelkuchen)

A perfect tempura lunch is made by M – not classic prawn and little fish called kisu (pronounced ‘kiss’), but squid heads and tentacles, one large carrot cut into rings, and one Florence fennel bulb in vertical slices. We do have some authentic Japanese ingredients: mitsuba leaves that I’ve been growing since last spring — wide as shiso and that lend themselves to being fried to perfect crispness; Kikkoman soy sauce and the dashi for the dipping sauce. Tiny round red radishes sub for grated daikon: the red flecks of skin quite festive, even if not authentic and not as pungent as daikon, but the grated Thai ginger’s zing make up for it. The squid heads are ready to cook from a frozen pack bought at the Thai-Viet food shop in Old Town Bonn – certainly beats cleaning them from fresh. (I am glad to be spared the task as I cannot think of anything more unpleasant – I have done it countless times because I love cooking and eating squid.  Afterwards, replete (and no more room for rice), we have slices of our first watermelon this season: it is perfectly crisp and sweet.

At the close of day, as the sun makes its descent — swallows and swifts in pairs and alone, wheel and swoop with unfettered joy, soaring and gliding high up in the sky and then abruptly diving low and then back up again. It is definitely summer when the swallows and swifts are back.

That was my day yesterday — certainly a perfect day of grace. A heartfelt and deep thank You.

Year of Grace, Day 155. It is normal to be different

I came upon an eye-catching rainbow-coloured tent in the centre of Bonn the other day. Up close, it turned out to have been pieced together from thousands of crotcheted and knitted squares – each an individual and unique piece of handcrafted art, made by different people all over the Rhineland. As I was standing there admiring the tent, the young lady sitting nearby came up and explained what it was and how it came about.

We want diversity tent

We want diversity tent

“Wir wollen Vielfahlt” (please click to read more; automatic translation to English is available) – we want diversity – is a movement for inclusion that arose out of the handiwork of a young woman with learning disabilities. Through the medium of woollen threads and a lacemaking spool, she began creating beautifully intricate pieces, each completely different, each one a unique work of art, each a creation borne of love. And the idea of making a tent of many colours and patterns was born. Please click on the photos below to enlarge.

A tent symbolizes a multitude of things — a portable home for nomads (think of a Mongolian ger or yurt or Bedouin tent); a shelter when camping, or a refuge after a natural or man-made disaster. A tent is also a symbol for traditional hospitality and welcome. It is a blessing to house and feed a stranger who turns up at your tent, as we read in the Bible.

This tent of many colours is being exhibited throughout the Rhineland until the end of 2015 to raise awareness for the need to welcome diversity among people – especially those at the periphery of society, those with learning or physical disabilities, those who are isolated such as the elderly, those who are emotionally disturbed. Those who are of different colours, of different beliefs, who think and act in a different way. As the website wir-wollen-vielfahlt states: it is normal to be different.

I had seen a colourful knitted sleeve around an unlikely object in Bonn – a tree trunk near a restaurant on Poppelsdorf on Meckenheimer Allee – and admired it for the creator’s sense of whimsy. I appreciate it all the more now that I know it is part of a growing grass-roots movement for acceptance and tolerance. A heartwarming metaphor — embracing diversity through knitting and crotcheting and other crafts that bind different threads together into a beautiful whole.