The Empty Head

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my own request to write one blog post a week.
It doesn’t seem much: one small text of around 300 words – that’s nothing! However,
there’s a whole process behind it, and my problem is the starting point: to find a subject. That’s by far the most difficult part. Once I have a subject that speaks to me, the words
come by themselves, more or less.
Often when I sit down to write, my head feels completely empty, as if a heavy wind had
passed through it, swiping away every single thought or idea. There’s only stillness and
the basic vibration of energy. Luckily, most often I come up with something after having
let the pen wander over the paper for a couple of pages. A little idea has been born. Well, what if I don’t push myself to write when the emptiness buzzes in my head? What if I only
close my eyes, feel my heartbeat and stay there? Then no words will be written.
I give myself tasks, or am given tasks by others, and I want to fulfill them. I don’t want
to disappoint anybody! For me, not fulfilling a task I gave myself feels just as bad as not fulfilling one I got from a boss or a colleague at work: as if I’m not living up to my own expectations or my own calling, because “that’s what I’m here for”. Yes, I still let myself
be defined by what I do…
Now, perhaps I have nothing to share this week, nothing to say. Perhaps I’ll just let my
head stay empty and retire into my heart, accepting that I cannot live up to my demand
and that there will be silence. After all, that silence might even be fruitful for next
week’s blog post.
Perhaps you, my readers, have suggestions for themes or topics to write about…? I’d be more than happy to hear them, and I’ll do my best to fulfil those requests – without too much pressure! 😉

When the wind of emptiness fills my head

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Wonderfully Warm Wool

When we freeze, we tense up. Is that why people living in warmer southern countries
seem to be so much more relaxed than their brothers and sisters up north…? A good
way to prevent us from spending the whole cold season – basically half the year – in
a constant state of crispation, is to dress up warmly. It seems like an elementary
fact, but it’s often neglected. As I myself am quite a frozen person I long ago realised
that I much prefer to wear the right materials and to put on an extra layer, even if
elegance has to be put aside, than to living in a cold, tensed state.
The main issue is to keep heat in and moisture out; you want to stay warm and dry.
Belonging to the “cotton generation”, I lately rediscovered the wonderfully warm wool.
For winter sports wool is perfect. First of all it retains (body) heat, and secondly
it doesn’t soak up and keep your transpiration, like cotton does. Instead wool absorbs
moisture vapour from your skin and releases it out into the drier air, so you don’t
remain wet. Having a layer of wool next to my body I don’t freeze when I make a pause
during my snowshoeing, as I would have done wearing a cotton T-shirt, that retains
humidity and quickly gets cold.
For outdoor activities the layer principle is king, and nowadays (almost) all my layers,
except the outer, wind-stopping one, are made of wool. Slowly but surely I have replaced
cotton or synthetic sweaters, cardigans, tops and even underwear with woollen ones.
The only clothing item I haven’t yet found in wool are trousers 😉 Any tips on where
to look for woollen trousers?
In the evenings, when I cuddle up on the couch, a soft woollen plaid warms me until the
fire in the chimney has developed fully, and today, everything I knit is made of wool –
except for potholders!

Knittomania

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Early Mornings

We all have different biological clocks. There are people who aren’t really awake
until after lunch, even if their working schedule forces them to be up and running
already at 7 AM. Other people enjoy waking up with the birds, and start feeling
sleepy in the evening when the party has only just begun.
I definitely belong to the second category. For me, there’s almost a magical feeling
about getting up when it’s still dark outside and everybody else is fast asleep.
The whole world seems to “belong” to me, and when the light slowly returns I already
sit at the breakfast table, greeting the new day with a cup of fragrant tea. Getting
up early makes me feel like I have all the time in the world, and that my energy
level is on top.
I know I’m privileged: our society is built for the early birds, and alas, the night
owls have to adapt. However: most kinds of entertainment start late at night, when
the early birds have already been yawning for quite a while.
The most magical mornings are the very early ones in summertime. I remember getting
up at four in the morning at our summerhouse, quietly leaving the sleeping family
behind, and sneaking off to the sea. There was nobody down at the vast, flat, sandy
beach and the soft, peachy light welcomed me like a warm embrace. Flocks of seagulls
loudly greeted the day as I briskly walked along the shoreline, and beginning the
day like that was like a promise of wonderful surprises. Because of this start,
that day already had a golden shimmer that nothing really could rub off.
However, I still haven’t greeted the day up on a mountaintop. My dream is to spend a
night under the bare sky, and to wake up when the light returns and tinges the peaks
with a warm hue. The whole earth must be glowing with vitality! Now, for safety reasons,
this specific experience needs to be made in company, and I am still looking for the
right persons. Who would like to join me…?

The pink morning hue comes a bit later in winter

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Solitude Vs Companionship

On certain days, when admiring a solitary tree along my hikes; or nights, when gazing
at the distant moon in the vast sky, a certain melancholy overcomes me. More than
otherwise I realise the fundamental fact that I Am Alone.
Now why should that elemental truth trouble me? Deep inside we are all alone. We are
born alone and we will die alone. In fact, the very fabric of our lives is made of
loneliness, or better: solitude.
(For the difference between loneliness and solitude, click here)
Throughout our lives we eagerly look for others to alleviate the feeling of having to
deal with all this fullness by ourselves. We look for the compassionate words from
someone we feel understands us, a steady shoulder to cry on, the smile from a friend
who participates in our happy moments, a warm embrace to hide in. For even if we’re
fully aware of the inherent loneliness in human existence, we can still be equally
aware of our deep need to share the experience of living, to communicate our worries
and joys with people with open eyes, ears and hearts, and to feel the soothing closeness
and warmth of this kind of sharing.
Luckily the positive sides to a chosen solitude prevail over the (few) negative ones.
I truly believe that I would never have been able to “find myself” the way I have done,
living in a tight couple. My creativity is blooming when I am totally free to explore it,
and I deeply enjoy being able to form my life according to my own innermost wishes.
As for companionship, I find that I appreciate it much more if I do not have it all
the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Living alone is to constantly float in this contradictory state: knowing and enjoying my
human solitude, but softening it in moments of closeness and understanding. Like the black needs the white, the shadow needs the sun and Yin needs Yang.
Standing next to that particular tree with a slightly heavy heart, I start balancing out
the melancholy from inside: I fill my chest with air, push the corners of my mouth
upwards, and try to put some joy into the sad pool of my eyes. After a while the light
enters again, my spirits are raised, and my smile becomes genuine.

There’s something special about solitary trees…

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Passionate Cookery

Significant for the lifestyle I’ve adopted up here in the mountains is that I spend
hours and hours outside each day. Just like the slogan of a German sports brand puts it: “Draußen zuhause” (At home outdoors).
However, every now and then I allow myself a real House Mouse day, enjoying my cosy
home to the fullest. Then I indulge in all the indoor activities that I adore: writing, reading, drawing, knitting – and cooking.
This year for Christmas I received a wonderful vegetarian cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi,
and during my latest House Mouse day I tried out three very tempting recipes. Afterwards,
as I shared the stunning caramelised fennel with a friend, I remembered a lovely quote by Maya Angelou: “Writing and cookery are just two different means of communication”.
Cooking with passion means that I am aware of what is healthy, that I adore working on
my cooking skills, and – crucial! – that I put all my love and care into each part of
the process. It’s not just a question of nourishing human bodies; it’s also about a deep
wish to communicate lovingly through food with others. When I use healthy and nutritional ingredients and cook with passion the dishes will satisfy both body and mind – down to <
every tiny thankful cell.
When you cook with passion the way you touch a tomato, cut an onion, stir a sauce,
or the seasoning – every gesture – is infused with your love and care. A dish that
is prepared this way will communicate the chef’s care for the food and the dinner
guest indulging in it.
They say that the way to a man’s heart goes through the stomach. I think that goes
for all of us. 😉

Fennel at its best

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Let Your Inner Voice Emerge

In one way or another each one of us has something to communicate to others that
can help or inspire them. Each one of us has his or her own inner voice. Do you have
access to your own personal voice? It is not something that will show up all by itself
when you command it! You have to actively work on it to bring it out.
We all have different channels of communication, and of how we best share our inner
truths with others. My main channel is writing; I have been writing ever since I was
a child and will probably continue until I can see no more. Just like other people who
enjoy writing, I have discovered that my personal message doesn’t emerge through sudden outbursts of inspiration, but through constant, stubborn work. I guess that’s true for
other creative work as well, be it painting, composing music, doing origami or working
with wood. You just have to take your time, sit down and do it, even if you feel
completely empty and would rather stick your head in the sand. You have to diligently
practice your skill, over and over again.
So I sit down on a regular basis with an exercise book and make my hand move the pen
over the paper to form words and sentences, even if I don’t have any “vision” or the
slightest idea on what to write about. I start writing down whatever rubbish or senseless
words that come to my mind, and suddenly a grain of gold emerges.
Suddenly one of the sentences looks up at me and says: “Hey! I have something important
to say!” That sentence might point to a question or an issue that I have worked on before,
or something that worries me, or somebody near to me. Such a sentence can start off an important reasoning, result in a blog post, a poem or even a short story.
I’m always amazed by these sparks of inspiration; who knows where they come from or
why they pop up right then and there. I just know that these sparks rarely come out of
the clear blue sky, but most often when I’ve been writing for a while, and thereby paved
the way for them to emerge. In other words, if we don’t practice, inspiration doesn’t
just suddenly hit us. We shouldn’t allow any writer’s block to silence us. We have to
ignore the part of us that whispers “you don’t have anything to say” or “there’s no point
in trying”, and just keep on working in order to reach the point of inspiration.
It feels as if I have to show my inner voice that I’m there for it, that I take it seriously and make the effort to prepare the ground for it. Then it starts growing surprising,
magical flowers.

My faithful writing companion, the Sailor fountain pen

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Refreshed by Winter

Winter solitude
in a world of one colour
the sound of wind.
Matsuo Basho

I say winter, and I guess you think ”snow”. Alas, many places winter are not sparkling white at all, but mainly grey, humid and windy. We easily get a bit blue (or grey), and we definitely don’t want to go outside!
Even here in the Swiss Alps there are days like that, when I have to push myself out. I dress up warmly, and affront the humid cold.
Not everybody can afford a three hour hike per day, but shorter will do too. Drop your thoughts, stretch your spine and walk briskly for half an hour. You already feel much better: the blood circulation had a boost, your face feels fresh and your heart opens up. Whatever weighed you down before is whiffed off, at least for the moment. Your resting brain often comes up with solutions, according to the motto solvitur ambulando, “It is solved by walking”.
Life doesn’t feel that grey and lonely anymore when you come back inside. Prepare yourself a nice cup of tea, go back to your duties and enjoy being refreshed by winter.

Since writing the text it has snowed again!

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Christmas Colours

The two most typical colours of the upcoming Holiday Season are red and green,
aren’t they? Santa’s suit and the Christmas tree! I thought about the symbolism
behind these colours, and…
Red, of course, is the symbol of Love. True love, not only directed towards our
close ones, but towards all that surrounds us: humans, animals, plants, and nature
as a whole. Unconditional love, not depending on how others seem to be, what they
do or don’t do. That is what I call ‘Christmas Spirit’.
Green stands for balance, freshness, and rebirth. In connection with the New Year
I find the ‘rebirth’ aspect especially suitable: we look back at the past year, and
make resolutions to change or add certain aspects in our lives. January 1st feels
like a clean slate, inspiring us to make a new beginning with our very best
intentions.
When winter has reached its darkest point and the light has just been reborn I
decorate my house with lots of red and green. I fill my heart with affection and
care for all of Life and I enjoy the fresh feeling of starting anew.
Love makes everything is possible!

Christmas Colours

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Warmed by the Fire

In the main living area of my cottage the only heating source is a fireplace.
Unfortunately it is too large for the room’s proportions, so it’s not easy to
keep up a modest fire that does not turn the place into a sauna. A small fire
has to be fed all the time, and I only have time to do that in the evening when
I curl up on the couch with a good book, or two (or three).
Even during wintertime, my afternoons are mainly spent outside with long hikes,
working in the garden or chopping wood, and after a hot and fragrant dinner
soup it’s heaven to sit by a crackling fire. That’s my golden hour! It’s wonderful
to take in some intellectual, emotional or spiritual nutrition through interesting
books (for example Joyce Carol Oates’ “We Were the Mulvaneys”, Frédéric Lenoir’s
“L’oracle de la Luna” or Yoko Ogawa’s “The Diving Pool”) when you’re pleasantly
physically tired, mentally relaxed, and warmed by a crackling fire. Moments of
total peace.
People have called my life “monastic”, and if they mean being happy with simple
pleasures, then that’s just the word. Sometimes I just draw the little African rug
and the big cushion closer to the fireplace, and watch the fascinating dance of flames.
Mother Nature’s playful changes in shapes and colours never stop fascinating me.

The Dance of Flames

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Do Them Yourself!

It is such a pity when the Holiday Season triggers more stress than necessary. All the Christmas cards we have to write, all the gifts we need to buy – and then perhaps even celebrating with far too many people (or in unwanted solitude), with too much food and
too many presents…
Already before my change to a ‘simpler life’ I decided to drastically cut down on the
‘gift’ part, mainly trying to give away only things I’d made myself. It’s not easy:
you have to find something you can do yourself and that is appreciated by the recipients.
I’ve knitted so many things that I think ended up forgotten in the farthest drawer of a wardrobe…! 😉
What anybody can easily do and what is always very welcome are edible DIY gifts. Seasoning mixes, interesting pesto varieties, jams, herbal teas, cookies or sweets, just to name a few.
Why not try these Date Truffles! They are super easy to make, have few easy-to-find ingredients, they taste wonderful – and on top of that they’re even healthy!
Date Truffles
Ingredients for 16-20 pcs
7 dried dates (70 g)
7 dried apricots (70 g)
1 dl cashew nuts
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 pinch each of powdered cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a hint of powdered clove
a tiny pinch of salt
1-2 Tsp. water (careful!)
Cocoa powder to roll them in
How to proceed:
1. Pit the dates, let dates and apricots soak in water at least 2 hours.
2. Pour off water, roughly chop dates and apricots.
3. With a mixer, mix cashew nuts until smooth, put aside
4. Mix dates, apricots, cocoa powder and spices, and the mixed nuts. Add a little water if necessary, it should be VERY sticky.
5. Roll little balls (approx. 1 Tsp. full each) between your hands.
6. Roll them in extra cocoa powder, and save them in the fridge.
Now you can package up these delicious little health balls into a cute packaging, tie them together and add a note. Watch the Christmas smiles fill the room – because after all those processed Christmas treats one craves something that can be deeply enjoyed, but is a lot healthier!

Who can resist these succulent, yet healthy treats..?

Who can resist these succulent, yet healthy treats..?

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