Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fall in the alps

And all of a sudden we have arrived at the last day of September – fall started a few days ago and I am blessed to be able to enjoy the time in the mountains.

The days are shorter; the air clean and crisp; when the skies are blue they are really blue -when gray more fog than cloud; I can again walk along paths that were too hot this summer; the tourists are rare, especially during the week; in short a great place to enjoy time on one’s own.

As much as I love my life at home, my life here is necessary to my equilibrium.

The mountains color my fall beautiful!

sunset September 29, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Out and About

Having awoken to fog and yet more fog fog – and having missed the “red moon” due to same fog, I decided that it was time to do something else with my day other than just walking in the fog and gray.  I usually go to several of the small towns in the Valais during the time that I rent in the mountains, but for some reason (heat? Quiet? Who knows?) these past two years I haven’t been as willing to leave my mountains: have in fact turned down meals, coffees and meetings in the valley just to stay here.

However, having heard from R that there was sun in the valley I thought, time to go. Another motivator was checking one of the better DIY stores for gutter covers. My winter garden’s gutters get clogged, one famous time leading to a water fall inside the winter garden when it rained too hard and I hadn’t noticed the problem.

I actually managed to not only find what I was looking for, but it was half price as well so I bought more than needed.

Off to Sion with the weather clearing to check my favorite stores: mind you I usually am more capable of spending hours in the DIY’s, hardware stores and other small drugstores than I am in a clothing store. Still, as usual found a lovely scarf, which in turn necessitated (note the verb!) buying a new purse.  However, I didn’t buy any of the pricey jackets, tops or coats on display so was feeling very virtuous when I sat down in a local bakery for coffee. One of my all time favorite desserts was there in miniature: a St.Honoré so who cared what it cost – certainly not me.

The drive back was smooth and accompanied by one of my current favorite singers: Andrea Bocelli. Oh the pain: sunny day, easy drive and romantic music. I can handle it - all in all a very successful Monday!

Château de Valère

Valère castle above Sion

Gargoyle spout on City Hall

City Hall clock: note how many elements there are!

Part of the main street in Sion, Valais

A very interesting fire hydrant

Coffee was accompanied by this lovely Zenhäusern St. Honoré

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Finding the beauty along the way

I currently belong to, and participate in, a FB group known as “With Flying Colors” (or was that colours? For those of us living in Europe it is a bit difficult sometimes to figure out whether our correspondent is writing in American English or in British English – never mind those of us who happily use both or stick to neither).

The premise, as our “leader” writes is to make us look and appreciate the colors around us: we choose a theme each week and then take photos of said theme, posting them to the site for all to enjoy. Some are harder than others (orange crescents for example the week that I was in the mountains), but by having a goal one does actually actively search for the photo illustrating the theme – no hardship for me as I could no more think of being out without a camera than of not eating.

It is the same with beauty: we all have things that we automatically love – a full moon for example, but we also all have our share of dullness, of down days, of days and circumstances where we are less likely to even see beauty should it drop into our laps.
When we walk that gray path or experience that rainy day (physically as well as morally) we miss the beauty: the silver lining on a dark cloud; the bright green of one leaf; the dappling sunlight in a dark forest; the bright blue of a patch in a stormy sky; the one spot of red paint on a rusted can, etc.

What if we actively looked for the beautiful, be it the shape of a building, the color of a flower, the smile on someone’s face, the grace of another’s character. If we consciously looked for the beauty perhaps we would focus less on the ugly: worth a try in any case.

Ice crystals on an iron railing

fog in the valley, snow on the trees

one loan leaf to cheer up the gray stone

even rotten wood can be beautiful

Monday, September 21, 2015

The First of Many…

Acorns and leaves that is.

If fall is my favorite season, I am less enchanted every year with the amount of acorns and leaves that fall from my oak trees!  As oak trees are a protected species where I live, meaning that I can’t cut them down, no one ever warns you about the yearly duty of raking.

And the law certainly doesn’t intervene to help in that task.

Thus it was when I returned from the mountains this morning and had had lunch up at the border the sun had broken through the fog and with it I could see more clearly the already accumulated acorns and leaves.  Having not had my walk, I decided that I really shouldn’t ignore it so got busy and temporarily have a clean walkway and driveway: very temporarily as within a couple of minutes the latest acorn and leaf will have already descended to be followed by many, many more before I am through this year.

Where are the squirrels when you need them?
Hmmm… wonder if my cats could be taught to eat acorns?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brownie love

The summer I was sixteen my mother decided that we children should all have to learn how to plan meals, do the grocery shopping for same then actually cook the evening repast: she started with me – not because I was the oldest – as my job that summer was folding sheets hot off the mangle in the hospital laundry and since it was a miserably hot job we worked from 7 until 3 p.m. meaning that I was the first off work or out of school or whatever else my siblings were doing to occupy their time.

I have often laughed about that summer as I was the one who always forgot to salt the dishes that I made: this stood me in good stead when later in life my husband needed to be on a salt-free diet.

I managed, but certainly was never the cook that my mother was. Then there was boarding school until I got out of university and although I often worked in the cafeteria of whatever school I was then attending, cooking was limited to peeling potatoes, running the cash register, or even washing the dishes.

As a young wife I didn’t get much more practice as since we worked together and were self-employed we often ate out, had to entertain clients, or had little time: my husband thought that after we got home the meal should be on the table within the following 5 minutes. That didn’t leave much scope for fancy meals.

The kids came along and again it was more getting a balanced meal on the table in short order at least twice a day: as there is an age gap in between my two sons, often we had two main meals as one or the other had been missing at lunch or would be at dinner: again more utilitarian meals.

Throughout though I developed a love of baking – my mother’s sister made us pies, cakes and cookies even when we were small and weekends were never lacking in fine home baked items.

So at one point my husband and I decided that Sundays we would only have two meals – a late breakfast and an early dinner – thus allowing us to take the kids swimming in between. That worked until teenage dietary needs loomed, then I started making a fruit tart for “dinner” as they needed something.  Christmas has always been “my” time with cookie baking, fruitcakes, etc. I’ll start end November, beginning December and normally we’ll still have something in the freezer at least until my older son’s birthday end January.

I can’t remember when first I discovered the brownie recipe, but it has become a tradition. The one thing that I can always do well; the one item that a growing circle of friends love seeing come their way.  At some point they have asked for the recipe – as have my kids – but I thought to myself, no, that is the one thing that I do excel at in the kitchen, let’s keep it my specialty.

I always make them in the winter, but have been known to do so at odd times and recently the weather was cooler, I had the time and needed dessert for an evening meal so got busy. The resulting double batch were enjoyed as dessert, some went to one good friend, some to another, some up to my landlord in the mountains and some were even left home for my housemate, her husband and my son. I’m not very good with saying I love you or even writing it, but those for whom I make brownies need to know that that is my way of showing it. But it isn’t only me that uses “Brownie Love”:

My housemate sent me the following by e-mail this morning:

This morning I found on the brownie pan a note
 *Proof of my love for you! I 'm drunk and that brownie looks so good"

I left a note and half a brownie "Proof of my love for you."


Brownie love is a fine thing!

the latest batch

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Getting through the day… or

Sometimes it hits you harder.

I am often ever so grateful that I am no longer a teenager or young adult especially when it comes to the emotions: gone, in theory, those ups and downs caused by hormonal swings.

Then all of a sudden and with no warning, something hits you and even as a “senior” or whatever is currently politically correct (a friend and I decided that in French we were in the “bel âge” as opposed to old, senior citizen, etc.) one falls back into that period of time when one was too sensitive, too quick to take umbrage, too everything, leading even to tears.

These past few days have been emotionally stressful – the end of the visiting nephews and good friends, the illness and treatment of a good friend, the fun (yes even fun can be a great stressor – on some scales a wedding ranks right up there with a funeral), but it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized part of the reason: today marks the third anniversary of my little sister’s death and for whatever reason or combination of circumstances it has hit me extremely hard, leading me to plunge back into that maelstrom of over-the-top feelings.

For someone who is rarely up-up and perhaps once in a decade down-down, it has come as a shock to lose, even temporarily, my usual even temperedness and I’m hoping that by laying low this too shall pass and that I will quickly return to my sunny self (even the sun has gone to hide behind the clouds, which really isn’t fair as I had intended taking a hike up the mountain this last weekend of cable cars.

As I posted to Facebook: I was, and still am, her big sister and today hurts.

left to right: Karyn, Julia with Pat on her lap - 1953

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hotel Julia 2

Well actually that would be a castle at least to those of you who don’t hold any titles.
I am currently the proud possessor of the title Baroness issued by the micro-nation of Sealand!

I have the proof as D-L and Rick offered me the barony for my birthday this year – they themselves having already acquired these distinctions earlier. They felt that the household would perhaps continue in harmony if we were all of the same nobility.

Such fun and one of the more original birthday gifts that I have received in my life: for those of you who night be interested in my newly purchased (yes, some of us don’t have the honor of being born to the right) nobleness the following link is explanatory.

I - and my house - remain much more plebian than the title would indicate: never mind that a baroness is one of the lower titles in nobility, sometimes even coming in last!
But it’s just as well, since I closed Hotel Julia that Chateau Schmitz-Leuffen lives on, and funnily enough that is just what one of my nephews called it.

Proof of my nobility

The "château" seen through "ocean ripple" lenses 

Any self-respecting castle has a library

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I did it again

And there was no “oops” about it – rather a determined Nike slogan “Just do it”.

Actually I was playing with the idea yesterday afternoon when I saw that the weather was supposed to be good today. When I awoke, for once, the weather reports were correct so up I went on the cable car for one last lunch this season followed by the walk back down.

From 1’700 meters to 1’000 one does feel it in ones knees by the end, even if I was taking baby steps. The baby steps will however be recompensed when I awake with pain tomorrow as opposed to a couple of years ago when not only were my knees killing me but also my hips: never too old to learn a new trick.

And it was entirely worth it as I sat facing the mountains the sun on my back and enjoyed a lovely meal.

Looking towards La Golette (middle) from the terrace of the La Creusaz Restaurant

Thursday, September 10, 2015


I am privileged:
  • To have been born when I was, in the state that I was, to the parents that I was
  • To have grown up in a fairly carefree era: things were booming, jobs were abundant
  • To have spent three years in Hawaii as a teenager, swimming after school (never mind going barefoot to school – o.k. so it was also the period of home perms and my hair was always frizzy – mostly positives), shelling on the beaches or surfing on weekends
  • To have gone to a boarding school in the beautiful Napa valley
  • To have had a sheltered life
  • To have had a strong family and parents that worked hard to provide us with things that they themselves had not had, i.e. piano lessons (unappreciated), freedom from care, love, a stable environment and much more.
  • To have had an education – one that although we all worked part time and contributed to our fees, saw four children through university without student debt
  • To have been able to travel
  • To have had two of my university years spent in France
  • To have returned to Europe
  • To have met my husband and had my two sons in Switzerland
  • To have enjoyed a great health care system, one that made my husband’s life with cardiac problems a lot more bearable and one that has seen me through medical issues, including two bouts of breast cancer

But, above all comes the privilege of family.
My father was one of 9 children, six of whom had families – one of his sisters was the motor keeping that side of the family connected and I have many fond memories of us all meeting, especially the camping trips in Yosemite.
My mother grew up with her cousins – they also were 9 from three different sisters – and those cousins were the ones that lived closest to us whilst we were growing up so there again family was present. One of my mother’s younger sisters went with her when their aunt took them 3’000 miles away from their own mother and as she never married, we were her children, spoiled in ways that our own parents couldn’t afford – a second mother whom we lost too young to cancer.

My husband’s family – with the exception of himself – all remained within a 30 kilometer radius so keeping in touch with them as easy as well, never mind that our oldest son was born on the oldest German cousin’s birthday (twenty years later, so what)!

I have always been aware of family and my husband and I worked hard to make those trips to one or the other a fairly regular event so that our own children knew their cousins.

On my side of the family there was the summer when my sister and her husband brought their two sons to Europe: kids staying two months with us, they traveling. This forged bonds in between those three oldest, bonds reinforced over the years. However, as they grew, finished school and went on to their own lives it has become more difficult, especially as all six cousins live in different cities (o.k. my two are temporarily in the same city), different states with four in the USA and two in Europe.

Imagine thus the luck that it took for my sister’s two to be here at the same time, not only that but for both of my sons to be in town: serendipity doesn’t come much better. Thirty years later and two years after the wedding that last had all six together, four were able to spend 3 nights catching up and enlarging the bond to include a wife and girlfriend.

As I sat at the table the night we were all together, I could hardly believe the privilege that I enjoyed, that of having the next generation seated at my table, that of listening to their plans and dreams.

It may not happen again, but oh the joy of having enjoyed it now: carpe diem and don’t let the chance for family gatherings pass you by.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


From one of my favorite sites – comes this "A thought for the day":
"One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment." -Hart Crane, poet (1899-1932)

Well as one or two of my faithful followers may have noticed, words – or rather the time to find them – just hasn’t happened in recent days : mainly due to the (unusual – don’t fall over laughing now) circomstance of having visitors and being more occupied with the spoken word than the written word.

Hmmm… when this current lot – a lovely group of four young adults including two of my nephews – is gone perhaps I’ll have time to go take that bath of words and get back to blogging. 

Meanwhile, I’m living life instead of writing about it, which is not a bad thing : no energy left over when we end our evenings around midnight to record anything.

A "wordle" by Jonathan Feinberg

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


To fall; to people.

First things first – the weather: so today is, meteorologically speaking, no longer summer. However how did they manage to cut off the heat exactly on the last day of summer? Today here temperatures are a good 10°C lower, not that I’m complaining! Yeah to fall; personally my favorite season of the year.

People: when my younger son asked if he could have a group of teenagers over on a Saturday to play card games I said “sure”. The white board hadn’t been changed in almost a month so – feeling the necessity to “do something” – I wrote welcome in three languages. When the first young man showed up I informed him and my son that there was one “requirement” for the day – that as each used the bathroom they add “welcome” in another language.  Not only were they an extraordinarily quiet and respectful lot, the resulting white board will stay awhile as I can’t bear to erase it.

Looking or seeing?

How often do we look at something or someone without really seeing?

Those who need witnesses to an event, an accident or even something banal well know that we can’t be relied upon: we may have been looking at that crucial moment, but what we “saw” is all too often invalid. I recall reading somewhere that children are better witnesses as they still see what they look at – or perhaps it is also that they have less mental images with which to judge or deform that which they perceive.

This was brought home to me again this week: I recently joined a Facebook page called “With Flying Colours”.
Karrie, the moderator and founder describes it this way: “Surrounded by colours this group selects a colour/ combination of colours each week & posts their varied , eclectic photos of the things they've found . Designed to make you LOOK & appreciate the colours surrounding us . Tinting out lives with joy ........”

I would join the week the theme was “orange crescents”, but still thought that I had best give it a go. Being in the mountains and surrounded by more grays, greens, browns and blues than anything I was sure that I would struggle to find even one orange crescent – the the point that the first photo was one that I “made” by forming one of the lounging chair’s antimacassars into a crescent.

But once I started really not only looking, but seeing what I was looking at – things popped out at me and all of a sudden there were 17 photos of orange crescents.

Now the only problem is going to be letting go of the search for orange crescents – next week hurry along!