Thursday, January 29, 2009

only in winter, in the country...

"There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you...In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself." -Ruth Stout

We are practically snowed in today. No chance of going grocery shopping! It's beautiful; the view from all our windows is breathtaking. Kiki seems to understand that there won't be any more running around outside today and decided to at least inspect the deep snow on the balcony. I am trying to compensate for the lack of outdoor fun by throwing her toys around for her.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

more magical snow!

"Nature does nothing uselessly." -Aristotle

We awoke this morning to a world of white, and there was still snow drifting down as we took our walk. It wasn't very long because Kiki's legs and stomach fur were soon covered with big clumps of snow. But it was quiet and magical. Flakes are still coming down and I wonder how deep it will get! I have to go grocery shopping, which will be adventurous. These winter days are most enjoyable when you don't have to get anything done outside the house at all. Then again, there is something to be said for coming back inside, huffing and puffing, dripping wet and cold, to the warmth of your home and your happy dog jumping around to greet you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

...they make our lives whole

"Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole." -Roger Caras

Took this photo yesterday at sunset; after playing with this stick for the whole walk together, me throwing and Kiki receiving, I told her we would head back home. She promptly took the stick in her mouth, and carried it the whole way home, tail in the air, a spring in her step. She seemed to thinking, "I'm not losing sight of this thing!" Indeed, we left it in the stairwell and will take it with us on our next walk. 
Today, snow is falling and the ground is frozen and slippery. Still winter!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hot Milk Sponge Cake

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." -Jane Howard

I decided it was a shame that the family only got together for holidays and birthdays, and made up my mind to have a family meal once a month. Yesterday, a gorgeous, sunny Sunday, we had them over for a late lunch. I made a simple meal of chicken, rice, and cucumber salad, and for dessert we had a light sponge cake with raspberry sauce. It was a harmonious get together, and after everything was gobbled up we put on our coats and took a walk in the sun drenched, gold brown fields. Angelo pushed his mini stroller, admired a helicopter, stomped in puddles. Everyone seemed very happy to be together, and I think it is the start of a new tradition.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

all seasons are beautiful....

"All seasons are beautiful for the person who carries happiness within." -Horace Friess

What a gorgeous day. Blue skies and warm breezes. Ramon and I took a long walk with Kiki in the slushy fields, and through the woods where there was still snow on the ground. There was a group of tiny birds up in the tree tops making noise and picking at the tiny larch cones. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Hard Day for Kiki

"The most destructive element in the human mind is fear. Fear creates aggressiveness."
-Dorothy Thompson

I didn't have a chance to take photos of our morning walk: we were attacked by two dogs! The first was a mean, cunning female who actually tried twice to bight Kiki, but I managed to beat her off with the handle of my leash. Then, fifteen minutes later, when my heart had finally stopped pounding, there came the next dog, a big, blundering male who circled us and jumped on us for over five minutes while his owner struggled up the hill, calling his name over and over. It took all my strength to keep these dogs from hurting Kiki, and the only positive thing I could take out of this experience was that I know I am capable of protecting her. 
This photo wasn't taken today, but certainly suits the day perfectly. "Please, don't eat me!" (What her face was actually saying was "Please don't bathe me!")
But what the quote says above is very true. While I was fending for Kiki's safety, all I felt were fear and aggression. I yelled and kicked and hit. And my body is still feeling it, as if it were a poison which enters the system. Yes, now that I think of it, I remember in the movie Apocolypto the elder saying that fear is a contagious disease, and you must do everything in your power to steer clear of it. I wish I were able to protect Kiki, but remain fearless at the same time. For now, I will breath deep, drink my chai coffee, and think calming thoughts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Just a small note to say that I've identified the medium-sized birds I saw today as common Jays. I hope this is correct. Used a wonderful site to find them:, they made it really easy to identify bird sightings!

I Once Had a Sparrow...

"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn."
-Henry David Thoreau

Melting, everything dripping and trickling. Could this really be an early end to winter? Probably not. But the birds certainly were celebrating something this morning! Singing, calling, swooping from tree tops. In the area I like to call 'The Hedgerows' there were all sorts of birds I didn't recognize, maybe just passing through, maybe finally arriving after a long journey. One kind was tiny and loud, and flew in a noisy fluttering flock. The other was larger, about the size of a dove, light brown with black and white markings under and on the wings, silent and elegant. It felt special, walking there, the slushy melting snow underfoot, Kiki with her nose to the ground and wet ear-tips, inspecting the edges of the creek now roaring with water. For there were birds, birds everywhere, and after the lonely quiet of deep winter it was a lovely feeling to see and hear these little winged beings, and share the refreshing morning air with them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

today's painting: sparrow & dogwood flowers

America has a New President

"America, this is our moment. This is our time. Our time to turn the page of the policies of the past." -Barack Obama

We've all been waiting for this day for quite some time now. I am so happy to be alive to witness this great sign of change in the world. Welcome, Barack Obama, to the White House!
Here, far away in rural Austria, there is a low, thick mist. A day for tea, contemplation and quiet.

Monday, January 19, 2009

the woods would be very silent...

"Use what talents you posess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." -Henry Van Dyke

Blue skies! Ah, what they are capable of in the heart of winter. While warming the fields and melting ice from branches, it also thaws the very souls of every living being under it. The birds sang songs of spring, although spring is far away. But the sunshine seemed to lift their spirits, and renew their faith in the coming of spring. The ice on the creek has cracked, the water runs black; everything is wet with thaw. Even though reason tells me that winter is not over, and that it will be cold again soon enough, I let myself be wrapped in sunshine, romanced by the warm rays on my face. I even thought I smelled spring flowers in the air, but this can't be true. The wild daphne doesn't bloom until late February, and violets and cowslips come in late March or April. But the mind can play tricks on you. Here I was, in January, my ears filled with bird song and the laughing of the creek water running freely once more; and even though this weather is fleeting, it strengthened and envigorated me, and gave my heart and even my bones fresh life.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

study nature....

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."
-Frank Lloyd Wright

Today the sun shone through for about ten minutes; it was just long enough to feel warm again, to hear the birds sing, to smile at a break from the endless white blanket which hangs over us. The forest is still beautiful, though melted a bit in spots. Birds are very hungry, came by the dozens to the little feeder I have on the balcony. You'd think they would have eaten those gorgeous red berries I discovered in the woods the other day, but I guess they prefer peanuts and sunflower seeds; morsels with some fat in them! Tomorrow I'll stop by the weekly farmer's market to see what there could possibly be in terms of fresh produce in mid january. It does get hard this time of year to find proper nourishment, and to not miss color, fragrant fruits, vibrant vegetables. But you do the best you can. I made a good pot of vegetable soup last night, with leek, carrot, potato, onion, corn and peas. Ramon won't touch it but I find it warming, and comforting. (I ordered t-bone steaks for Ramon from the local butcher. That ought to comfort him.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Magical Walk in the Wintery Woods

icy tranquility

"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature." -Anne Frank

I am in total awe; the beauty of nature is divine. So simple, so perfect, so refreshing. There is truly nothing a person can create which could be as beautiful, besides another human being. After a night of heavy snowfall the forest was breathtaking. Trees stood massive and white, their branches clustered with snow, their trunks laced with intricate designs of ice. The photos I took hardly do the actual beauty justice. The absolute tranquility which was wrapped around the woods made it feel as though time was standing still. There was not the slightest breath of wind, and not a single bird sang. Only us people and dogs, trudging through the pristine white, made a sound. I am including more photos of trees above; I hope you enjoy them! I felt so blessed to be able to take this walk, and to have this magnificent forest right at outside our door. Nature is so precious!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

todays painting

"I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well."
-Henry David Thoreau

Quite an adventurous walk this morning. Gerit and her lovely big dog Gömbi joined us, and we ended up taking a new route which snaked through the white forest for over an hour and a half. At one point we came upon a small natural water source bubbling from the ground, guarded by a half-circle of twigs and leaves, pictured here. The pool was full of rotting leaves, but once we cleared them out the dogs had a small drink. We also found this intricate, ice covered spider web in the gaping mouth of a tree trunk, surrounded by low plants which Gerit swears are a kind of wild blueberry. We made a point of remembering the spot for summer. Kiki had a wonderful time chasing Gömbi up and down the hillsides while Gerit and I talked about dogs and plants and stuck mainly to the path. At one point, deep in the woods, we noticed a part of the creek was completely frozen over. Supposedly it will get warmer in two days, which means slush and mud, but also means a nose and chin that don't feel like they will fall off any moment. Now Kiki is sleeping, snoring loudly, on the stuffed chair in the living room. I yanked up the heat when we got back so we could thoroughly unthaw. I am sure she will sleep for at least two hours. That's when you know you've taken your dog on a proper walk. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

more winter-wonderland photos from today

"A person who won't read has no advantage over a person who can't read." -Mark Twain

The morning walk was freezing cold, my face went absolutely numb. But I couldn't help myself and kept stopping to take photos of the dream-like landscape. There was only the sound of wind, and the world seemed to be in black and white. Kiki would stop when I stopped and would sit still, watching the wind shake branches and sweep gusts of ice from tree tops. Back home I quickly got some ironing done and enjoyed the sounds of the dish washer and washing machine, which somehow sound cozy and productive; the sounds of home. Now I can hardly wait to get to my desk to paint.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"It is winter, and it will be spring again. We have known other winters, and survived them."
-Hal Borland

It is so cold today that we didn't think we'd go far on our walk. But we came upon a new path, pictured here, and it was so serene and beautiful that we ended up forgetting time and the cold for a while. After exploring this new way a while, we made our way back through a thin, heavily wooded path which would eventually lead back out into the open field we know, when we saw these red berries. It was like finding treasure; splashes of bright colour in a muted world of white, grey, and brown. Despite the low teperature and lack of colour in the landscape, there was a simple beauty in the blanket of frost and glassy snowflakes. The tall, pale-golden grasses which lined the icy roads were all thickly coated in white. No birds sang. It was completely silent. 

Friday, January 9, 2009

Today's Paintings

"Asking God to give you something good is just like sitting in front of a spring and asking it to quench your thirst. Good is given to you; you should know how to use it." -Tolstoy

I love Tolstoy's stern voice. It's almost like he's saying, "Quit whining like a baby and get real! You've been blessed with everything you need! Make it happen!"
This is advice I can use more often than not. After an admitted hiatus from painting and writing, I am determined to take the talents which have been given to me, or the 'good' as Tolstoy puts it, and dedicate myself once again to my book. My husband has given me the valuable opportunity to stay home and be creative; what a waste it would be to just let the days go by without honouring this special chance! During my daily walk this morning, I was filled with new ideas for my book; it was almost like there was an urn of inspiration pouring its contents into my head. I came home now, enthused and determined. Doing something with the gifts God gives you is probably the best way to thank Him.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet." -Collette

Blue skies today! It's amazing what rays of sun on your face will do to you. After an almost sleepless night of tossing and turning (I even woke up at four in the morning and made warm milk with honey) it was a joy to step outside into the cold but sunny morning. I took a new path in the forest which I'm pretty sure is overgrown in summer; there are advantages to winter time! Kiki chased cawing ravens, and in the woods where it has been so quiet the past few days, there were birds singing. Could it be that they sing because the sun is shining? 
Yesterday we walked with a local woman and her dog, and she told me about the nearby garden of which you can rent a piece for the growing and harvesting season. The farmer enriches the soil, takes good care of it, and plants rows and rows of vegetables and flowers. Each person is then responsible for weeding, watering, and harvesting their piece. It seems like a wonderful idea since we don't have our own garden at the new apartment. There are pieces of garden available for 40 euros, and larger ones for 80 euros. I am definitely going to try to get us a piece!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"A man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he always has good company."
-Charles Hughs

Freezing cold today, as the trees in the photo above shows. It's hard to believe things will ever be green again, or that it will some day be warm enough to go out in a t-shirt. While trying to fall asleep last night, my head was filled with fantasies of a lush garden, overflowing with hollyhocks, sweet peas, nasturtium, and sunflowers. For now I'll have to make due with bouquets and indoor plants, like the red amaryllis which is in full bloom on the window sil. I don't know how people kept sane in winter before there were florists.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"Thankful I was for the enduring things, and that I, such a small and finite creature, have been allowed to recognize the beauty of the world in my small finite way." -Gladys Taber

The Christmas Tree is gone and the new year lies before us, a mystery, full of possibility. Something I heard years ago made a big impression on me: In our hands, a basketball is nothing special; give it to Michael Jordan and it becomes something magnificent. Through his hands, it realizes its full potential. And in this same way, we should put our lives into God's hands. This has been a lasting image in my mind, placing my life in God's hands like a ball, because I know that there, it is given infinit possibilities and doors are opened which I may not have dared to dream of. Everyone knows the saying that, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. It's so true; God's plan for me has proven so much better, so much more fulfilling, and simpler than any plan I've pictured for myself in the past.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find him there."
-A.W. Tozer

One of the reasons we moved to this village last August was the hill with one cherry tree right accross from our new apartment. In all seasons, and in every kind of weather, this one tree is a symbol of simplicity for me. Every time I look at it, I find myself taking a deep breath, centering, coming back to my core. It's a true blessing, that one tree on the hilltop.
I thought I would also add this photo of a hunter's lookout. You can find these scattered all around the forests of Austria, and despite their somewhat morbid reason for being, I find their rustic build charming. A bit like a tree house, but in the middle of nowhere. 
Kiki did some hunting of her own today, digging fervently at the mouse holes in the nearby field. This is the only time of year when the holes are so naked and vulnerable; the rest of the time they are safe below tall weeds and wild grain. The ground is practically frozen, so Kiki doesn't get too far down. I always hope she'll never catch anything, and with her short snout, she probably never will.
I'll have to take the Christmas Tree decorations down today, which is a sad event each year; placing the colourful balls and angels back in their boxes where they will wait eleven and a half months to be of use again. My solace lies in rushing to the florist and buying spring bulbs: narcissus, paper whites, and hyacinth. And a large bouquet of tulips. Then it doesn't feel like the end of the holidays, but like an ushering in of the new year, and all things delicate and fragrant.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"For us human beings, winter should bring a thinking time, a re-evaluation of our lives."
-Gladys Taber

Snow is flying swirling over our small village and the woods that surround it. Our walk was adventurous, leaning into the gusts of wind dense with snowflakes, huffing and puffing uphill with Kiki bounding ahead and darting to catch the dry, shriveled leaves. At some point I heard a strange sound right next to me; the bark of a huge tree was cracking before my very eyes, the silvery rind splitting upwards in a line which slowly spiraled the whole trunk. Never experienced anything like it! 
Now, back in our warm home, my husband is watching a ski race, enjoying his final day of vacation; and my dog is curled on his lap, a snoring ball of white and brown. Winter is indeed, as Taber says, a time of reflection, of family, of quietude and hibernation. I thought of all the wild animals, snuggled in their nests, and it seems almost a shame that we humans aren't allowed to do the same until spring bursts from the frozen ground. But, even if we cannot crawl into a cozy cave of feather beds and quilts until April, we can go to the forest and soak up the silence and the peace which abides there. And take it home with us, to put into everything we do. 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Rejoice! Be joyful! The purpose of life is joy. You should feel joyful for the sky, the sun, the stars, the grass, the trees, the animals, and the people you meet. Be more like children-always be joyful." -Tolstoy

It was a beautiful day here in the Austrian countryside. A fine, powdery snow covering the rooftops, glistening like crystals. Smoke rose from the houses tucked into the hillside. We took a walk into the tawny fields, spotted with snow and ice which looked almost like sea foam. The evening sky was pale lemon, then apricot, then a dusty pink,  as the sun sank below the perfectly even horizon of naked, charcoal-coloured trees. 
Coming back home was a joy. After washing the salt which they cover the sidewalks with from Kiki's paws, we got into our pjs and plopped onto the couch. This first week of January is restful; much sleeping, eating, day dreaming. Once Ramon goes back to work, Kiki and I will have more adventurous walks, and I'll get back to my painting. There is something to be said for a regular schedule. But for now we are enjoying living like cats.


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