31 January 2021

My father now answers the phone with "And who is calling me?" and when I say my name and my greetings, he repeats my name, aha, Sabine on a Sunday, he calls out, and tells me his latest temperature and blood pressure readings. He has well and truly survived the covid infection without any of the expected symptoms. We proceed in the usual manner, he talks, I listen. This is his clever way to cover up the fact that he can no longer really hear what I say. When I make an attempt at conversation, shouting, whatever, he ends the call. Lately, he has begun to thank me for calling before he hangs up, which is most startling. I believe it's purely out of caution since he may not be entirely sure who has called him. Just to be on the safe side, could be someone else, someone important, not one of his children.

Many thanks for all the wonderful comments to my last post about decluttering. You have given me much to think about. The ideas of a bonfire send off was most appealing and I spent a few early morning hours setting the scene, but my family rejected my - already quite elaborate - proposal point blank as it would unnecessarily increase our carbon footprint. 

I have therefore handed over all my grandmother's letters, the ones she wrote to her children during the WWII years, to R for scanning. He has taken to it with great gusto, archiving by year and month. He just informed me that the letters from 1943 - 1945 appear to have been handled and folded many more times than the ones after 1945. We speculate about how many people may have read them and where and when. R wants to find secret codes, suspects that my grandmother attempted to convey secret messages to her two adult children, one a medical student working in field hospitals,  the other about to desert his unit before walking home across eastern Europe. I don't agree, this is not a war movie.

Here's hoping that his enthusiasm will not fade when I open the next steamer trunk.

Earlier today, we distributed another batch of books across the city's open public book shelves (?) or cases (?) whatever you call it. A friend had warned me that my books would not go to readers but that these places are "raided regularly by mean characters with the intention to sell donated books on the black market". Yikes! or rather, good luck, fellows! Whatever it takes.

It has been raining and snowing, today the rivers has bursts its bank. Not much but enough for headlines. On our way back from the book drop, we looked through the hectic wiper business into a grey and cold Sunday afternoon. A few more weeks, we reassured each other. 

There's some good info on this song here.

27 January 2021


Maybe you should let be what has been, maybe you should let be what will be, maybe you should concentrate all your skills on what you have in front of you, on a few rust-red rocks, on a branch of that bush teeming with tiny lice that produce a bubbly, sweet sap? 

Peter Rosei

For the past couple of months I made attempts at decluttering, not in the fashionable sense, I am not a minimalist or whatever, no intentions of creating space for new clear design ideas - the gaps here and there look quite hideous in fact. But for the time being, this is a lockdown space anyway. Who cares, I am not entertaining interior designers.

No it's all a precautionary measure after I read the story of the married couple dying of covid within days of each other. Plus the memory of the day, the morning, it didn't even take a day, after the old man across the road had died and the container which was placed under the balcony and two guys threw all the stuff, everything, sheets and books and china and the tv, into it, showing off their muscles. Also, my only child far away. Also, the virus restrictions. And more.

As of now, I am still at the stage where I take every item into my hands before it goes. 

I sold a mountain of books I obviously will never read again, I immediately invested the money into food and wine, and just a few audio books. I donated another mountain of books to the various open access public libraries we have in parks and along the river promenades. 

There are so many books left. I decided I'll give them a rest for the time being. In other words, I have reached the shelves with the poetry and the Irish authors and the German history (crime and popular fiction was easy).

Instead I am now digging my way through two large old steamer trunks (from my grandparents) full of letters and calendars and diaries. I found the big sheet of cardboard where R timed the contractions during labour and my breastfeeding diary with the weight chart of my premature baby. It's not an accurate record, just a jumble of sheets of paper filled with the scratchy handwriting of a overly tired woman in the early hours of nights spent nursing. I found the big fat sign we made when I started labour, the one I would read over and over and over again for the next 33 hours: "Rain after all is only rain, not bad weather. So also, pain is only pain, unless we resist it, then it becomes torment".

I am trying to figure out what to do with all that. The premature baby is long grown up and gone, with her own birthing and nursing memories. 

This morning, I read a letter my brother wrote to me in the summer before my father did his disappearing act. I was far away on the other side of the equator then. He is not a man of many words, my brother, but there was that: "When she saw us arriving, she tried to walk out to the garden gate but tottered and fell on the way and my first thought was, run, but in the end, I put the kids back in the car and walked over to help her up. She stank of booze. Just be glad you are not here."

I put that letter back in the thick brown envelope where I had stuffed all his other letters, not many, but still. 

Where should this go to? Paper recycle bin? Rubbish? Compost? I asked him, he doesn't want to have any of it.

16 January 2021

behavioral synchrony

. . . or as someone wrote somewhere on social media, finding solace in communal work songs of the perilous and beautiful sea.


12 January 2021

The living of life, any life, involves great and private pain, much of which we share with no one. In such places as the Inner Gorge, the pain trails away from you. It is not so quiet there or so removed that you can hear yourself think, that you would even wish to. That comes later. You can hear your heartbeat. That comes first.

Barry Lopez 

As a follow up to my last post, which I wrote after reading that the writer Barry Lopez had died last month, I have been reading excerpts from his book Artic Dreams, which has been hiding under a layer of dust on our bookshelf. And then I found these very moving interviews with him online. (Please be aware that in one of them he talks about being sexually abused as a child - and his recovery.) 

In the beginning of the first interview, he mentions that he had just come out of the Grand Canyon where he had spent time with musicians. This is one of the pieces of music from that experience.


09 January 2021

It is more important now to be in love than to be in power.

Evidence of the failure to love is everywhere around us. To contemplate what it is to love today brings us up against reefs of darkness and walls of despair. If we are to manage the havoc—ocean acidification, corporate malfeasance and government corruption, endless war—we have to reimagine what it means to live lives that matter, or we will only continue to push on with the unwarranted hope that things will work out. We need to step into a deeper conversation about enchantment and agape*, and to actively explore a greater capacity to love other humans. The old ideas—the crushing immorality of maintaining the nation-state, the life-destroying belief that to care for others is to be weak, and that to be generous is to be foolish—can have no future with us.

Barry Lopez 

*agape (ἀγάπη) means unconditional love, it stems from the Greek agapan (ἀγαπᾷν), which translates as greet with affection, receive with friendship

This came to mind when I read what Beth wrote a few days ago: "When we rise up against one another, with our righteousness, there is a darkness that overcomes us." 


Let me list a couple of nice things that happened in the last week. 

I called my top bosses on Thursday and told them that I want to work from home because, the virus and they said, sure, stay where you are. I have been working two days/week on campus since October because, morale and look what others are risking.

The grandchild has figured out that their name is connected to being an individual person and when asked - which we do ridiculously too often - who's that?, will reply matter of fact with full name and a slight shake of head as in, who are you to have to ask. Also, the repertoire of hand puppets has grown to include a baby owl. (Looks good on whatsapp.)

And this:

After AM sent me her 12 mandalas, I made them into a calendar with the help of an online photo service and today, this came in the post. It hang on the wall above my desk. The picture is shaky. It's a white background with a beige coloured frame. The size is A4.

 Reasons to be cheerful. Stay healthy.

05 January 2021



It's grey, grey, grey and cold. We are arguing. About the same handful of issues that usually come up from time to time and have been around for the last 40 years. I banged a couple of doors on my way to the bike shed and cycled for 15 fast and furious kilometers along the grey river just before it got dark. Back home, my fingers were so numb, I swear I could have snapped the tops off and the bits of my hair that had escaped the hood were frozen. 

There was tea waiting for me.

A week ago, my father was tested positive for the virus. When my brother messaged me, I was at work in my lonely office on campus, not a soul in the adjoining rooms, and for a second, I was afraid, I might die right here on the spot with no one to find me for hours, days. But only for a second, because I quickly realised once again that I am fully grown up, in fact, an adult for now well over 40 years and that he is a bully and a rude old man who walked out on my mother in the deepest night.

Anyway. He has no symptoms. He is 92 years old and lucky for him and us, one of the staff at his care home was able to replace the batteries of his TV remote control. So all is well. He is in isolation which means, meals are brought into his room and he does not need to roll himself to the dining area.

We set up a phone call rota but he immediately figured out that ruse - obviously - and told us to Get A Grip. Also, we cannot remember him ever being ill - apart from his collection of fractures after various falls in recent years and the odd upset stomach due to the wrong food/drink intake - no fever, running nose, cough, sore throat. Not him. He told me today that he certainly never missed a day at work, that sickness was for ninnies (like me).

I have been reading up on the virus mutation(s). As it stands, the vaccines will remain effective. And well, if you don't like the vaccine, try the disease.

We must slow the spread. Especially now as vaccines are rolled out. The more transmission, the more opportunities for the virus to roam and mutate and evading immunity.  And more mutations could mean less vaccine efficacy.

This article here explains it well.

We are in a new phase of the pandemic. Much will depend on how well and how rapidly the vaccinations take place, but also whether we as a society manage to act in solidarity  - masks, distancing, the whole taking care of each other shebang, and most likely, for months.

We have just been informed that the lock down has been extended until at least the end of January.

Take care. 

01 January 2021

new year resolution

 In the days before smartphones and tiny headphones for children's ears, our car travel with a child often involved all of us listening to cassette tapes of children's stories while we navigated our way towards or back from holiday destinations.

There was a lazy spring afternoon driving along the back roads between Siena and San Giminiano listening to  the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, long hours on French motorways with James and the Giant Peach, and a dark rainy evening drive back from Dublin with The Wind in The Willows. 

Now, The Wind in the Willows has charmed us all, but on tape, we only had an abridged version of "stories from" etc. which was good enough at the time but when S started to read she discovered with surprised outrage that we had "missed huge parts" of it. 

Especially, chapter seven, which to this day, is omitted in some versions, too much mysticism.

What happens in this chapter is Mole and Rat searching for Portly, the youngest otter, who has gone missing. They search most of the night and just before dawn find him asleep at the feet of the piper at the gates of dawn. The piper is of course, Pan, the god of the wild, of nature and of all who roam in and upon her, humans, animals, alone or in herds.

You can read it here, it's just gorgeous. Or you can listen to the gentle voice of Mike Scott from The Waterboys here:

This is January 2021, we have work to do, people. Not just get the vaccine and keep our fingers crossed. Our home, our planet is on fire, we need to wake up. When my grandchild is old enough to read this chapter, I want to be able to say that I tried my hardest.