Christmas 2015

Dear friends,

The year is coming to a rapid close and I want to publish one more post.   Christmas is a memory now and we are all looking forward to a new year.  Instead of going back into the past i’ll stay in the present and write about the most recent memories.  This year’s Christmas.


Stefan treesmall

For the first time, we only had the two youngest of our five sons over for the holidays.   While I like to have them all plus partners and kids  at home during that wonderful family time,  I am always a bit stressed about their travel in the winter.   So I don’t mind either way.

Robert, our oldest,  just completed his work assignment as a project manager for a big German company in the States.  He is in limbo now and may have to move back to Germany or another country where he is needed.   He could not take the time off to travel here.Rob ed.small



Richard, our second son, and the father of our three grand children lives in Montreal at the other side of the country,  He went with his partner Youki and the kids  (Mateo, Auzure and Emeline)  to her father’s house in the country side in Quebec.





Tony, our third son, and Lisa had her brother’s  and sister’s families over in their new home. “We’ll definitely come next year”,  they reassured us because they found it more relaxing to be guests than hosts.   They are such super hosts though  As guests they are entertaining and very helpful

Tony and Lisa

To our surprise and great joy, Tony and Lisa got engaged Christmas Eve.  Such wonderful news.   They are now relaxing  at the beaches on Hawaii.

Our holiday celebrations started with the now traditional Advent party at our friend’s, Klaus and Erika’s beautiful log home in the forest by the lake. For about the last ten years they have invited all their German friends from our village to celebrate the Advent season with caroling  and feasting at their welcoming home.

Erika and Klaus complement each other in the kitchen.  She is a master baker and her desserts are to die for..  Klaus on the other hand is a passionate chef and loves to cook.  The result is that guests to their house are in for unforgettable treats,

Erika table klein

This year, Erika had an operation on her foot and had to postpone the celebration to the fourth of Advent.  She vehemently rejected all help and promised to cut down on the number of different cakes and pastries.  But to our secret delight she did not keep that promise.  On the contrary,  she seemed to have added some more delicious creations.

Their house is always so festively decorated in a traditional way.  It radiates warmth, comfort and good taste. Most years we are more or less fourteen people around the  beautifully decorated table with all the delicious baking.  Everyone feels relaxed and high spirited.  After the feasting, we sing traditional German and English Christmas carols, read or recite poems or short passages from seasonal writing.    Mulled wine simmering on the stove keeps us “hydrated”.   And we reminisce about past Christmases, especially from our childhood. Our thoughts went back to the homeland of our birth.

Shortly before our return home from this delightful celebration, Stefan, our youngest son, had arrived safely from the coast.  That added more joy and excitement.

Stefan has a great sense of family and friends.  He is the bonding glue for his brothers. Stefan is always full of life and there is never a dull moment when he is home.  He loves to cook, bake, play games, hike,  take amazing photos, play hockey, travel all over the world, brew beer,and of course  work on his computer.  He connected my cabin in the backyard to the net and now I can write there in peace and quiet.

For Christmas eve he took over the meal preparation and cooked rouladen, braised red cabbage with the most delicious gravy ever.  And he slaved away trying to make Thüringer Klösse from scratch.  These dumplings made from raw grated potatoes are a challenge for the most seasoned cooks or experienced housewives in Germany.  His dumplings were great for a first attempt. For dessert  he had prepared a  tiramisu.   He tasted this special dessert for the first time as a little boy in Germany at friends of the family, who treated us royally.  Stefan was so impressed by their overwhelming hospitality and all the delicacies they offered him during that memorable visit.  In our household with five growing  boys meals were not quite so fancy and elegant except on rare occasions.   I also noticed that he loves to keep up old traditions.  So great!!!


Stefan cut the roundest and biggest Christas tree ever.  It filled almost all our fairly small front room.  Our house looked and smelled like a forest.   Christmas eve was a lot quieter than we are used to from the past.  But we had a relaxing time.  Rob  joined us via skype. The wonders of technology!  We sang carols and then played games.

Our old (forever young} neighbor Richard joined us Christmas day for church and for  feasting and playing cards. Richard, nearing ninety still splits his own wood and is very strong and active.  He is also loud and boisterous.  Beer is his power drink and keeps him in good health and spirits.  Our son Stefan brews his own beer with friends in Vancouver. Our Bavarian friend seems to have inspired his love for good beer.  Or maybe it’s in the genes.  Also my name Gertrud is the patron saint of beer brewers.  Playing cards is one of Richard’s passions and he takes games very seriously.  Sometimes the noise level rises precariously.  But we have fun.



Mike and Angie plus their dogs Kelsey and Piper arrived on Boxing day.   I cooked the turkey and we had another day of feasting and playing games.  For Angie’s sake we played  Ticket to Ride, a very clever and exciting board game.  She doesn’t care for our card games. Outside the snow was softly falling  It looked magical with the colorful Christmas lights Peter had decorated the house and yard with.


Mike and Angie couch small

The next morning, we all drove out over snowy roads to Taite Creek,  our favorite forestry campsite.   Mike had promised Peter a load of wood in his truck. This year we are short of firewood because of Peter’s accident in the summer when he broke his foot.

Taite Creek is forever magical at any time. The fresh snow had turned it into an enchanting Winter Wonderland.  Peaceful.  We had a big bonfire and enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful scenery.  Spending time at Taite Creek always renews and refreshes my body and soul.  When the boys were growing up, Taite Creek helped me cope and survive the unavoidable stresses of raising five lively sons.  The “boys” all have a special attachment and lots of wonderful memories of happy and relaxing times there.

Stef Pip2 small

Angie me small

Mike and Dad had a great bonding time getting the wood.  Mike is such a kind and friendly character and very successful in all his endeavors.  He is always cheerful, optimistic and enterprising.  People are drawn to him and he has lots of friends.Boys Taite small


At home Angie colored and trimmed my hair.  So relaxing!  Since I never had a daughter it is so wonderful to have daughters-in-law to do “girl” things with. Mike and Angie are a good match.

For the New Year I hope and pray for Health and Happiness.  May we have lots of joyful family times together.

The same good wishes go out to all of you living in  this Miraculous World.   May God bless us all and keep us safe and grant us PEACE.


An Unforgettable Christmas Gift (1948)

Christmas is so fast approaching and I am caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for that short wonderful time of bliss.

I missed writing my post on the weekend because we were attending  one of the most festive and beloved Advent Celebrations at our friends Klaus and Erika. For many years now they have been inviting all their German friends from our village for an afternoon and evening of feasting and celebrating Advent with stories, poems and songs.  It has become a cherished tradition.

Festive baking

The Gerhards are the most amazing hosts. Their warm and cozy log house is beautifully decorated with traditional ornaments and lit with softly glowing bees’ wax candles. Erika’s spectacular desserts would put any pastry maker to shame. They not only look like pieces of art, but also taste heavenly. Klaus is the chef. After the kaffeeklatsch we are joyously singing all the traditional Christmas songs. Suddenly an enticing aroma from his supper concoctions wafts over from the oven, where a big ham and Sauerkraut is heating up.   The spices of the mulled wine simmering on the stove also emanate an tantalizing scent.

There is a lot of joyous chatting and reminiscing going on. Memories of past Christmases and especially from our childhood are evoked and told. I will tell you mine.

My first vivid Christmas recollection dates back to 1948. My twin brother and I had just turned four in October. Our older half sister had recently married. Since there was still a housing shortage from the war they moved in with us. Our spacious and well designed home could comfortably accommodate all of us. My sister was expecting her first child and seemed to need the comforting nearness of my mom.

For the first time I was aware of all the preparations going on in our household. One snowy day our father took us into the forest to get evergreen branches, which my parents and sister wound into a beautiful fragrant wreath for the first Sunday of Advent. They decorated it with pine cones, ribbons and dried red berries. They placed four red candles on it. I was delighted when I was allowed to help. My sister taught us a little Advent poem, which we recited excitedly.four candlessmall

Advent, Advent

ein Lichtlein brennt

erst eins

dann zwei

dann drei

dann vier

dann steht das Christkind

vor der Tür.

Shortly after our first candle lighting with singing and sweet goodies, St. Nicholaus came for a visit with Knecht Ruprecht.  My sister’s husband and a young friend had dressed up as the pair. We were in awe and fear, when they loudly banged on the door to announce their arrival. Had we been good or bad? Would they leave little presents and goodies in our boots placed in front of the door or would they admonish us and leave a stick or clumps of coal instead?

With trembling voices we would recite little poems and sing songs.


In spite of our doubts and fears we always were rewarded by Nicholaus.

Throughout the Advent season our sister and mom would help us create little tree decorations. I loved to make stars out of paper or straw.

In spite of the shortage of many ingredients in East Germany after the war, there was always a delicious smell of baking and roasting apples in the house.

On the morning of Christmas Eve our father would go out to get a Christmas tree. Since our living room was very spacious and had a high ceiling our tree was enormous.

Throughout the day my brother and I would rehearse songs and poems we had learned or try to play quietly so the Christkind would not be upset with us and not bring us any presents.

After an early supper we were sent to our room to get dressed into our Sunday clothes and we had to wait quietly.

Suddenly a little bell would ring and our parents and my sister and brother-in-law would sing   “Ihr Kinderlein kommet….”,  which means  “Come little children…”

My mother and father would lead us by hand into the festive room lit only by real wax candles on the big Christmas tree. We would all stand around the marvelous tree inhaling the wonderful fragrance, hear my father read the Christmas story.and sing the  Christmas songs we had learned by now. Finally, after my brother and I had recited a prayer or poem, we were allowed to look at the gift table, where all the presents were lovingly arranged and an individual plate with goodies for every one was placed.

That particular year our new brother-in-law had worked hard, often at night to make a beautiful wooden crib for my dolls and carve some authentic traditional puppet heads for my brother. My sister had sewn the costumes and knitted outfits for my dolls.


For many years my brother loved to perform puppet shows. When we fled to West Germany, my sister send him the puppets to the West. My brother kept them, until he died. They were sent by his company across the ocean to us in Canada.

These puppets are a precious symbol of the short time we had been living as an extended family in Gotha. They are also a symbol of the love, which went into gift giving. Our brother-in-law created these gifts with his own hands many a night after work.

Love is the greatest gift we can give and receive. It will never be forgotten.

May you all give and receive that great gift of LOVE this Christmas and always.

Frohe Weihnacht.   Merry Christmas to all of you.

New Year’s Eve with Anna Karenina (1960)

Dear friends,

Christmas is approaching fast and as it often happens I am far behind with my preparations.  However, I do not want to disappoint you and take another break from writing. After all, I just recently got back into the routine.

As I indicated before, my teenage years were not always easy and happy for me and very trying for my parents as well.  In spite of my good friends, I often felt isolated, alone and confused.  I wanted to experience life more fully than i was allowed to by my restrictive parents.  Often I withdrew for long periods of time into the world of literature.   Thus I experienced life and love vicariously.

When I was about 15 years old, i discovered the Russian classical authors, especially Dostojevsky and Tolstoy.  Their voluminous novels were right for my taste.  The longer the better.  I would immerse myself into the fictional worlds and  hated to come back to my reality.

New Year’s eve 1960 was a dreary dark day.  My parents had invited some friends to celebrate with  us, but many had to decline because of the flue going around.  My mother had worked very hard to prepare for a cheery and festive night, but I was in  a gloomy mood.  There were no young people only friends of my parents and towards the end of the party my brother, who had celebrated with his buddies.

I felt depressed.  Life was passing me by I thought.   After spending some obligatory time with my parents and their company I withdrew into my room with the excuse that I was not feeling well.  My mother knew that my time of the month was coming up and let me go without major protest.

Wrapped in a warm and cozy blanket I sat in my easy chair trying to uplift  my spirits with some fancy chocolates, which one of the kind guests had brought for me. Then I started reading Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina and didn’t stop reading until way into the New Year when all the guests had left and my family was fast asleep. Needless to say, Anna Karenina’s life and tragic end affected me very much.  For a long time I felt caught in the restrictive webs of fate like Anna….but by the grace of God I did not succumb, but was able to get free and find the love and life I always longed for like Kitty and Levin in the novel.

Anna Karenina

Many years later I took a course on Russian literature at the University of Waterloo and wrote this book review.  My professor was impressed by my insights and rewarded my efforts with an A+.  Hope you give my a good grade as well.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Most readers will agree that Tolstoy*s Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of world literature. In this novel Tolstoy is able to express with amazing simplicity, what is seemingly inexpressable in human nature.

He not only brings to light but also to lucid understanding the most secret inner life of his characters. He conveys their subtlest, and most elusive intimate thoughts, feelings, emotions, spiritual longings and hidden motives. And he analyzes with utmost precision moral and psychological issues and conflicts. He also illuminates the elements of life’s mysterious relationships and links, which may lead to a character’s fate. Tolstoy creates a powerful illusion of reality in his novel mainly through the abundance of detail. From detailed de­scriptive narrative the author frequently shifts over to generalizations and thus leads the reader imperceptibly to metaphysical understanding. Tolstoy manipulates the reader’s consciousness from seeing to knowing by directing his attention from particulars to universals. He constantly juxtaposes characters, events and philosophies and thus provides a multifaceted view of his world. The numerous themes and plot lines are all interwoven and linked together in an intricate way. Each short chapter of the eight books develops its own theme, which may only be concluded later on in the novel. There are two major plot lines.

Anna k2
Anna is the main character of the first plot. Although the novel was written over 100 years ago, Anna is a modem woman in the sense that she seeks personal happiness at all cost. She refuses to live a life of self-denial with a husband she cannot love and who is unable to ful­fill her passionate longings. Anna places her quest for happiness over her social and moral duty. Through her extra-marital relationship with Vronsky whom she deeply loves she expects to find self-fulfillment and happiness. Anna, a beautiful and talented woman, is great in her honesty and courage to refuse a life of pretense and duplicity. She does not lead a secret affair, as so many do in her society. She separates from her husband and lives openly with her lover. Anna is not evil in a sense that she acts out of malice. She is very loving and attracts the love of many, yet the consequences of her unconventional behavior are disastrous. Anna who is de­nied a divorce from her husband is pushed into the role of an outsider from society through her open illicit affair. She also has no right and access to her son, whom she loves dearly. He becomes the innocent victim of the marriage break-up and so does her infant daughter by Vronsky.

Tolstoy does not deal harshly with Anna but shows with deep insight and sympathy how Anna suffers from the psychological consequences and the irreconcilable conflicts resulting from her broken marriage and her living together with Vronsky. He also illuminates the complex inter­relationships of Anna’s inner being with the circumstances of her life, which lead to her fateful death. Tormented by guilt and unable to cope with her compulsive jealousy towards Vronsky she commits suicide.
Although the enigma of death is a recurring theme in this novel; the book does not end on this note of despair. Tolstoy juxtaposes life to death. Life triumphs.
With Levin, the major character of the second plot, Tolstoy deeply probes into the purpose and meaning of life.
Levin, who is modeled after the author himself ,is a seeker and an eccentric thinker. He lives in the country and is deeply concerned with serious social, moral and religious questions. Levin marries Kitty who once was romantically attracted to Vronsky, Anna’s lover. Tolstoy describes with delicate tenderness how Levin and his young wife get to know each other and grow together in spite of struggles and conflicts in their young married relationship.
Out of his experiences with Kitty and the search for answers from the simple life of the peasants on his estate. Levin comes to understand the meaning of life. He realizes that it is man’s purpose to live for goodness and unselfish love as a reflection of divine love and goodness. Levin also regains faith in a God he rationally rejects but prays to in times of crisis and need.

With these two plots Tolstoy leaves the reader with the powerful message that uncompromising egoistical passion in the pursuit of happiness will lead to destruction and death. However, the pursuit of goodness out of love for others will lead to life and spiritual happiness. In this respect, both Karenin and Anna have failed in life. Anna loved without adhering to the principles of goodness while Karenin acted on principles of goodness without true love of the heart. Love without goodness and goodness without love can be destructive. This idea is expressed in many different ways throughout the novel. For example Tolstoy juxtaposes two wronged spouses. Dolly forgives her husband out of committed love and concern for her family. Karenin forgives and acts out of rational principles of goodness but without considerations of true love. While Dolly’s family prospers in spite of material worries, Karenin’s family is destroyed. Disintegration of the family unit was a great moral concern for Tolstoy. He valued the welfare and integrity of the family highly because of its utmost importance to society.
In our day many of the social conditions, which played a major role in Anna’s fate, such as obtaining a divorce and gaining custody of her son, have changed. However, the psychological consequences of a marriage break-up,, which Tolstoy so masterfully describes, remain largely the same.
All the characters of this novel are convincingly complex human beings with whom the reader can identify and who elicit his sympathy.
Tolstoy never openly moralizes or judges, yet he conveys a powerful message of faith in love and goodness, which will never lose its relevance to humanity.

A Budding Romance in Würzburg (1959)

Dear friends,

Forgive me for hopping from one topic to another in my blog.  But I think every post is like a puzzle piece of my life and eventually you might be able to join all  the pieces together to get the big picture.

As I told you before, my life as a child and teenager was quite restricted.  My mother tried to shield me from negative experiences and people. I had freedom within the confines of home and school, but my mother controlled my outings. The older i got the more controlling she became. While my twin brother was allowed to visit his friends and stay out as long as he wanted, I had strict curfews. Although I was allowed to go to my girlfriend’s to study and do homework, I had to be home before dark. Often my mother would unexpectedly show up at my friend’s house under the pretext that she had business in the neighborhood to walk home with me.

Although I hadn’t shown much interest in boys,  I was now at an age when it was just a matter of time and “hormones”. My brother’s friends who often visited our home were unattractive to me. I considered them annoying like my brother at that time. “Stupid little boys”.

One of his friends was a few years older and looked like a young man compared to the rest. My parents liked his company, because he always engaged them in interesting conversations, plus he loved my mom’s food.  As you may remember that always won her heart. In fact, eating was one of his favorite activities. He seemed to like me and tried to invite me to the movies, the ice cream parlor or pastry shop on many occasions. Such invitations were a sign that a boy was serious about a closer relationship. I always refused and tried to avoid him. In my mind he did not measure up to the romantic hero of my dreams. This young man’s mother was a close friend of my parents and I wonder, if my mom would have let me go out with him, if I had accepted his invitations.  In retrospect I have to admit that he was a nice person but not for me.

That year, our class went on a school trip to Würzburg, a beautiful historic city in Northern Bavaria. I am still amazed that even at that time so long ago, field trips were considered educational and important for the social development of children and young adults.  In that respect our educational system was quite progressive.

Most of my friends and I did not have the opportunity to travel far from home and so we were excited with the prospect to see new places, meet new people and have exciting experiences and adventures. These school trips usually took place in the beautiful month of May.

Würzburg, Germany - Photo Credit:

Würzburg, Germany – Photo Credit:

Würzburg is a picturesque medieval city located in a scenic wine region on the river Main. We traveled there by train, which is always an exciting experience, and we stayed in a youth hostel together with a group of senior male students from the big northern port city  of Hamburg.

Würzburg is a beautiful city and  sightseeing was interesting and fun.   But for us teenagers the evenings after supper sitting in the court yard of the youth hostel was the highlight of the day. There was a class of senior boys from Hamburg, the biggest port of Germany. Our teachers had arranged that we should sing German folk songs together.   That was fun. We never sang with so much enthusiasm before.

Our teacher kept a close watch on us and we were not allowed to speak with the young men or have any other interactions. However, there were many glances exchanged.  A skinny tall young man with blond hair and bright blue eyes would always look in my direction and smile when he caught my eye. My discerning girl friends pointed out to me that he probably liked me. I was shy and embarrassed and did not want to admit that I liked him too,

The last night together we sang with extra passion and exuberance and glances darted back and forth without restraint. Just before we had to say good night to our singing companions a little rose bud landed on my lap, which my secret admirer had thrown in my direction. I didn’t even know his name. That gesture was so romantic and I couldn’t sleep for a long time that night. The next morning our singing partners from Hamburg were gone. Our last day in that beautiful city lost its luster. Singing that night was pitiful.

For a long time after our trip I would think of the young man from Hamburg so far away from where I lived. There was probably no chance of ever seeing him again.

One beautiful sunny morning just before the summer vacation, I decided to walk to school instead of riding in the stuffy bus. For part of the way I had to walk along the busy highway between Velbert and Essen. Although i liked the pastoral scenery along the highway, I did not like the noise of the cars and trucks speeding by and the periodic loud honking.  It was the custom in Germany at that time that any young female would be acknowledged by male drivers with loud honking or whistles.

i kept on walking ignoring the attention seeking drivers.  When I heard the loud ringing of a bike bell I pretended not to hear by looking straight ahead. Suddenly the bike stopped right beside me and an excited male voice said,  “It is really you!”   When I dared to look up into the face of the rider (I had to look up high because he was so tall)  I recognized my  unknown admirer from Hamburg. The man of my secret dreams.

He told me that he had embarked on a bike tour through Germany and decided to travel through Velbert in the hopes of seeing me again.  We were both like in a dream.  We arranged a meeting for after school. I had to make a quick decision. I knew my parents would never allow me to bring a strange young man home. I would meet him in town.

After agonizingly long  hours at school I rushed home and told my mom excitedly that I had to leave right away to do a major assignment with my girlfriend at her place. Meeting my friend in a small cafe in town was wonderful. We got to know each other and discovered lots of common interests, especially the love for books and art.  He planned on becoming a librarian or even the owner of a bookstore. The time passed too fast.  But we decided to meet again the next day.

At home I was in for trouble.  My mother who had a sixth sense had found out about my secret meeting. She kept me at home the next day to prevent me from seeing this strange young man again. I was devastated and helpless. My mother was very strong willed and it was her goal to protect me from mistakes she and my sister made in their youth.

My friend made many attempts to contact me or see me again over the next few months, but his efforts were eventually all foiled.

The budding romance from Würzburg was not destined to blossom like the little rose thrown my way that night in the youth hostel. It  became a faded memory in my favorite novel.



In retrospect I thank my mom. She was an agent of fate to keep me free for my beloved husband Peter.