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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Family stuff


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I spent my weekend driving over to visit my grandmother and pick up my share of the contents of her house. She’s been in a nursing home since March, and she deliberately decided to hold on to the house so there’d be a place for her visiting family to spend the night for free, as many of us have a fair way to travel – but now she has decided it is time to sell, and by January 1st there will be new owners.

This is a house that I’ve loved a lot; my grandparents moved there when they handed over the farm to my uncle over 20 years ago, and somehow when I first walked into that house it seemed like walking into exactly the same home as back on the farm. It had the same “vibe”, just in a scaled-down version. As my grandmother’s room in the nursing home is an even further scaled-down version of that home.

And now the house will be a new home; the new owners want to knock down a few walls, build an extension towards the garden – and the view over the Great Belt – and breathe their own life into it. I look forward to sneaking past and peering over the hedge to see how it turns out.

My grandmother enjoys that the majority of her possessions are being divided while she is still here to learn who gets what and hear how appreciative the whole family is of her belongings. Out of an entire house full of furniture, kitchenware, knick-knacks etc., so far only 5 moving crates of “stuff” have had to be donated to charity – and a load of vintage dresses went to a company that provides costumes for theatre and film productions. Of course a lot of books will also end up being donated; I have around 3,000 books already so I restrained myself and only came away with around 100 books from her shelves.

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I also got some rather nice objects, ranging from solid silverware to an old teapot of questionable taste (but I love it and specifically asked my mother to pick it for me!), but the most amazing object is this little bronze-age cauldron. After my great-grandparents’ farm burned down in the 1930’s the courtyard cobbles were removed to be used for the foundations for the new farmhouse, and under the cobbles this was found.

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It’s not pristine, of course, but for a 3,000 old vessel I think it’s in pretty good condition. And while I have plenty of antiques if you go by the standard definition that it’s anything over 100 years old, this pre-dates the Colosseum by 1,000 years! It used to stand on a shelf next to my grandfather’s desk. (He was also the one to fashion the rather odd stand that doesn’t QUITE make it stand straight…)

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Another favourite is this sauce ladle, made from a sea shell. It was given as a present to my great-great-grandparents, though nobody knows when – but my grandmother speculates that it might have been for their wedding in 1894. It is… Well, let’s call it quirky! I’ve never seen anything like it, and to be honest I’m not sure how much I’ll end up using it – if ever. (My share also included one sauce ladle in silver-plate and one in solid silver.)

There are also two dressers for me and a wardrobe – but I couldn’t fit those into my little car, so when I go to Jutland for Christmas with my family I’ll rent a van so I can stop by my grandmother’s house on the way home and pick up the furniture.

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Ever since I was a kid I’ve said I wanted that wardrobe. It was in the upstairs guest room on the farm, and I used to hide away in it with books and a torch when I was a kid. A friend told me it looks like it could lead to Narnia – and perhaps it does. It didn’t come with any fur coats, though.

It was a nice weekend, though. Saying goodbye to a house – even if I’ll stop by there once more on Christmas Day I won’t spend another night there – and bringing some little bits of that home with me to my own home.

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20130703-195615.jpgWhat IS he doing now, you might wonder? Rustic jewelry? A fearsome weapon to bludgeon the slugs into submission? Or has he, indeed, finally lost his marbles and replaced them with stones?20130703-195624.jpgNo, it is none of the above. Rather, I am trying to make use of one of the presents my Mum left me when she visited this spring: a bag full of stones with natural holes in them. I am using them as a flexible means of reigning in the sweet peas that would rather flop over than climb the twigs and sticks that I provide for them. 20130703-195636.jpgThe stones at either end of the string are lopped around the posts of the Uncovered Terrace, and ind a week the sweet peas will have grown enough to hide the string completely.

I always use sisal string to tie up plants; it looks very bright at first, but weathers to a silvery grey with time. Strong enough to last 4-5 years in the garden, the fact that it’s a natural fibre means that it can also go straight on the compost heap when used to tie up herbaceous plants like my sweet peas.

There. Enough about stones on a string. Have a rose:20130703-211950.jpgLast spring I planted ‘New Dawn‘ roses around the two trees that hold up alternately the laundry line and the hammock, and the are growing well and doing exactly what I hoped they would.
At one end the glossy green foliage and the pale pink flowers form a textural contrast to the rough bark of an oak, and at the other they form a colour contrast to the blackish-red leaves of a cherry plum.20130703-213019.jpgBy now, most of the plants have at least one branch that had grown tall enough for the deer to leave them alone; this might be the key to growing roses in a deer-visited garden – fence them in until they are tall enough no longer to count as an easy snack!

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My Mum came over last week for my Mother-in-Law’s 55th (okay, 65th – but don’t tell anybody!) birthday, and she brought quite a haul with her. She brought a large trailer full of goodies for me, including of course my dahlias that have overwintered in her frost-free shed and were potted up in early May.

The haul also included:

  • 9 large pots for the terrace, the Courtyard and wherever else we might want to stick them. Most of them a 15″ or more in diameter, so they can hold their own even if I use some in the garden to add some height or focal points to the beds and borders.
  • 1 bicycle – because the two bicycles that came with the house when we bought it were both rather shabby and needed replacement, and my Dad’s bike was just sitting in her shed, taking up precious space.
  • 1 sun bed (or whatever you call it) so my Mother-in-Law has somewhere to recline gracefully in the garden when she visits. We used to have two, but they were both nasty plastic things and fortunately both have collapsed under visitors in the past year so we could throw them out. My mother’s sun bed is made of aluminium and a nylon mesh, so it’s much more solid – and doesn’t need to be stored inside during winter!
  • 1 plum tree ‘Anita’ that she originally bought for her own garden but then decided against. It’s 2.5 meters tall and will have red plums as far as I can see, and as Anita is the name of my Mother-in-Law my Mum felt that it belonged in our garden.
  • 1 large toolbox – without tools – so we can get our tools in the apartment organised, rather than having a screwdriver here and a hammer there and not knowing which is where.
  • 1 small wardrobe that used to belong to my great-great aunt or something like that. It’s dark oak with a weathered mirror front and it will help us keep the house tidier by simply giving us more space to stick things out of sight.
  • 1 bag of stones with holes in them – don’t ask me why she brought those, but I’m sure I’ll find something to do with them.
  • 1 crate of home-made apple juice.
  • 2 pots of cuttings; lavender and something else I can’t quite remember what is. These come from my Grandmother’s garden, so of course I really hope they with root and be happy.

She also brought her new dog; it was the first time I saw her since I went to check her out before my Mum decided to buy her:

Flâneur Puppy

She’s grown so much, though admittedly she’s still a tiny dog and probably won’t be very big when fully grown, but she’s adorable and rather well-behaved for a puppy. She seemed to enjoy sitting on the steps of the terrace and supervise the garden while my Mum and I sat on the terrace.

The plum tree was planted immediately, whereas the rest of the plants and pots have just been dumped in a corner to be placed in permanent locations next weekend when the Flâneur Husband and I shall be spending the weekend in the garden. The tree has been aligned with the small apple tree and one of the axes of the terrace, so in time it should look like a logical placement without being too stringent.

Plum tree 'Anita'

The white tub at the back holds the dahlias that needed a thorough watering, so they got an overnight soak, whereas the tree that has lived for nearly a year in a tiny plastic pot has been nursed a lot more so it was ready for planting. I’ll have to re-fill the planting hole, I’m sure, as the soil is certain to settle quite a lot. I loosened it so much that when I’d planted the tree and watered it, I tried firming up the soil but ended up ankle-deep in mud…

I do like fruit trees… So pretty in spring, and yet not purely ornamental. This plum tree fits in with my original idea of letting the less-used North-East side if the garden become an orchard of sorts, and with an apple tree, a pear tree and a plum tree it seems like we’re well under way. I suspect, though, that we will need another pear tree in the garden somewhere, since the pollination of our current pear tree is at best rather haphazard and it has never yielded more than two pears in one year.

Anyway… Lots of presents from Mum – again – and lots and lots of hopes for how they will enhance the garden. And planting a tree is always so satisfying. As the Danish poet Piet Hein wrote:

You have shares in a future;
For that you must plant a tree.

Perennials are for ourselves, whereas trees will only look good when they are old – and I shall probably be in my grave, or close to it. The trees are planted for a future we might not see ourselves, but if you look at our new plum tree and squeeze your eyes nearly shut I swear you can almost see what it could look like 60 years from now.

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Well, Summer Time starts tomorrow at 2AM – or should I write 3AM?

Anyway, today was a mix of things. We got up and had to go up to Elsinore – Helsingør is the real name of the city, but I guess most of you will only have heard of it through Shakespeare – for a funeral. A man my Dad’s age who died of cancer last Saturday. It was a friend of my Mother-In-Law’s, so I didn’t know him very well. I liked what I knew of him, though; he was intelligent, well-read and enjoyed talking ancient Danish history and Medieval literature with me whenever we met at my Mother-In-Law’s.

I think, though, that it was the parallel to my Dad’s death that kind of shook me. It was really hard for me to sit at that funeral, harder than I thought it would be. There is still a lingering sadness, remnants of grief. Something – someone – that is not there any more. For all that we didn’t have in common, for all that we didn’t understand in each other, for all that was not right, he was still my father. Was, not is. The past tense can be cruelly acute in certain circumstances.

When we came back to Copenhagen I continued – alone, as I needed some solitary time – up to the summer house. The snow has nearly melted in the garden, though there are still patches of white here and there – and a layer of ice on my three miniature ponds – but spring is coming. Some day, and hopefully soon. I wanted to have a few days alone up here, so I will be here until Monday evening. The lawn is littered with branches and other bits of the trees Denis and one of his friends cut down last weekend when they were up here, but that can wait. After all, the lawn won’t need mowing for another month, given that the ground is still frozen in places and the grass hasn’t grown since November.

I do have some plants to plant, though, if the ground has thawed where they need to go. Astilbe, sedum, phlox, heuchera, eryngium and loads of other Latin names. And I can sow some hardy annuals so they are ready to germinate whenever the soil warms up to 5 degrees Celsius. All right, so it’s a miserable spring to be gardening in so far, but eventually REAL spring will arrive and there will be stuff growing and flowers blooming – and I will be able to get my dahlias in the ground and set the gladiolus and lily corms.

Perhaps later in spring – when we are done with the kitchen rebuild and there will be plenty of weekends in the garden – I might even consider digging out another flower bed in the lawn. The one I dug out in autumn will soon be filled to capacity, so I need more space to plant flowers in. One can attend too many funerals, but one can never have too many flowers.

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Flâneur Puppy?


Okay, so it’s not a puppy for the Flâneur Household, but for my Mum. She will be retiring on May 1st and has for a long time been scouring the internet for puppies of various breeds and mixes, and she had come across some rather cute puppies that were raised in a family household rather than in a kennel. However, as the puppies were just North of Copenhagen she couldn’t just stop by to see them herself, so I went to see them for her.

Flâneur Puppy?

 Oh, dear… I fell completely in love with this little beauty! As I crouched down on the kitchen floor she ran over to me and tried to climb up into my lap, though she is so tiny that I had to help her… The picture above doesn’t really give any scale, but the one below shows just how tiny she is – at 6 weeks old. (Please note that I have rather small-ish hands, so the puppy really is tiny…)

Flâneur Puppy?

Oh, how I wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home with me! She was so charming and trusting and sweet that I fell head-over-heels in love with her… However, as I’m not really in the market for a puppy right now, the second-best thing I could do was to call my Mum and tell her the puppies were amazing, the owners were nice people and everything seemed perfect – and she should put down the deposit ASAP and specifically say she wanted the puppy I had been sitting with for 20 minutes.

-So she did, and in 3 weeks she will come over with a bunch of plants and stuff for the garden and then pick up the puppy on her way home. If I can’t have her myself, at least she will become part of the family!

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On Saturday I travelled over to Jutland to visit my Mum, and though the plan had initially been for me to help her with some of the work still to be done in her new garden (levelling soil, shifting a few shrubs that have keeled over in the rather harsh winds around her hill-top house) this was hampered by frozen soil and four inches of snow. Not much point in trying to do anything in the garden… So I ended up setting up her new smartphone, downloading some apps she might like and getting her a cheap data subscription.

However, I did get to check up on my dahlia tubers that I sent on winter holiday chez Mum. They are doing fine, it seems, in her frost-free shed, and I can’t wait to get them home and into the soil, though that will not be for another 3 months. I still find it silly that I’ve actually taken my dahlia tubers across the country to over-winter at my Mum’s, but then I just don’t have a frost-free place to store them in the Summer House – or at least not a place with a constant temperature, as the house itself is heated to 5 degrees Celsius when nobody’s there but 22 degrees when I go there… I think the changes in temperature would confuse the tubers and possibly stress them, so they are better off in my Mum’s shed.

I look forward to getting them back, though, and there are a few other plants that my Mum bought for her garden but then decided against (including a plum tree with the name ‘Anita’, which also happens to be the name of my Mother-in-law) that she will be bringing over to the Flâneur Garden some time in spring. I’ll need to think hard about where I might find room for a tree… Because clearly I’m not turning down a free tree! The other plants are smaller and can more easily slot into the garden wherever there’s room, but a tree that’s already 3 meters tall will need a bit more consideration, especially because it’s not going to be as easy to move as, say, a pot of heuchera or a dahlia tuber…

Anyway, after visiting my Mum for a few days I headed for the island of Funen to visit my Grandmother. She’s 89 and was recently in hospital for 5 days, so it was sort of a “enjoy it while it lasts” visit. Her “new” house where she moved with my grandfather in 1992 or 1993 has a small suburban garden, and it’s slowly becoming less and less intricate. She has hired somebody to keep it for her, of course, but she is accepting gracefully that it’s becoming a “survival of the fittest” garden where some of her specimen plants perish because they are out-competed by their neighbouring plants. It’s still a lovely garden with great variety, though, and of course the stunning view over Storebælt, the Great Belt between the islands of Funen and Zeeland.

She’s a wonderful woman, always was. My Mother-in-law insists that she is gentle and sweet, but while I admit that she is that, too, she is also headstrong and stubborn. She’s a Strong Woman, as farmer wives have to be. But in this context, it’s perhaps most important that she’s a Gardener. My grandfather was in control of the pigs, the fields and the orchards, but she was in control of the house, the garden and the vegetable garden.

Her vegetable garden on the farm was so large that, rather than digging it, my grandfather would use a tractor and a harrow to do the autumn digging. At the back there was a long row of berry bushes; raspberries, red currants, black currants, gooseberries and so on. They would yield hundreds of pounds of berries every year, and provided the resources for gallons and gallons of cordial, jam and freezer bags. Then came row upon row of leeks, cabbages, marrow, carrots, potatoes, beans (peas were grown as a commercial crop, so part of that was frozen for home-use), and of course various herbs. Everything was interspersed with flowers, especially marigolds; they weren’t there to attract pollinators but simply to be used as cut flowers in the house. The scent of marigolds always reminds me of that vegetable garden.

The garden proper was vast. There was a vast expanse of lawn, stretching down from the perennial borders by the house down to the shrubberies before the hedge towards the road. There were huge trees – 2-300 years old – and lots and lots of flowers, but most of all there was a feeling of hiding places. You could always find a corner that nobody could see.

Her “new” garden is much smaller, of course, but it’s still lovely. There’s a flat area around her house and then there’s a steep, densely planted slope down to a more gently sloping lawn with a single flowerbed intersecting it. The lower part of the garden is interesting because of the plants, but from the top part your eye keeps being drawn – literally – out to see.

Both my Mum’s and my grandmother’s garden have sea views, which obviously helps any garden, and both are very much based on “back bones”; shrubs and structural plants that makes everything look ordered and tidy, even if the smaller, more fragile plantings might have been overgrown by more vigorous plants. I guess that’s the key to any elderly-friendly garden plan; to have something that looks neat and tidy as long as you get somebody in to mow the lawn and cut back some bushes every so often.

And, incidentally, that is also the key to a low-maintenance garden for a holiday home, so I really want to emulate their current gardens, rather than the gardens these two women used to have. (Even if the latter remains my secret ideal, it cannot be my ambition.)

On a more personal note, my Grandmother is growing old, which is in some ways sad and in some ways just the way things have to be when you’re pushing 90. I spent less than 24 hours at her place, yet she repeated the same stories perhaps 3-4 times – many of which she has already told me over the phone within the past few weeks. It is what it is. She’s still lovely, and she still has a lot to offer, conversation-wise – even if some of it is repetition. In the evening she went out to the large dresser in her hallway and asked me to open the concealed drawer – SO COOL with a concealed drawer, and many of her large chests of drawers have that sort of thing built into the top console – and we spent two hours going through old papers, drawings, genealogies and various artefacts. My great-great-grandfather’s book of recommendations from various employers, my great-grandmother’s handmade book marks, my grandfather’s service records from the army… I do love family history, and I like knowing where I come from.

And yes, I can trace at least parts of my family back to the 1600’s – though there are very few claims to fame in there. It’s mainly farmers, pottery-makers and the odd dairy-manager… As for exotic touches, there are none. Through the past 13 generations it seems there are just Danes, Danes and more Danes… However, I have personal stories from my great-great-grandparents and onwards, so that makes it exciting. I know where they lived, what they did, what their hobbies were.

And yes, in the Summer House we have a picture wall where both the Flâneur Husband’s and my family are on display. His family is portrayed back to his great-grandparents and I have my great-great-grandmother up there as well – a widowed mother of 7 who managed to put all of her kids through school and who is generally considered to have been quite a character. I have two pictures of her; one of her as a young girl, trying to look serious before the camera, and one of her as a stern-looking old woman with her hair swept back into a tight knot. I never met her, of course, but I knew three of her daughters – who died at the ages of 97, 99 and 103 respectively – and you can’t help but have the greatest respect for a woman who raised three daughters who turned out so different from each other. From the farmer’s wife (my great-grandmother) to the Copenhagen debutante-turned-singing teacher to the first woman to be elected for the Copenhagen city council – and also the first female school principal in Denmark. The latter two lived together as spinsters to the end of their lives, and they bequeathed their rather significant savings to foundations for “young female performing artists” and “single mothers under education” respectively. How cool is that?

Of course, in my book case there are also the memoirs of several of my grandparents and great-grandparents. And I’m currently proof-reading my grandmother’s edition of my great-grandfather’s memoirs. They’re not published, but they are printed for the family to read and keep so the stories will not die out with the older generations. People live and die, but stories have the potential to live forever. Like the story about how my grandmother was taken on family visits by riding in the side-car of my great-grandfather’s motor bike, travelling 200 miles to visit my great-great-grandparents. Or the story of my great-grandfather stealing my great-grandmother’s diamond engagement ring to cut a heart and their initials in one of the window panes in front of the kitchen zinc as an act of apology after having – once again – spent too much of their savings on yet another painting… (That pane was removed when they moved from that house, and my mother currently owns it, though she hasn’t hung it anywhere at present. She must, or I’ll insist she give it to me. It’s the most romantic family heirloom I could imagine.)

Anyway, that was a very long entry with no pictures, so if you’ve read this far in this rambling entry, thank you. Have a picture of my Mum as a reward:

Mum in LA in 1972

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Well, first of all pardon the rather crude title of this entry, but it is addressed to the deer that seem so fond of nibbling on our roses and then do this:

deer droppings

I mean, I’m all for getting some free deer manure (well, “free” is an exaggeration; I pay it with perennials, rose buds and whatever else the pretty things like to munch on through the year), but couldn’t they at least be trained to leave their droppings where they have eaten?

If they’re going to stop and smell taste the roses, couldn’t they also leave their droppings there so they return the feeding favour to the plants? Rather than leaving the droppings on the lawn…

Speaking of the lawn… Now that all the snow has disappeared again I’m really happy I got around to giving it that last trim just before frost and snow set in; it somehow makes the garden look “tidy enough” with the cut lawn, even if there are twigs here and there and some leaves that have blown about. And yes, deer droppings.

Lawn in winter

The garden does look rather drab today, though, doesn’t it? Compared to the glory of what it looked like last week, it certainly is less bright and festive, but there are still a few highlights.

Goldenrod seed heads

I love how the goldenrods provide winter interest with their fluffy seed heads that seem to retain their fluffiness in spite of snow and rain; there’s a lightness to them that seem to contradict all the other down-heartened perennials that have given up the will to live – well, at least that’s how they look, though of course they will be back next year – and I love how they move in the wind and somehow look like a black and white version of their old, flowering self.

(Some might even say that their seed heads are more tasteful than the rather garish yellow bloom, but I love that, too.)

I’ll end this with a rather special treat: One of our fir trees is sporting the most stunningly beautiful cones at the moment!

Porcelain fir cones

Okay, the more botanically minded of you might remark that fir trees don’t normally suspend their cones from ribbons – and you’d be absolutely right, of course. Yesterday I did what one does when unemployed; I went for lunch in the Tivoli Gardens in central Copenhagen with my mother-in-law, and she stopped by one of the stalls and bought these two un-glazed porcelain cones that I think are absolutely gorgeous; I love un-glazed porcelain, though it can be quite a hassle to keep clean. However, for Christmas baubles I think it is okay as they are unlikely to get very dirty ever. (Well, unless you play around with them in the garden, of course, in which case you really have to be careful not to drop them.

Now, the reason they ended up in the garden was that while my mother-in-law was carrying quite a generously sized handbag at the time she asked me if I’d have room for the small package in my bag, so apparently they are a present. I think they will look lovely on our tree on Christmas Eve – when my mother-in-law will obviously also be there to enjoy them – and they somehow seem like a very beautiful modern take on the old-fashioned glass fir cones that we also have two of, inherited from my mother-in-law’s mother.

Christmas

I do like them a lot, though obviously new ornaments will never be as cherished as the heirlooms – but ornaments bought at special occasions (like the handpainted baubles the Flâneur Husband and I bought in Pitlochry last year, including the yellow one above that somewhat incongruously features a pineapple and grapes) or given as presents will still rank highly and will definitely find a spot on my tree.

So there, an entry encompassing crap, garden, baubles and family. I wonder what sort of Google search people have to make to end up on this page…

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