Poor Albanian Girl….A Christmas Story

It was Christmas Eve in at the meat counter and a woman was anxiously picking over the last few remaining turkeys in the hope of finding a large one.

In desperation she called over a shop assistant and said, ‘Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?’

‘No, madam, ‘he replied, ‘they’re all dead.’

As I was shovelling snow for the fourth time today…a long forgotten memory bubbled to the surface….

Raised the eldest daughter of a widowed father, my share of daily chores fell heavy upon my frail shoulders, at an early age.  There were days when the only thing that saved my sanity was imagination.  Born from a unquenchable thirst for books.  A passion so consuming that I spent many, many afternoons tucked into the crawl space between the sofa and the wall, ravishing a library book, dimly lit from a nearby window.  It was the only place I could find that would save me from the dreaded:

“Haven’t you got something better to do than stick your nose in a book?”

Upon discovery, I would stash away whatever book I had immersed myself into and drag myself through my household tasks with the enthusiasm of a condemned man.

Except, Winter.  Raining, cold, windy afternoons. 

Our laundry was at the rear of the garden, attached to the garage.  We did not possess a tumble dryer.  Clothes were pegged on the line at the merest hint of sunshine.  Should the bright sky turn to a brooding grey, I would be marched out to remove the offending washing from the line – quick smart – where they would then be draped over every available surface to await the next ray of hope, dry clothes.

And so it was, that I developed my ‘Poor Albanian peasant girl’ personality.  All it took were a couple of old bath towels – one to cover my hair, and one for my apron.  A few pegs to hold the look together, and I was transformed.  Somehow, this personality always made the task easier.  A whole story line would drift through my head.  I went so far as to believe I could smell the cabbage and potatoes that my poor, old (Albanian) mother had managed to scrap together for our supper.  It was nothing short of a tragedy how poor we were…

I would snuggle into my towels and imagine the howling wind and snow blowing in my face.  The frostbite on my fingers and toes.  I would rub my hands together and blow on them as if we were dealing with a bone-chilling, howling blizzard – rather than the damp, mildly cool, Sydney winter day.

Considering I was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time, and more than likely had no blessed idea where Albania was, I managed, over the years, to construct a long running soap opera around my ‘poor Albanian peasant girl’.  There were many small brothers and sisters.  There always seemed to be a new born babe that needed swaddling (that was one of my favourite words). A kind, but down-on-his-luck father.  Chickens, goats, even a large blackened kettle in the fireplace.

When she sprang to mind today, I rubbed my hands together and pulled my scarf a little more snug, and wondered if the task at hand would be made easier if I grabbed a few old towels and a couple of clothes pegs….


Preparing for a German Christmas

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December.

Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring. Therefore, according to EVERY historical rendition depicting Santa’s reindeer, EVERY single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a girl….are you still with me? 

We should have known… ONLY women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.

As Christmas 2010 approaches, I found myself dragging my feet.  The words ‘Bah Humbug’ were dancing through my head.  As early as September I started to notice not so subtle signs of the approaching event.  “Oh no.. how could Christmas be here already!”  I tried not to think about the attic, where the decorations from 2009 lay, still scattered, awaiting my attention. 

“I was going to get around to that…”  This has been my mantra for 2010.  I was going to change it to something more positive, but I just didn’t get around to it.

And so it was, that the event that shook me out of my pre-Christmas doldrums, was one I hadn’t expected for at least a couple more years.  As I innocently tucked into my lunch, Miss 9 took it upon herself to blow me out of the water:

“Hey Mum, you do know there is NO Santa Claus…right?  It is your parents that bring the gifts.  Of course there IS a Christkind… and a baby Jesus…”

I was glad that my mouth was full of potato… a large gulp of water stopped me from needing to learn how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on myself in a big hurry.  Now, correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t her statement just seem bizarre on so many levels?  Where was her Aussie spirit of Christmas… Has she been completely and utterly swallowed up the Catholic Church?  I made the mistake of asking her if she feels more Australian or more German – and the reply left me cold.  There was nothing for it.  A full scale SANTA assault was required.  Nothing like a challenge to get me up and running.


(Here you can see Miss 9 doing her Tiny Tim impression after she tried to tell me it wasn’t cold outside… so I locked her on the terrace for 10 minutes…)

This morning was St Nikolaus.  Boots were cleaned and shined last night in preparation for the treats that would fill them (only for good boys and girls, of course), then sat neatly outside the bedroom door.  Only this time, little Miss 9’s size 33 boot contained a letter this morning amongst the clementines, walnuts and lebkuchen.  A letter from Bernard the Elf… Santa’s right hand man. 

It is a dangerous thing to say the words ‘I don’t believe’.  You never know who might be listening.

Bernard plans to send Miss 9 many, many reminders of the existence of Santa….and she is already looking a little worried. 


Kate Bush ain’t got nothin’ me!

This is a good time of the year to be outdoors.  Not too hot, not too cold.  And lots of pretty things to look at.  At this time of the year my heart also turns to the kitchen.  The heavy cast iron pots come out to play.  The baking trays get a vigorous work-out.  And all those extra calories need to be displaced before they take up their winter lodgings on my bum.  So its off for a walk.  Want to come with me?  Best put on a jacket – it gets a touch cool striding over the moors…. Heathcliffffffffffffffffffffffff……


Some weird berries that probably have an exotic name – and seem scary, if only for the fact that as I child I might have been tempted to sample them.  This from the chick that pretty much lived off the nectar I could suck out of honeysuckle for a whole summer.


I like making a fuss of stopping and reading this sign that hangs on a fence.  It translates to: “If I catch you not removing your dog’s shit, I will take said property, and throw it in your mailbox”.  As I don’t have a dog, I enjoy seeing the curtains twitch when I loiter too long in front of his fence.


Brave me….takes the shortcut through the cemetery.  Not that there is anything at all scary about this place – more like a well ordered botanical garden.  Sometimes I think it is tidier than my living room.


Just past the cemetery we find the Schrebergartengarden plots that turn into second homes in the summer.  Each allotment is fine tuned to meet all the requirements of its owner.  I can see the benefits of having a bit of land to call your own, in a country where so many people live in apartments…but as I have a personal aversion to ‘caravan park style living’ – not sure it is for me.


I tootle over the Autobahn toward the river and the more rural area.  At this time of year, even the Autobahn looks pretty.  Miss Nine (on the odd occasion I can convince her to come walk with me) likes to stand here and wave at the cars.  Contrary to reports of Germans being less than friendly…. they ALWAYS wave back!


About now you will need to pull out those earmuffs and turn up your collar.  There is an evil, ice-cold polar wind that ravages your fingers and nose, and it starts here.  This long farming road toward the river Sieg should come with a warning sign.


This little garden/orchard on the right is tended by a 90 year old woman… she does most of the work herself – except for the time I saw her 70 year old son giving her a hand. 


Gnarly ol’ tree.. I would like a little orchard at the bottom of my garden.


This was the original Bauernhof (farmhouse) for this whole area.  It is now owned and operated as the Annex for Organic Agriculture, Bonn University.  I remember when the property went up for auction… I would have liked to have seen out my days here.  Less the potato crops and the freezing wind from the river, of course.


At the end of the Ice (Truckers) Road… hang a right and walk along the floodbank.  The wind melts away and you can let your ears out to breath.  Mysteriously, on my last walk, I found a perfectly good pair of jeans hanging from a post… and for a second I considered taking them home and giving them a wash.  Then I spent the next few minutes wondering how on earth someone could get home without their pants!


Oohhh those clouds started to look a little ominous.  In fact, I have seen the weather change so quickly when walking here that I try to have all seasons covered…even a bikini!


Heading back into town now.  This is a pretty house, currently houses a dentist suite.


Does it get much cuter?  Part of the old stables, previously attached to one of the grander homes.  Now they are little mews apartments.


Those clouds are coming at us, time to scurry!


This picture has not been photoshopped.  Over my shoulder was a sparkling blue sky, but across the street, behind the Rathaus (Townhall) it was black as black gets.  Might need to hole up in a Kneipe (Pub) and drink a Kölsch.


This is the view from my bedroom window today…. It casts the most wonderful golden light over the house.  Did you enjoy your walk?  Feel refreshed?  Thought so. 



**I did this walk with my sister last Christmas and am not sure she will ever forgive me.  Two hours at –4 degrees  = Not Happy.

German Street Food

There is no denying, I am a big fan of sleeping under 5 Stars.  I lurve me some Egyptian cotton sheets.  I adore turn down service.  Big fluffy white towels, yes sir, can I please have some more?  Concierge…maid service…car service… you get the picture.  Where Fancy Schmancy hotels fall down (for me) is in the ‘eating’ department.  Being blessed with the opportunity to stay in some of the best and brightest hotels in the world, has given me the chance to sample a whole range of Room Service.  I am yet to meet a Club Sandwich that was not a sad and scary specimen.  Cold toast, bacon like leather, dry tasteless chicken… mayo out of a bottle. They never get it right.  And so it is that I might like to lay my sleepy head upon a feather pillow, but I prefer to eat on the streets.

Germany, is the exception to that rule.  Even during periods like Christmas markets and Summer Festivals, German Street Food has a long way to go.

Take last weekend, local One-Horse-Town held its annual Kirmes (Carnival).  It is considered poor manners NOT to attend.  We decided to wander up around the lunch time mark.  In the words of Julia Roberts…”big mistake…huge!”

Here is what you can expect.  Believe me when I say I can hear your arteries clogging just when you look at the photos:

IMG_9210 The dentist’s best friend.  At one end we have Fairy Floss (pure spun sugar and red food colouring, what more could a mother want!)

IMG_9213 And at the other end we have Popcorn (German popcorn is SWEET.. and not in a good way).  Then you can wash it all down with a nice Red Slushy. 

IMG_9215 In the middle we have a fine selection of overpriced nasty sweeties.  Made all the more attractive when they are packaged in the form of a baby’s bottle.  Sugar-coated peanuts are also big sale items.  There is no way to know if they are the same ones you ‘didn’t’ buy last year.  And just in case you manage to convince your child that Sugar-Is-The-Devil, they get you with a 4Euro Pinwheel, guaranteed to fall apart within 7.5 minutes.

IMG_9214 But if it is good old fashioned nostalgia you are after, the centre of the stand is for you.  A traditional Lebkuchen Herz will last forever.  I am sure of this, because most of them were made in 1973.  Miss Nine insisted on one last year that ended up in a drawer, discovered recently – still in the same condition (could be the forerunner to the Everlasting McDonalds Burger).

IMG_9212 “But I am really hungry and want to EAT something.”  I hear you, and present you with the Crepe Stall.  Not sure I have ever seen anyone eat anything from this odd little box, but painting it to look like a traditional German Fachwerk Haus is sure to inspire confidence.  Oh, not to mention the red/blue/white ‘French’ flashing lights.  Moulin Rouge, watch out!

IMG_9217 I can hear your tummy rumbling… let’s move on, shall we?  Next stop, Fresh & Delicious  – A Specialty – no less.  Here you are treated to a piece of fish (of unknown origin) dipped in a layer of batter about 2 inches thick, deep fried and served on a tasteless white bread roll.  You may pay extra for Tartare Sauce.  Don’t make the mistake of ordering a Scampispiess like I did once.  For your 5Euro, you will end up with 3 (I counted them) small prawns dipped in so much batter that it is difficult to find them, stuck on a skewer and deep friend.  A gourmet touch of Garlic Mayo should finish you off…

IMG_9228 Right about now you will have worked up a little thirst?  Thought so.  The busiest stall at any Fest/Kirmes will always be the bar.  Here you can have your choice of beer…….hmmm… Ummm… beer or beer.  Oh, hang on, you can also have beer.

IMG_9227 And while you are drinking your beer (did I mention you could have a beer?), you can contemplate whether you will wander over for a Bratwurst, a mere 2Euro, an Onion-Steak at 3.50 or lash out on a CurryWurst for 2.50.  Gently and expertly prepared for you on a hanging grill, served in yet another dry white bread roll, dripping with mustard and tomato sauce.

IMG_9231 We mustn’t forget our vegetarian friends.  They too, are well catered for.  A good dose of grated carbohydrate deep fried in oil and smothered in pureed apple sauce.  Now doesn’t that sound grand!  Reibekuchen can be delicious… I personally only like them once a year, purchased from a certain stall, at a certain Christmas Market – when it is freezing cold.  One of the issues with this style of food is the smell that clings to your clothes for days.  I suppose some would consider that an added value?

IMG_9230 In the end, there is something for everyone.  You just have to know where to look.

Oh, Great Pumpkin…

Whoops… seem to have slipped off the horse.  The blogging horse.  Must have landed behind a bush, because it would seem I have also become a lurker.  Not really by choice, but by some odd twist of fate, sometimes I just can’t leave a comment because WordPress likes to tell me that MY blog, is not MY blog.  How does it know this?  Is this some sort of face recognition program that I am unaware of?  Does it recognise my distinctive tap-tap-tap of the keyboard?  Perhaps, WordPress is just passing judgement on my, more often than not, ludicrous observations about other people’s lives.

Here are a few other things that have happened recently:

Phone Rings…..

“Hello!  What time is it?” 

Every phone call from Australia starts this way.  I know they mean well, but seriously, if you don’t know by now that I am NOT  a morning person…..

“So, what is the lowdown with your blog?  When are you going to write some more?  I have nothing to snigger at over my morning coffee.”

Aren’t sisters the greatest!  And yes, it WAS me that convinced you to wear your hair like THAT to the year 10 formal dance… And yes, I have photo evidence.

And then….there were a few emails:

Dear Lulu’s Bay,

Are you dead?  If not, please proceed with new posts on your blog or I will have to remove you from my Google Reader.  You are gathering dust.


A once devoted lurker.

(Interesting how many non-bloggers think that you should function like the daily newspaper and become outraged if you lapse into a blogging coma.)

Truth be known… I don’t know what happened… I lost my groove.. something like that…

I shall leave you with a few visuals.  Considering the last time you heard from me it was high Summer and I was giving it up to prune fingers and toes from spending too much time in the pool… here are a couple of photos of my Herbst/Fall/Autumn endeavours.  Enjoy.

IMG_9189I figured that since it has been 6 months since Communion, it was time to change the door wreath…

IMG_9202 I saw this cute pot at the local nursery (baumschule), decided against paying their insane prices and made the whole things for 1.99 – How clever am I!


Forgive the 1973 brown tiles on my front porch… they are so far down the end of the list of things that need to be done, I am pretty sure they are going to come back around again and will be featured on the front page of Vogue Interiors any day now.


I don’t usually do ‘cutsey’ but … seriously.. what is NOT to love about Hedgehogs?


The ridiculous pleasure I get when I go for a walk and find tree that has dropped a bunch of chestnuts (or conkers)  – something about picking them up and filling my pockets just makes me happy.  Did you know, that if you take your collected chestnuts to the Haribo Factory they will exchange them for the same weight in sweets (gummibears)… apparently you have to wait in line for about 8 hours.. but Germans seem to like that kind of thing.

My Pink Shirt

I have become a totally self-absorbed creature….

All it took was a week at an all-inclusive resort and I am strutting around like Gisele Bundchen when ‘she’ thinks she is having a good hair day.

A little sun, a little salt and no stress. Copious amounts of delicious reading material. A child that has hit the ‘I am totally independent but just make sure you are there if I need you’ age. No husband to fuss about (someone has to earn the big bucks to pay for my life of leisure). Nothing to worry about except keeping up the applications of sunscreen.

And then there is my shirt. I love it. I love it like a baby loves a binky. And all this love came at the cost of just one ‘flat out’ euro. Just before winging my way to volcano island, I went to a local flea market. Discovered under a pile of clothes that nobody would be seen dead wearing, was a lone hot pink shirt. It is the kind of shirt that someone bought on their Gap year… bargaining with a kid on the beach in Goa. Hot Pink, lightly embroidered with sparkly beads. Soft… worn… cheesecloth….loved and travelled. The sort of shirt that EVERYBODY wears when they get off the plane upon return from India. Except me… No sireee… not me.

During my two years of living in Bombay (yes it is Bombay… always was and always will be) I resolutely refused to go with the local expat trend and start wearing a Salwa Kameez. Something magical happened to women that wore them… there was something about those comfy, elastic waist pants brought out the inner ‘I can eat my body weight in ghee’. As soon as I twigged to THAT gig… I held onto my levis for dear life. And holding onto any type of european clothing was no easy task in those days. After losing several pairs of jeans to the hotel laundry, I had to kick some ass… some serious ass. I happen to get very attached my jeans. Come on… who hasn’t had that moment when they could either save the neighbours dog or their last pair of Sass & Bide!!! There is no choice to be made! (ok so maybe that was just me and perhaps we shouldn’t go into the details incase the neighbour wonders what happened to his dog). All of this happened in the days when Bombay had a population of 13 million and no supermarkets. When we were still buying black market groceries smuggled through by loving air stewards and sold out of the ‘special back room’ of one little store. Where I once saw a desperate mother pay out $10 for a tub of Betty crocker frosting!

And so it was, that back in clutches of the western world, I never ever seemed to have just the right thing to toss over a swim suit should I choose to have a vodka lemon at the pool bar. Until now.

I think I have become known as the ‘Odd chick sitting alone at pool with pink shirt’, sort of like my tribal name. Pretty sure that if I had to stand up in a line up, all that anyone here would remember would be my pink shirt.

It is a salt water pool here, so that and a combination of 50plus sunscreen and a squirt of my favourite perfume is what you will get when you bury your face in my pink shirt (but why would you want to?) I think I could bottle it and call it ‘Woman escaping from Surburbia and MIL on holiday’

What do you think?

Love Lulu xx

People Watching

If you like to read and you like to write…chances are you like to watch. Observing people in their natural habitat is fun, but having the chance to lay on a sunbed all day with a pair of Jackie O’s to hide your prying eyes, well, it doesn’t get much better. And lord knows, there is plenty of interesting subject matter to be found at an all-inclusive resort.

As previously mentioned, the Germans dominate this establishment. Recognisable by their oddly bronzed colouring (I hear they do amazing things with carrot oil these days), and their paradise vogel clothing. Summertime all bound up in a snappy little packet. They like to join forces – dragging sunlounges into camps resembling something from the Wild West. On holiday, the normal restraint in clothing is exchanged for bikinis that make my eyes water. Bikinis that land on bodies who have obviously indulged in a knödel or six too many since last summer. Men prefer tiny tight shorts – the style that looks dreamy on a young Italian Adonis parading through a crowded beach on Sardinia, but quite terrifying when matched with the result of regular Friday evening Octoberfest behaviour.

And they complain… boy do they complain. It’s too hot, or the AC is too cold. There are not enough tables on the terrace (every meal must be eaten Al Fresco or the holiday is a wash out) – the musical entertainment at night is atrocious!!! (seriously, what did you expect for 299 all-inclusive? Bruce Springsteen himself??)

But the ones that I love the most are the ones that HATE each other. Couples on their Summer holiday (well because that is what you do) who under normal life can manage to pass each other for months on end without having to talk. Cast adrift with their 2.3 children, and watch Mutti und Vatti go into chaos. They talk through their offspring… and they spend more time telling the Restaurant manager how he can do his job better. When he extracts himself to continue doing what he has been doing for 15 years, they move onto reception… where they can spend an extended period detailing each and every crack in the ceiling, rust mark in the bath, lack of toiletries, annoying mosquito… you name it, they will bend your ear extolling their vast knowledge of the hotel industry (well come on… this is the 3rd time they have been ‘overseas’ and stayed in ‘luxury’ hotels….)

There are many other nationalities staying here… the brits seem slightly cowed by the sheer number of Germans – almost like they have just decided to keep their heads down and avoid any conflict (because we all know where that led last time). There are some stunning looking Spanish families, with their golden toned men in tiny shorts strutting about with a macho manliness that makes all other men look a bit like Dame Edna Everage. The Spanish also come en masse, but what appear to be family – jumbles of dark-skinned children fall about them, appearing to belong to whom ever is close enough to pick them up and feed them ice cream.

And then there is me… the pale skinned Aussie woman sitting alone at the pool (because Mr Dear Husband is working) with her rambanctious blonde haired sun child… nobody is alone here… I wonder what magical story they have woven around me. Am I some tragic figure or an unapproachable aloof matron. Perhaps they just find me odd.

It is day 4 and I am on book number 3.

Love LuLu xx