The Creek Don’t Rise

Rain fell this morning.


I have a buddy named Vic. I haven’t seen him since about 2001, but never mind that– Vic is one of those friendly people that you count your pal despite the decades that may intervene between your visits. I can’t say that I’ve had many occasions to think about Vic in the back and forth of my day to day life, but this week he’s been a constant companion, whispering in my ear every time I look out the windows off the back of my house.

Vic is from Georgia, down to the very marrow in his bones. He’s prone to phrases like “knee high to a grasshopper,” so when he whispers in your ear it’s a voice that is distinct and immediately recognizable.
One of Vic’s favorite phrases back in the early 90’s was “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” It was applicable to any situation, and so it rolled off his tongue the way dice roll smoothly, but purposefully, from a gambler’s fingers. And it always seemed to hit its target: truly, our best laid plans are all contingent on factors beyond our control to some degree. So that’s how it punctuated his speech—everything you were doing, might do, or had very nearly clinched had this element of unpredictability to it. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be (“Good Lord willing,” it was), or there was always the possibility of unforeseen occurrences or disasters (sometimes the creek rises a little, sometimes the roads become rivers).

In the balance of things the good Lord is willing more often than the creek rises. Thank goodness.
But what does this have to do with me?
My friend Victor has been a chatterbox lately for a very good reason. I’ve just moved into a house that sits by a creek. Not really a creek, but more of a canal-shaped pond, and not so much by the pond as on the pond. It was a bold move on our part.
Two years ago, I wrote a post in this blog called “House Hunting at a Distance, aka Mission Impossible.” The post aired my frustrations with trying to find a house in Germany before we were actually in Germany. This year, we found ourselves faced with mission impossible once again, as we moved from Germany to Florida. But, this time, we chose to accept that mission.
With very little rental housing available for us to consider, and what was there today was snapped up by tomorrow (I kid you not, there was an absolute feeding frenzy around rental houses in this area in early May), we took the dive on one appealing house, despite realizing that it had some pitfalls. Some great selling points, yes, but great pitfalls too. (Do you remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is in Ollivander’s Wand Shop? Ollivander notes that Voldemort, whose wand is Harry’s twin, did great things. “Terrible, yes. But great.” This scene absolutely gave me chills. There is a complex, but undeniable truth to that logic. But I digress. . .)   
So now we’ve moved into our beachy bungalow, and I am living with the terrible and the great all wrapped up in one package. Namely, the creek-that-shall-not-be-named, which happens to sit a few feet out my back door.

446bd3e7473c38f5ae19e56ee447e400l-m15xd-w1020_h770_q80It makes for a beautiful view as you sip morning coffee or take your evening tea. It’s really an extraordinary landscape. We’ve only been here a few days, but already we’ve seen herons, turtles, cardinals, and rabbits all cavorting across our back lawn and in the water. In the evening, the sound of frogs is like nothing I’ve ever heard before—not the run of the mill “ribbets,” but like there’s a whole orchestra of croaks and duck-calls and trills. It’s so dark out, you can’t see the vocal rascals, but I go to sleep imagining a virtual “Wind in the Willows” of dapper little frogs in ascots tuning up their instruments.

And alligators? Well, yes. We’ve asked neighbors about alligators and they do occasionally show up too. It’s not so much a worry as a reality to be aware of.
At least, that was the story two days ago.
Today, they caught a six footer in the next pond down (that’s about eight houses down, to put it in perspective). My doggy won’t be cavorting out back of the house any time soon. . . or any time at all.
I’ve got to admit, the thought of a large alligator on my block is terrifying . . . but also a little invigorating. (There is an echo to Ollivander’s words, “Terrible, yes. But great.”) Maybe awe-inspiring is the phrase I want. For all of the creature-comforts that I like in a neighborhood, I’m glad to know that we haven’t entirely driven the creatures out of their habitat.

If our red stone castle-house anchored us immediately to our European environs, this bungalow has transported us handily into the heart of Florida. It’s certainly manicured for the Florida golf and baywater crowd, but it’s undeniably wild too. Sip your sangria and tee up your golf ball, and, oh yes, look out for the gators!   
So on the subject of wild Florida, and back to the wisdom of my friend Vic, I’m also feeling the weight of the very literal question, “Will the creek rise?” A question no one can answer definitively. But the neighbors say “No, the creek spills into another pond next to it that lies about three feet lower down.” I’m told that, despite big storms in the past 5 years, there have been no worrisome creek levels. In fact, in my neighbor’s own words, “there just won’t be a problem with the water unless there is something really horrible like a big hurricane.”
So no worries. That never happens in Florida.

     Cue the refrain, people:  Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. It may be my new mantra.

I should give my friend Vic a call. He’s well schooled in how these things work.  And if Vic doesn’t answer the phone, maybe I should consult our friend Ollivander.

The Rheinland in March: In Like a Lion

Tuesday morning: the snowy view over the hills around my house.

March has certainly come in like a lion to my corner of Germany.  This past week saw snow showers almost every day.  Each morning we’d wake up to a dusting, or much more (especially in the hills around us), and my kids would cross their fingers as I checked to see if their school would start late.  No such DSC_0798luck for them.

The snow here is beautiful, and the way it sits on the feathery branches of the spruce and fir trees gives this area a fairy tale appearance.  This is the view we dreamed of at Christmas, when the weather was just shy of balmy.  But winter did finally come to us.

After a significant snow on Tuesday, we had a sunny day Wednesday, and, as I walked my dog that afternoon, I was reminded of a quote from Charles Dickens:  “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” 

So that’s where we stand now.  The last patches of snow have melted in my yard, although I can still see some snowy fields on the surrounding hills.  Next week the forecast promises 50 degrees in the afternoons.

I think the lion has roared his fill and is turning to leave.  I’ll be glad to see March go out like a lamb.


Throwback Thursday, Music Man in Adana, Turkey

14 years ago, baby and me.  This kind man plays his Turkish Saz for us.
14 years ago, baby and me. This kind man is playing his Turkish Saz for us.

The year is 2000.  The day is hotter than Hades in downtown Adana, Turkiye. .  .but just when we think we will melt into the dust and sand, never to be seen again, we meet up with a very cool man and his storeful of Saz.    (Sazes?  Sazi?  Sazzzzzs? What would the plural be?)

He serenandes us and gives us a cassette tape of his songs to take with us  so that we can remember him after we get back on an airplane and return to our life in the States.  Which we will do just a few weeks later.

Fourteen years have passed, and my daughter won’t remember this moment. . . but I do.  So vividly that it still cools me on a hot day and reminds me what it felt like to hold her as a tiny child in my arms.


The History of Pimms, The Hope of Summer

I pulled the rouladen (German rolling shutters) down tight before bed last night.  Not to darken our rooms, but to keep the chill out.  Then I woke hungry this morning–hungry for heat and sun.  For summer.  The rouladen were holding back the chill of a 44 degree (Fahrenheit) morning.

This is liquid yum!  See the recipe below for a Pimms Cup.
This is liquid yum! See the recipe below for a Pimms Cup.

Summer has been hesitant in the Rhineland these past two weeks–she’s given in way too early to cold and wet autumn.  But I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful that she’ll be back for what we southerners call Indian Summer–an unseasonably late heat wave.  I’d like to be scorched, for just a few days, to complain about the heat, the sweat that begins at 7 a.m., the stifling humidity.  I’d settle for a day without a jacket and for an evening on the balcony, sleeveless and sipping Pimms.

The perfect summer drink–a Pimms Cup.   Millions of Brits think so, and so does this one time transplant from the South.  It’s not just for wedding parties or Wimbledon or the Royal Ascot.  It’s pure summer deliciousness on a balmy day, OR the perfect taste of balmy-berry-sweetness-and-ginger-bite-sunshine when the day needs some reminding that it is, in fact, summertime.

According to the BBC, James Pimm, a London restaurateur, began selling the elixir in the 1840’s.  Within a few decades the drink had become outrageously popular.  If marketing slogans can reliably note a product’s popularity, consider this slogan from the 1930’s:  We had to let the west wing go, but thank heavens we can still afford our Pimm’s.  

Yes, we all have to have our priorities, and there are days when I might have traded my kingdom for a Pimms. . . especially if that Pimms came with a warm and sunny day attached.

Pimms No. 1  is a gin based drink with an infusion of bitters and herbs.  I’m not a gin girl–it’s always tasted like pine needles to me–but the magic they work on Pimms is undeniable.  Over the years, other recipes have been introduced, featuring whiskey, brandy, rum, rye, and vodka.  At present, only Pimms No. 1 and Pimms No. 6 (vodka based) are being produced.

A traditional take on the Pimms Cup:Pimms-Cup

  • Mix one part Pimm’s with two or three parts ginger ale (preferably a strong ginger ale) over ice.
  • Add mint leaves, strawberry slices, thin cucumber slices, and raspberry or orange slices if you like. (We’ve even dropped a little watermelon in, and it was very tasty.)
  • You can mix this by the glass or by the pitcherful.

I know a few folk who love a good Pimms Royal, which is a mix of Pimms and Champagne.  I haven’t tried it, but if the weather ever turns back to summer here, I’ll try a spot on my balcony and then get back to you with my thoughts.

Until then:  Cheers!  Cheerio! and Auf Weidersehen!

Speaking of the Weather


We’re having some weather in Alabama this week.   That’s euphemistic for “all hell broke loose on the weather front a few days ago,” or, in this case, “Tornado, ho!”  Two nights ago, the tornado sirens went off from 1 a.m. until nearly 2 a.m.,  and the children, dogs, and I sat in the laundry room with our bike helmets at the ready.  The sirens were totally unnecessary: the storm had been beating the house so violently that we were already awake and assuming the touch down in Oz would come at any moment.

Apparently, this is part of the Alabama experience.  Just like it was part of the West Texas experience.  And like a massive earthquake was part of the Turkey experience.  Mother Nature is eager to let you know that, wherever you go, you can’t outsmart her.  That’s her prerogative.

But that’s not my point . . .

All of this “weather” has got me to thinking about England.  And I have a bone to pick…with Winnie the Pooh.

Yes,  the bear with the blustery day adventures.    [insert a ‘Bah Humbug’ here]  His tale raises an issue of honesty amongst  A.A. Milne and his British compatriots. Lovely people, the lot of you, so please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are horrible fibbers and obfuscators where the weather is concerned. Yes, you are. Don’t deny it.

Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.   Over in America, this title conjures imagines of  a lovely, warm wind wafting the wee bear about.   No mortal danger.

!!! No mortal danger???  The woods get “floodier and floodier,” Owl’s house is demolished, and Piglet is caught in a whirlpool!  This is a blustery day?   Well, in the Queen’s English, apparently so. . .

Soon after moving to England, I learned that anytime the weather prediction calls for a “fresh” day or “blustery” afternoon, you’d better zip up the coat (the WARM coat) or batten down the hatches. Batten down, board up, and leave town if possible.  But a British weatherman won’t say that.  They are an understated breed.

In Alabama, a funnel cloud forms and sirens go off.  In the Carolinas, hurricanes hit and we are told to board up and move out.   In England, we are told only “It will be a blustery afternoon.”

Case in point: the year is 2007 and I’m listening to the BBC weatherman call for a blustery day tomorrow. Next thing you know, I’m walking my children to school in  80 mile an hour wind. Blustery?  That’s hurricane-grade weather!   And still the evening news says, “It was a blustery day, with winds of 80 miles an hour.”  Just like that.   No biggie.

These storms closed down nothing in England—and while I admire a stiff upper lip sometimes, I am not such a fan of  young school children skittering uncontrollably across the street on their walk to school  or patio furniture launching itself  into the tree tops where it will dangle, precariously, over passersby in the street.    I’m not bitter, but that was my furniture in the treetops.  (And me in the treetops trying to rescue it.)  And that was the Stephenson family skittering out into the street.  (And me carrying my daughter’s large keyboard on my back, windsail-esque, and flying out into the street at each gust. . . while my 8 year old shrieked in abject terror—fearing either that I’d be hit by a car or take sail over the rooftops, I’m not sure which.)

So that’s a little bit of a rant, but let me just suggest that truth in advertising is a good thing.   Maybe weather forecasters and Mr. Milne should consider a slight renaming of  these “gusty” days:   “bat-out-of-hell blustery day” would get the point across.  Winnie the Pooh and the Bat-out-of-Hell Blustery Day.  It does have a ring to it.

And all of this begs a traveler’s question:  are Americans spastic about the weather, or are Brits absolutely inert about it?    The answer is. . .yes.

Apparently, even weather is a culturally-bound experience.

Und so, wie ist das Wetter in Deutschland?