Monthly Archives: December 2011


Today’s Guest Blogger:  Regina Holm
                                       Export Manager at Hofner Guitars

A little snowflake slowly drifted on the air descending from one of the winter clouds in the sky. He was one of the last snowflakes that had left the cloud and as he slowly fell, the sun started breaking through the cloud cover: a beautiful afternoon sun that made the little snowflake sparkle and glitter as it turned in the air. He rode on the wind and enjoyed the feeling of complete freedom, thinking, “I’m the prettiest of all little snowflakes. One in a million and nothing would ever compare to my beauty.” He was perfect, as all little snowflakes are.
Obsessed with his own beauty, he noticed nothing else around him, and was surprised when he gently landed on top of a cushion of snow on a window sill. A gust of wind swept the snowflake towards the window, right up against the windowpane in which he admired his own reflection, glittering, smiling and very content.
It was one of those short winter days where it seemed to get dark far too early. In fact, it was late afternoon on the 24th of December, the day before Christmas, and already the daylight was fading. As the sun slowly went down behind the hills far away, the reflection in the window became fainter and fainter and the little snowflake started getting frustrated that he almost couldn’t see himself in the window. Straining the eyes to see clearer, he suddenly noticed movement. What was this? Was there more to the world than his own quiet reflection? Surely, that couldn’t be! As darkness descended, the movements behind the window became clearer. Yes, there was movement. The little snowflake watched as if he was in a trance. It was a family, it seemed. They had just arrived home with the last minute shopping before all the shops closed. They carried the bags in. Some full of groceries and others full of strange decorations; men in red suits wearing long hats, snowmen, Christmas hearts and other amazing stuff.
The man of the family slowly walked over to the fireplace to light a fire. It was a cold day and a fire would be so nice, warm and cosy. The father laid the logs in a shape like a pyramid and lit the fire. The snowflake watched in wonder as the flame caught the small wood and spread to the larger logs; the warm orange light seemed to pull him closer and closer and the feeling of warmth radiated through the window. The mother and the two girls came into the living room carrying boxes which were carefully put on the coffee table and opened. You could see the excitement in the eyes of the girls as they looked inside the various boxes. The older girl pulled out four big Christmas stockings and gave them to her mother for her to hang the stockings up at the front of the fireplace–one Christmas stocking for each of them. The snowflake thought it very strange to hang stockings by the fire. Maybe it was to warm their feet later?
The mother smiled and the girls laughed out loud and clapped their hands as the father came back into the room with a great big green Christmas tree. The family started decorating the Christmas tree with some of the amazing things from the bag and the boxes. Out came one heart after the other, bells that jingled, small round balls on strings, candy canes and Santas made out of wine-gums with a string tied around their bellies. It all went on the tree. The family was laughing happily while singing along to the Christmas carols playing on the radio, each of them in a different key but no-one cared that they were out of tune. “Such perfect happiness,” thought the little snowflake. “If only I could be there with them.”
The Christmas tree, standing proud, heavy with decorations and sweets, looked a bit empty at the top. “Strange,” thought the snowflake, “how can that be?” He was soon to find out, as the mother sat with a box in her lap and asked the smallest of the girls to come over and open it.
With pride and a great big smile the smallest girl carefully took out the most perfect thing the snowflake had ever seen. An angel! She was made of delicate white paper. She had great big, almost see-through wings and silver streaks in her hair. Beautiful and fragile. The father grabbed the girl around her waist and lifted her up. She was holding the angel out in front of herself, looking at the angel. The father held the little girl in outstretched arms and she carefully placed the angel at the very top of the tree. The angel completed the Christmas tree beautifully and it took the breath away from the little snowflake when the angel turned her head and looked at him. The look was so quick that it was almost impossible to notice, but he saw her looking, just before the lights went out in the living room.
Outside it was dark as night and cold, too. The little snowflake wasn’t that cold, he was made out of frozen water after all, but he felt chilly never the less. Maybe it was because he had looked at the fire in the fireplace? Now there were only the dark orange embers left.
The whole house and the world, too, seemed still as if all were asleep and slowly the snowflake drifted off to sleep too. He dreamt of angels and Christmas trees and laughter and children and in the background there was a faint ringing of bells. Strangely enough the ringing seemed to be getting louder and louder. The ringing woke up the little snowflake and he realized that the ringing was not from the dream at all. There, up high in the night sky was a sleigh, a red sleigh with reindeers in front and sacks of presents in the back. Driving the sleigh was a man dressed all in red, with a big white beard, a smile on his face and pointy hat on his head. He looked like the nicest man anyone could ever imagine.
“This must be the Santa Claus,” the little snowflake thought as the sleigh landed on the roof of the house.
The man in red got out of the sleigh, grabbed one of the sacks from the back of his sleigh and climbed down through the chimney landing inside the fireplace. Santa let the sack slide off his shoulders and gently put it onto the floor, before taking out a list from the inside pocket of his red coat. He looked at it for a while, smiled and mumbled, “OK. Ho ho ho!” After rolling up the list and putting it back in the inside pocket he started taking presents out of the big sack. Some went into the socks hanging on the fireplace and others he placed underneath the Christmas tree. Santa looked around with a satisfied smile on his face, went to the table where he picked up a glass of sherry and drank it with pleasure. Then he picked up a biscuit and the carrots laid out for the reindeers and climbed back up the chimney. The snowflake could hear Santa on the roof, getting into the sleigh and setting off with a “Merry Christmas, Ho ho ho,” as he drifted back into sleep.
When the snowflake woke again it was still very early. The sun was just rising; the sky such a bright pink that was reflected in the glittering frosty morning snow. The birds were waking up too and singing their happy morning songs.
It wasn’t long before the snowflake heard footsteps inside the house, running eagerly down the stairs. The footsteps belonged to the two girls, who both ran into the living room, still wearing their nightgowns and fluffy slippers. Oh, how the little snowflake enjoyed watching the girls looking around the living room in amazement at all the presents in the stockings and under the Christmas tree.
The larger of the girls went over to the fireplace and took two of the stockings down. The snowflake now noticed there were names on the stockings. The larger girl handed the stocking with the name Matilde on it to the small girl. The stocking she kept for herself had the name Karoline on it. “Oh,” thought the snowflake, “that must be their names, then.” Karoline and Matilde started opening their presents, Karoline helping her younger sister whenever she had problems with the band around the presents. What wonderful presents they got: warm winter mitts, a sleigh to share, pink dresses for Barbie dolls and even a fairytale castle for the dolls to live in.
The snowflake looked on from the outside and was so envious of their happiness and presents. “If only I was in-there,” he thought. “If only I could play with them and all their toys.” Not long after, the mum and dad entered the room and gave each of the girls a hug and a big kiss. “Merry Christmas! What wonderful presents you have got,” they said. The dad went over to the fireplace and took the last two stockings down from the fireplace and they opened their presents while they looked at the children playing.
When they had opened all the presents, the mum told the girls to go up and get dressed and then they could go out to play with the new sleigh. Matilde and Karoline got up and ran away, up to their rooms to change. In no time at all they were back, all excited about going outside to play with their new sleigh. The mum came to them at the door with the new mitts in her hand and helped them put on coats, mitts and scarfs and get the sleigh outside. The snowflake heard the door slam shut and shortly after the two girls walked past on the way to the hill at the end of one of the fields. A short while later he could see them playing, both of them riding downhill on the one sleigh, and after, Karoline kindly dragging the sleigh with Matilde sitting on it, back up the hill.
Down they went again, giggling and screaming with joy. For hours they played on the little hill until the mother called them in to have their lunch. The girls reluctantly started back. Again Karoline dragged her little sister on the sleigh. They both had red cheeks and happy sparkles in their eyes. The older girl suddenly let go of the rope of the sleigh, let her sister sit there and walked towards the window, the window where the snowflake was sitting. “She is coming to play with me! I am the luckiest snowflake ever.” He was getting all excited thinking of all the games they would play together.
Karoline came all the way up to the window sill, put both her gloved hands into the snow, palms towards each other, gathered all the snow between her hands and pushed it hard together. “Ouch,” thought the snowflake because he was in the snow she had collected. “This hurts. Why do I get squashed like this? It is no fun at all. Please stop.”
But of course the girl heard nothing. She kept pushing the snow together and made a nice round snowball. She turned around and looked at her sister with a cheeky grin on her face and got ready to throw the snowball toward Matilde who was still sitting on the sleigh. Matilde realized what her sister was going to do, she screamed and jumped off the sleigh and started running towards the house laughing and screaming in joy. Karoline took aim and threw the ball, just a bit ahead of where her sister was running but, oops, suddenly their cat Gokke jumped out of the snow and got hit by the snowball instead of Matilde. The snowball broke to pieces and scattered in the coat of the cat. “Phew,” thought the snowflake, “I can breathe again. But what happened and where am I?” He was stuck in the fur of Gokke, the cat, who was now running as fast as he could towards the house. The snowflake looked around. “We-hey! This is fun. I am riding a cat,” he laughed. “What an adventure.” The cat jumped through the cat-flap and ran into the living room where he hid behind the big chair next to the fireplace.
Earlier in the day, the dad had lit the fire again and it was now burning lively and hot. The little snowflake could feel the heat from the fire, how wonderful it felt against his frozen body. There was a loud giggle and thumps against the door. The girls were back! Matilde opened the door and both girls stumbled into the hallway. As the door was opened a gust of wind came in and went through the house. A nice fresh wind from the outside.
The draft lifted the angel off the top of the Christmas tree. The snowflake watched as the angel slowly got carried on the wind and flew towards him, down from great heights and right to him. His heart beat faster. “Is this what love feels like?” he wondered.
The wind dropped and the angel’s face turned towards the little snowflake. Then he saw it in her still face. “She loves me too!” His little snow heart, so full of feelings of love and pride nearly exploded. The angel was almost with him but the door opened again and a gust of wind blew the beautiful paper angel into the fireplace where she slowly fell down into the flames. At the same time, the cat got up from behind the chair, startled. He shook the remaining snow and water out of his fur and lay down to go back to sleep. The little snowflake got thrown into the fire. He smiled because he was on the way to be with his beloved angel. She was right there, looking straight at him and as he landed in her arms, the snowflake melted in the heat and turned into water: a tear-shaped drop of water: perfect in its form, as all tear-shaped drops of water are. With a heart full of love he thought, “How vain I was, just caring for myself. I have seen the beauty of nature, I have seen love and happiness, I know laughter and I have met my love.”
Behind him the angel burst into flames and at the same time the little snowflake that was now melted to water evaporated into the air and got carried out with the smoke, up through the chimney, into the sky, back where he had come from.
The End!

Bamberg Part 1

          Bamberg is a city in Upper Franconia with approximately 70,000 inhabitants. The city was built on seven hills like Rome: Cathedral Hill, Michaelsberg, Kaulberg/Obere Pfarre, Stefansberg, Jakobsberg, Altenburger Hill and Abtsberg. Bamberg was spared during the bombings in the Second World War, and carries the title of ‘UNESCO World Cultural Heritage’ because of the well-maintained medieval and baroque architecture. Not only the beautiful old town and ‘Little Venice’ on the banks of the river Regnitz attract many tourists; the city is known for its diverse and independent beer tradition. And, after 69 years of US Army presence in Bamberg, USAG Bamberg closed in September 2014.
          In 1007, the German King Henry II created a new Catholic diocese that would aid in the final conquest of paganism in the area around Bamberg. The Catholic hold on this area remained securely intact with every new territory they acquired. For a short time Bamberg was even the center of the Holy Roman Empire. And they enjoyed many a century of power, until the reformers challenged their position. The first was Jan Hus in the early 15th Century and then, one hundred years later, the more well-known Protestant Martin Luther.
          Then in the 17th Century, Bamberg suffered greatly during the Thirty Years War. The plague returned to Germany along with regiments of mercenaries. The country was experiencing what they call the ‘Little Ice Age,’ the cold-crisis that no expert could explain.
          But what was it that turned organized religions, Catholics and Protestants alike, to seek blame for bad weather, failed crops and plagues of vermin among the city’s inhabitants? Women, children and any sorts who fell out of the ranks were accused of witchcraft and brutally tortured and executed. Were they really to blame for the atrocities of the Thirty Years War?
          The guidelines for the proper handling of potential witches were printed in 1488 by two German Dominican monks with the authorization from the Pope. This guide was called the Malleus Maleficarum, or Witches Hammer. This book offered the church fathers an explanation for the climactic problems, the plague or any of the other epidemics in general.
          Was it just a book or was it some kind of collective insanity? Bamberg was the center ring of the witch executions of 17th Century Germany, along with the city of Würzburg. All in all, during this 20 year period between 1616 and 1636, 1000 women, children and the occasional man (even the city’s mayor and the city council) were executed in Bamberg in the most brutal ways. Some sources say that the victims of this senseless wielding of power number 40,000 – 100,000 throughout Europe. Some go as far to say it was closer to a million. 

…you did WHAT?!

It depends on the cookie, really. What would you do for a vanilla wafer, a sugar cookie, or a store-bought ginger snap? Or a chocolate covered oreo, a warm chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream melting on the top, or a chocolate-chocolate chip macadamia that was taken out of the oven after just eight minutes, so it’s still a bit raw in the middle?
I never did a lot of cooking. I only really started doing more than noodles or potatoes or an occasional boiled chicken ten years or so ago. But I’ve been baking cookies for as long as I can remember.
I like to experiment with the recipes and, like anything else in the world, there are just a few ground rules. It’s like a science project, right Cathy? You need some dry stuff, some wet stuff, some fatty stuff and something to glue it all together. Sounds appetizing.
Adding an extra egg makes the cookies cakey-er, but that isn’t always the desired result. American recipes call for salt and baking soda, but I find they get too salty, especially if I’m leaving some of the sugar out, or using this wonderful dark-dark brown sugar. I substitute baking powder and get good results. And I never let them bake all the way. I take them out just before they are really done–with chocolate cookies even more so, because mine are so dark, you can’t see if they’re brown or burnt. Maybe I should turn the light on.
So, here is my Top-Ten List of my favorite cookies:
1. Store-bought oreos
2. Store-bought chocolate covered oreos
3. Homemade molasses spice cookie with lots of spice and a bit of black pepper
4. Kiffels with Lekvar (Yeast dough, not cream cheese dough, and no, I have never attempted to make them)
5. Classic Toll House aka chocolate chip
6. Chocolate chip recipe using M&M’s or even better, chopped up Toffee Fee
7. Warm chocolate chip that isn’t quite baked through
8. Warm chocolate chip peanut that isn’t quite baked through with ice cream melting on the top
9. Chocolate-choco mint chip, warm, ice cream, whipped cream
10. Chocolate-Ghiradelli chocolate chip with cashews or macadamias, warm, ice cream, whipped cream and choco syrup.