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I always find the whole business of Christmas presents rather stressful. Finding the ‘right’ present for people is fraught with difficulties and seems to be missing the point in any case.

A few years back Beautiful Wife and I decided it was much simpler to tell each other exactly what we’d like for Christmas and then leave it at that, and this year she requested a Cajon bass tube to annoy the neighbours with, while I asked for two new woodworking chisels. My parents have also adopted this system and very kindly bought me a  brass bell from Lionworks in the UK, photographed (badly) above.

Presents for three boys are less stressful: lots of Lego. Of course I had to spend the afternoon building things with them.

It’s a tough life.

How was your Christmas?

Sometimes it feels like the Very Smallholding is fighting back.

I’d managed to get the remains of the cherry tree to ground level without damaging anything, and I’d found a friend with a wood stove and importantly, a chainsaw, who came to cut and haul them out. While he was there we decided to remove a branch from a plum tree on the other side of the property: it was healthy enough but growing into our neighbours airspace, and it is Not Done to allow your tree to extend over the property line.

If we let the branch fall where it was, it would land on the fence, so we hooked a rope around the offending offshoot and two of us pulled on this while the third climbed up a ladder and applied the chainsaw. The idea being that as it fell we’d pull it clear of the fence and onto a patch of nice empty grass.

The moment came: there was a cracking noise, we pulled on the rope, the branch bounced off the fence, landed on the cut end, bounced up and tipped over on me. As the world filled with foliage I received a text message from Beautiful Wife asking how we were doing.

 I told her I’d been attacked by a plum tree.

She didn’t laugh. Much.

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It was a warm day, so a couple of the class decided to go and get chocolate ice cream for everyone.

This sort of thing didn’t ever happen at my school in the UK, but there were many offers to flush your head down the toilet or throw your shoes on the roof: school just isn’t like it used to be.

Thank goodness.

Or: Advantages of being a carpenter #1: Christmas presents are easy.

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Our local Christmas market is full of “hand crafted” wooden ornaments and utensils, some of which I realised I can now make myself, so last week I spent a couple of hours in our workshop sorting our our Christmas presents for this year.

The wood came from the pile of ‘waste’ beech wood that was left over after we made our first project a few weeks ago. It had knot holes or splits and as such was destined to be burnt, but now it is a lot of interestingly shaped tea light holders and I don’t have to worry about what I’ll get people for Christmas.

Anyway, about the Elm.

In college, we’re all supposed to get a piece of wood and do a small presentation on it. I was away on the day the varieties were given out which I think is why I got Elm. Elm is pretty hard to find in Germany since many were killed by disease, but as far as I know it is a little bit easier to get a hold of in the UK and USA.

If anyone is willing to send me a piece of Elm (of any variety) by the tenth of January, I’d be more than happy to swap it for a tea light holder, made in a genuine German workshop by a genuine British apprentice using sustainable beechwood.

The brief asks for a piece of Elm wood 24cm by 16cm by 5cm (about 10 in by 6 in by 2in) but given that the chances of getting hold of anything at all is pretty slim, the school isn’t going to be fussy about the dimensions.

Any offers, let me know in the comments or the contact form and I’ll email you.

Just over a fortnight ago we quietly passed the eighth anniversary of our moving to Ostfildern, so I’ve now lived here sixteen days longer than I lived anywhere else.

People occasionally ask us if we’ll ever move back ‘home’, meaning the UK. This rather misses the point that Beautiful Wife is Japanese, and even if we decided to go to the UK, it isn’t like we’ve got roots in a certain place anyway. Theoretically our family name comes from Wales but I think we’d have to go back a few hundred years to find that connection, and at that time the other side of the family was apparently living in Dundee with a German name, so it looks like we’ve a long tradition of making things complicated.

I occasionally have daydreams about moving to Wales or Scotland and living off grid, but unless we have a total collapse of the Euro or fall off the end of the Mayan calender, our boys have a much better chance of getting a decent education if we stay in Germany. And as much as I whine about it, our cycle provision and public transport is far ahead of anything in the Motherland, even here in Mercedesville.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really have a ‘home’ in the normal sense. And that I’ve probably spent far too long thinking about it.

So there I was fretting about how to clear brambles from around the fallen pear tree, when Eldest Son solved the problem for me by inviting his friends around for the last few weekends. His friends mostly live in apartments or houses with carefully manicured suburban gardens, and spent Saturday climbing on the fallen tree, using dangerous things like garden shears to hack the brambles down and discovered an apple tree in the middle we never got near before. This was denuded of all fruit and a pack of happy boys were delivered home at dusk, a bit muddy, but ready for bed and with all the apples they could carry.

The fallen tree is now a ‘spaceship’ so I have to wait until the mission is completed before cutting the branches back.

(Update: one of the lads just appeared with two bottle of apple sauce made from our apples. I could get used to this system…)

Grandma and Grandpa came to visit last month, and stayed with friends in another part of the village.

Local lore has it that the fifteenth of May is the last, absolutely final day when we will have frost until November. Strangely enough it seems to work, of you don’t count hail, so This week it’s time to move the seedlings to the garden.

So far, we seem to he having a reasonable amount of success with the seedlings: most actually appear to be growing -which they ought to be: they’ve had four star treatment for a couple of months in our living room, except when they were moved out onto the balcony to get extra sun.

For the record, we currently have: comfrey, spinach, Onions, courgettes, pumpkins, French beans (planted in soil) carrot, courgette, leek, kohlrabi, more leek, broccoli (Which I loathe but I’m assured is actually quite edible when home grown, we shall see) different courgettes, cucumber, French beans started in a tray with tissue paper instead of soil (don’t ask me I just follow instructions) lettuce, carrots, different onions, more spinach, some tomatoes, an apple tree seeding which the boys planted, and the Aubergine seed I put into a pot on impulse and which may well be impersonating a rock for all the growth we’ve seen.

As soon as it’s finished raining we’ll start moving things to the balcony and the garden, some for the cold frame Of which more anon), and others for the beds. Not before time: we’ve forgotten what the living room floor looks like.

It’s our second growing season with a real garden, and this year we’ve actually prepared and thought up a vague plan. Last year we learned that many plants don’t grow so well if they’re just planted out in the garden with little preparation. This year we’re going to the other extreme and unwary visitors are falling over seed trays throughout the apartment: all the plants are being pampered indoors overnight and only taken outside when it’s warm enough not to damage their delicate fresh growth*. Once they’re a bit bigger the more cold tolerant of the plants will be taken out to the ‘cold frame’ in the garden (Three old windows we found in the garden privvy, balanced on some old wood) to grow some more before we put them out in the wilds and hopefully we’ll soon have a production line up and running.

Now I know you are all excited to know exactly what we’re growing: so far the great planting session has included a mass of spinach, on the basis we can eat it and also use it as a green manure, and lots of onions, one of which is sporting the natty headwear pictured**; these and the leeks -if they grow- will also form a final line of defence against the slugs: I’ll use them amongst the leafier plants in the hope of confusing slugs. We also have tomatoes, courgettes, two batches of french beans (one in soil, and the other on damp paper to see which sprouts first, updates to follow), some pumpkins, a few leuttice lettuce even though I still can’t spell it, some Kohlrabi, another batch of courgettes for some reason, and a distinct lack of carrots, so I think last years seeds have probably had it. At some point we seem to have gained two cucumber plants, a tomato plant and another mystery plant which we’re keeping in the kitchen to see what happens. If posts here suddenly stop, it was a triffid. Oh, and an avocado seed, on the basis we’d had an avocado and it seemed a shame to throw the seed away.

That’s it so far, except that the farm shop in the next village called a couple of days ago to say that the potatoes have arrived, so if I can grab a few minutes between form filling and applications (again) I’ll go and pick them up.

I can tell you’re gripped by all this, so I’ll keep you posted…

* Or as Beautiful Wife keeps saying: “I’ve brought your babies back inside”

** It was that or pictures of unidentifiable green shoots.

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Last week we went to Tübingen. The week had been bright and sunny, so of course it was overcast. Foolishly I agreed with my co-rider, Andi, that we should try a direct route that he’d found on the map. I never learn.

Andi and I have a different approach to cycling an that’s all there is to it. I look at a map and find valleys and rivers and work out a nice flat route towards the goal. Andi just puts a ruler across the landscape and there’s his route. He doesn’t worry about contour lines, but then to be fair he doesn’t notice hills, just powers up them. At least he’s kind enough to wait for me. Occasionally.

So off we went over the hills and far away, where we found more hills and possibly lions and tigers and bears but I was too busy trying to keep up to notice. The downhill bits were fun though.

And eventually, after a couple more hills, and a secret cycleway through a fence, we went through another forest and arrived in Tübingen, where for the first time in a week, it was raining. On the other hand we also had a tailwind down the valley, which meant I could at least keep up with Andi.

And while I’m here, a question for German readers: If you wanted to make a set of wooden mudguards, what sort of glue would you use, and what sort of lackierung? And where would you get it?

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