Hermaphroditus and more dogs

I love cacti. Whole rows of terracotta pots stand in a sunny place in my garden. They are easy to propagate  and don’t demand much attention. A few years ago I got a little cutting from a friend and the result you see in the picture! My son and I called it our “Hermaphroditus”.    hermafrodites cactus
I can go into details and tell you the story from the Greek mythology about  Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite who had both male and female sex organs,  but the photographs speak for themselves.




So I worry.
Sleep with my ears up, not soundly.
When I’m not watching I’m greeting.
People are not grateful enough
for visitors. I am. I worry
about them not being grateful enough.
So I make up for it by howling
till they get up off the couch
to shake hands. Between the dangers
and the greetings I am simply exhausted.

Arthur Miller 
From  “Lola’s Lament”

In the fifties my parents had moved house to the centre of the Netherlands. Of course our cat Tommy came too and settled quickly in. Half a year later an acquaintance asked if we were interested in a boxer, remembering that my parents had a boxer before the war (see blog). Thus “George Washington” entered our life. George was a well brought up gentleman with clipped ears and tail and a little bit too short an upper lip. His teeth always peeped out.  His American diplomatic family had to return back to the States and I guess out of national feeling the boxer was called after the first president of the United States.

DOGS George Washington1

George Washington

One Sunday shortly after George came into our life; we all left to celebrate our grandfather’s birthday and the cat and dog were alone at home. When we returned, we found George sitting in the hall with the saddest expression on his face, whining softly. He had a cat nail on either side of his nose and was very upset, while Tommy acted as if nothing had happened. But we can imagine the fight that George definitely lost! From then on there was a kind of truce between them. Tommy made the kitchen his territory and slept on top of the central heating which kept him warm. Tommy died a few years later of kidney failure. Just before he passed away he hardly got off the central heating; the warmth kept him going.

George lived in the living room where his basket was and where he loved to roast in front of the fireplace in winter when a few blocks of wood kept us all warm.

There exists a wonderful story about George. Even if he was well brought up and behaved like a gentleman, he was a beggar. Marga used to let him out early in the morning and he went for a walk by himself. That was long before one had to keep dogs on a leash and pick up their business. He was well known in the neighbourhood and known as a friendly dog.                                                                                                           One morning when Marga looked out of the kitchen window, she saw George going to the back garden with two big sandwiches in his mouth. Marga followed him and saw him burying them on the compost heap. When we investigated later, there were quite a few decomposing sandwiches around. It was a mystery and we had no idea, where he found them.                                                                                                                                             One day when Marga went for a walk with George, a Salvation Army lady from the Orphanage near our house accosted her and said to her: “Are you the owner of this poor dog? He really does not get enough to eat. We give him every morning, when he comes to the kitchen door, two sandwiches.”                                                                                   Marga burst out laughing and told her that he was a first class beggar and hoped that they would stop giving him food!

George was an old dog. When Marga heard of a young boxer, she decided that that would be good company for George Washington.

Dogs Ecco 2

Ecco (2)

Now Ecco (number two) entered our household. (The first Ecco lived with Marga and Ted before the war) . This one was an energetic but lovable dog and very good friends with George. In later years they slept together in one basket. I believe it kept George comfortable and warm. He passed away in old age.

Dogs George Ecco 1

Ecco on top of George

Ecco sired a tub full of puppies with a wonderful boxer bitch. The owner, Gera, was a good friend of Marga’s and from this tubful we chose Alex. The father has always first choice.

DOGS Ecco puppies

Those two dogs loved to roll in stinky messes, jump into muddy ditches and run after rabbits. To take the dogs home afterwards, was a noxious and smelly business and they had a bath immediately.

Ecco gets a bath

Marga bathing Alex

Ecco and Alex both suffered from epilepsy and within a few years of each other they were given an injection by the Vet. They both died quite young.

Dogs M T Ecco Alex

Ted and Marga with Alex and Ecco.

In memory for all the boxers in the Strauss’ house.








Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

„Au fines herbes“ and dogs in the family.

Two years ago we made a lovely trip in Ireland. In Cobh we found the ultimate of Irishness in the back of a courtyard. How the Irish love their pubs and how friendly and happy they are. After a good night out there she was in her bath of “au fines herbes” (with fine herbs). The whiskey bottle was empty alas, but she waved happily to us! She must have had a marvellous time with lots of booze and Irish songs the night before.

au fin herbes!


“A house is not a home until it has a dog”.

Gerald Durrell

There will be lots of pictures in this blog. This is the story of all the dogs in the family: From my mother’s side there seemed to be dogs forever. Her father grew up with dogs and in this early photo from about 1890, my grandfather Ernst Piel and his siblings are memorialised with a dog at their feet. The dog must have been loved, if he was allowed to be in the picture!

From r to l: Paul, Karl, Anna, Fritz and Ernst Piel
Paul, Karl, Anna, Fritz and Ernst Piel circa 1890

When Ernst married Grete Schlesinger they had a Dachshund, I don’t know the name, but here is a beautiful picture from 1912, when Grete was pregnant with Marga.

Grete Piel 1913 pregnant

A few years later this dog had apparently puppies! Marga carries two of them. She is here three or four years old.


Grete circa 1917 1

When they had moved from Germany to the Hague in the Netherlands, Ernst returned home from one of his business trips and brought a scotch terrier from Germany. That was Hexe (“Witch”). One year later he brought from the same kennel three more puppies, which the children promptly called Piff, Paff and Puff (bang, bang, Pow,pow) . If it had been 30 years later, perfect names would have been Snap, Crackle, Pop, but rice-crispies were not yet invented.                                                             Grete revolted: 4 dogs were too much for her. They sold Piff and Paff to acquaintances and for three years Puff fathered each year a nest full of puppies that were sold like hotcakes. Alas he was run over in 1934 and Ernst was terribly sad.

Evi, Ilse and Mia with Piff, Paff and Puff

Evi, Ilse, Mia with Piff Paff and Puff.


Marga with Hexe

There followed more Scotties over the years. Also during the war he had one. I have a vivid memory of being allowed to walk the dog on the square in front of his house.

me and scottie

Ernst’s last dog was Tinka, a brown Poodle, and most beloved and spoiled by my grandfather.

Tinka and Scot


From the Strauss family I have a great picture of Ted just in front of his house, I am guessing that it must have been on a Sunday, as Ted is dressed quite elegantly. 

Teddy and dogs 1

Ted with dogs

Ted and Marga got married in December 1937. In spring 1938 they decided to have a dog. Ted loved dogs, so did Marga. They chose a young boxer and called him “Ecco”, which is a kind of expression in Italian of “so there” or “here” , but I am sure that my parents meant “here” or “come here!”,  remembering their Capri holiday. (see link).

( see link1) When I was born in October, it was a home delivery:  Ecco decided that I needed protection. He either sat next to the cradle, or when Marga put the basket with baby (me) in the back of the car, Ecco jumped in and would not let a soul look at me or touch me. He was innocence himself, but could produce a threatening grumble! Marga used to leave both of us in the car while she did her shopping. Nothing would happen with Ecco next to me. Nowadays she would have been put in prison for neglecting her child!

Diana and me1

Barbara 9 months, Ecco and my grandmother

Alas Ecco was run over in front of the house just before we moved to Zaandam in January 1940. All during the war we did not have a dog, which was a good thing, because during the last year of the war the dog would have died. There was no food and we all nearly starved.  We did have a cat! (See link 2). During the last months of the war we fished small fish from the ditch in the back of the house, so Tommy could also eat something. After the war many dogs were loved and cared for in our home.dog 1                                                                        To be continued

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Two times Cornelis Jacobus.

lmond trees in Moza

Spring is here. In this subtropical climate the almond tree is the first heralding spring in February. Yesterday when we drove to Jerusalem up in the Judean Hills, the almond trees were still in full bloom, covering the whole landscape as if a bride had spread her veil. The sun was shining and everything glowed and glimmered.


my mini bulbfield

In my garden the bulbs are blossoming and my pride is my mini Dutch “bulb field”. Every year the snowdrops blossom … my joy and glory. They adapted themselves to our subtropical climate and probably are very happy not to have to push through the snow to announce that they are there. The narcissus and grape-hyacinths (blauwe druifjes) compete for space. A mini bulb field indeed. Next to it the wild cyclamen are competing for space. The lime started to blossom and perfumes the whole area with its overwhelming sweet smell. Spring is Glorious!


tante bettan + oom bob

Bob and Bettan

You have met Cornelis Jacobus, Bob for short, already many times in my blogs (Hongerwinter, December 1944 and Miracles and chutzpah). During the war he saved our lives. As he was harbourmaster of Zaandam and also vice mayor of our town he was able to lift all our files from the J register (Jewish citizens). The normal registration cards stayed intact; otherwise we would not get food coupons, which was vital during the war. This is one of the miracles that got us through the war. We did not wear a star in wartime.

Uncle Bob gave good advice and was always ready to help. He and his Swedish wife Bettan were my parents best friends during the terrible war years and remained so afterwards, when we moved from Zaandam. They often visited us.

One summer day my brother Michael got a present, a wonderful tortoise. Our dog and Tommie the cat tried, but couldn’t hurt him, because he retreated at once in his shell. As Bob and Bettan happened to be with us for a visit, somebody got the bright idea to call the tortoise Cornelis Jacobus in honour for uncle Bob. And Bob agreed at once. Whenever they came for a visit he always inquired about his namesake’s well being.


This tortoise was allowed to walk freely in the garden. He loved Marga’s herbaceous border. Soon all the succulents disappeared and we knew exactly were Cornelis Jacobus was, because of the bald spots in the flower patch. After a while he learned to react when we called him. The short one syllable BOB he recognized and would come trotting towards us. To make sure that he would not get lost, Michael painted his full name and our address with white paint on his shell.

I cannot remember how long he was with us. It must have been at least a few summers enjoying the Dutch climate. In winter he hibernated under a lot of leaves in a carton box in the pantry.

On a very mild, summery December day Bob woke up and became very active, so we took him outside to enjoy the sunshine, telling each other that we would keep an eye on him. Alas by sunset he had disappeared. Our frantic calling “Bob, Bob” did not have any results. That night it froze very severely and winter continued with snow and freezing temperatures. No Bob!

A year later… Marga had recruited all of us on a wonderful warm day in April or May to help clear up the herbaceous border.  Weeds were removed, holes were dug and what did my younger brother find, while digging in the ground? Bob’s shell!

shell of bobIt was completely hollowed out and clean, probably by an army of ants who had more than a year to do this. The beautiful transparent tortoiseshells or “scutes” started to fall off and over the years only the bony shell of “Cornelus Jacobus” remained and had pride of place in the curiosity cupboard of Michael together with corals and other skulls and skeletons.

It is rather confusing: The most obvious feature of any tortoise is the shell. This is the tortoises primary defense mechanism against would-be predators. The shell has remained almost unaltered by two hundred million years of evolution. The shell of the tortoise is covered by separate plates of keratin called scutes. (“The tortoise shell” used for jewellery and other objects).

Just recently Michael’s grandson became the proud owner of Bob.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

True love

deaf-dogsDulci is deaf. I discovered it quite recently. She was trotting behind me at a very slow pace (she is never on the leash) and when I went around the corner, she did not follow me; she just continued and did not turn when I called her: very unusual. Poor dog, she is getting old, but as long as her appetite is enormous and  she still greets everybody who comes to visit with great abundance and happiness…. she thinks everybody comes to visit Her!…. We will pamper and love her as much as we can.


As this is Valentine month it will be a story about two lovers. But first some basic facts:


Green finch (Chloris chloris) is a small bird in the finch family Fringillidae. ( From khloros, “green”).


Wild canary: The Atlantic canary (Serinus canaria) is known worldwide simply as wild canary. It is a small bird also belonging to the finch family, Fringillidae. It is native to the Canary islands (how original!).


Domestic canary: The domesticated canary (Serinus canaria domestica) – descendants of the wild canaries, are most easily recognized by their bright yellow plumage, which was developed through selective breeding. The well-known typical yellow domestic canary goes back to the seventeenth century. Of course they are also belonging to the finch family, Fringillidae.


When I was ten, I got a canary in a cage for my birthday. I was not too keen about it, but my mother, Marga, was and she soon looked entirely after it. That was the beginning of a whole series of birds living in cages and later in a big aviary in our home. Marga loved it and the house was always filled with birdsong.

In the 50ies there was a canary living in the dining room and if it was a warm summer day the bird went outside on the terrace with table, cage and all, so that she could enjoy some sun and fresh air. She stood on her perch and gurgled, thrilled, warbled, whistled and sang enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air.

Now something happened. From a tree not too far away some wonderful birdsong was answering our canary’s song. It was a haunting, mystical, thrilling and enchanting call. Our canary was delighted and answered this bird in abundance, also with her thrilling and warbling.

Suddenly a little bird burst out of the greenery and sat on top of the cage. By this time Marga and anybody that was home, was fascinated. And we sat quietly in the dining room, watching this spectacle. Then Marga got sorry for our caged bird and said, that these lovers will be together and not separated by a family feud like the Montague and Capulet families who were sworn enemies who kept Romeo and Juliette apart, and she opened the cage.

Now something strange happened: our canary did not leave the cage!

She sat inside and the greenfinch sat on top: both of them singing their hearts out. This went on all afternoon. The sun set and suddenly the wild bird hopped down and entered the cage. It was evening and quite chilly, so Marga brought the cage inside and closed the door, because she was afraid, that the greenfinch would get hurt if he left the cage and flew around the room.

This story had to end in a tragedy. We should have known!

Next morning we found both birds dead on the bottom of the cage. We all shed a tear and that afternoon we had a great funeral. We put them lovingly together in a pretty box lined with soft cotton wool and buried them under our prettiest rosebush. They will be eternally together.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Of mice and man

Dulcinea , our dear dachshund is getting old. She is also not well and lies most of the day in her basket, tucked under her blanket. She dives under the blanket by herself. If the sofa is engulfed in sunshine and if it is a good day, she’ll jump up and toasts in that warmth. Climbing stairs is impossible, which is difficult in Haifa: the town is built on the Carmel Mountain and some roads end in stairs to be climbed to the next level. I have to carry her in my arms. But one thing she will not miss: she’ll be in the kitchen by 5 o’clock to get FOOD, does she pass the grandfather clock to see if it is already time? How does she know?


The first white mice were bred in China 1300 years BC and used by priests for their prophecies. Mice also lived beneath the altar in Delphi, Greece, and were fed in the holy of holies of the gods.


White mice were always bred through the centuries and it isn’t too long ago that every little boy owned white mice and so did Michael in the 1950ies. In a glass fish tank filled with sawdust roamed a few mice; my brother built some shelters for them. And Marga had to constantly remind him to clean the tank out. They were fed on titbits and greens. Dry store bought food did not exist. Mice are omnivorous; they’ll eat anything. They breed faster than rabbits and it was of course fun to see those tiny pink things grow into lovely white mice with red eyes.

M y brother turned out to be a most popular person when he took those mice to school to give away for free. But that market was soon saturated and the living conditions in the fish tank became rather overcrowded. The standard of living deteriorated. There even was cannibalism.  Finally Michael with help of Marga managed to keep it down to three lovely lively white females. They lived in the pantry next to the backdoor and were spoiled by Mike. For three months there was peace and harmony.

 Then one day Mike came excitedly from the pantry and told us that there was a happy occasion and one mouse had given birth to a lot of little babies. We all speculated. How could that be? Do mice have sex changes? Does that happen naturally after a community wants to procreate?

When those tiny little things started to grow there was a mystery. These little babies grew a fur in all colours! They had brown and black spots and were very pretty.

 In the meantime the other females were also breeding. One night, when Marga entered the dark pantry she saw something jumping out of the fish tank and scurry away, the mystery was solved. A wild mouse had a wonderful life: women, free food and services!!

mouse-6All Mike’s friends came to admire these strange and beautiful mice and we were giving them away as fast as we could. Word got around. One day the doorbell rang and there stood a most elegant gentleman on the doorstep in a three piece suit and introduced himself. He came from a research institute in Utrecht and he had heard that madam (we were in school) had very special mice. Was it possible that he could buy them?

“Buy them? You can have them all, you can have them gratis.” That was the end of our mice breeding and a very happy young man left for Utrecht.


A short codicil:

My title is in the singular, because only one elegant young man was involved.                          John Steinbeck took the title for “Of Mice and Men” from a sentence in Robert Burns’ poem: “To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough”. He wrote the poem in Scottish while standing in the middle of his field leaning on his plough and in the verse before last he said:

” The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”, which means in proper English:

“The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew”, which is also true in this story!


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Tommy and Pietertje Pluim.

In an old envelope I found some very ancient negatives with pictures from long ago. And in between there was a tiny photograph of a cat and chick together. Immediately it sent me back 65 years in time. This was Tommy and Pietertje Pluim (Petey Plume).

About Tommy I told you in the blog D-day and a summer holiday. Tommy was indeed a lot of trouble. On that holiday we took him with us to Nunspeet in the woods and as soon as we arrived, my brother took Tommy in his basket outside, where he promptly ran away, being totally confused by all these trees. For three days we looked for him, calling “Tommy, Tommy”. On the third Marga found him high up in a tree. He could not get down, trouble indeed. He was bedraggled and thin, but got through.


Michael with Tommy’s basket

During the hunger winter, the last winter in 1944-’45, when there was no food, as soon as the ice had thawed, my brother and I went fishing with a little net for sticklebacks, a small silvery fish with three spines on its back, otherwise the cat would die. There was nothing to eat. I was 6 and my brother 4, but this task we took very seriously.

Now the story of Petey Plume; my mother kept chicken after the war, but her hens would not sit on their eggs. One of her neighbours was also an enthusiastic poultry man and offered her his artificial incubator and afterwards she could use the substitute mother hen.

After 21 days our neighbour brought us one tiny chick and told Marga, that he was sorry, but for one chick he would not switch on his artificial brood hen. All the other eggs did not hatch.


Tommy and Petey Plume

At that time my brother was in bed with a serious bout of jaundice and was bored stiff. Marga and he set up a carton box with an electric bulb over it, so Petey Plume had his own personal mother hen, although most of the time Petey was in bed with my brother. He was called after Pietertje Pluim, a poem by Annie M.G. Schmidt, about a little boy as big as my thumb. Petey was also tiny and had fluff, turning later into feathers (plumes)!


Tommy looks benignly at Pieterje Pluim’s antics.

By the time Michael could leave his bed Petey had grown into a sturdy chick  and then became a very handsome black feathered rooster, who thought he was a human being! Tommy the cat was of course suspicious of such a thing, but he did not touch him, as he was seriously told off. This was not prey, but a house pet. Usually Tommy was an excellent mouser and we found often a dead mouse early in the morning on the doormat, which Tommy had brought us triumphantly as a gift.

When we all gathered around the breakfast table, Petey would fly up and wander from plate to plate to peck a crumb here and there. One morning he flew up with such an enthusiasm, that he landed in the syrup pot. Marga had enough. She picked him up, washed him under the tap and banned him to the chicken coop.

That turned out to be a very bad idea. The coop was left open during the day, so the chicken could walk and peck on the grass and the back doors were also open in summer to enjoy the garden view. There were fights with the other rooster, feathers flew everywhere, but if Petey won he gathered all the “ladies” and brought them into the house, where the carpet quickly was decorated with chicken droppings. 

Well, Marga, while we were in school, took Pietertje Pluim to the poulterer and brought a nice trussed chicken home. We all cried that evening, but we ate the rather tough roasted chicken.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

the Red Cross letter


Lob der Faulheit (Praise laziness)
Faulheit, jetzo will ich dir
Auch ein kleines Loblied schenken,
Käm es nur gleich aufs Papier
Ohne lange nachzudenken
Doch, ich will mein bestes tun,
Nach der Arbeit ist gut ruhn.
Höchstes Gut! wer dich nur hat
Dessen ungestörtes Leben
Wird – ich gähn – ich werde matt                                                                                                         Nu – so – magst Du mir vergebens,
Daß ich dich nicht loben kann;
Du verhinderst mich ja dran.                                                                                                       Gotthold Ephraim Lessing 1729 –1781

Laziness, now I’ll sing you

A little song of praise,

Oh what a challenge it will be

To craft a song worthy of you

But I’ll do my best

For after work comes the soundest rest.

The highest good! He who possesses you

Will lead a life without annoyance

But I—yawn—I—tire—

So please forgive the fact that

I can’t sing your praise;

You, after all, hinder me in the process.

Therefor after an absence of half a year I am starting again. Laziness hindered me, but it won’t hinder me again in the process of writing. It has been a very frustrating period not to be able to write. There were many big plans and good intentions, but a kind of writer’s block existed and I could not get started with the planned book about family lore and history. Attempts were made and failed. The dream of doing so still exists, but for the time being I’ll keep going with the odds and ends that keep popping up.


When war was declared in September 1939 the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John joined forces, as they had done in the First World War. They formed the Joint War Organisation ensuring activities were carried out efficiently and under the protection of the Red Cross emblem.

They carried out extensive services for the sick and wounded, for prisoners of war and for civilians needing relief as a result of enemy action, at home and abroad.

Families who had no news of their loved ones could use the service to find out if they were safe. 

A most amazing document popped up among the extensive papers our families have kept.

The War Organisation of the British Red Cross and Order of the St. John in Watford sent a letter in 1942 to Erika at my parents’ address in Zaandam.

It apparently was in reply of a Red Cross letter that Erika sent to our family in Watford.

See blog how Erika came to live with her brother and his young family. 

The letter below is not very clear. On top left:

Watford Citizen Advice Bureau.   Foreign relation department.

Name: Schwabacher

Christian name: Mrs. Hettie

Then follows address….

Relationship of enquirer to addressee……Grandmother

Granny  Hester Schwabacher lived in Watford since the middle of the 1930ies, after she left Germany. Diana Strauss, Erika’s mother,and Hester’s daughter joined her after crossing the channel with the last ship before the Germans invaded the Netherlands.

The enquirer desires news of the addressee and asks that the following message should be transmitted to him:

Your message delightful surprise, loving, thanks. Mother wonderfully active, marvelous cook, will be terribly missed. Everybody well. Elisabeth hospital training. Hope help Elise continues.

Schwabacher, 9th of January  1942

Underneath this message is the name and address of the addressee: Erika and my parent’s address.

The message was clearly understood by Erika and Ted, her brother. First of all it was confirmed, that the message they must have sent to Watford, was received. That Diana, their mother, after helping in Hettie’s house (will be terribly missed) is on her way to the United States with a military convoy in 1942 to be reunited with her daughters (sisters of Erika) in the United States.

Elisabeth is Erika’s cousin who with her parents lived also in Watford since 1936. She was 18 years old and started nursing training.

Nobody knows anymore who Elise is, but I suspect that there is some kind of financial arrangement to help Erika. When she left Germany, she could only take ten Mark with her.

On the right hand side under the red inked stamp it says: passed and a number, the date is 8 Feb. 1942.

It means that the document took more than a month to reach Erika.

In small letters at the bottom is written: The addressee’s reply to be written overleaf (Not more than 25 words).


Delighted with your greetings. Family here very well. Elise’s help continues. I now have a real Home in delightful surroundings. We are united in love.

I count 31 words, but I guess that it passed.

The “real home” refers to her living under a false name in Amsterdam with the parson’s family.  She went into hiding. See blog



It must have been a wonderful feeling to get news from the other side. I presume that Ted as soon as he could, would make the 15 kilometer bike ride to Amsterdam to show Erika the Red Cross letter!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment