Sunday, 5 April 2020

A Weekend Alone

Ever since O.K. and I have been together (a bit more than four years now), there were maybe one or two weekends every year when we did not see each other, mainly because of things such as rehearsal weekend before the village band's annual concert and other band-related stuff, or (very rarely) because one of us was ill.

O.K. took this picture on a lone walk after work on Monday, from above his village. The next two are from the same walk.

This weekend, we are both fine, there is of course nothing happening with the village band right now, but we are staying each at our own places.

The reason? The partner of one of O.K.'s colleagues has been tested positive. Her work is with a local care and nursing service, and she is not the first of her colleagues to be infected. She is now in home quarantine (she is fine apart from a bit of a cough), but of course, living with her partner means that he has to be tested as soon as possible, and before the result is known, everyone who has been in contact with him should stay away from others. 
O.K. and his colleague have last seen each other on Thursday, and only briefly; still, they worked in the same room for a while, and even with keeping their physical distance and very carefully and thoroughly observing all the usual hygiene standards, there is no guarantee the colleague has not unwittingly spread the virus in their department and elsewhere.
Walking on Wednesday after work between my town and the next smaller one.
Same walk, view towards Asperg with the castle on top of the hill.
We sensibly decided that, unlike the last couple of weekends, O.K. stays home. Depending on the result of the colleague's test, further action may be necessary. For now, he does not even know yet whether he'll be working next week, or ordered to self-isolate. We'll see.

As we only found out about this late on Friday evening, I had already done all my food shopping with nice weekend meals for the two of us in mind. Now I am doing my best to use the perishable parts up on my own, such as the baby spinach leaves I bought two bags of; I have given one to my Mum who will certainly make something nice with it for my Dad and herself.
Plum cake, as enjoyed by O.K. alone yesterday afternoon - that would have been one of his contributions to this weekend's food.
Fillet of trout with horseradish cream, fried spuds and fresh parsley - that would have been one of our meals together.

Yesterday, I met my Mum at her newly established "Dustin Bar", and we had sparkling wine together mid-afternoon before I went for a walk. In front of the house where my parents have a flat on the top floor, there is a concrete housing with metal doors where the dustbins are kept. We stood well apart (further than in this picture) and never got closer to each other than the recommended minimum distance, and my Dad was upstairs on the balcony, every now and then joining in our conversation.

Today is the start of the warmest period of this year so far. I don't know yet when, for how long and in what direction I am going to walk; I expect it to be rather full of people no matter where. Hopefully, so many people being out and about won't lead to more restrictions, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Read in 2020 - 10, 11

# 10: The Life of Herman Melville
by Charles River Editors

Charles River Editors is, you guessed it, not a person, but a publishing group specialised in free or relatively cheap ebooks and audiobooks. You can find lists of their publications on their website.
In their own words, they were founded by Harvard and MIT alumni to provide superior editing and original writing services, with the expertise to create digital content across a vast range of subjects. They also republish great literary works, making them easily accessible to a new generation of readers via ebooks.

I did of course stumble across this book by chance, when browsing the Kindle shop for free ebooks in English, preferably non-fiction.

Up until having read this book, the only thing I knew about Herman Melville was that he wrote "Moby Dick", a book I have never read but knew "about" it and knew the story. No person is entirely defined by just one single piece of writing, painting, building or any other art or science they have become famous for, and the same is true about Herman Melville.

This book covers his life (1819 - 1891) with enough detail to get a clear picture, but not that much detail to make him come truly alive - at least not for me. Still, I learned a lot about the man and his work, and found it rather sad that by the time he died, he was all but forgotten; the immense success of "Moby Dick" was already 40 years in the past then. Also, nearly all his life Herman and his family struggled financially, and he was never really happy in the various jobs he had to do in order to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

The book is as much about Melville's life as about his work. An entire chapter treats "Moby Dick", but the reader also learns about his other works, some of which the author himself considered inferior, written merely out of necessity to make some money.

Like I said, the book did not make its subject truly come alive for me, but it was indeed well edited and put together; good for getting a general idea of one of America's most famous authors.

# 11: Secret Ripon
by David Winpenny 

I bought this a year ago at "The Little Ripon Bookshop" (one of our all-time favourite shops) when my sister and I spent our annual Yorkshire holiday in Ripon, but got round to reading it only now.

David Winpenny is Vice President and former Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, who look after Ripon's architectural and other treasures. Their plaques can be found on many buildings throughout the city, and my sister and I have walked past them countless times.

Mr. Winpenny has a website where you can learn a lot more about him. I'd love to meet him, he seems a fascinating man, combining knowldege AND humour.

"Secret Ripon" may be a relatively thin book, but it is full to the brim with interesting, quirky and fascinating facts about Ripon's inhabitants and its history. It is cleverly laid out according to what you will find if you follow each street leading from the market square, but it also has chapters about the ground beneath your feet, the cathedral and the three rivers.

I loved each and every bit about it and can just picture myself walking around Ripon, this book in hand, pointing out various places to my sister and getting on her nerves by reading to her what I consider the most relevant bits!

We have actually planned this year's stay in Ripon for the end of June, booked "our" cottage and our flights months ago, but at the moment it is impossible to either confirm or cancel; we simply don't know what will happen over the next 8 weeks or so.

In the meantime, even if our visit may have to be postponed, I can enjoy Ripon by reading about it.

Monday, 30 March 2020

And Time Goes On...

On the 17th of March, I went to the office with the intention of telling both my boss and my clients that from the next day onwards until further notice, I was going to work exclusively from home. This was a few days before the official recommendation to stay home (and work from there, if possible) was issued. I have not regretted my choice and still can't say I miss the office and/or my colleagues, not even the canteen, and especially not the almost daily drama with our local trains running late or being cancelled.

Last week, I left the house for a walk on my own, a walk with my sister and a quick trip to shop for groceries at my nearest Aldi, five minutes on foot from my house.

Ludwigsburg Old Cemetery - one of very few park-like places still open. The building is the mausoleum I wrote about here.
New Cemetery - more photos and description of this structure on this post.
New Cemetery
Walk with my sister (she took the picture).
Running was scheduled with my friend one evening after work, but I cancelled - it was colder than expected, and I just didn't feel ready to brave the chill, not even in my really warm running clothes.

O.K. joined me on Friday evening after work. We ordered pizza like last weekend, to keep the local gastro businesses going (and for no other reason, of course!). This time, we chose a different pizza service and were slightly disappointed. Never mind, the red wine we drank with it made up for that.

Saturday was beautiful - 17 Celsius and sunshine! We went for a run in the morning and a longish walk in the afternoon. Everybody else was out and about, too; there were not 10 seconds during which we were really on our own. Cyclists, runners, walkers, people with and without dogs and children. Of course you can't blame them; everyone was desperate to combat cabin fever, and it really WAS a gorgeous day. Also, everywhere else people usually go on weekends is closed - shopping malls, ice cream places and street caf├ęs, the palace grounds, parks, playgrounds. It did make the walk less enjoyable, as we were constantly trying to avoid getting too close - for the other people's sake as well as for our own.
Normally you would never see the palace grounds so empty on weekends. I took this picture through the closed gate.
Sunday was completely different - somewhere between 3 and 6 Celsius, grey, windy, rainy. We still went for a walk, cut short when the rain came back and was blown unpleasantly in our faces by the wind. It made coming home to a warm flat and having coffee and cake all the better.

I tried something new: Jackfruit "goulash". Many of you will know about jackfruit (is it jackfruit or jack fruit?); for me, it was a first. Taste and texture were supposed to be meat-like, but it wasn't - and I didn't mind that, as I knew it wasn't meat, and I did not want any meat that day (I really like meat, sausages, ham, bacon etc., but I try to keep consumption of dead animals at a low level). It would have just been more realistic not to advertise it as a "meat replacement", when it clearly is not. 

Oh, and we changed the clocks to summer time on Sunday:

Neither my clock nor my cat. Meet Cookie, my Mum's friend's cat!
The sun has come back today, but it is cold; I went to the post office and a walk for my lunch break and was glad of my padded winter coat and scarf. 

By the way, it took me almost 45 minutes to post a birthday card for my sister-in-law in Ripon. Of course she is worth every single minute I spent waiting my turn! Just goes to show how things have changed; there is almost always a queue at the post office, but it moves, and I am usually in and out in under 15 minutes. Now, people have to stand apart along red ducktape strips on the floor in order to keep the recommended distance, and only when three customers leave the office, the next three are allowed in. Of the seven or eight counter spaces, only three were open.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

A New Recipe

Every now and then, I come across a recipe I want to try, either in the supplementary magazine that comes with my weekly paper, on one of the blogs I regularly read, or elsewhere.
This one I found in the magazine, and I made it on Sunday for my birthday dinner.

For two, you need
  • four bulbs (is that the right term?) of fennel
  • 3 - 5 table spoons olive oil
  • 4 - 6 table spoons cream
  • salt, pepper, chili powder or some other hot spice
  • 40 - 50 g grated or shaved parmesan (or any other type of cheese fit for baking)

Preheat the oven to 190 C (370 F).

Remove outer layer from fennel, halve the bulbs and then cut them into slices about as thick as a finger.
Place them in an oven dish (like one you use for gratins or brownies).

Mix oil, cream and spices well. Use as much spice as you like; the chili powder works surprisingly well with the fennel, but may not be to everyone's liking. Remember that parmesan (which will be added at the end of the baking time) is rather salty, so don't add too much salt to the mix.

Spoon the liquid mixture over the fennel slices, then cover the dish firmly with aluminium foil.
Bake for 20 minutes.

Take the dish out, remove the foil, and grate or shave parmesan cheese on the fennel.
Put back into the oven (without the foil) for another 10 to 15 minutes; keep checking so that the parmesan does not burn black.

Serve as a side dish with meat, pasta or whatever strikes your fancy - or as the main dish with crusty bread.

I made these "egg nests" with it, which worked well, as the nests have very different textures, colours and taste from the fennel. Also, my oven allows for two dishes baking at the same time, and it was really nice being in the comfort of my warm kitchen with the scents of food around me. 

Fennel is a wonderfully versatile vegetable; you can eat it raw as a salad, fry it covered in breadcrumbs, boil it, bake it - the result is always delicious. And that's coming from me! Because here is the strange thing: I don't like the smell and taste of aniseed. In fact, I detest it, and I never drink Sambuca, Ouzo or Pastis, for exactly that reason. BUT... I really like fennel, although both its smell and taste remind one of aniseed. Weird, huh!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Thank You!!!

Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. It was a birthday like no other; I guess we can all more or less relate to the fact that it is a time like no other right now, in the middle (?) of the corona crisis.
Presents, cards, more presents and more cards!!!
My original intention had been to throw a party for my friends on Saturday night and have a traditional coffee & cake on Sunday afternoon with my parents, my sister and O.K.
Neither came about, of course - but I still had a strangely beautiful birthday, with a mini celebration:

At 11:00 am, O.K. and I met with my sister outside my house, in the sunny corner next to the cherry tree. Years ago, neighbours have placed a somewhat rickety table and chairs there, and we took advantage of that, bringing out a bottle of sparkling wine, glasses, a bowl of salted macadamia nuts and slices of chocolate tea cake.

Already all day, I had been particularly clumsy; first thing in the morning, I managed to cut myself on the big kitchen knife we had used the night before to cut our (ordered) pizza; I only had meant to put it back in the drawer and somehow touched the very sharp blade. Then, I put the aforementioned things in a large bag, carried it downstairs and went back up to fetch the bottle from the fridge. By the time I came back down, the stong wind had blown over the bag, and some of the macadamia nuts were merrily rolling around on the pavement. Never mind, there were still plenty left in the bowl.

My sister arrived, O.K. opened the bottle (I had a good excuse as the cut on my finger had just started to bleed again) and poured the sparkling wine, while I was trying to reach my Mum and Dad via Facetime. In my weird state of clumsiness, it took me a while, but finally, we were all there - my parents via Facetime, my sister keeping a safe distance from O.K. and myself. 

Again, I found juggling my glass and holding my mobile so that the camera was not half covered by my thumb difficult; eventually, O.K. had to help me. We were joking that I was really turning old now, not being able to handle modern means of communication! (Which really IS a joke, as my Mum, being the second-oldest in my family, is very actively using her mobile phone and her computer, regularly writing in various forums, contributing to my blog every now and then, and communicating by email with many of her friends. In fact, she was the first of us to have a mobile phone and a computer.)

Anyway, we had our little celebration, and after my sister left and we had put everything back upstairs, O.K. and I went for a walk.

The sky was a cloudless blue, but a chilly wind was blowing across the fields. Nonetheless, there were more people about walking, running and cycling than on most other Sundays, even with fine weather. It seemed like everybody was desperate to get out after a grey, wet and cold Saturday.

We returned home 9 km later, had coffee and cake and a bit of a rest before it was time to make dinner.

O.K. left just after 8:00 pm and said he wished the motorway could always be like that, with considerably less traffic than usual on a Sunday night.

Here is a big THANK YOU to all of you who have sent cards, emails, text messages or commented with birthday wishes on my previous post - you know who you are; you all helped making it more birthday-like, even without a proper party.

Now Week 2 of working exclusively from home has started.
New, stricter measures are in place here in Germany from today onwards. We are still allowed to go for walks etc., but no more than 2 people are supposed to meet (unless they already share a household, obviously). Some of the businesses that were still allowed to be open have now been ordered to shut, too, such as hairdresser's and others.

The internet is full of tips what to do at home, how to spend all that extra time in self-isolation. Well, I must say I do not have much extra time; I still work 36 hours a week, and in some ways, work seems busier than before (see my previous post). The only saved time is the 1 hour 15 minutes or so normally spent on trips to and from work, partly used now for household jobs connected with making and having all my meals at home now, instead of having a cooked meal at the canteen every day.

But the world around me is much quieter than usual, and I find that a rather pleasant side-effect of what for many less fortunate than myself is definitely not a pleasant situation.

Friday, 20 March 2020

The First Day of Spring

Although I still consider the 21st of March the "true" first day of spring, I know the 20th - today - is now officially it. Therefore: Happy Spring, everyone! (I know some of my readers live in areas where it is not spring right now, but my good wishes refer to anyone - we can all do with good wishes right now, can't we.)

O.K. sent me this from his lunch break earlier this week. He still goes to work; WFH is not (yet?) possible with his job.
The magnolia trees in my street are almost there! This was today, on my way back from the supermarket.
This week was not much different from any other week, on the surface. I am used to working from home, and I still went for walks (once with my sister and once on my own) and running with my friend (we do not breathe in each other's face when running, and have not greeted each other with a hug or handshake, either).

Walking on the fields after work with my sister.
During the same walk, about 20 minutes later.
I went for my usual pre-weekend groceries shopping at Aldi's. 
More than one person said thank you to the staff at check-out; they deserve our respect and consideration. Unlike me and many others, they can not simply withdraw to work from home; they can not even keep much distance to those customers who are inconsiderate enough to sneeze into their hands and then hand cash over with that same hand. 
There are signs up that politely ask people to pay cash-less, if possible, but of course nobody is sent away if they insist on paying cash. Toilet rolls (what IS it about them?!) and some other items are rationed to one per person. Needless to say, there weren't any left - good job I don't need any, as quite by coincidence, I bought an as yet unopened pack the week before last.

Everybody who can is now encouraged to work from home. The canteen at my clients' office building has closed. They are selling packed lunches for those few who still work there; only a handful of staff, really.

When I normally work from home, it is one or two days a week when my biggest client does not expect anything from me - they know I am at home, and working for other clients. But now it is different, because they know I am WFH all week, and so I am expected to join all conference calls related to my projects there. At the same time, my other clients expect me to take their calls and reply to their emails every day now, too, when before they knew that I would deal only with their most urgent matters while at the office of my biggest client, and mostly Mondays and Fridays were reserved for them.

This all makes for very busy days, bordering on stressful. I guess it will all settle down in another week or so; for now, I sometimes have to be very firm and stop myself from quickly replying to one client's email while actually working on something for another client - they all expect an invoice at the end of the month with listings of what I have done for them, and when, and of course I keep track of the time I spend working for each of them in turn.
For instance, client A talks to me in a conference call from 10:00 to 10:30. After that, I may be working on a document for client B until lunch, from 10:30 to 12:00, while there might be another call with client A in the afternoon, but with different contacts. You get the idea.

O.K. is still set to spend the weekend here with me, which should be OK (!) seeing as we are both well and he travels by car, not exposing himself to unnecessary risks by using public transport which would be the case if I went to his place right now.

My upcoming birthday has been marked almost every day this week by cards and presents arriving in the mail. So lovely to have cards from some of you, my blogging friends! I am of course not opening presents until Sunday, and we all know that presents are not what it is all about, but I appreciate all these signs of friendship, love and kindness.

Stay safe, all of you, and do not forget to thank those who still work for all our benefit, at supermarkets, pharmacies, drug stores, in hospitals and surgeries, driving garbage trucks or trains and buses, and so on. Do not grumble at them - none of what's happening is their fault.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


"Cancelled*" is probably the word we hear and read the most these days - everything is being cancelled, from hairdresser's appointments to pub quizzes, from small birthday parties at home to stadium-filling events.

Up until yesterday, I was determined to have my party. The guest list had already shrunk to about six or seven, and it was planned from the start that this time, my parents would not be at the party; instead, I had intended to have a traditional coffee & cake with them, my sister and O.K. on the Sunday.
After much reading and discussing things with O.K. and my family, finally today the voice of reason has prevailed, and I have cancelled both events.

View from the German Literature Archive, Marbach, across the Neckar valley last Wednesday - probably the last time for a while that I have gone there for work.
View of Marbach as the train was carrying me back to Ludwigsburg.
Another view of Marbach and the river Neckar, as seen from the train. It was such a beautiful day!

Looking back at the past week, I guess a key moment for me was when I read that my home town has cancelled its historical Horse Market, an event that has been held for more than 250 years, and was cancelled only during the worst of the war years. Things must be REALLY serious when something as big as this won't take place, especially as the decision has already been made although the event is always in May, not in another week or two.

Mr. and Mrs. Stork preparing the nest for their little ones. They are not doing anything different because of corona!
We saw this during a walk on Sunday afternoon in O.K.'s area.

All around me, people have been withdrawing from face to face or physical contact with others; some have decided early on to work from home. Schools, libraries, museums, many hotels - all closed. Exhibitions, conferences - all cancelled. Trains are still running mostly on their usual schedule, buses have switched to the schedule usually in place during school holidays. Bus drivers open only the back doors and have stopped selling tickets; if you need a bus ticket now, you have to by it ahead of your trip, either online (most people nowadays use an app on their mobile phones for that anyway) or at a ticket machine.

Restaurants have to shut at 6:00 pm. That is the one measure I do not fully understand; what use will that be? Restaurants that can not guarantee a distance of 1.5 m between one guest and the next have to shut completely. 

Shops are still open, but I imagine it is a question of time until they will either decide on their own to close, or be ordered, unless they are supermarkets, pharmacies, bakeries and so on.

Nobody is in danger of starving - there is PLENTY of everything in the shops, except for - you guessed it - flour and toilet paper. I still wonder why the rush for both; yes, I understand that people are preparing for maybe not leaving the house for a while, but will that increase their need for loo rolls that much? And do they seriously believe they will bake their own bread with all that flour? Apart from people who have already been doing that, I simply don't see the hoarders starting it now - especially since, as I have said, there is plenty of food available.

I want my Mum to crochet or knit loo rolls for me as a birthday present!

As of tomorrow, I am exclusively working from home. I am fortunate in that I've been WFH regularly already for years, so it is not a big change. My job can easily be done without personal presence; I can communicate with my clients via email and telephone. At the moment, it is impossible to say for how long; it is unlikely that I will return to any client's office before April.
My main reason for resorting to this is that I depend on public transport for the trips to and from work. My parents (especially my Dad) are in the high risk group, and are not leaving the house unless absolutely necessary (which it isn't right now). Therefore, they depend on my sister, who does all their shopping, and I want to be able to help when I can, without having to worry about carrying the virus to them after I've caught it on public transport or at the office.

We are all experiencing changes in our lives due to corona, some more, some less so. I am not worried about my own health and will not stop going for walks and the occasional run; fresh air and exercise won't do any harm. On one of the official government websites with information about corona I have read the sentence "Every personal contact less is helpful." 

Good job we can stay in touch with our loved ones - and our blogging friends! - without risking infection!

* After Bonnie's comment - see below - I was unsure about the spelling of "cancelled". As you know, English is not my native language. Therefore, I looked it up, and learned that my spelling is the British version, while Bonnie's is (hardly surprising!) the American one.