Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An Annual Tradition

One of my favourites, actually, and one we - the group of friends I regularly meet with - have created ourselves: the annual Schrottwichteln before Christmas.
You can find out what Schrottwichteln is here in this older blog post. I did not write one specifically last year, but rest assured we did not neglect this fun tradition in 2013.

This year was special, since our friend who moved to the north of Germany some years ago joined us. We don't get to see her very often, but stay in touch mostly by email. Nici stayed with me, as before.

We also had two "new" girls join our group this year; one is the sister of one of the "old" girls, and the other one is my running partner and wife of one of my pub quiz team mates (that is how I originally got to know her).

As always, my living room was ready very quickly. This is how it normally looks these days:

And here it was set up for the small party of seven:

The presents are getting bigger every year:



The one I ended up with... oh dear! Who designs such things? And, even worse, who goes and buys them?!

But, as you can see, much fun was had. By all - even if you can't see the others. I have not asked their permission to use their pictures on my blog, and therefore can't post them. (So, who knows, maybe I was having a party with six imaginary friends... and ate 20 Hawaii toasts and drank two bottles of champagne all on my own!)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Read in 2014 - 44 a) and b)

Why a) and b) ? Because these were two books I do not want to count as two, but one. The reason is simple: I did not read all of the first one, and I hesitate to call the second one a book.

a) The Birth-Time of the World and Other Scientific Essays
by John Joly
A collection of 12 scientific essays on various (sometimes related) subjects, originally published in scientific reviews or held as lectures in the years leading up to 1915, when this book was first put together.
The subjects range from trying to determine the age of Earth by calculating the deposits of sediments in our oceans and the chemical make-up of minerals to why alpine flowers are so much brighter in colours than their counterparts in lower regions, from explanations of photographic technology to pleochroic haloes and from the use of radium in medicine to why we can skate on ice but not on glass.


The essay I found most interesting was the one under the headline "Other Minds Than Ours", dealing with the famous "channels" seen on the surface of Mars for decades and thought to be the work of an ancient civilazation on our neighbour planet. Interestingly enough, John Joly was not one of those who would accept no other explanation for those "channels" (which we now know have never existed), but instead sought and gave a logic reason for them having formed naturally.

I did not read the essays about the technology of photography and only skimmed the surface of the one about pleochroic haloes. Also, I must admit to have given some of the other essays a quick-scan instead of properly reading them. But altogether, this book gave me an insight into where science stood 100 years ago. The one about the use of radioactive substances in medicine was also very interesting, as was the one about skating (as banal as that may sound).
The author's style is clear and concise, but personal; you can imagine this gentleman very well to speak to you as part of an interested audience in some lecture hall or other.


Wikipedia says that John Joly was an Irish physicist, famous for developing radiotherapy as part of cancer treatment, and for having developed the techniques described in this book for determining the ages of geological periods.
He lived from 1857 to 1933. The wikipedia entry does not give any information about his personal life. In 1973, a crater on Mars was named in his honour.

b) Love is What I Need - A Christmas Love Story
by Ben Brocard

Two good things I can say about this "book": 1. it is short and 2. it is free.
Everything else? Oh dear, where do I start...
Shall I tell you about the way too foreseeable story line? Or the unconvincing characters (all of them, of course, totally beautiful inside and - what's more important - out)? Do you want to know of the many grammar errors that maybe a 6th-former would make? Or how about the title saying "A Christmas Love Story", and the actual story setting in AFTER Christmas? I guess I better stop here.
It wasn't as much a waste of time as you'd think, since I only read this on the train to work (where there isn't anything else for me to do anyway), and it really was very short.
So NOT recommended.
Maybe Ben Brocard does have some ideas for romantic stories, but he definitely needs to work much harder on them before he should attempt to publish another "book".

I do like seasonal reading, and this was my supposed to be my first Christmassy read of this year. The other ones will hopefully be less disappointing.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Green

When I was in my mid-twenties, I had several dark green items in my wardrobe. It was a colour I then liked very much. One was a cashmere jumper I loved to wear, and I had a Laura Ashley skirt with matching jacket made of a bottle green velvet.
Some years later, I somehow "came off" the whole Laura Ashley thing, and my wardrobe exploded in light blue and yellow and pink. Of course, I could go on about the psychological reasons for all that, but that would bore you to tears. Suffice to say that last year in winter, I saw a lady at our biggest client's office dressed in dark green and looking so good in that outfit that it brought green back to my attention. During last winter, I did look at a few green things but didn't find anything I really wanted. Then, when I went to Ripon in the summer, I found the green wool dress at a vintage shop, the dress I showed you for the first time here.

Now that it is colder, I won't be comfortable in short sleeves, so I have been wearing a shirt underneath the dress. It makes for a nearly non-existant waist with all that fabric, but it is still a beautiful dress, I think. It will also work well with a black shirt (I have this same type of shirt in six different colours).



On home office days or weekends, this top (it looks blueish there but it really is a dark green) has become one of my favourites this autumn. I found it at Aldi's, and you can imagine it came at a very low price. It is not warm enough on really cold days, but so far, we have not had any of these.
Oh, and I'll get a hair cut again some time. I promise!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

November Sun

All of last month was unusually mild, and also the first week of December was not as cold as I feared. At 3 Celsius (that's 3 degrees above the freezing point of water), it has not snowed here yet, and as far as I am concerned, there is no need for snow until a few days before Christmas. On the 2nd of January, I want all snow (if there should be any) to be gone, and spring to start :-)

To show you what many days were like last month in my area, here are some pictures taken on the 23rd of November during a very pleasant Sunday afternoon walk down by the river Neckar, maybe a 15-minute-drive from where I live:

The village of Poppenweiler (administratively, it belongs to Ludwigsburg) on the other side of the Neckar.




This part of the river bank has seen some change for the better in recent years. After in the last century the river was straightened in order to facilitate the traffic of freight barges and ships, a few years ago efforts have been made to re-naturalize the original meandering banks. There are now some tiny islets between the shallower arms of the river, where people are not allowed. They serve as important and welcome retreats for all kinds of birds.


From this mini-nature reserve, a path leads along the river to the huge lock. The lock was built in the mid-1950s and consists of a double lock, a small water power station on one side and a weir in the middle.


The huge gates, the endless rush of masses of water down the steep walls and the churning at the bottom of the lock hold a strange fascination for me. I could watch and listen for hours; it almost has a meditative effect.

But we did not stay there longer than it took me to walk across the bridge and back, and stop for these pictures.
To get back to the car, we used a different route across fields that were still surprisingly green, in the sun that was warm enough to carry my coat instead of wearing it.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Read in 2014 - 43: The Secret House of Death

"The Secret House of Death" is, as you can tell both from the author's name and the title, crime fiction. It is nowhere near as gruesome as it may sound. Instead, it is a quiet book (thank you, Nan, for using that term - I hope it is alright that I have nicked it from your blog), if that can be said about crime fiction at all.


This novel was first published in 1968, the year I was born, and four years after Ruth Rendell's first novel. While it is clearly set in the time it was written, it is still a story that could take place more or less like that in our time.

The setting is a quiet London suburb, a place where during the day, only the housewives and small children are home, while the men are out to work and the older children are at school. It is a neighbourhood with identical looking houses, some of which are alreay outfitted with central heating, while others are still a bit behind in terms of mod cons. The housewives know each other, they take turns in picking up each other's children from school, meet for a cup of tea at each other's houses, have the same cleaner (a particularly unpleasant woman, who has good words only for her own husband) and go to the same shops.

Susan is regarded with a mixture of curiosity and compassion by most of her neigbhours - she is the only divorcee and single mother around. Her husband left her and remarried, and in order to have something to do, get a bit of money in and be able to look after her little boy at the same time, she types authors' manuscripts in her sitting room.

Of the family next door, the wife is the closest she has to a friend; Doris is always cold, always up for some gossip but always helpful, and her son is the same age as Susan's and his best friend. The Winters have a dog, and that dog plays an important role in the book: he goes bonkers when a stranger approaches any of the houses nearby, but doesn't make a sound when it is someone he knows to live there.
On the other side of Susan's house live a couple without children. They mostly keep to themselves, and the windows of their house are always firmly shut.

The car of a stranger has been seen several times parked in front of the house of that couple, always when the very good looking husband was away. Soon, rumours are high about the wife having an affair. Susan is not at all interested in the goings-on next door, and when one day the wife, Louise, pays her a tearful surprise visit, urging her to come to her place the next morning because she desperately needs to talk to someone, Susan feels very uncomfortable.
Still, she promises to come. When she does so the next day, to her horror she finds Louise and her alleged lover dead on the marital bed.

The inquest soon closes with the verdict "murder and suicide" (by the alleged lover), and Susan feels very sorry for Bob, Louise's husband. He starts calling on her, obviously finding comfort in his gentle neighbour.

But is all as it seems? Will Susan and Bob be able to comfort each other? And what role do the three construction workers from the road work site at the end of the road play?

I'm afraid it did not take me awfully long to guess the "whodunnit", but just like the detective (who, sadly, remains a pale figure), I wanted to know how the crime had been done.
So far, there wasn't a book by Ruth Rendell I did not enjoy reading. This one was over too soon - I grew to care about some of the characters, and would have liked to learn more about them.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Little Things

...mean a lot to me; always, and even more so this time of the year. It is - apart from when I am hosting a party - the only time I really want ornaments and other decorative items in my flat. Last Saturday, I put up the first Christmassy things in time for the 1st of the four Advent Sundays.







 
You can see what I did in the past years in these older posts:
Advent 2010
Advent 2012
Advent 2013
As you can see, I did not do a specific Advent post in 2011, but my flat looked pretty much the same then as in the other years.
If you look closely, you will recognize a few items, and you'll see how the collection of cards under the glass plate on the desk in the Third Room is growing year after year. Maybe you'll even spot a card you sent to me :-)

From one of my aunts in Yorkshire, I've already received the first card and present of this year. Usually, it was always my Auntie Vonnie; this time, Auntie Jean was quicker. My cards are going to be written this coming weekend, and I will then also put together the parcel with the presents for the family in England.

But until then, there are two more work days ahead, and I better get started!

Monday, 1 December 2014

I Made This!

Some of you are very diligent bakers, cooks, even brewers of your own wines and beer, while I spend comparatively little time in my kitchen. That is one reason why you do not find that many posts under the label "Recipes" on this blog. But the other day, I made my own bread:

Well... to be honest, all I did was dip my hands in cold water, then into a large bowl of dough, grab some of it and knead it a bit into shape. Everything else - from the dough-making to the actual baking - was done for me by professionals.

But let me begin at the beginning.
Two weeks ago, I organized a guided tour behind the scenes at my hometown's most traditional bakery. This bakery has been in the same family for over 100 years, and they have been in Ludwigsburg just as long. From humble beginnings in just one house in the town centre, they now have 9 branches dotted all across the various town quarters plus the place where all the dough-making and baking is done. This is where we had our tour, with a hands-on part.

The owner's son and one of the 10 full-time bakers they employ greeted us with glasses of champagne for everyone:


We were shown the entire process from getting the right flour to the finished product. In the above picture we were shown the computerized scales for some of the recipes. For many of the doughs, we were told, the ingredients are mixed without the help of such detailed scales; the dough master (yes, that is a job description!) "feels" it when the mix is right.

A friend of mine getting her share of dough out of the mixing bowl, and the first batch of hand-shaped loaves ready to be put into the oven.

We also made Brezeln and Seelen ("souls"): bigger than a roll, smaller than a loaf of bread. You can see me and my Mum there in the back.

Our "master pieces" were put into the huge oven:


And after a set time, out came our bread and the other things we had made:





This truly was one of the most interesting and delightful outings I've had last month. It lasted the entire evening - much longer than expected - and we all had fun and learned a lot. 
The building alone was well worth seeing: Originally built in the 1960s for a bank, many of the original features have been kept. There are stylish "golden" columns in what used to be the bank's foyer and is now the largest of the many production rooms; the old treasury doors (I have never seen such hugely massive doors before!)  are still there (formerly to protect the money and other valuables in the bank, now the entry to the cooling house), and because it was built during the Cold War, there is even an atomic bunker underneath - nowadays holding the flour store.

The owner's son (he has won several prizes as "Best Young Baker" etc.) and his colleague were both so full of enthusiasm for their work and explained everything so well, we were all full of admiration for them.
Next time I am tempted to buy bread at the supermarket for convenience's sake, I won't give in!