Thursday, 23 February 2017

Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?

"Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?", literally "Why is it so beautiful by the Rhine?" is a German folk song praising the beauty of the Rhine, Germany's longest river. I've done what Kay (Georgia Girl with an English Heart) often does on her blog and did a bit of research about the song. One Adolf von Bergsattel wrote both the music and the lyrics. He was possibly helped with the latter by Franz Suppan, and the website I found this information at dates the song as "before 1928".
That's about all I could find out, except for a differing claim on youtube saying that the music was written by someone else.

Today's post is not really about music, though. It is about the Rhine's beauty and how impressive this majestic stream can be even on a somewhat dull winter's day.

When I was 5 years old, my parents, my sister and I lived in a small village close to the river. We often drove across to France, both for groceries shopping (some things were considerably cheaper there than on our side of the water) and for holidays. Going for walks with our parents where the river was still more or less in its natural state (we call these parts the "Old Rhine") was always something of an adventure.  

About a year later, we moved back to Ludwigsburg, almost 100 km away, too far for a quick stroll along the river. My parents kept going back to visit the friends they had made during our short stint at the village, and the love for that particular landscape has stuck with us.

O.K.'s home (about 70 km south of the village we used to live at in the early 1970s) is not all that far from the Rhine. And yet it took almost a year of regular visits at his place before we went to the river for the first time!

At the end of January, we were invited to join a group of friends and acquaintances for a winter BBQ in the woods. The woodland borders the Rhine, and while the barbeque was still in full swing, we snuck away on a little walk.

Here are the pictures O.K. took with his mobile phone. To enlarge them, simply click on them. Have a look, and you'll be able to answer the question in the song title:
This is not the Rhine, of course. Just a small canal behind the dyke.

The land on the other side is France.
This type of woodland is very typical for the area.

You can read all about the Rhine here on wikipedia.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 7: Mothers, Daughters, and other Mysteries

"Mothers, Daughters, and other Mysteries", a detective story by Heather McPhaul, was unusual for me in that it is written almost like a screenplay.

It was (very) fast-paced, witty (if you don't mind sarcasm) and surprising enough to keep me going.

The story is quickly told: A young woman finds herself, as so often before, between jobs and decides to work as a private investigator. Her first case proves to be as dangerous as can be expected (otherwise, it would not have been turned into a book, would it?), but in the end, the results are worth all her efforts: Not only does Leann solve the case (surprise, surprise!), but she also (re-)gains the love and respect of her somewhat estranged mother AND walks off the set with a wonderful new boyfriend at her side.

Does this sound banal? It is, and it isn't. The quirky dialogue and surprising twists in the story, combined with quick changes of perspective between Leann, her mother and their adversary, make for an entertaining, if rather short, read. 
It was a free ebook, and the few typos I noticed weren't too bad.

After I have looked up the author and found out that she is also an actress, the screenplay-style of her writing is less surprising.
Here is her website, if you are interested.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

An Update on Heating and Fashion

A week ago, I told you about our problems with the boiler and the resulting lack of heating and hot water. We thought we had a temporary solution and were all set to discuss which way to go next, when my upstairs neighbour's son suggested he let someone else look at the boiler, so that we could choose between at least two offers.

This sounded reasonable to me, and so on Wednesday, another expert checked out our boiler. 
He said the repairwork so far had been done well. He also said that he was not of the opinion that the whole boiler needed to be replaced - it is not that old, after all (around 15 years).  He suggested we make a little adjustment in the setting of the boiler as well as in the way we use our radiators. 
Apparently, it is much better for the boiler to just leave the radiators on at all times (not on full blast, of course), so that water can circulate. What we had been doing - turning the radiators completely off when we weren't at home, and then cranking them all up more or less at the same time, giving the boiler a sort of "shock" reaction - was not good, it seems, and did not save us any money. If the radiators are slightly open to circulation, pressure inside the boiler is at a constant level all the time, which makes for a much healthier boiler and better regulation of room temperature.

Again, it all sounded reasonable enough to me. I am glad we do not need to fork out a lot of money for a new boiler or extensive repair work. Actually, it is less about the money and more about the upheaval; installing a new boiler would mean work on the roof as well, since the pipe goes through there, and possibly days without hot water.

So, we are sorted, and I have instantly put the new "heating policy" in action in my flat. It feels odd to leave the house with the radiators slightly on, but I suppose it is better on the long run.

In the meantime, I have been keeping warm wearing wintry outfits.

One is a padded Barbour coat in a nice dark shade of olive green. It is a hand-me-down from my sister's colleague. She has given me items from her wardrobe before, and they are always expensive brands which I probably would not buy for myself, and in excellent condition. Thank you, Andrea!
I apologise for the dark picture. You probably can't make out the rest of the outfit; it is a pair of charcoal grey tweed winter shorts, warm pair of tights and the boots I nearly always wear in winter.

The other outfit is a very soft woolly jumper I bought back in September - at Aldi, my local supermarket, of all places! I really like the softness, the colour and the pattern, and there happened to be already  a pair of trousers in exactly the same colour in my wardrobe.

That's it from me for today - an update on the heating situation as well as a fashion post, something I have not done in a long time.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 6: Our Endless Numbered Days

If I am not very much mistaken, my sister bought "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Claire Fuller at The Little Ripon Bookshop, a must-visit every time we are in town. You can find the bookshop's website here.

This is only the 6th book I have read so far this year (not counting one I have started earlier this week on my kindle but soon deleted, as it was unbearably daft), but I can already tell that it will be among those - if not THE one - to impress me most of all my 2017 reads.

What is it about?
In the mid-1970s, Peggy is 8 years old and lives in London with her mother Ute, a famous German concert pianist, and her father James, her young husband who is content to live off Ute's money and spend most of his time with a group of friends. The group are Survivalists or Retreaters, believing nuclear war with the Soviets is imminent, and the world as we know it will end. They talk about fallout shelters, provisions, regions of Earth that could provide relative safety and the means to survive by living off the land, but talk is all they do - with the exception of James. He does indeed set up a shelter in his cellar, filling it with all sorts of provisions, making endless lists of things needed.

When Ute leaves for a concert tour, James tells Peggy they are going away, too - on a holiday.

Peggy soon understands that this is no ordinary holiday: Her father takes her to a remote cabin in the woods of a mountainous region in Germany, never to return home again.

For the next 9 years, all Peggy knows is the forest around the cabin. She and her father live in complete absence of any communication with the outside world - in fact, James makes her believe the outside world, including her mother, has ceased to exist and they are the only two people left.

The book starts with Peggy being 17 years old, back in London with her mother and the little brother born after she was taken away from home. Therefore, the reader already knows she will somehow leave her life in the wilderness behind. The how and why is what the reader does not know until very near the end of the book.

I was certain of one aspect of the outcome pretty soon, but the story held me in its grip nonetheless, and I found it unputdownable at times. I liked Peggy and cared for her, and I am still not entirely sure about how to interpret what happens at the very end of the book.

"Our Endless Numbered Days" was Claire Fuller's first book, published in 2015. Her homepage is here, where you can find information about her, her books and her other work.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 5: No Such Thing As a Secret

"No Such Thing as a Secret" is the first book in the "No Such Thing As..." series by Shelly Fredman, featuring Brandy Alexander - not the cocktail, but a young woman working as a "puff piece" reporter for a cable news network who starts to privately investigate the murder of a young man after one of her best friend disappears shortly after he told Brandy he may inadvertedly possess a clue to the case.

Brandy grew up in Philadelphia, but left for Los Angeles after Bobby, the love of her life, ended their 10-year relationship on grounds she never really understood. In L.A., she builds a whole new life for herself, including the job for the news network.
Four years later, she is back in Philadelphia for a short break and the wedding of one of her friends - and finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation shortly after her arrival.

The inevitable encounter with Bobby happens under the worst imaginable circumstances: Not only is he a police officer, warning her off the private investigation she has started. He is also married and has a little daughter. Regardless, there is still attraction and spark enough between the two to keep Brandy on her toes whenever Bobby is near.

But there is also the mysterious Nick, who helps with Brandy's investigation and leaves her confused as to what his - and her own - intentions actually are.

Last but not least, there is a murder to solve, and the police seem to be getting nowhere.

You already know that this is a series, so it is clear that Brandy will solve the mystery, and the author leaves enough loose ends to make the reader want to find out what will happen with some of the characters in the next book.

I must admit I did not (and still do not) care all that much for Brandy as a person, but the mystery was something of a page-turner in parts. In fact, one evening after work, I was reading while waiting for my train and so absorbed in the book that I did not look up when a train arrived; I simply got on. Two stops later I realised I was on the wrong train! I made haste to get off, get the next one back to Main Station and then finally catch the right train home.

While I did notice quite a few typesetting errors that could have been avoided with careful editing or proof-reading, they were not so many as to distract too much from the story. I downloaded the book for free from Amazon's kindle shop a couple of years ago, so I should not complain about typos.

Shelly Fredman's website has a lot of background info on herself, her books and characters and Philadelphia. You can find it here.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Woodland Wanderings

On some of the blogs I read, people have been musing about how January and February are their least favourite time of the year, with the gloom and cold of winter still very much there but without Christmas and New Year to look forward to.
Yes, we're still nowhere near proper spring, even though a hint of spring is definitely in the air already - just listen to the birds in the mornings and late afternoons, and notice the considerably longer hours or daylight as opposed to December.

And few things are better to combat late winter blues than spending time outdoords.

Yesterday, O.K. and I went walking in the woods. We drove to a nearby village and took a route through woodland and vineyards, enjoying the sun once we were above the level of the rather dull, grey mist still sitting on the valley's bottom. 

Our route was not all that long, not even 10 km altogether, but much of it was rather steep. And because it was too cold for my liking to go for a run, we got all our exercise from walking up the steepest bits rather fast - we both expected sore leg muscles today, but I'm fine.

I did not take my camera, so these pictures were all taken with my mobile phone - as is so often the case with pictures on my blog, they are a bit blurred. Sorry!

This formation of rocks in the middle of the woods is called Devil's Chancel:

 A bit further up next to a really comfortable path is Angel's Chancel:

Doesn't this little weekend house look like something straight out of a fairytalbe book?

On our way back to the car. It was almost 5.00 pm, and the light was a lot more beautiful than this picture shows, really mellow: 

And all of a sudden after an afternoon spent outdoors, February does not look so gloomy anymore!

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Heat(ing) Is On... least for now.

After a chilly week in my flat, early morning trips to my parents' place so that I could have a hot shower before work, and evenings spent either eating out with friends (in nice, well-heated restaurants) or wrapped up in a super-warm blanket on my settee, steaming tea mug in hand, today at around lunch time our heating and hot water was working again.

But... won't last.

The man doing the repairs said he discovered more problems with our boiler as he went along. Somehow, water has entered the main circuit board, and even someone like me who does not really know anything about boilers understands that water and electricity are not best friends.

He said the board was still working, but faultily so, and could fail anytime again. He could replace it, but said it was very likely that he'd find even more parts that got wet when they shouldn't have, and would possibly need replacing. All in all, we could be in for about half the price of an entirely new boiler.

Now it is up to us to decide whether we want the small or the big solution. Both have their pros and cons, and we will discuss it on Monday with my upstairs neighbours' son who speaks German as good as I do. Until then, I feel a little bit on edge as I don't know how long this lovely warmth and the option to have a hot shower will last.

Good job that I'm going to travel to O.K.'s tomorrow morning! Let's hope I won't return to a chilly flat again on Sunday night.

And isn't it odd that the boiler at my parents' house broke yesterday early afternoon, too? Well, maybe not that odd, considering that boilers are probably breaking left, right and centre these days, as they do in winter.

PS: It is snowing.