Monday, 21 January 2019

An Update on Plans, the Weather and Family

Sometimes I wish my eyes and my weekly schedule would make blogging as easy and frequent as it used to be. But instead of starting a whiny post, moaning and complaining about things I can not do all that much about, I'll give you an update on my plans for this year, the weathere and my family.

First things first: My Dad keeps making progress! Last week, he has been on a short walk entirely on his own for the first time since the end of September/start of October. It was really only very short (I would not even think twice about it if it were me to walk from my parents' house to where my Dad had an appointment), but he really wanted to go on his own, and he did. One small walk for me, one big step for my Dad after all he went through the past months!
Also, he has started to cook again. Both my parents have always been good cooks, and when he still worked, my Dad enjoyed cooking on weekends, either on his own or with my Mum. We loved almost everything they put on the dining table for us, and thanks to my Dad's taste, we were familiar with hot, spicy food from an early age, and there was little we would not eat. No such thing as NOT wanting anything green, hating spinach or cheese! When I was little and other kids in kindergarden or at school said they did not eat this or that, I was always puzzled as to how come they didn't love spinach as much as I did, or enjoy bread and cheese.

I digress; I said I was going to tell you about plans for this year.
Because of my Dad's illness, my sister and I cancelled the Yorkshire Holiday we were supposed to go on last October. We have finally managed to re-schedule and are now going at the end of March. It will probably be too early for the bluebells, and possibly the weather will not always be walk-friendly, but we are always happy to be there in "our" cottage, see the family and friends and (re-)visit places we love, such as Fountains Abbey.
We'll be away on my birthday, something that has only happened twice before, if I remember correctly: Once when I was 10, we were on Easter holiday in France, and when I turned 20, I was at Librarian School. I remember my sister and a friend sending me a telegram together - the first (and so far only) telegram I ever received!
Anyway, this year, I have booked Champagne Afternoon Tea at Swinton Park Hotel for my birthday. We've been to this beautiful place in 2017; you can look at the pictures and read about it here.

Now the weather: We've had snow (as you know from my next-to-last post) for a few days, but it was soon all gone.
Last Thursday on my way to work, I saw this beautiful pink sky in the morning:

View from the office window later that morning:

The day was mostly sunny, and when I left work at 5:00, it was still almost daylight! Friday morning was a different story, though... it snowed again (but did not last long):

I arrived at O.K.'s after an uneventful and punctual train trip on Friday evening. Saturday was the most beautiful day we've seen yet this year, with wall to wall sunshine. It was cold, but the kind of cold you can dress against easily. It would have been a shame to stay indoors, so we had only the briefest of breakfast and headed out for about 4 hours of walking, somewhere between 16 and 17 km altogether.

Here are some pictures of that walk.
This is Schloss Ortenberg (Ortenberg Castle), where we've been before (as seen on this post and others):

Panoramic view of the vineyards where we were walking, taken by O.K. Clicking on the picture will enlarge it. On the horizon you may just about make out a chain of mountains; these are the Vosges (in France).

I was surprised to see this ilex still so full of berries:

On Sunday, it snowed again, and I worried about my train trip home - unnecessarily, as both my trains were punctual, and I was home at 20 to 11 pm after a very cold (but short) walk from the station to my flat.

The view on Sunday morning from O.K.'s balcony:

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Read in 2019 - 1

For a change, I read two German books in a row. They had a lot in common: Both were easy and interesting reads; both were written by authors who have no formal education or training as writers (and it shows in their choice of words and use of grammar), both books are non-fictional real life stories, and I found both for free on Amazon's Kindle store.
This was the first one. 

Robert Birch

The author describes his own experiences during a week's internship with an ambulance crew. He already is a surgeon and works long, busy hours at a hospital in a city in southern Germany. The city is never named, and road names were changed, but a lot in the book makes me think it could be Stuttgart, the big city next to my home town.

He needs to get a certain number of critical missions with the ambulance under his belt in order to qualify as an emergency practitioner. Critical in that context means that the situation they are called to is a real medical emergency, life-threatening for the patient, and that what the doctor decides to do on-site saves the patient's life.

One would expect the young doctor to find his week of emergency missions exhausting, but he describes it as feeling almost like a holiday - away from the stressful long hours on the hospital's ward, and a lot of just waiting in the ready room for their beepers to go off. During those waiting times, there is some friendly (and some less friendly) banter with the other doctors, nurses and emergency crew; they share meals, have naps or read.

The moment their beepers go off, all is action. It is really interesting to read about how they manage within minutes to be where they are needed, and what happens once they arrive. The situations they are called to during that week greatly differ one from the other, and they never really know what to expect beforehand, in spite of the basic information given from the control room.

Sometimes they need to break their way through the door of an apartment, only to find that the person they were supposed to help has died days or weeks ago. At other times, upset relatives already expect them, and some patients seem to think the ambulance is a taxi and the crew's job is to help them moving their bags for a long-planned stay in hospital.

On the way to their missions, the driver gets regularly mad at other drivers - the city roads are very busy, and not everyone seems to understand that when an ambulance car comes racing along, with sirens on full blast and flashing blue lights, you better make way - and fast.

The reader learns next to nothing about the young doctor's private life, but a lot about the professional lives of those working in and around a hospital. We all may, at some point in our lives, depend on them; be it on their skills as drivers so that we can be taken to hospital within minutes after an accident, or as paramedics, assistants, nurses,
doctors - they all have their own defined set of tasks and competences, all important, and we should be grateful if we are lucky enough to live in a country with a functioning healthcare system and not take it (and the people who work in it) for granted.

As mentioned above, the writing style is not that of a "proper" author. But that does not make this (relatively short) book any less worthy of my reading time. I now understand better what the work of an ambulance crew involves, and next time I hear an ambulance's siren (and we hear them a lot in my home town), I can imagine what's going on right now and what could be happening next.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Last Week

For myself and O.K., work began again last Monday after the Christmas/New Year break. It was good to see everyone at work again, and the first days were not so busy as to already erase the feeling of being well rested. 
Still, I was surprised at how knackered I felt on Wednesday night - with only three working days under my belt!
It started to snow on Wednesday afternoon, and my neighbours' gardens and houses looked like this on Thursday morning around 8:00:

I loved the blue-ish morning light before proper daylight.

Just before lunch, this was my view across the Eastern half of Ludwigsburg from my office on the 9th floor:

It snowed again on Friday, so much so that visibility was very limited:

By the time I arrived home shortly before 5:30 pm, this was the view from my kitchen window:

An hour later, I was on my way to O.K.'s. The train trip there went a bit different than planned: Instead of taking a local train to Stuttgart and from there, an InterCity which would take me directly to Offenburg with no further changing of trains, I found out that the local train I meant to get on was cancelled and the IC 90 minutes late. 
The alternative offered required two changes, but I was glad for the opportunity to end up with a total delay of only half an hour by taking a different local train to Stuttgart, from there a TGV (Train Grande Vitesse, a French high-speed train that reduces travel time between Stuttgart and Paris to about 3 hours!), and for the last bit from Karlsruhe to Offenburg, an ICE (InterCity Express).

I must admit I was rather exhausted by the time I arrived there, but O.K. made it well worth by serving a delicious evening meal of salad, bread, our favourite types of cheese and a bottle of red. (Of course it would have been well worth even without anything to eat - just seeing O.K. is enough reason for me!)

Saturday saw the snow being washed away by rain, and when I arrived home on Sunday night (with both my trains being punctual on the dot!), there was not a single snowflake left to see. 

On TV, we see the masses of snow in other parts of Germany and Austria, with thousands of skiing holiday guests being stuck in small towns and villages where all roads leading to and from those places are blocked by snow and fallen trees. Some people have been unwise enough to go skiing off the official slopes, and several have died in avalanches. 
We were talking about this yesterday, and I said that I'd probably not even start my holiday right now if I had booked something in one of the places so badly affected. The firemen, Red Cross staff, volunteers and other helping hands are busy enough as it is.

Today is a mix of cloudy and sunny; not very cold. It gives us a welcome break before more rain or sleet forecast as the week moves on.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

And On We Go

...into this still rather new year which the majority of people on this planet have agreed to count as 2019.

After the very busy back-and-forth period around Christmas and New Year, O.K. and I settled down quietly for a few days at my place. It did us both good, and just being able to sleep in, have meals when we felt like it, and not having any appointments was very relaxing*.
Also, I really enjoy cooking when I know someone is there to appreciate and eat what I have prepared. Last night, for instance, I made a kind of Shepherd's Pie, and was really pleased with the outcome. We had white wine with it; the bottle was a birthday gift back in March from someone at work who has a friend with his own vineyard in Marbach, the small town where I regularly work (and sometimes post pictures of).

I also like to try different combinations of ingredients with my salads, such as pineapple and goat cheese, or dates, feta and nuts (thank you for that excellent idea, Pat!). Our breakfasts this week were rather late and more like lunches, sometimes with crispy fried bacon and eggs sunny side up on buttered toast. 
There was the occasional G&T at night, but other than that, we had mostly coffee and water; somehow, there was enough drinking on the holidays itself so that we simply did not feel like more of the same.
Having said that, I did in fact have more booze than planned on Friday night; we met up with my sister at our favourite (and nearest) Indian restaurant for dinner. I had been looking forward to an Apérol Spritz for starters, and somehow, the waiter misunderstood me when he took our orders for drinks later on - he brought me another one, and I did not refuse it. But it was with plenty of food, and I was definitely NOT drunk afterwards (ask my sister and O.K.). 

The weather was cold, but not below freezing during the day. When I cleaned up the kitchen on Thursday night, I saw that it had begun to snow. It was a beautiful sight but would have probably been too dark for a good photo, and so I took one on Friday morning. I apologise for the slight blurriness:

We went for a walk in the afternoon, and I was amazed to see not a monochrome world of black trees and white snow, but green patches of grass on some fields, and a lot of rusty browns leftover from autumn.

There were no deer or squirrels coming up for food this time, as they often do in the park; maybe it has not been cold long enough for them to approach humans. Many birds were around, though, some of them sounding like spring.

Yesterday, Saturday, was a bit warmer. It rained on and off all day, and most of the snow is gone by now. We went for a short walk only, because the wind was blowing sprays of rain straight in our faces. How I love coming in after such a walk! The warmth of my flat, lighting a candle, making coffee and having cake or cookies with it - and how grateful I am that I have all that, a warm place to return to and a well-stocked fridge to make dinner from.

Today, the weather is pretty much like yesterday, maybe less windy. I have not been out except for going to the car with O.K. who went home after our (late) breakfast, early enough to (hopefully) beat the worst of the end-of-the-holidays traffic, and to give himself a few hours to unpack and settle down in his cottage before work and daily life will resume tomorrow.

After we were all hoping for a better year health-wise (in both my and O.K.'s families) than what 2018 had put on our plates, this morning I learned that a close family friend had a bad fall at home and is in hospital with half his face broken; surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. I was told not to go and see him today, as there will be other visitors, and he can (and should) not speak. 

Phew. I truly wish for normal life to return.

* Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed all the celebrating, and the travelling back and forth was entirely our own doing. Both our families matter to each other, and we also like meeting friends and neighbours.

Friday, 28 December 2018

What Christmas Was Like

In my next-to-last post, I mentioned a few of the things I was going to do over the Christmas period. So far, everything has gone as planned.

Our traditional Christmas Eve at my parents', with the tree lit (this year, a mix of real candles and electric ones) and the dinner of Wiener sausages and spuds salad we always insist on. In former years, my Dad used to make the spuds salad. This year, it was a joint effort; my Dad was able to help with the peeling of the potatoes, but the actual salad-making was my Mum's.

I know I say this every year, but it truly is so: It never ceases to amaze me how many presents I receive, not only from my immediate family, but also from the others who are there on Christmas Eve, from my Yorkshire family and (for the past three Christmases since I've known O.K.) from him and his family as well.

After our sumptuous and very delicious Christmas lunch at O.K.'s sister's, we went for a short walk. It was a misty day, cold enough to call for padded coats and the like, but not freezing. Near where they live is a small lake where people go swimming in the summer. The atmosphere on Christmas Day was very different!

The morning of the 26th saw me in the village church, attending family mass. O.K.'s family are no church-goers as such, but he and his Dad play in the village band, and the band traditionally plays in church on holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and of course "us womenfolk" go and listen.

We had a spontaneous visitor early afternoon, bringing a present for O.K. and myself and having coffee with us. Afterwards, there was a bit more than an hour of daylight left, and we used that for a walk around the village. I always like looking at how other people make their homes; some overdo the decorating (or it is not in my taste), some are maybe not very houseproud or don't bother with outdoors deco, but generally, the village is neat and tidy.

I travelled home that evening and arrived at my place at 10:30 pm. The moon shone brightly, and I found that from my kitchen window it looked almost as if the moon was a big shiny ornament on a Christmas tree:

Yesterday, on the 27th, I enjoyed not having to get up at a set time. I slept soundly until 9:00, and took my time over breakfast and in the bathroom. Then my elderly neighbour (the one whose garden you have seen so often from my kitchen window) rang, and we chatted for a good while. I had promised to go over to my parents' to help with a few household things, and the phone call was not planned - therefore, I dashed quickly to the supermarket to stock up on some basics before I finally made it to my parents.

After my sister and I finished our jobs, we had coffee and buttered pretzels (by the way, the proper German spelling is Brezel - there is no p and no t!) with my parents. It was a sunny day and still only early afternoon, so my sister and I went for a little walk.

Back home, I spent some time relaxing, and in the evening rang Mary, my mother-in-law in Yorkshire. It had been many weeks since my last call, and we had quite a bit of catching up to do. She is always very interested in how my parents are doing, and was rather worried about my Dad's health, too, when she heard of his illness in October.

At 9:00 pm, a friend of mine arrived, and we walked the maybe 500 m to a disco where we've been a few times. We had a great time on the dance floor; it was not too crowded, but there were enough people to create a good party mood and still leaving you enough room to dance. I was home at around 2:00 am.

Now I shall do a few household jobs here. In the early afternoon, I will pack my bag and get on the train back to O.K.'s. So far, all my trains this Christmas season were on time - as far as I'm concerned, it could always be that way!

PS: I have noticed that I chose the exact same headline for my post-Christmas post in 2015.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Read in 2018 - 21, 22, 23, 24

As the four books reviewed in this post were my seasonal reading this Christmas, and all relatively short, I decided to make just one and not four posts of them. 

All were published in the space of the 10 years from 1905 to 1915. The style and language, message and morals are typical for that time: Many people were full of optimism about the progress humanity had made in terms of sciences, technology and schools of thought; they believed the solution to the big problems and the answers to the big questions of society as a whole were just round the corner.
Others were more sceptical and saw that the world was approaching a time of hitherto unseen terrors of war and that things were going to change forever right in front of their eyes.
Some of this can be read between the lines in one or other of these stories. Generally, though, all four books are meant to be uplifting and conveying the Christmas message to the reader, touching both mind and soul.

The pictures are not mine - I found them on the internet, and they show the books as the physical volumes may look. Mine were (of course) all free ebooks from the Kindle store with the same standard cover.

21) Little City of Hope / A Christmas Story
by F. Marion Crawford
published in 1907

A poor inventor and his 13-year-old son have not much to look forward to this Christmas. But as they start building a little city of paper and matchboxes, bits of wood and other things found in the workshop, hope begins to find her way into their hearts.
For a while, it seems they built their little city of Hope in vain, but all ends well.

I found the inventor and his son likeable characters and enjoyed the description of their model city. How their frugal daily life was depicted was meant to make the reader sorry for them, but from a 2018 reader's perspective, some of it is hard to understand. For instance, father and son are so poor they can only afford the most miserable cottage of their town, with just one stove to warm the entire place, so that the washing water in the upstairs bedroom of the boy freezes in the jug. And yet they still have a woman doing their cooking for them, and their cleaning and so on. If I were that poor, I surely would make my own meals and do my own household work, wouldn't you?

Anyway, a nice read and a glimpse of different times.

The author has his own wikipedia entry here.

22) The Romance of a Christmas Card
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
published in 1915

The wife of a village vicar is a talented painter and writer, and makes a little extra money by selling pictures and poems to be published as Christmas cards. When she paints her lonely neighbour sitting by the window of her humble cottage one winter night shortly before Christmas, she has no idea that the published card will return love and happiness not only to her friend, but also to her own home.

I enjoyed how village life was depicted as a mix of good and bad - the good that can come from a close-knit community helping each other as well as the bad such closeness with nosey neighbours and tongue-wagging villagers can bring.

You can read about the author here on wikipedia.

23) The Spirit of Christmas
by Henry van Dyke
published in 1905

This was the most religious of the four, containing not one continuous story but lectures or articles derived from lectures as well as two prayers. They made for some interesting reading, though, with sometimes a surprisingly modern approach to various subjects. 

Click here for the author's wikipedia entry. (Kay probably knows that he wrote the English lyrics to Beethoven's Ode to Joy.)

24) Rosemary: A Christmas Story
by C. N. and A. M. Williamson
published in 1906

Probably meant for a young-ish audience, the author tells the story of how two former lovers find each other again and one fatherless girl gains a new father. It is rather sentimental, but interesting for its glimpse into the differences between rich and poor folks at the turn of the century.
For a Christmas story, the setting of sunny and mild Monte Carlo in winter is rather unusual - there is not a single snow flake in sight in this book!

Alice Muriel Williamson often published under the joint names of herself and her husband, Charles Norris Williamson. Both have their own wikipedia entries; the one for Charles Norris is linked to from Alice Muriel's here.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Dear friends in Blogland,
No matter whether you are regular or occasional readers, commenters or not, fellow bloggers or readers only: 
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, and all the best for 2019!

My biggest Christmas wish is coming true: Having my Dad still with us. The four of us (my parents and my sister) will be able to spend Christmas Eve together, something that was not at all certain back in October when my Dad almost died.

And last week Thursday, we even went to the Christmas Market together! My Dad coped rather well, walking with his walking aid (he hates the thing but it really does make things easier). We all had mulled wine and some of the food traditionally offered at the market. My sister took this picture of us, and I am allowed to show it here:

On Friday, I left the office at 4:00 pm, feeling like a runner who gets really exhausted on the last bit and is just glad to have finally made it to the finishing line. I won't go back to work until the 7th of January - such luxury!

Saturday morning saw me on the train to Offenburg; I spent the weekend at O.K.'s. It was the village band's annual concert on Saturday evening. I had helped with the selling of tickets a couple of weeks ago and heard O.K. practise a few times, but of course I had never heard the entire band playing the pieces. This year's motto was "Heros", and here is the play list:
  • Music for a Hero (Thomas Doss)
  • Ivanhoe (Bert Appermont)
  • Grandfather's Clock (George Doughty)
  • Cry of the Last Unicorn (Rossano Galante)
  • The Polar Express (Alan Silvestri)
  • Astronautenmarsch (Josef Ullrich)
  • The Wizard of Oz (Harold Arlen)
  • Indiana Jones Selection (John Williams)
  • Satchmo! (Louis Armstrong; arranged by Ted Ricketts)
I am sure my friend Kay will know most of them! Of the three extras, the last one was what must be one of the most popular Christmas songs in Germany (O du Fröhliche), and many in the audience sang along. The band played well, and the soloists were excellent. The village hall was decorated beautifully for Christmas. Afterwards, we had sparkling wine and snacks and talked to friends and family who had come to listen. We were home shortly before 1:30 am.

Sunday was rainy and windy and, after we had spent the morning helping with the clearing and cleaning of the village hall, a very quiet day for us, with only about an hour's walk between showers, and at 8:00 pm, O.K. took me to the station. Both train journeys were smoothly on time and not crowded, and when I arrived home last night at 10:30, I lit the four candles on my Advent wreath, had cup of tea and some chocolate and watched the second half of Midsomer Murders before going to bed.

My to-do list for today reads as follows:
  • open Advent calendars:
  • have coffee, read emails and blogs:
  • write this blog post:
  • shower and get dressed
  • light candles on wreath and have breakfast there for a change (and not in front of the computer)
  • blow out candles
  • put on CD with Christmas songs sung by Thurnscoe male choir
  • clean flat while listening to CD, singing along and having little cries alternatingly
  • write card to favourite neighbour
  • take card and present over to said neighbour (the elderly lady whose garden I see from my kitchen window)
  • have a small meal of things in the fridge that need eating up
  • have a little rest (optional)
  • play favourite computer game for a while (optional)
  • write blog post on my other blog (about said computer game; optional)
  • light candles again and sit down with Christmas book from my childhood
  • have another little cry
  • change into pretty dress and put on some lipstick
  • put presents for tonight in big bag
  • take said big bag and walk to parents'
  • celebrate Christmas Eve with family and the three friends that are part of the family
As you can see, only the first three are done. Now I'm off to do the rest!
Update at 2:30 pm: more things ticked off the list!

And then?

Christmas Day will see me on the morning train back to O.K.'s, because his sister has invited us for lunch. I will travel back home again in the evening on Boxing Day. The 27th I intend to spend mostly with my family. On the afternoon of the 28th, I will once more be on the train to Offenburg - we are yet again invited somewhere, and again on the 29th. I am not sure yet what day I will be travelling back to Ludwigsburg, but I already know it will be by car with O.K., as we are going to celebrate New Year's Eve at my parents', with my sister and a friend being there, too.
Whether we'll be back at O.K.'s parents for their traditional New Year's reception (it sounds like a grand affair - in reality, it is just "us", the family, having champagne and a traditional regional meal) I don't know yet, as his parents have also had health troubles. In any case, O.K. has to work between Christmas and New Year but has the first week of January off, so that we get to spend a bit more time together.

Let me finish this post with pictures I took this morning from the Christmas book of my childhood, mentioned in above's to-do list. As you can see, it is very battered and well thumbed, but I would never, ever throw it away.

I do not remember exactly how old my sister and I were when we were given this book, but it always belonged to us together, and at some stage, we wrote our names and (wrongly spelled) address in the front. We made a few clumsy attempts to repair it when we were still kids, and they are just as much part of the book as the pictures, song texts and stories in it. The pictures coined my ideas of Christmas, and are very traditionally German; in style, they range from the 1930s to the late 60s. 

What is your personal Christmas treasure you can not imagine this time of year without?