Tuesday, 21 January 2020

A January Weekend

On some of the blogs I regularly read, I have come across something along the lines how there appears to be a widespread dislike of January as a month. I don't know about you, but I have never seen January much different from other months; mostly, it means a return to work (and resuming of normal, everyday life) after the break and celebrations of Christmas and New Year.
In my circle of friends and family, there are several birthdays to celebrate this month; I have been to three already, with two more before the month is over.

Weather-wise, we've had a mixed bag so far, with some unseasonably warm spring-like days, a bit of rain (nowhere near enough yet to replenish the low groundwater levels from the extremely dry summer of 2018) and just recently some frosty nights and sunny, but cold days.

I can never emphasize enough how important it is to make use of the precious little daylight we get on an average work day, and to get on our feet instead of just sitting around all day at a desk and then later at home in front of the TV or computer, tempted as we may be. Those times on the settee or on our comfortable computer chairs will feel all the better when we've been active first - always, of course, considering individual circumstances and abilities.

Here is a bit about last weekend - a typical January weekend, I'd say.

I arrived at O.K.'s on Friday evening after a rather adventurous train trip; mid-trip, I had to change my travel plan twice, and the train I had originally intended to take never made it to where it was supposed to go.

On Saturday morning, we were invited for a sumptuous breakfast to celebrate an 80th birthday in O.K.'s extended family. The location was a restaurant called "Ponyhof" (losely translated as pony stable), in the countryside just outside the historic town of Gengenbach:
The outbuildings of the former farm are mostly decorative and for storage these days.
In warmer weather, the patio is really inviting.
View from the Ponyhof towards the hill behind which is Gengenbach.

Having such a long, leisurely and sumptuous breakfast meant we did not need or want any lunch. Instead, we went for a walk in the afternoon, starting from O.K.'s cottage and walking between/around his and three neighbouring villages. 

The cloudy sky made for some beautiful light; my mobile phone's camera has tried hard, but did not fully do it justice.

On the fields between Niederschopfheim and Diersburg.

I loved it how the sun lit up patches of the fields, vineyards and orchards.
The road between Diersburg and Zunsweier.

We went on another walk on Sunday afternoon, but on the mostly flat area on the other side of the village. It felt good to have sun and wind on our faces, and even better to return to the warm cottage for coffee and cake!

My train trip home on Sunday night went without a hitch. Why can't our trains always be like that? Really, on Friday, I would have had trouble without my mobile phone. It allows me to find out about delays, cancellations and alternatives without depending on the sometimes late, incomplete or even wrong information on the train itself.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Pesto Flower

For a change, no pictures of trees or sunlit clouds today, but a recipe.

O.K. and I celebrated New Year's Eve with my parents and my sister. We had a buffet meal with hot soup and most of the other items made or prepared by our Mum, but us guests also brought something along.

Our contribution was a "pesto flower", a kind of bread that was supposed to look pretty on the buffet and go well with most of the other things on offer. I found the recipe in a free booklet from Aldi's.

You need:
  • 600 g flour
  • 40 g yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 300 ml warm (not hot!) water
  • pesto
  • 1 egg

Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil and water and let the dough rest in a warm place for about an hour.

Separate the dough into 3 pieces and let them rest for about another 1/4 hour.
Roll out each piece to a circle about 2 mm thick.
Preheat the oven to 160 C (with air circulation) or 180 C (if your oven does not have circulation).

Spread your baking tray with baking paper and put the first circle on it.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto on it. Don't worry, a thin spreading will do well - I went a bit over the top there!

Repeat with the second circle and cover with the third circle (no pesto on the top one).

Put a small round glass or cup as a place holder right in the middle of the three circles.
Cut from there in four equal parts, then each part into four narrower segments, so that it looks like a sun or flower.

Then take two segments or strips next to each other and twist against each other, pressing the ends firmly together. Repeat until all 16 strips are turned into 8 "petals" of your "flower".

Whisk one egg and spread on the flower.

Bake for about 25 minutes.

This was our first attempt, and next time, we'll know better how to twist the segments so that the flower will look more like the one in the original picture. 

Also, my dough did not rise as expected; I don't know whether it was the yeast (not fresh but powdered) or the resting place was not warm enough (O.K.'s theory).
Anyway, I probably would not have managed to get a reasonably good result without O.K.'s help.  

It was nice enough, and we can imagine this working well with other types of savoury spread, too. The recipe suggests to make a sweet variation of the dough and use a filling of nuts, sugar and cinnamon; I guess that would work well, too.

Friday, 10 January 2020

First Hike in 2020

Usually, I do not count how many walks or hikes I undertake in one year, but I can safely say that on January 2, we went on our first hike of the year.

On New Year's Day, O.K. had driven us back to his place. His parents had invited the family for their traditional New Year's meal of Badische Schäufele and spuds salad, so we knew our dinner was sorted!

The next day was dry and cold, with misty clouds resting firmly in the lower parts of the area. We knew it had to be sunny higher up, and so we took a short drive to the starting point of a hike in the Black Forest, in an area where we'd last been 3 1/2 years ago. You can compare what the same places looked like in the summer if you click here to see my post from 2016.

Many people did not start work until the 7th this year, and so we weren't surprised to see many others walking or cycling the same path. Still, it wasn't too much, and we enjoyed the hike very much - especially once we had reached the tower. I am not very good with long stretches of uphill, and the first 5 km or so of our hike were nothing else - not steep, but seemingly endless, and I had to catch my breath a few times, with the excuse of stopping to take a photo.

Moosturm. You can read more about the place here on wikipedia.

Views from the tower:

It was very windy up there, so we didn't last long. 
We walked the short distance to Lothar monument. Lothar was a storm (sometimes even classified as a hurricane) that swept across our part of Germany on Boxing Day of 1999. Now, 20 years later, you can still see traces of the damage it did. 
The monument commemorates what was a life-changing event for many people in that area, and has changed the forest in its wake forever. Some say, for the better, because what used to be a strict monoculture of firs has grown to a more varied woodland, which is much healthier than any monoculture.

As you can see, the views were a beautiful combination of land- and sky-scape.

This was close to sunset, almost back at the car:

It was a wonderful start of another year of (hopefully) many more hikes and walks for us.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Guest Post By My Mum: A Sweet Memory

For my first post in 2020, I am giving you a guest post by my Mum.

All of 2018 and 2019, my parents' life revolved around my Dad. He had (and still has) various health problems, some so serious he almost died, and their daily life involves regular administration of medication, keeping appoinments with doctors, a carefully planned diet with regular meals and so on. 
All this has meant my Mum has had no mind for writing anything for my blog, resulting in her previous guest post being from just before Christmas 2017. You can read that post here or by clicking on the "Guest Posts" label at the top of this page, just underneath the header.

Today, the 6th of January ("Three Kings" in Germany), is a holiday in my part of Germany, and a very welcome one at that. Most people I know put away their Christmas decorations today and get ready to resume normal life after the Christmas and New Year period, myself included.

While I was in the middle of cleaning, ironing, putting up washing and taking my boxes of Christmas things down to the cellar, my mobile phone beeped with a message from my Mum. She sent me two photographs of a drawing and a poem she had written for her childhood friend when she was a little girl.

I found it very touching (to be honest, the drawing and poem brought tears to my eyes) and texted my Mum back, saying that this would make a good subject for a guest post.

And here, a few hours later, is the post:

A Sweet Memory from the Past

Today I received a WhatsApp message from my best friend Beate with 2 pictures. We have known each other for 74 years, first in kindergarden, then in school. We sat side by side in the classroom, and though we sometimes lived in different towns or even countries, we never lost touch to this day.

She told me in the message that she is busy clearing out her house, and found her old poetry album in the process, which she had believed lost forever.
In our childhood, every little girl had such an album, and all friends, family members and teachers had to write a poem or saying. There were often very strange entries, funny or serious.
Favorite illustrations were stickers with glitter, little pussycats or other pets, but also flowers and fairy-tale motives.

But also watercolour paintings or pencil drawings were much admired, and so I tried my very best, especially with the poem. My handwriting was very bad, I mostly got two different grades in school: For the content a "1" (best!), and underneath my teacher wrote in red letters: „handwriting!!!!“
So I am really astonished about this text, I can't remember, but I must have been very focused while writing. I was 10 years old.

The poem reads (more or less): "May each of your days be cheerful, glad and happy. Never may sorrow mix in with your joys. In memory of your friend Siegrun Engel." 

Today the kids have such memory books, too, but with printed questionnaires, so that the friend, family member or teacher only has to check answers with a cross, that is not quite the same.
It was a nostalgic glimpse into the past, when my world was still whole and good.

- - - End of Guest Post - - -

Is it any wonder this brought tears to my eyes? To imagine my dear Mum, now 75, at the age of 10*, sitting at the dining table in her parents' house (I guess that is where she sat, with her coloured pencils and her ink pen), concentrating hard on creating something beautiful for her best friend?

When my sister and I were little, we had such albums as well. In our day (we are talking the 1970s here), it was still very much like my Mum's, with drawings or stickers adorning the handwritten poems or proverbs by our friends, relatives and (only select) teachers.

By the way, my handwriting is similarly bad - and like my Mum decades before me, I often had such remarks underneath my essays at school, while I got best grades for their content.

*You can see a picture of my Mum on her first school day in 1950 here.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Good Bye, 2019!

While I was still in bed this morning, my mind slowly and leisurely shifting from sleep to wake mode, I was thinking about what to write in today's blog post, the last for 2019. 

Should I bore you with the statistics of what the past 12 months were like for me? 
365 days, about 220 of which were working days, so and so many of them spent away from home, how many train trips back and forth between my town and O.K.'s village, miles walked or run, numbers of books read (33 - I am four reviews behind at the momment), dresses bought, meals consumed, parties attended?
I could do all that, but it would involve a lot of counting and jotting down, something I am not willing to do today.

Or should I do what I have done some years ago after having seen it on another blog: Look up the first post of each month of the year, and write down the first sentence of this post?

Maybe I could simply give a quick summary of what my year was like, or I could leave that for some time next week, before I go back to work.

Instead, I could just write down what I've been doing since my last post, and put a few pictures in to illustrate.

Tuesday, 24th of December, Christmas Eve:
After a very quick visit to my elderly neighbour (the one whose garden I have often showed you as the view from my kitchen window) to wish her Merry Christmas and give her a little something, I went to my parents' where my sister and I put the ornaments on the tree.
For the first time in 54 years, the tree has no real candles. I regret this, but it was the sensible thing to do; my Dad's mobility is severely limited now, and the room is just not big enough to make it feel safe with so many burning candles in the middle.
You will probably agree with me that the tree still looks very beautiful.

I went back home to have a light lunch (and eat up the fresh food I still had and would otherwise have to throw out) and give my flat a good cleaning, then just before 6:00 pm I went again to my parents, this time with all my presents.

We had the cosy kind of Christmas Eve we all want - our traditional meal of Wiener sausages and spuds salad, then exchanging our gifts, and the rest of the evening spent chatting, reminiscing and talking about anything and everything that comes to mind.

So many presents!!!
So many cards!!!

Wednesday, 25th of December, Christmas Day:
An early start for me, getting up at the same time as on a normal working day. I took three trains to O.K.'s, and both changes had me running with my suitcase to catch the next train - it was all rather exhausting, but I made it in time to O.K.'s.
We exchanged our presents (as usual, I got heaps of lovely and useful things!) at the cottage and then drove the short distance to the village where O.K.'s sister and her husband live, to have a festive meal there with the family.
The sun came out and allowed for an after-meal walk, which was truly welcome.
We spent the evening at O.K.'s watching a film that sounded much better in the TV listing than it actually was. Maybe more about that in a later post.

Thursday, 26th of December, 2nd Day of Christmas (as it is known in our parts):
Family Mass at the village church with the village band (including O.K.) providing the music, as per tradition. It was beautiful and well attended.
After a simple but filling lunch at the cottage, we made use of the free afternoon by walking the circumference of the village (more or less 7.5 km) and then spent a cosy and relaxed evening watching feel-good films on telly such as "Hitch" and "Mamma Mia", drinking G&Ts.

Ludwigsburg's market square after the Christmas market.
Friday, 27th of December:
We slept in as long as we could, catching up on what had not been possible earlier in the week. Some household work was done, and some time after 5:00 pm, the rain finally stopped, enabling us to walk to another village about 5 km away where we were expected to join O.K.'s extended family for a meal at a Chinese restaurant. About 20 of us were there, making for a lively evening.
It felt good to walk back, and even though it was about 10:00 pm then, it was still rather mild.

Saturday, 28th of December:
Originally, we had meant to drive back to my place that day, but changed our plans and had a very cosy day instead. We went for another walk around the village, briefly popped in at O.K.'s parents who had both not been all that well at Christmas, and then spent the evening watching all three "Back to the Future" films in a row.

Sunday, 29th of December:
Driving to Ludwigsburg took us around 1 hour 20 minutes - a welcome change from the train trips I am used to.
The day started with dense fog at the village, but less than half way into the trip, the sun came through, and we took advantage of it with a walk on the fields for about 2 hours almost immediately after arriving at my place.

One of several herons we saw. There were also some buzzards about, as well as numerous crows and pigeons.
This friendly cat from one of the farms walked with us for quite a while.
The nursery never ceases to intrigue me.
For tea/dinner, we met with my sister at the Indian restaurant nearby, and went back to my place for drinks and a chat afterwards.

Monday, 30th of December:
Knowing full well what to expect (crowds, crowds and more crowds), we couldn't resist going to Stuttgart for a browse of one of our favourite shops and a meal there.
In between, we walked in the park and had a good look at the giant construction site of what is to become Stuttgart's new, bigger, ultramodern railway station - eventually (we're talking years here).
At home, we had an easy meal of fresh pasta (a kind of ravioli filled with a mix of pumpkin, herbs and mascarpone) and red wine, followed by salted caramel ice cream and watching a quiz show on telly.

Tuesday, 31st of December:
When I have finished writing this, I will start baking something for tonight's New Year's Eve celebration at my parents'. It will be very low key, just five of us there, but we will clink glasses at midnight and stand on the balcony to watch the fireworks over the neighbourhood.

To all of you, I hope you will manage to keep what good and happy things you have in your lives, and get rid of what bothers you.
Happy New Year!