Thursday, 12 April 2018

Spa Break Continued

The day after we arrived was Wednesday, the 28th of March. It was a grey day, and we did go out for a walk but took few pictures:

This was the pattern we established for ourselves for this day and the next: Sleep as long as we like, have a sumptuous and leisurely breakfast, don our walking boots and go for a walk until around lunch time, get back to the hotel, undress and put on our bathrobes (provided for by the hotel), go downstairs to the spa area, have our scheduled massages, spend the rest of the afternoon spa-ing and resting, go back upstairs to our room, get dressed properly and sit down for our three-course dinner at the hotel restaurant, accompanied by a glass of wine or two - all organic food and drink.

On the Thursday, we had less time for our after-breakfast walk plus it was looking very much like rain, so we did not move far from the village, as you can see. But it was still good to be out in the fresh air, and although the woodland had more of an autumnal atmosphere, there were signs of spring if you were looking closely enough.

St. Georg, Limpach:

The vicarage next to the church - have a close look at the windows on the far right. Notice anything unusual?

 This is how far we dared to go that morning:

Woods still looking more like autumn:

The barn on the other side of the road from the hotel is part of the hotel owners' farm. It was built by the current owners' ancestors in the 18th century and is still used as a barn.

The next day was sunny and brought the opportunity for more pictures before we had to leave, but these will have to wait for another post.

Speaking of which, I don't know yet when I will be able to post again. Because tomorrow morning, I'll go to hospital for surgery on my left eye. The operation is on Friday, the 13th - good job I am not superstitious! My surgeon told me to expect to stay in hospital for about 4 days and then stay home for at least two weeks, banned from work and sports. Vision should be restored by Day 5 or so, but I'll have to avoid anything that could increase the inner eye pressure. That will probably mean I won't be allowed (or able) to read and write online for a while, at least not for more than a few minutes at a time to begin with.

But I am definitely going to be back as soon as it is feasible and risk-free.
"See" you soon, I hope!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Read in 2018 - 6: A Boy*s Own Dale

A Boy's Own Dale
Terry Wilson

This is another of the books I bought last summer at The Little Ripon Bookshop. I am such a slow reader these days, it takes me almost a year to get through a small pile. That has to do with two things: 1. My eyes are not as good anymore as to allow me hours of reading before lights out. 2. I read on my kindle while on the train or elsewhere, and physical books are mostly kept for bedtime reading.

"A Boy's Own Dale" consists of Terry Wilson's memoirs, describing his childhood in the 1950s in Settle, a small town in Yorkshire.

Many people see this now as an enchanted time, a "golden" past where and when everything and everyone was, somehow, simpler and therefore better.
Of course we all know it wasn't like that; there was no such thing as the good old times.
For many who lived their (adult) lives in those years, post-war Britan (like most post-war countries in Europe) largely meant hard work for little money and conservative role models to adhere to with hardly any personal free time or room for the individual life styles we so appreciate today.
Still, for a little boy like Terry, it was his childhood, and a good one at that.

Yes, he worked hard at school, especially once he became eligible for the prestigious school in the next town. "Not the gas works for him", his Grandma said when he passed the entrance exam.
But Terry loved the outdoors, and outside school, nearly all his activities are set there.
He often went out on his own, disappearing all day until tea time, and nobody was worried - different times indeed.

Unlike many children nowadays who spend more time indoors than out, either watching TV or playing computer games, with sports often happening only in the organised manner of a club or at school, Terry was always out and about. He shot, he fished, he grew his own vegetables (and fetched prizes at local shows for them) and did a hundred other things without ever getting bored.
I bet he was not overweight and plagued by allergies like so many children today.
It was an enjoyable read, easy to imagine the places and people the author described, without making me want to turn back time and live in those days.

Terry Wilson died in 2015 at 84.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Spa Break

The Tuesday after my Big Birthday Bash, O.K. and I drove (well, he drove, of course) from his village to a place not far from Lake Constance, where we had booked a 3 nights break at a spa hotel. O.K. had been to the place several times before, so he knew more or less what to expect, but an extension has been added since his last visit and so some bits were new to him, too.

The village of Limpach consists of hardly more than a church, the hotel where we stayed, a farm with rooms for holiday guests, a small nursery school and a handful of farms and other houses. No shop, no pub. Oh, and two bus stops!

It is a very quiet place with fresh, clean air - perfect to relax. The hotel has a warm, down-to-earth feel to it, not overly posh (although everything is of good quality). The owner's family have been living in the village for hundreds of years, and still run their own farm across the road. Most of what they serve at the hotel for meals comes from their own (organic) farm.

Here are some pictures of our first day, the 27th of March.

Actually, the first picture is still at home at O.K.'s. The pink blossoms on the tree in his neighbour's garden were such a welcome and pretty sight, one of the first blooming trees I'd seen this spring!

Our room at the hotel:

View from our room:

Another view from our room, towards the spa's garden:

The village seen from a distance during our first walk in the area the same afternoon:

The village church was built in 1275 but has obviously seen alterations and renovations since. The door was open, so we went inside and O.K. took these pictures. The purple curtains hide the saints until they will be revealed on Easter Sunday.

You will see pictures of the church from the outside and some more of the area in another post.

We enjoyed a good dinner on our first evening at the hotel, and I slept like a log - the past few weeks had been so intense, I was really ready for this break!

Friday, 6 April 2018

Pub Quiz

In my last post, I said I was going to give you the questions we used for the pub quiz at my BBB (Big Birthday Bash) on the 25th of March. See how you would have fared!

The winning team consisted of 5 people, O.K. including (and no, he did not know the questions any more, and his threat that I wouldn't be his girlfriend anymore if he didn't win was not meant seriously!). 
The prize were 6 piccolo bottles of sparkling wine. As there were 5 to the team, they decided to give the 6th bottle to the person whose birthday was next to mine. That was my friend and colleague RO, and I thought this a really nice gesture of the winning team.

Here are the questions:

1. What is Meike's favourite colour?
2. What types of food are almost daily part of Meike’s diet?
3. How old was Meike when she learned to read?
4. Where in England does Meike spend a holiday every year?  
5. What languages does Meike speak?
6. How many surnames has Meike had so far?
7. Meike's place of birth?
8. Meike's favourite holiday in the course of the year?
9. What profession did Meike originally learn?
10. What was the name of Meike's white cat?
11. How many years has Meike been living in her current flat?
12. What year did Meike get her driving license?
13. Which Star Trek actor's birthday is also on the 22nd of March?
14. Is Meike right or left-handed?
15. Meike's furthest trip so far went where?
16. How many years has Meike been coming to the pub quiz here at “Towers”?
17. What day of the week was the 22nd of March 1968?

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Fun

Phew - what a turbulent but wonderful few weeks I have had!
As you already know, it all started with an impromptu party at my place on the 22nd of March, my actual birthday.

On Friday night, my Mum and I went to a concert which was excellent. On Saturday afternoon, we met my relatives from England at the airport. Their plane landed 15 minutes early but then there was an unexplained holdup at passport control, and we had to wait nearly an hour for them. Never mind, they were finally there, and it was so great to see them!
My sister invited us all to her place for the evening. We ordered pizzas and had a few bottles of wine (and beer for "the lads", i.e. O.K. and my nephew, who is 24).

On Sunday morning, they all came to my place for breakfast. Usually on a Sunday morning, breakfast means just O.K. and myself at the kitchen table - this time, there were 9 of us crowding my small living room, but everyone found a place to sit and it did not matter that plates had to be kept on knees as the coffee table was completely covered in breakfast things. 

The weather was beautiful, and so after breakfast, we all walked to the palace grounds for a stroll in the sun and some photos.

O.K. and I left the others then with my sister, because I had to be at the pub early to talk to the staff and make sure everything was as it should be.
The first guests started to arrive at 3:00 pm, and then the fun begun in earnest!

Altogether, there were 66 of us at the pub, with only a handful missing due to illness or other reasons. All food and drinks were on me, plus we had a pub quiz with questions about me that my sister and I had made up. I will post the questions for you in another post, just for fun - see how many you would have been able to answer!
The party lasted until nearly 11:00 pm, when O.K. and I were the last to leave.

On Monday morning, we met with my relatives from England again for breakfast, this time at a nearby café, to give them an idea of a typical German breakfast. Afterwards, we had enough time for some shopping in the town centre before we had to take them to the airport again. A whirlwind weekend was over - and I loved every minute of it!!

Monday evening, O.K. and I drove to his village. Tuesday, we left there for our spa break at a very nice hotel in the middle of nowhere (near Lake Constance; more on that in another post). 

We spent three very restful days there, with massages, sauna, walks in woodland and excellent food. Good Friday saw us once again on the road back to Ludwigsburg, for dinner at my parents'. Saturday it was back to the village, because O.K. was scheduled to play with the village band in church the next morning for Easter Sunday Service.

O.K.'s sister and brother-in-law had invited us for dinner that day, so: more excellent nosh!
Easter Monday was mostly sunny and mild so we went for a run (more or less!) in the morning and a walk in the afternoon before I had to catch the train back home.

Yesterday was my first day back at work. It felt as if I've been away for much longer - it was only a week, really, but I packed it chock full so that it felt like twice as long (in a good way, of course!). 

I am still overwhelmed by the amount of cards, presents, flowers, kind wishes and phone calls I received - there was not even enough space on the sideboard to hold everything, and I will go through all my cards once more to make sure I won't forget to say thankyou to everybody who thought of me.

Friday, 23 March 2018

The Fun Has Begun!

The two weeks I was talking about here are over. I have now been around for half a century plus one day. 
The fun has begun yesterday and will extend all through Monday - if you count the week off that O.K. and I will enjoy together next week, even longer. And if you count Easter, which will be spent partly with my folks and partly with O.K.'s, there is no end in sight to celebrating!

I worked all day yesterday, spending the day on the 9th floor of my client's office building (I've showed you the view from there before). At 6:00 sharply, my last meeting for the day was over, and I rushed home. At 6:23 I arrived at my flat, hair wet from the sleety rain that had surprised me on the 20-minute walk home.
At 6:30, the doorbell rang and my first guest arrived.

As the Big Birthday Bash is going to happen on Sunday, I kept things deliberately modest yesterday. I only asked my immediate family over so that we could clink glasses on me. My sister and my parents brought flowers and savoury snacks while I provided the champagne.
The doorbell rang again, and a couple of neighbours brought flowers. Of course I asked them in for a glass of champagne, too. And then, the best of all possible birthday surprises happened when the doorbell rang once more to reveal O.K., who had spent more than 2 hours on the very busy motorway just to celebrate my birthday with me!

I had really had no idea that he was coming; we both knew it was a week night and he'd be here for the weekend. More flowers!

We were all happily chatting away, drinking champagne and nibbling snacks, occasionally interrupted by a phone call. All day already at work, every time I came back to my desk I found that my (private) mobile phone showed new messages of people who had been trying to reach me, thinking I was having the day off.

The flowers, the cards, the presents, the lovely, lovely people - it was rather overwhelming. Every year I am surprised and immensely grateful for having so many people in my life who like me and show their friendship and appreciation by being in touch, sending cards, ringing or visiting. Some of you, my dear friends here in blogland, have sent me cards and presents, too - that is so wonderful! Thank you, all of you!

Today, I left work earlier than usual to do some badly needed window cleaning. Much as I like all sorts of house work (and I really do like ironing), I detest window cleaning. The reason is that they never turn out as good as I want them, and with my eyesight going from bad to worse, it is even more difficult to make a proper job of it. Anyway, it is done now, and I have time to write this post before I'll meet my Mum at the Music Hall for a concert. We are going to see our favourite live band, three men from Vienna who play only their own compositions on two guitars and a violin. I told you about them before and have posted a video of them playing, for instance here. I am looking forward to an evening of great live music.

Tomorrow, my relatives from Yorkshire (and elsewhere in England) will be arriving, as well as O.K. We are going to meet them at the airport and spend the rest of the day with them. Then there is the Big Birthday Bash on Sunday - more on that after the event :-)

Let me end this post with a picture of the prize I have prepared for the winning team of my very own pub quiz: six piccolo bottles of champagne, decorated with hearts cut out of the same paper used for my invitation cards.

As I have said, The Fun Has Begun!!!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Read in 2018 - 5: Date With Death

Date With Death
Julia Chapman

I bought this at The Little Ripon Bookshop, I think - anyway, I brought it home with me from last year's Yorkshire Holiday in the summer, and only now got round to reading it.

"Date With Death" is the first book in the "Dales Detective Series" by Julia Chapman. I had not heard of her until I bought this book, but will definitely look for more of the series - even though it took me a while to get into the story.

"Date With Death" introduces the reader to the (fictitious) small town of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales. Other places mentioned in the book are real, and the atmosphere in Bruncliffe reminds me of small market towns such as Helmsley, Leyburn or Richmond. 

The main characters are called Samson and Delilah - and in a rather predictable way, after they are off to a bad start at their first encounter, circumstances force them to work together, and chances are they will eventually renew their old friendship.
Old friendship, because Samson was born in Bruncliffe but went away to work with the police force in London, while Delilah never left. Throughout the book, there are hints (and bits and pieces come to light as the story moves on) of dark days in Samson's past as well as the reasons for his return to Bruncliffe.

Anyway, now he is back in his hometown and looking to make a living as a detective. At the same time, Delilah is working hard to overcome the emotional and financial impact of her recent divorce, trying to keep two businesses running to make ends meet. One of those businesses is a dating agency.

When Samson is asked to investigate into the death of a man whose mother can not believe it was suicide, and the man turns out to have been signed up with Delilah's agency, working together to solve the mystery becomes unavoidable. Two more men die under suspicious circumstances, and the lives of others are threatened - all of them connected to the dating agency.
Someone both Samson and Delilah care for becomes a suspect in the cases. Will they be able to clear their friend's name, overcome their own difficulties with each other and keep Delilah's business from failing?

As I said, it took me a while to get into the story. I liked the place, but I found the family issues (real or imagined) of Delilah left me cold, as did Samson's behaviour towards some of his old friends. I did like Delilah's dog, though, and Samson's Dad. My favourite character was Seth Thistlethwaite - last but not least for the sound of his name -, and elderly resident of Bruncliffe and the most sensible person in the book.

When I go back to Yorkshire this year, I will look for the next two books in the series.

Julia Chapman is Julia Stagg. You can find out more here on her official website.

Friday, 9 March 2018

In Two Weeks...

...I shall be 50 years and 1 day old!

This is the invitation O.K. made for me after my ideas. Maybe you will recognise the flower pattern :-)

He made two versions of it; this is the one I sent via email. I also had cards printed and bought matching light blue envelopes to send by mail.

You know how much I like going to the pub quiz with my friends, and so I am very happy (and lucky!) to have lease of my local, the Irish pub, for the Sunday after my birthday.

Last year just before Christmas, my sister, a friend and I were enoying mugs of mulled wine at my place when the question came up where I could hold my big birthday bash. Originally, I had meant to use the venue where my Mum had her 70th birthday a few years ago (pictures of which you can see here). But it wasn't clear whether they would already be open so early in the season, and even if so, it would be very different in the palace grounds in March, not like the gorgeous day in August when my Mum was celebrating. Also, I'd heard from friends and acquaintances who'd had weddings and other celebrations there, and weren't happy with a few things. Mistakes can happen, but the way they were dealt with wasn't good, apparently.

So, where to go? Suddenly, the question was there: Why don't you have it at the pub? At first, I didn't think it was possible, as the landlord usually does not offer the pub as a venue for private occasions. But I talked to him a few days later, and a plan was hatched. It is only the second time in the pub's history that he closes it for the public, so that we can have our party in private, and I am very happy that he made this possible for me!

The pub has seating for 100 people, if you count every chair and bar stool, but I have not invited that many. Some of my friends won't be able to make it, but so far, I have just a over 50 who have said yes, and maybe 10 or so more pending.

Even my family from Yorkshire are coming! They will stay for the weekend, so that we can spend some additional time together, and I am especially happy about that.

Of course, a party at the pub needs a pub quiz, right? And you can be sure there will be one! My sister and I have made up a set of about 15 questions, all about me :-D 
It won't be an all-evening quiz; I want people to just have a great time, to enjoy food and drink without having to think about the bill, catch up with others they have met at my previous parties or make new friends.

In short, I am very, very much looking forward to the event, and hope everyone who said they will be there will be indeed able to make it, unhindered by health issues or weather or any other reason.

By the way, if any of you is thinking about a quick trip to Ludwigsburg around the 25th of March, you will be VERY welcome to join the party - and I mean it!
Yes, I am serious. If anybody would like to be part of the fun, I can provide hotel information etc. Just contact me through my profile here; my email address is there, if you do not have it already anyway.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Read in 2018 - 4: The Two Sides of the Shield

The Two Sides of the Shield
Charlotte Mary Yonge

This is the fifth book I read by this author, and as before, I enjoyed it although I had to keep reminding myself of reading it in the context of time and place, not measuring it against modern ideas. It was published in 1885.

You can find the other four reviews by typing "Yonge" in the search box in the upper left corner of my blog. There is also some information about the author.

In "The Two Sides of the Shield", we are thrown right in the middle of a very large family which has been the subject of an earlier book. Whether one has read the earlier story or not does not matter for this story. Doing a bit of research, I found indeed that I had read it; it is "The Stokesley Secret", which I have reviewed here.

In "The Two Sides of the Shield", 14-year-old Dolores is sent to live with the large family of one of her aunts who has - I think - 8 children (I must admit I lost count!). Until the death of her mother, Dolores and her parents lead the fascinating lives of rather high-flying intellectuals in London. Now her father has been offered a position on a scientific mission in the South Sea (or something like that) and decides it is best for him to go, but not good for his daughter to come along.

From intellectual city life, surrounded almost always by adults who let her choose her own reading material and pursuits, to a country house filled with children of all ages, pets, a strict nursery and school room regime and regular prayers - it is no wonder Dolores does not fit in and hates every minute of it.

All efforts from her cousins to befriend her fail; the girl does not even know how to play the way other children do, and hates all "romping". The younger children resort to teasing her, the older ones ignore her as much as possible, and only the one closest to her in age does not give up on her, as hard as it is.

Eventually, Dolores finds a like-minded friend in a young woman living in the village. The young lady is much older than Dolores, but the two of them share romantic notions about literature, and when Dolores makes her new friend believe that she is ill-used and unloved at the home of her aunt, the two hatch a sneaky plan to go behind the aunt's back and let Dolores act against the wishes of both her father and her aunt.

Money is involved, and a mysterious "uncle" of Dolores', and of course the inevitable happens: All comes to light. As bad as the situation seems at first, it proves to be the turning point for Dolores, who finally understands that her new family only meant well, and the love of her aunt and cousin is genuine and can be trusted.

As before, there were some funny bits that made me laugh, but also parts when I thought "oh, please!!", when morals and feelings were too sweet, too tender, too... Victorian.

Read in 2018 - 3: In den Schatten der Vergangenheit

In den Schatten der Vergangenheit
Ricarda Konrad

A German book, for a change, by an author I'd never heard of before. The book I found for free at Amazon's Kindle shop is the 1st (so far) 7 books by Ricarda Konrad. The link to the author's homepage I found by a quick research leads nowhere; it looks as if she was rather active in the years from 2014 to 2016 but has stopped participating on platforms such as lovelybooks, goodreads and facebook.

The title means "In the Shadows of the Past". The story sounds interesting enough: 40-something Caroline, newly divorced, accepts the unexpected inheritance from her Irish great-aunt, a lady she hardly knew. She decides to up sticks and say good-bye to her old life in Germany, moving to the cottage in an Irish village she suddenly owns.

There, not only does she make new friends (and an enemy), she also comes across a bundle of old letters that hint to a terrible tragedy in the past of her late great-aunt. 
With the help of her new friends and neighbours, she manages to unearth the truth about the events of decades ago, not without some danger to herself.

As I said, this could have been a good story, rather gripping. Well, it had its moments, but to be honest, the writing simply did not pull me into the story well enough. I did try to imagine the places, people and events, but the mental cinema seemed like an incomplete, rough collection of woody images with not enough depth to really care about the characters.

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a particularly bad book (I've read worse!) but not one I can recommend, either. Still, it kept me entertained for a few train journeys, and that means it was not a waste of time.

According to Amazon's author info, Ricarda Konrad is 2 years older than I (born 1966) and wrote her first short books while still at school. Education, work and family life put a stop to her ambitions as a writer until in 2014 she had the opportunity to follow through with her idea for a novel and write this book. She is married and has a daughter.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Last Month

As I know from your blogs, February was more winter than December and January in many places. I have already told you about the return of winter here in my area, with very low temperatures and some snow. 

Yesterday was finally milder, and for today, around 10C is forecast - that feels almost sub-tropical compared to the -12 we had this week!
The sun is already out, and I plan to go for a run later; I haven't been running for weeks and really miss it.

But back to winter for a little bit. Here are the pictures O.K. took on Sunday, the 18th of February.

View from my kitchen window at breakfast time:

Palace grounds:

At the deer park:

As you can see, we had bits of blue sky and glimpses of the sun. After the deer park, we walked down to the lake, where it was still sunny at first. But then the sky took on a more dramatic look:

By the time we arrived back home, we were both very ready for the warmth of my kitchen, mugs of hot coffee and later a substantial meal. Thankfully, the roads were clear for O.K.'s drive home later that evening.

It is now March, and although I know it will be a while before it gets really warm enough to put winter coats and boots aside, the sun definitely feels different when it is out. Looking at pictures on my blog from this time last year, spring was much further on that it is this year, but we paid for that when icy rain hit in April and destroyed up to 80 % of crops in vineyards and orchards in my part of Germany. Therefore, I much rather wait and let winter stay on a little bit, if it wants to, before giving way to spring properly.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Hot Food for Cold Days

Many of you have been experiencing very wintry weather over the last weeks, and my small part of the globe was no exception. We've had nights as cold as -12 Celsius (around 10 F) and days not getting above freezing point. Icy gusts of wind were biting your face whenever you dared to (or had to) venture outdoors. There were beautiful sunny days, too, but still bitterly cold. I have not been running for ages as I tend to get nose bleeds when the air is very cold, and I am one of those "just for fun" runners who really do it just for fun and so I won't torture myself by running when it is too wet, too cold or too windy for my liking.

What to do to keep warm? I usually opt for the dual approach: Warm from the outside and the inside! That means of course warm clothes and making good use of hot showers and central heating for the outside part, and drinking copious amounts of hot drinks (tea and coffee, with the occasional mug of vegetable broth spiced with ginger) and eating hot food for the inside part.

A few weeks ago, I took all the remaining spuds and carrots from another meal and turned them into a thick soup, generously adding ground ginger, nutmeg and pepper for a bit of extra heat, and served it with home-made croutons and freshly chopped chives from the windowsill. O.K. and I had this soup for our evening meal when he arrived at my place for the weekend one Friday night.

The "recipe", if you can call it that, goes like this:

Take whatever you find in terms of potatoes and carrots. Oh, and I added an apple. It does not give off a noticeable apple aroma later on, but it complements the other ingredients well.

Start with the spuds, as they take the longest. Peel and chop them, then put them in a pot of water to boil.

In the meantime, peel and chop the carrots. Do the same with the apple.

Add to the boiling potatoes and close the lid. Now go away and do something else for about half an hour. You may want to stir the vegetables occasionally. 

Once the vegetables have been simmering away long enough to be soft-ish, mash them up with your spuds masher.

Add salt, pepper, ground ginger and nutmeg (careful there - too much nutmeg can easily result in a slightly musty taste) and butter. 
Serve with croutons and freshly chopped chives on top. Fried bacon bits or sausages would also make nice additions.

On the Sunday, I made another warm-up meal by using a ready-made Thai red curry paste for a sort of stir-fry with bits of turkey and vegetables fried in the wok. We ate that with mie noodles. It was very welcome after a nice long walk in winter wonderland - more about that in my next post.

We did not neglect the intake of fresh food for vitamins, having fresh fruit with our mueslis and a big bowl of salad with the soup. So far, our immune systems have been successfully fighting all the flu viruses around us. Let's hope it stays that way.

The forecast here is for milder temperatures this weekend. We'll see. For now, keep warm and well, wherever you are!