Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 12: In Homespun

Another "old" book, this free ebook was first published in 1896.

 
It is a collection of stories by Edith Nesbit, an author I much admire and always enjoy. I have written a short paragraph about her and her life at the end of this review, and there are several other reviews of her book on my blog; if you are interested, simply type "nesbit" in the search box on the top left corner of my blog.

The stories in this book all have one thing in common: They center around a female character who tells the story in her own words. The women are all of more or less humble backgrounds, unlike many books of that time, when novels were often set in aristocratic circles. They tell the reader of how they got where they are now, how they found their place in life, in the world, and what made them do what they did - how circumstances and their own personality worked for or against them and formed their actions.

With some of them, the reader can fully sympathise; with others, the impulse is rather to tell them what one thinks of their actions. No matter which way the reader is inclined with each story, they all offer a good glimpse of what life used to be like for the "average" woman more than 100 years ago in a village, small town or on a farm in southern England.

And, if you know Edith Nesbit's work, you'll find her typical sense of humour coming through more than once.

It definitely made me grateful for living here and now, where I can largely lead the life I want, choose where I live (and who with) and what I want to do for a living and how I want to spend my free time.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 11: Happiness and Marriage

This was another free ebook I downloaded years ago - I am reading the books on my kindle largely in the order I downloaded them, unless it is a seasonal read (around Christmas time) or a new book I am particularly keen on.


"Happiness and Marriage" was originally published in 1904. Therefore, you may be forgiven to expect a conservative approach to the subject, based on the classic role models for husbands and wives.

Well, this one comes as a surprise, as it is rather modern, portraying men and women as completely and absolutely equal. Marriage is seen as not the only way to happiness (or the only way to exist for a woman at that time, for that matter), and it can be just as well based on reason or friendship as on love. More than once, the author states that husband and wife can be good friends and live happily together without being lovers, as long as there is mutual respect.
And if nothing will work, or if either of the two love someone else, they should be reasonable and set their unhappy spouse free by leaving - after a period of testing their own feelings for the person they believe they love.

Wikipedia says that Elizabeth Towne, who lived to be 95 years old (from 1865 to 1960), was an influential writer, editor and publisher in the New Thought and self-help movements.
She certainly had plenty to say about marriage from her own experience, having first married at the age of 14! She had two children with her first husband, divorced him later on and married a man who was also of the New Thought Alliance. You can read more about her here on Wikipedia.



I had not heard of her before, and sometimes found her writing a little condescending. But she always makes clear that her advice (given in the book based on letters she received from men and women who apparently saw her as an Agony Aunt) is meant for both sexes.

I am not at all familiar with the New Thought movement, and personally, am a little skeptical about some of the beliefs in the wikipedia entry about "New Thought". But I can not see any harm in the ideas Elizabeth Towne shared in this book, and it is short enough not to be considered a waste of time. It did offer an interesting glimpse into what must have felt rather revolutionary ideas at the very beginning of the 20th century.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Keeping Cool

The high temperatures we have been experiencing here in the south of Germany are no exception; something around 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) has become the rule during the days, it seems. O.K.'s area is often a few degrees warmer than where I live, and last weekend, we had 37-38 C (around 100 F). That's all very well and nice to enjoy summer and a lot of outdoor time, but it becomes hard to bear when the nights do not bring relief and our houses and offices simply store the heat of the day without a chance to cool off during the night.

Nobody I know here has airconditioning at home, and not all offices and shops are equipped that way, either. The trip to and from O.K. last weekend saw me on three different trains each way, two of them being without a/c altogether. 
Up until recently, very hot summers were rare here, and temperatures above 30 C never lasted long; after a few days, a thunderstorm would break the heat. It was normal to complain about our summer weather being wet and chilly, which is why so many of us took to going abroad for their holidays, to countries like Italy, Spain and Turkey, where sunshine was almost guaranteed.
Therefore, it never seemed to be necessary to have a/c in private homes or most offices; one could cope with the heat for a few days, and installing a/c was considered an unnecessary expense.

Things (i.e. the climate) are changing, however, and new buildings are already planned in a different way, to be more energy-efficient (both to keep the warmth inside in winter and the heat out in summer).

Anyway, what did we do last weekend to keep (relatively) cool?

O.K.'s village has several fountains lining the main street, and his house is close to one of them. It is a large stone through, hewn from a single block of sandstone. Larger than a bath tub, but not big or deep enough to swim in. Fresh water is constantly coming in from a pipe. I managed to find a picture of "our" fountain on the internet (O.K.'s house is not in the picture):


After we had our first coffee on Saturday morning, we walked over to the fountain and sat on the rim with our feet and legs in the water. At first, it feels so cold you want to shriek (I didn't, I merely gasped!), but then it becomes wonderfully refreshing. After a while, I bent forward and also put my arms in almost up to the shoulders - they were dry again very quickly.

We repeated that three times a day and spent the rest of the time mostly on the balcony in the shade of the big umbrella there, with O.K. serving chilled drinks. No running or walking this time! Another nice thing about sitting at the fountain was also that we could watch village life go by and had the occasional neighbour stop for a little chat, and some joined us in the water.

On Sunday, he prepared blueberry pancakes for breakfast - they were an experiment, but it definitely worked very well for me!


When I returned home on Sunday night, the air in my flat felt very "closed in". The sun did not have a chance to get in, as I had shut everything before going away on Friday evening, but it was still warm at about 26 or 27 C in my bedroom (around 80 F). 

View from my kitchen window at 20:46 on Monday

Yesterday, my colleague and I left our stickily warm office together, and for the first time, it definitely was cooler outside than in. During the night, it has cooled off nicely; thunderstorms and rain are forecast for the next few days until we'll be back in the 30s next week (mid-80s to 100 F).

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Where to Walk...

...on a hot summer's day? Woodland is a good option, if you are too far away from any breezy beach. Just like for most of you, here in the south of Germany, summer has been very much on the hot and dry side so far this year. We've had way too little rain; thunderstorms brought heavy downpours, but they lasted nowhere near long enough to give the soil the good drenching it needs.

Maybe it is naive and egoistical of me, but I do really enjoy this summer. Most days, there is no need to think about taking an umbrella or cardigan when leaving the house. One can simply slip something on and go. But then of course I am neither a farmer nor do I have a garden; all the watering I need to do is my potted basil on the windowsill in the kitchen.

On Sunday, we went walking in an area I've posted about before. (Click here and here for my 2015 posts from the area.)
Stuttgart, although a city of more than 600,000 residents and the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg's capital, has a surprising amount of woodland - proper woodland, not just a few trees in a park. They offer nice walks in the shade, with birdsong and butterflies to keep you company.





Clicking here takes you to the English wikipedia entry about the palace. The author seems to be undecided about whether to call it a castle or a palace, but apart from that, the article offers some interesting details.

Actually, it was the woods we wanted to walk in, and so we did. I only took a few pictures along the way:



We then reached this lake, Bärensee (Bears' Lake), a place where we'd stopped before (see the above linked posts from 2015). There were many people about, as was to be expected on a fine Sunday such as this, but we were lucky and found a table outside on the gallery in the shade. 
A refreshing drink and light lunch later, we were once more on our way through the woods, taking a different route back to where we had left the car.





The woods themselves are still largely green, in spite of the draught. But fields, meadows and grassy borders all show the lack of rain clearly. I hope things won't be quite as bad as our farmers fear.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Sunflowers and a Vineyard

In the middle of a city like Stuttgart with more than 600,000 inhabitants, would you expect a vineyard? Well, you would, if you knew my home county's capital!
Stuttgart is not my favourite place; it is noisy, dirty and has road works and other construction sites left, right and centre. But it also has some surprisingly quiet corners and interesting places to offer, such as the church I showed you not long ago here.

Last Wednesday, my colleague and I attended a conference held by the Chamber of Commerce. This annual event is all about IT security, and since you can not have data/privacy protection (my line of work) without that, we try to keep abreast with latest developments in that area, too.
The Chamber of Commerce in Stuttgart has their building close to Stuttgart's central station. Stuttgart itself is set in a valley; on its slopes, you find a mix of well-to-do living quarters, vineyards and woods. Still, it is unusual to have a vineyard right at the back and to the side of a building so close to the city centre as here:


The vineyard is owned by the Chamber of Commerce. Its drystone walls are listed, as is the little building at the top. Also, nature protection regulations apply. About 7,000 bottles are produced from its grapes ever year; enough wine to be given as presents to the speakers at this conference (and probably many other events), and it is served at the annual New Year's reception and similar events.


In any case, it makes for a wonderful place, and during lunch break last Wednesday, many visitors (including my colleague and I) enjoy the view, some even climbing up to the house. We did not do that - it was close to 30 C that day, and we were in business outfits not meant for climbing steep drystone steps!

Now for the sunflowers. The same evening, I went for a walk on the fields with my friend. Usually, we go for a run together once a week, but it was still very warm, and my friend is expecting a baby, so we took things deliberately slowly. We came across this field of sunflowers:


And earlier this week, I went for another evening walk with another friend, on fields on the other side of town. While I was waiting for my friend to get ready, I had a look at her balcony. It is small, but full of flowers and herbs; she even grows her own cucumbers in a pot. This flower is new this year; it looks great (but needs a lot of water). I have my friend's permission to show the pictures.


Our walk took us past this flower field:


The light is not good - it was around 7:00 pm, and the sun at an angle not ideal for this view, but I hope you can still make out the sunflowers.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Built On Sand

...and of sand, too: The sculptures at the "International Sand Sculpture Festival" that is currently being held at Ludwigsburg's palace grounds.

I have showed you pictures of last year's sand sculptures here. This year, I came across them quite by chance when O.K. and I walked through the park last weekend (see previous post).

Not all of the sculptures meet my personal taste (and I took photos of only two sculptures), but they were all done with artistic talent and craftsmanship, something I always admire.

Have a look:

This sculpture has made 1st place in the festival. According to the information (picture below), it was made by Australian artist Kevin Crawford. He explains his sculpture as picking up on the 300th anniversary of Ludwigsburg as a town by opening up a story book at the chapter "Ludwigsburg". The buildings emerging from the pages are a (fictitious) combination of houses around the market square and the (real) palace. While I am not too fond of the little girl (?) with the huge eyes and almost non-existing nose, I love the open book and the buildings on it.


The following pictures are all of the same sculpture. They show Ludwigsburg's landmark buildings and are done so well and with much attention to detail. The sculpture was not made by one artist alone, but by most of the participating artists together. That in itself is an achievement!


I will try and show you the real building to compare with its sandy model. Above, you see the small palace by the lake, Monrepos (yes, Kay, it is the one with the hearts on the facade, as shown in my previous post). The real thing looks like this:


The church in the picture below is supposed to be the protestant church on Ludwigsburg's market square:


Not the best picture, but I think you can tell it is meant to be this building if you look at this post.

Next is, of course, the south view of Ludwigsburg's palace itself:


Compare it with the real palace:


The church in the picture below is the Catholic church on our market square. I have not found any photos of my own of it, so I am linking to the church's own website here instead of nicking their photo.


Did you love making sandcastles as a kid? I did, but mine never turned out to be as impressive as the ideas I had in my head!

The finished sculptures are sprayed with a mix of water and glue to maintain their form even if it should rain on them. Of course, they can withstand the weather (and visitors!) only for a while, but for now, they are there to be admired.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Another Park, Another Stroll

Last Saturday, my family met for a picnic by the lake. It was a beautiful day, not too hot, but warm enough to spend all day outside. My cousin and her youngest son were here from France for a short holiday, and the picnic was a good occasion for all of us to meet.

After the food and drink and a boat ride (you can rent rowing and pedal boats for half an hour or an hour), the party broke up. O.K. and I helped the others to carry their things to the cars, then we walked home - just not the direct way.
Instead, we took a long, pleasant detour through first the deer park and then the palace grounds.

This first picture is of the small palace by the lake. Sometimes concerts are held in there, and it can be rented for weddings. I spotted the hearts decoration on the wall, and although I am no fan of adding something like that to a historical building (it is beautiful enough on its own), I knew I wanted to show this to my friend Kay:
 

In the deer park. You've seen it before on my blog. The game keeper's is one of my sister's favourite houses in Ludwigsburg, so this picture is for her:
 

Stopping for a shandy. Well chilled and very refreshing!


Palace grounds again, but in a different part than what you saw in my previous post:




An (almost) naked lady on the roof? Well, it was all in the name of art, you know!
 


This last picture was taken while we were sitting in deck chairs that the kind people who look after the palace have set up in the inner courtyard. It was already 6:30 pm, and not many visitors were around anymore. There was a family with children playing football. I sat in that deck chair, resting for a few minutes, looking at the palace and watching the little boy running after his ball, and I was once more grateful for living today.
When the palace was built and for the next two-and-a-half centuries after, it would have been unthinkable for a common little boy to play ball in the inner courtyard, or for common people like O.K. and myself to rest in a deck chair, enjoying the beauty of the summer evening and of the building in front of us.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A Leisurely Stroll

You already know that I visit Ludwigsburg's palace grounds often, and never find it boring. Earlier this week, I posted a review of a book (click two posts back if you want to know more) set right there in the park.

One of my longest-going friends (we've known each other from school since we were about ten years old) lives not far away from one of my clients' offices, and as I worked there on Thursday, we arranged for me to walk over to her place after work and then go for a walk in the palace grounds together.

It was a lovely evening, not too hot but still sunny and pleasantly warm. The soft late afternoon / evening light is so beautiful on the park, its flowers and buildings. We were the last visitors to the fairytale garden, which is inside the park but closes its gates earlier than the rest of the park. I apologize for not having taken any pictures of the fairytale scenes; In my opinion, they simply do not offer themselves very well for photos and would not come across as nice as they are in reality.





I was home just ater 7:00 pm; enough time to do the ironing and make myself something to eat to sit down with for the main evening news on TV.

My friend and I agreed that we should do this more often, as there is nothing like a leisurely stroll in the park and chat with a friend to clear your mind after an intense day at the office.

Read in 2018 - 10: Bubblegum Smoothie

Bubblegum Smoothie
A Blake Dent Mystery
by Ryan Casey

Another free ebook from Amazon's Kindle shop, this one could not be more different from my previous read (see one post back).

Not only because I was back for my usual reading language English after a brief German interlude, but also because of the whole setting, story, style - everything, really.

Blake Dent officially runs a smoothie stall in Preston, a not very attractive sounding town in England (I wonder if the real Preston in Lancashire is meant).
He comes up with overly creative concoctions, such as the name-giving Bugglegum Smoothie, which results not only in some of his customers developing severe allergic reactions but also in his smoothie stall being closed down by the authorities.

Good job then that just at that time, he has an offer to work again at his other, not official job as a bounty hunter for the police.

Only the lure of the large sum promised (inofficially, of course) makes him agree, and also the fact that he really does not have much of a choice because a dark spot in his past threatens to resurface.

With the help of his friend Martha (formerly Martin), Blake catches the sadistic murderer just before he can complete his plan of killing two more people after the five lives he has already taken.

Blake's methods are as unconventional as his life: in his mid-thirties (I think), people expect him to "settle down", when all he is interested in is buying more of the latest models of TVs, mobile phones, tablet PCs and other gadgets.

During the investigation (which puts Blake himself and Martha in danger, too) his priorities slowly start to shift. Since this is the first book of a series, I expect that some of the loose threads here will be picked up again and developed further in the next books.

I did not like Blake as a person all that much, but he had charm and I certainly wanted to know how and when he was going to solve the case. Also, the change of perspective (chapters written from Blake's point of view alternating with the murderer's) was well done, and the author managed to keep tension up until the end.

The sadistic murders are described without going into too much gorey detail - although they make for hard reading and I usually don't like this when I want to read just for entertainment on a train ride or at night. Still, with the characters well fleshed out and the story being interesting enough, I liked this book. Maybe not enough to actively look for more of the series, but certainly not minding if I should happen to come across another (free) one.

Learn more about the author and his books here, if you like.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Read in 2018 - 9: Nachts im Park ist alles anders

Nachts im Park ist alles anders
Mona Jeuk

This was an easy read, aimed at children from about 10, and one I really enjoyed - mainly because of where the story is set: The palace grounds of my hometown.

Ludwigsburg has extensive and beautiful palace grounds which I have regularly been visiting since I was a baby; you have seen them often featured on my blog.
(For more, you can click on the label "Ludwigsburg" in the upper part of this page, or put "palace grounds" in the search box in the top left corner.)
As I got older and started to walk and talk, of course the Märchengarten ("garden of fairytales") became the most attractive part for me.
There, as if by magic, the characters and places I knew from the story books read to me by my parents and grandparents came alive. By the time I went to school, I often dreamt of sneaking into the park  at night and checking on the fairytale scenes there.

The book I am actually trying to review here tells exactly that story: At night, the park comes alive.
Some of the fairytale characters, dummies during the day, are living, breathing, thinking creatures at night. They are a bit scary, like their story character demands.
In the end, a man (a real human being) loses his life, and others are in danger until an old puzzle can be solved and the figures turn into lifeless dummies again.

This is cleverly put against the background of a growing-up story: Young Ludwig and his little sister have lost their parents in a car accident. They live with their grandma, but the elderly woman has serious health problems which prevent her from taking proper care of the siblings.
Social Services threaten to separate them from grandma and each other, and to avoid this, Ludwig hatches a plan: One night, he manages to bring his small family into the park just
across the road from where they live. In an old gardener's house (the house really exists, like all the other places mentioned in the book), they set up their new living quarters, well hidden from the prying eyes of Social Services and nosy neighbours.

But as they become more and more aware of strange goings-on in the park at night, with each passing day and week they spend in hiding, the situation becomes more dangerous.
For the reader, tension remains until the end, even though quite a few developments are rather foreseeable (it is a children's book after all).
Who will "get to" Ludwig, Matti and their grandma first - Social Services, the police or the out-of-control fairytale characters?

As I said, I really enjoyed this book mainly because of its setting and because it picked up my own imagination as a child. Without the link to a place I have known so well all my life it probably would not have interested me at all.
But the author does a good job of keeping the story going, and telling dramatic events without them being too scary for children. This was (of course) a free download at the Kindle shop.


The author (who was completely unknown to me) is only one year older than I. She grew up in another town near Stuttgart and often came to visit Ludwigsburg and its fairytale garden during her childhood and youth. She now lives in a small town within walking distance and has written several children's books set at places of interest in our region.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Last Night and Last Weekend

If you know me only a little bit through my blog, you know at least one thing: I am not a big follower of sports events. In fact, I hardly ever watch any sports on TV - with one exception: A match here and there during football world championships such as the one currently underway. The only matches I watch (and definitely not each and every one of them) are when Germany or England play. Since Germany are out (and fully deserved it, too), I am cheering for England. Last Wednesday, watching the match was disappointing and boring. Last night, it was a different story - anything but boring! I watched together with my sister at her place:


Early on in the match, we became fed up with the goings-on: fouls left, right and center, each followed by endless "discussions" between players and the referree. Speaking of the latter, he seemed unable to establish the authority his role commands; the "boys" seemed to be doing as they pleased, like a very rumbunctious crowd of rowdy school boys at play time when they know exactly that the only teacher watching them is the one who never really carries out any punishment.

Anyway, the match went on, and finally, we had a goal. Then the other team scored, and with no more goals during the 2 x 15 minutes (I was so ready to go home and to bed, it was well past 10:00 pm by then), what we dreaded happened: Penalty shootout! Oh our nerves... I am not kidding you when I tell you that my sister had to leave the room when it was England's turn to make the decisive strike. Well, we all know how it ended, and I was finally on my way home and in bed about half an hour later.

Phew!

Now for the weekend, which was one of the most beautiful summer weekends we have had so far this year: Really warm (around 30 Celsius), but not muggy or humid, just clear blue skies. I was at O.K.'s and we had a family BBQ on his parents' allotment, with all delicious food and drink, and of course each other's company, to enjoy.

The evening light was beautiful, and shortly before 8:00 pm, I went for a little walk "around the block" (actually, around the patch of woods near the allotment, and back through vineyards and orchards). It is the same route O.K. and I often use for our Sunday morning runs, but this time, I was not running. Instead, I was taking photos:





Back at the allotment, we were sitting there for another half hour or so, watching the sunset. At some point, those of us with mobile phones got up to take pictures of the sunset. Mine are like a time line, taken within minutes of each other until it became too dark:







We packed up and went home, sated with good food and beautiful views. 

As we were standing there, admiring the sunset, it occurred to me how nice it is to know that nearly everyone appreciates those colours and the special light of a sunset; no matter how many we have seen in our lives, we can not seem to get enough of them. This is something we as humans have all in common. A comforting thought to return to when I despair of my fellow humans and their inexplicably mean actions.