Monday, 12 April 2021

My Easter Weekend

For me, Easter usually starts off with a traditional meal on Thursday evening, "Maultaschen", a Swabian specialty home-made by my Mum. I am sure I have talked about this before here on my blog. Anyway, it had been a very busy day at work; knowing that Friday and Monday were holidays, I squeezed in as much as possible into the four days of the working week. The short walk over to my parents', the evening spent with them and the delicious food were all the more welcome!

As you know from my previous post, later that same evening I learned of our friend W's death.

Good Friday was mild and sunny, and I went for a walk with my sister. Naturally, most of our conversation was about W and his family. It was a very active day for a bunch of squirrels - at one time, we observed four of them in one tree, and two others on the tree next to it.

My mini garden was looking its best!

That afternoon, O.K. came to pick me up - I was going to be back there precisely three months after my last visit! It was only a quarter past six when we arrived at the village, still sunny, and so we headed out for a quick welcome-back walk for me.

Saturday was mostly dedicated to household things and preparations for Easter Sunday, but we did fit in a nice sunny walk to the next village and back.

Easter Sunday saw us getting up at 7:00, so that we were going to have the leg of lamb ready in time for lunch - the Jamie Oliver recipe called for 5 hours in the oven! The recipe was really easy, and turned out truly delicious.

After our guests had gone home and the kitchen was in order again, we had enough time for a quick walk. Along the way, we met several neighbours and friends from the village, stopping for chats. As I had not seen any of them in three months, it was nice to catch up.

Easter Monday was much colder and largely grey, but rain was forecast only from about half past four in the afternoon. Therefore, we made sure to head out for a hike in the Black Forest early enough to be back in time before the rain started, and we made it! I was so happy to finally get my fix of forest hiking again, complete with sandwiches eaten on a log, and the rest of Sunday's cake with a welcome mug of coffee on our return.

Just one picture from our hike on Easter Monday, soon after we started, looking back the way we came. O.K.'s village is behind that hill on the left.

I took the morning train home on Tuesday and was back half an hour before my first work meeting. A wonderful Easter weekend on all accounts.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Very Early This Morning

Usually on work days, I get up between 6:00 and 6:30 in the morning. Today, I was up before 5:00, so that I was ready at my computer at 5:00 - not for work. Instead, for the first time in my life, I attended a funeral service via live stream.

Last Thursday, at 10:30 pm when I was just about to turn my reading lamp off and go to sleep, my sister texted me, asking whether I had seen B's email. I had not, and immediately checked the email on my phone.

It was sad news: B's husband W had died of cancer. He was 73 years old, and until 2019, he and B were still making plans to visit us again - then in 2020, the pandemic put an end to all such ideas, as did W's illness.

B and W are our Australian friends; we have known them since 1971, when I was three years old. In spite of the long distance and sometimes infrequent communication, we never lost touch completely, and whenever we did meet or exchange emails, it was as if we'd just seen each other last week.

My Mum wrote a beautiful guest post about them in 2012; you can read it here. Now W is gone for ever, and we all attended his funeral service this morning - it was 1:00 pm in Australia, and a very hot day by the looks of it.

The service was very moving, with the children (all grown-up of course) speaking about their beloved Dad, and even mentioning each of the four of us by name when it came to talking about the friendships W had formed throughout his life.

My sister and I spent a weekend with them in France, also in 2012; those posts can also be found on my blog here and here.

The last time we saw W and B was when they were here as the biggest surprise ever, for my Mum's 70th birthday. You can read about that here.

Learning of W's death made me very sad, and this morning during the funeral service was not the only time I cried. At the same time, I feel grateful for having had W as a friend in my family's life, and for still being friends with his wife and children. In spite of being so far away, we mean a lot to each other, and it is times like this when I appreciate the opportunities we have nowadays with communication technology. I was able to "be there" even if I could not attend in person.

My thoughts are with B, her children and their families. You'd be hard pressed to find nicer, kinder people, and I am glad B is surrounded by them now and not all on her own.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Last Week

After my many and varied birthday-related activities, the working week was short at only three days. It meant I had to catch up and squeeze as many of my regular tasks into those three days, so by the time the weekend (and O.K.!) was here again, I felt as exhausted as after five days of work.

The Dalesman's March issue arrived on the 23rd, looking very Easter-like. The magazine regularly features a walk, and this time it was OUR walk - the one from Ripon to Fountains Abbey and back, a walk I could do in my sleep (and actually  sometimes walk in my mind to help me getting to sleep). It made me quite nostalgic, wondering when I will have the chance to be there again.

On Thursday, I met Mr. and Mrs. Easter-Bunny a few minutes before sunset on a bit of open woodland at the edge of town, discussing logistics as to where they should start distributing chocolate eggs and other treats this year.

On Friday evening, O.K. and I made use of several of my birthday presents at once: The red wine was part of my parents' large gift box, the cheese board and knife were also from my parents, and the cheese itself was bought using vouchers for a specialist cheese shop in town given to me by my sister - my idea of the perfect start of the weekend!

Saturday was rather cold with very strong winds and fast moving clouds, but the sun lured us out. We wrapped up warmly against the wind and went walking to Asperg and the castle on the hill that you have seen many times before on my blog.

Signs of spring are everywhere now, even if the trees are still mostly bare. We took a different route on the way back, passing the lake. The clouds were getting darker, making for a rather Gothic atmosphere around the ruins of the church on one of the small islands in the lake.

Sunday was much warmer, and saw us out on the fields in our running shoes before a very late and leisurely breakfast. It was also the day the clocks changed for us (same as in the UK, I think).

And since Monday, we have been having the nicest spring weather you can imagine, a bit warmer every day, with 23 Celsius forecast for today! It won't last all over the long Easter weekend, but I hope to make the most of it when and if I can.

Monday, 29 March 2021

The Week Before Last, and My Birthday

 Recently, we've been having all sorts of weather, sometimes within a few hours on the same day. Monday and Tuesday (15th/16th of March) were cold and mostly grey, with some sleety rain. I had no need to go outside except for a quick walk to the post office and the bakery, and did not even go for after-work-walks on either day.

By Wednesday (March 17), I felt restless enough to want to go out no matter what, and arranged to meet my sister after work for a walk. We started out in beautiful late afternoon sunlight, but on our way back had to struggle against strong, cold wind blowing snow and rain in our faces.

Thursday was again a mixed bag of cloudy and sunny skies, rain and snow. I had lunch at my parents' and again an after-work walk with my sister before it was time for the monthly meeting with my girlfriends. While I really don't feel like spending another hour at the computer after I've been in online conferences all day already, it is the only way I can see my friends these days, and so I do attend our virtual meetings - an hour once a month is not too much to ask for, I think.

On Friday, the 19th, my sister and I had sad news from Yorkshire: Our landlady is retiring and selling up - "our" cottage, where we have spent our annual Yorkshire holiday for many years, will be gone forever, without us having a chance for one last holiday there! Of course we perfectly understand Sue's reasons; at 74 and with her grandchildren offering a much more pleasant way of spending her days than catering for her B&B guests, she will be happy to see the work gone and move to a smaller, more convenient place. And we will stay in touch with her and meet up next time we're in Ripon - whenever that will happen!

My sister came to my place in the evening for some reminiscing and a commemorative G&T.

Then Saturday was here, and the start of a series of things to do with my birthday: First, O.K. arrived for what was to be a long weekend - we both had taken the Monday and Tuesday off.

I picked up the cake I had ordered at the bakery down the road, and we went to my parents' for coffee: Phase One of my birthday celebrations, even if it was two more days before the actual day. But Covid regulations only allow for two households to meet, and so we split things up. The cake was very nice, and my parents had not seen O.K. in a long time, so it was a welcome occasion for catching up.

Back home in the evening, we ordered pizza and watched TV - quite relaxing!

Then came Sunday, the 21st, another cold and grey day - not really walking material, but we had something else lined up anyway: an afternoon at a private Spa!

Just down the road from where I live is a spa place that normally offers all sorts of stuff such as massages, pedicure, facial treatments, as well as an entire floor of saunas etc. Under Covid regulations, the sauna part is not allowed to operate... unless you rent it privately and use the facilities all on your own, with no other visitors or staff present. And that's what we did: We had the entire upper floor with two different saunas, a steam bath, the showers, relaxing couches and so on all to ourselves! The staff only let us in, gave us quick instructions and then left us to our own devices before coming back to clean and lock up.

It was a most pleasant and relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon! 

Then it was Monday (March 22), and my birthday. O.K. had brought a huge stack of presents for me, plus there were the ones I had already received on Saturday at my parents. Unpacking took a while, and I was happy with each and everything. There were several kitchen items I'd had on my wish list, a big box of wine from my region, and much, much more - plus the many cards, emails, text messages and phone calls. So many kind people were thinking of me!

It was still cold and windy, but I so wanted to go to the palace grounds on my birthday, and so we did. It wasn't really very pleasant - not only because of the weather, but also because we are required to wear masks throughout our visit, even if there is nobody else about and we are out in the open. If you wear specs like I do, you know what that means - you are constantly struggling with steamed-up glasses and poor visibility. Never mind, I had my stroll in the palace grounds!

My sister finished work early and was at my place in time for coffee and cake, bringing more presents! I now have my very own mini garden on the window sill, planted by her:

She stayed for the evening, and we ordered Indian food - not from a takeaway place but from the very good Indian restaurant nearby, who are of course not open these days but offer food for pick-up or delivery.

The last phase of my birthday celebrations came on Tuesday. At the spa where we had spent Sunday afternoon, I had booked massages for O.K. and myself. Afterwards, we had enough time for a walk on the fields before I made our tea. O.K. left for the long drive home, and our nice long weekend and my birthday celebrations were well and truly over.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Election Sunday

Last Sunday, my and one other of the 16 federal states of Germany held an election for the state's parliament. I already told you that I was going to volunteer, and here is how the day went.

Getting up much earlier than what is normal for me on a Sunday wasn't hard, because I had something to look forward to. My place is closer to the venue where we were assigned to, and so my sister passed my way, and together we walked there in just under 20 minutes.

Entrance to the kindergarden. The yellow sign shows the covid rules that apply here.

The venue normally serves as a kindergarden. It's been several decades since I went to kindergarden myself, and to see the tiny chairs, low tables (and mini toilets!), toys and crafting materials was a reminder of those days, even though this was not my kindergarden.

The largest room - not open to visitors - with tiny chairs.

In Ludwigsburg, of the roughly 91,000 residents, around 59,000 were invited to cast their vote. They could do so at 59 venues all across our town. At each venue, a team of volunteers was responsible for the smooth operation and strict observation of covid rules.

Coming through the entrance door.

First stop: show your election letter and ID to have your name checked against the register by the friendly volunteer.

Second stop: the person behind the desk hands you your ballot paper.

Finally, you stand in the cubicle and make your cross behind the name of your choice. Then it's back to the desk, put your ballot paper in the large container next to the desk, and leave.

Two teams of three split the day in two shifts; voting was possible from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. After that, both shifts worked together at counting.

The area covered by our venue held around 1,100 possible voters. This year, hardly surprising, many more than usual opted for voting by mail instead of visiting an election venue. We had 322 votes cast, which made for a steady stream of people coming and going, without it ever being stressful.

After each person, we wiped the inside of the cubicle with disinfectant. The pens we provided were also disinfected after every use. At the entrance, hand disinfectant was offered, and we had extra masks ready to hand out in case someone forgot theirs at home.

Of the 322 cast votes, only 2 were invalid - those voters had made their cross behind more than one name on the list, when only one was possible.

Generally, people were friendly and patient; sometimes they had to wait outside, because only a maximum number of two visitors were allowed to enter the venue at the same time. Sometimes it took us a while to find them in the register, which meant another short wait for them.

An elderly gentleman, almost completely blind, came to cast his vote, and told us that his wife had meant to vote as well but was sick at home. It was admirable that he walked to the venue and back on his own, at his age and with his condition! But he and his wife obviously took their democratic rights seriously, and so did we.

After the counting (which was done rather quickly - it does not take all that long for six people to go through 322 ballots, even with double-checking), our team manager transmitted the results by phone to our town hall. The ballots were packed up, ready to be delivered to town hall later. 

My sister had brought a bottle of sparkling wine and glasses for six, and one of the others had made savoury snacks as well as muffins for all. 

It had been an interesting day, serious work but fun, thanks to the great team and the many good people coming to our venue.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Spring Skies & More

Actually, I don't know if the skies I am showing you in this post are typical for spring, but I was looking for a headline for this post that had something to do with spring and skies, so here you are.

Thursday, March 11, the day my sister and I were finally able to visit the palace grounds again, we were heading west on our way back to our respective homes and found the evening light particularly beautiful:

This was taken when I was back home, from my bedroom window looking west:

Friday, March 12, a few minutes past 7 in the morning, view from my kitchen window:

A few hours later, out for a quick lunch break walk, forsythia and hawthorne in bloom:

The same day, 5:45 pm once again out on the fields for an after-work walk:

Last but not least, I have put up a few bits of spring/Easter decoration:

The bird's nest is a real one. Last year in summer, when the breeding season for most birds was over, O.K. helped his parents cut down the huge ivy growing on the facade of their house. It had become a veritable tree with big wooden trunks and sturdy branches, not easy to cut, but threatening to split the wall and generally getting out of hand.

This nest was high up in the ivy, and long abandoned; we believe it was a blackbird's home. I found it too beautiful to let it go along with the cut-off branches, and took it home with me, intending to use it for decoration next spring. And here it is, now holding a tin in the shape of a Fabergé egg, and a small artificial narcisse that was once included in a birthday parcel from England many years ago.

That first evening after we'd cut it down, the  large colony of sparrows who used to live in the ivy were clearly confused, fluttering about, darting back and forth, looking for their usual resting places. I did feel sorry for them, but they are still around; close to O.K.'s parents' house are dense privet hedges and shrubs in their garden and the ones bordering theirs. The sparrows seem to have found new homes, and since we always hear and see many blackbirds around, too, I am not too worried about them, either.