Monday, 18 March 2019

Three More Days...

...of work (including today) until my sister and I will be off on our Yorkshire Holiday!

Last week was very busy again, with a funeral thrown in for good measure. The lady who had died was a family friend of ours and in her early 90s; she had been ill for some time and I guess ultimately death came as a relief. 

Friday evening saw me travelling to O.K.'s, with the train being only about 10 minutes late. I always look so much forward to that moment on Friday night (usually around 9:00 pm) when we finally can sit down at the dining table in O.K.'s cosy cottage, with a bowl of salad, fresh bread and a delicious selection of cheeses, accompanied by glasses of red wine - all prepared by O.K.!

On Saturday, we took advantage of the dry day (it has been raining on and off most of the week, and more was forecast for Sunday) and went running. It was very windy, which for me makes running twice as exhausting as it should be, and on my request we shortened our route from what would have been roughly 7.5 km to 6.
Is this hawthorne?
Pink, white, yellow - spring is here!

View from O.K.'s living/dining room

Whenever the sun had a chance to get through the fast-moving clouds, it was rather warm, but with the wind, it felt colder than it was.

Sunday was spent most leisurely with a late breakfast, until it was time to meet up with a group of friends at a rustic restaurant for an early evening meal. The food was excellent (if a bit expensive), and the company entertaining as usual. One of the group had an appointment with her riding club later that same evening, so our party broke up earlier than usual. Going back home to O.K.'s would not have been practical, so I opted for my trains home an hour earlier. 

Having to say good-bye to O.K. at the station was a little harder than usual, as I know I won't be seeing him until the 6th of April. Of course we will be on the phone and communicating by email and imesage while I'm in England, but it is just not the same as being together.

On the other hand, of course I am very much looking forward to seeing family and friends in Yorkshire - and there is even a trip to Derbyshire planned, to see family living there!

Keep your fingers crossed for our flight on Thursday around lunch time... I am NOT keen on high winds when I am up in the air, even though I know they do not pose much of a threat to a good aircraft and an experienced pilot.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Thirty-Six Hours

I left home on Monday morning at 9:00 and was back home yesterday. Tuesday, at precisely 9:00 pm.
Where was I in the 36 hours in between, and what did I do?

Berlin called - I went to attend a meeting with other heads of regional groups of my country's association of Data Protection Officers. We worked hard for 1 1/2 days, starting at 3:00 pm on Monday and finishing at 3:00 on the next day.

When the invitation arrived, I had my colleague check out flight and train times for me, as well as ticket prices for both means of transport. That flying would be the quickest way was no surprise. But isn't it absurd that the price for a tain ticket was, even with going half-price because of my annual ticket, more than twice as much as for the plane? Therefore, even knowing that travelling by train is much more environmentally friendly than by plane, the decision was a no-brainer.

On Sunday, we'd been having stormy weather. There were storm warnings out, and in some areas of Germany, all train traffic was stopped. Amazingly enough, air traffic went on almost as usual.
O.K. and I were out for a walk on the fields - we did not dare walk in woodland - and I am not kidding when I tell you that we could properly lean into the wind without falling over. Few other people were about, and walking against the wind required an effort similar to running. Still, it was fun playing with the wind, and keeping a safe distance to trees, we didn't feel in any danger.

By Monday, the worst of the storm was over, but it still very windy, and the first half of the flight to Berlin was rather wobbly. Although I do fly fairly regularly and have no problem with small aircraft where I can sit next to the pilot and see everything that's going on, I simply do not feel comfortable on larger passenger planes where I don't know what is happening at all times. Call me silly, but I was worried and frightened. Reading, praying or talking to other passengers helps, though, and I applied all those strategies successfully.

Once in Berlin, a fellow Data Protection Officer and I teamed up for a taxi to the hotel and arrived well in time. I could even retreat for my room and rest for about an hour before joining the others downstairs in front of our conference room for coffees and snacks - the latter being very welcome, since breakfast had been before 8:00, and by now it was after 2:00 pm.

The afternoon was filled with intense work and important information. At 7:00 pm, we all went for dinner at a nearby steak house. It was extremely noisy in there and very warm. so that our group left rather soon after the meal. This gave me again time to relax in my hotel room, talking to O.K. on the phone and reading before lights out.

As you can see, my room was spacious, modern and spotlessly clean

I have deliberately left the window frame in the picture, so that you can see how close to the train station I was. It did not make exactly for a quiet night. If I'll be in the same hotel again, I'll ask for a room to the back.
I doubt anyonw chooses this hotel for its views - but catering and service are really good.
Breakfast was excellent, and we resumed our work at 9:00 the next morning. Again, an intense day with plenty to digest in terms of information. Lunch break was welcome and the food once more very good.
A little after 3:00 pm, we were back on a taxi on our way to the airport, and just after 6:00 pm, I was aboard the plane that took me back to Stuttgart in about 50 minutes - really just a short hop. It took about another hour to get from the south of Stuttgart, where the airport is, to Ludwigsburg, which is situated north of the big city.

When I closed the door of my flat from the inside, it was precisely 9:00 pm, and I was happy to be home.

Now I need to get ready for a busy day at the office. My clients have work for me, and my colleagues want a summary of what I've been learning over the last two days.

My next flight is not far away - Thursday next week, my sister and I will be flying to England.

Monday, 4 March 2019

End of February, Beginning of March

February ended with plenty of sunshine and temperatures around 15 Celsius (59 F) in my area. The 28th, last Thursday, saw me working in Marbach, at my favourite client's. I have shown you pictures of the place (German Literature Archive) before; simply type "Marbach" into the search box in the top left corner of my blog, and you'll find them.

This time, the sun shone on a still rather bleak looking landscape of muted browns and little green; no leaves on the trees yet, and not many flowers out to add some colour to the picture. But on closer inspection, there are signs of spring everywhere, and by the weekend, even the daffodils were out. I hope there will be some left by the time my sister and I arrive in Yorkshire in less than three weeks!

The entire weekend was different from my usual weekends at O.K.'s: It started and ended earlier, and it was all dominated by carnival activities.
It started earlier, because we were invited to a birthday party on the Friday evening, which meant I had to leave work already at around 3:00 pm (instead of my usual 5:00) so that I could be there in time. Thankfully, the trains were only a few minutes late each, so that we weren't the last guests to arrive.
On the invitation, full carnival attire was requested, and so we wore what we'd already worn at last year's carnival dance in the village hall.
I was again the black cat to O.K.'s warlock (you can just see the rim of his hat next to me and a bit of his bright green satin robes on my shoulder).

We slept in on Saturday and then went for a run. This time, we took a route I'd not been running for many months; it is 7 km long (as opposed to last week's 5), and I did reasonably well. The sky was grey with glimpses of sun in between; it was very windy in parts and we were glad of our long running pants.

The first daffies are out in front of O.K.'s cottage!

The rest of Saturday was spent very leisurely with coffee and cake in the afternoon and a delicious selection of cheeses with bread and salad in the evening. We watched a movie and made sure not to go to bed too late, as Sunday was going to be a very full day for O.K.

Traditionally, O.K.'s village is dominated by carnival on the Sunday and Monday. As he plays the trumpet in the village band, he is involved in the parade on Sunday afternoon as well as in the street party (the main road through the village is blocked for cars that day) and the band's performances at various venues. 

We all (the family) had lunch (goulash soup) at his parents'. O.K. then had to leave to get ready for the parade with the band and the other groups, and we went outside to watch. Here they come:

(O.K. is in the picture but you can't see him, which is how he prefers it!)

The street party went on for almost two hours, in spite of it being a relatively small village. Young and old, native villagers and recent move-ins; they were all there, and nearly everyone wore some kind of costume. The children of course had a lot of fun and proudly displayed their princess dresses, astronaut suits and other costumes. The crowd on the street then dissolved, with most people going to the various venues where food, drink and more music was offered, and a few going home.

Just after the parade was the last time I spoke to O.K. - he was then too busy moving from one venue after the other where the band was to play. His sister and her husband kindly took me to the train station just after 5:00, and I arrived home at around 20 to 8 - about 3 hours earlier than usual.

Carnival isn't a big thing in my area, but schools are closed this week and many families take the chance to go on holiday, often skiing. Therefore, I expect a relatively quiet week at work - suits me!

Monday, 25 February 2019

More Spring on a Sunday

A week has gone by since my last post, which was about a Saturday that felt more like spring than like mid-February.
Yesterday, Sunday the 24th of February, was similarly springlike, although a few degrees cooler; another day of uninterrupted sunshine and blue skies.

O.K. and I were at my place this past weekend, and there was no question about what we wanted to do on such a beautiful day - hiking! - the only question was, where.
One or two years ago, my sister (who shares our love for walking and hiking) gave us a conveniently pocket-sized book with suggestions for hikes in the Stuttgart region. You'd be surprised how many nice places this highly industrialised area has, from woodland and vineyards to river valleys cut deeply into stone walls and hills.

We chose one that started just under 30 km away from Ludwigsburg, in Grunbach, a small town in the Rems Valley. The river Rems meanders along its valley on a length of about 70 km east of Stuttgart. It begins in the historical market town of Esslingen and ends near the eastern outskirts of Ludwigsburg in Neckarrems, where (surprise, surprise) the Rems joins the river Neckar.
The slopes of the valley are covered in vineyards and orchards and topped with woodland.  The region is renowned for its wines, and in the spring, it is especially beautiful when the many orchards are in bloom.

I've been in the area a few times before; you can see how it looked in May 2017 in this post

We did think about setting off by train, but it would have taken us a bit more than an hour (provided all would have gone smoothly, which is less often the case than we'd like it to be), so instead O.K. drove, which took us half the time.

From the parking lot near the railway station in Grunbach, we walked through part of the village and then along a small stream before the path rose through woodland. There are no leaves yet on the trees, so it was still sunny in the woods, with birds flitting about everywhere. We met other walkers, some people on bikes and some on horses, but it was mostly quiet.
The ascent was rather tough on me - something I had not expected - and I had to stop for breath once or twice before we reached the top. I can walk without tiring for hours on flat ground or gentle slopes, but somehow this knocked me out. I only took a few minutes to recover, though, and the rest of the hike was no problem.

The viewing point described in our booklet (Hörnleskopf) was also the spot we chose for a break, drinking the water and eating the treats we had brought, taking pictures and resting in the sun for a little.

Panoramic view from Hörnleskopf, picture courtesy of O.K. Click to enlarge.

Our circular route then lead us mostly along the top of the ridge to the small town/village of Buoch. We would have liked to stop there for coffee, but as it was 3:00 pm on a sunny Sunday, we reasoned any place would be packed, and so did not bother looking for a café. Instead, we descended the rather steep path (a bit of a challenge for knees and feet, but thankfully, neither of us is very heavy) back down into Grunbach.

Abandoned allotment near Grunbach, the ground covered in snowdrops.
Church in Grunbach

Back home at almost precisely 5:00 pm, it was soon time to start making dinner. O.K. drove home at around 9:00 pm and texted me an hour and 20 minutes later to let me know he'd arrived.

It had been another lovely weekend, with a good run on Saturday morning, a spot of shopping in town in the afternoon and visiting my parents in the evening.

Sunset on Saturday evening, as seen from my bedroom.

Now I am getting ready for a rather busy working week -  only 3 1/2 of them left before my holiday!

Full moon preparing for the show last Tuesday, as seen from my kitchen.
Enjoying an after-work drink with my colleagues on Thursday.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Spring on Saturday

For a few days in a row now, we have had wall-to-wall sunshine and, after frosty nights and mornings, very mild days with temperatures reaching 15-16 Celsius (around 59 F). Such warm days are not completely unusual for February; we've had them before, but mostly such years have then seen another cold spell, even with snow, in late March or even April. Well, we shall see what happens this year. In the meantime, we made the most of it and spent as much time outdoors as we could.

On Saturday, that meant going up to OK's parents' allotment and getting it ready for an afternoon with the family. We swept the patio, opened the shed, pulled out the home-made wooden benches and table and brushed off the cobwebs. Then, while OK and his dad started the fire, I got my first cautious sunbathing of the year! It was really nice and warm directly in the sun, but I was glad for my padded coat as a blanket.

Once the rest of the family arrived, we started with coffee and cake in the sun and even had a bottle of mulled wine (a last reminiscence of the Christmas season). Later on, we put strips of bacon on the grill and had them in crispy rolls - wonderful! So, everything in a day from sunbathing to mulled wine.

We packed up as the sun was setting, providing us with a beautiful backdrop. I could have taken pictures every few seconds, as the sky was just so heartstring-tuggingly beautiful. As soon as the sun disappeared, it was very noticeably February again, and we were glad to get home and spend the rest of the evening in the warm house. Should I let you know that OK and I each had a large bowl of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, topped with Bailey's, and watched silly stuff on TV? Well, I just have done.

The above two pictures were taken within half an hour of each other: First, the last of the golden sunshine lighting up the trees, and just before six pm, it all had a rosy glow from the setting sun. My photos can not do the real thing justice, but maybe they can convey an idea of how beautiful it was.

This stag's head is made of metal and was put on a pole in a vineyard next to the allotment. I quite liked the sight of its silhouette against the evening sky.

Sunday saw us out in the sun again, this time for a run. Actually, on my part, it was less of a run and more of a series of short jogs with walking in between. This was only my second "run" since late November, and my condition is nowhere near I'd like it to be. But we were out in this great weather, and that was good.
In the afternoon, we met up with a group of friends at a café in a very picturesque village/small town nearby. It being such a lovely day and a Sunday, of course the place was packed, but one of our friends had booked a table and so we enjoyed our coffees, cakes and catching up.

The train ride home worked out alright, but I had to start half an hour earlier than intended, as the first one of the two trains I normally take on a Sunday night was held up with no reliable information when it would arrive. So as not to lose my connection, I took an earlier train, and arrived home around a quarter to 11 at night, as usual.

Since I last wrote about my Dad, he has improved even more, and been out several times on his own; to the shops, to the hairdresser's and even to my sister's, which was the longest walk he has done in many months. I honestly would not have thought it possible, but he showed us all that he can still do quite a lot if he wants! He even brought my Mum flowers - something he used to do regularly when he was still driving, but of course could not do since September. Unfortunately, both my parents are now down with colds, but that is only temporary. 

Less than five weeks now before my sister and I will travel to Yorkshire! Life is very good for me at the moment, but I am not forgetting those of my friends who are less lucky.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Read in 2019 - 4: The Valley

The Valley
Richard Benson
A physical book (for a change) and one that kept me company for months - I only managed to read a few pages in the evenings, although it became easier when I replaced the light on my bedside table.

"The Valley" is the real story of Richard Benson's family. The subtitle says "A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family" - and you can imagine that got my attention!

The book follows four generations of a rather widespread family, most of them living in the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire. Now, my late husband was born and raised in Wath-upon-Dearne; my mother-in-law still lived in the same house where he was born until about 15 yeras ago, when she moved to Ripon to be closer to her daughter (and to downsize). She grew up in Thurnscoe, which often features in the book, too; a typical mining village like many others at that time and in that area.

There is a lot about mining and especially the Miners' Strikes in the book. I knew some of it from what Steve had told me years ago, but even now, after reading it in chronological order, I confess I am still somewhat confused and would not really be able to explain it all to someone else.

Life was certainly harsh there and then, and even harsher to some. But people also were people, with the same dreams and hopes, wishes and needs as us. They worked hard to give their children a better life, and they longed for love and friendship like everyone else. Their plans did not always work out; accidents, politics and other events got in the way sometimes. But they managed by relying on each other and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Because I sometimes let an entire week go by before I picked up the book again, I sometimes had to refer to the very useful family tree in the front of the book, so as not to remind myself of who was who. The author himself features only marginally; his focus switches between the various branches of the family, but he never lets his grandmother Winnie out of sight for long, whose 92 years of life set something of a framework to this impressive book.

No matter whether you have a special attachment to Yorkshire or not, this is a very readable book - not fiction, more like a family history the way probably every one could tell about their own family, if only we could be bothered (and had the time) to write it all up!

My sister gave this to me, but unfortunately, I can not remember whether as a Christmas gift or she only lent it to me. In any case, I was sad to finish it, even though it took me so long, and I would like to read the other book by Richard Benson, "The Farm", which is about the farm (surprise!) the family on his father's side worked and lived on, and where he grew up.
Richard Benson's website is here. Sadly, his blog seems to be hibernating since 2016.

Read in 2019 - 3: Das Erbe der Weisen

Das Erbe der Weisen - Eine Kindheit in Afghanistan
Zahra Hussain

Another book I have read in German, and another free ebook from the Kindle shop.

Only now, doing research for this review, did I find out that this is not an autobiographical account of the author's childhood and youth in Afghanistan, but fictional. However, a lot of it has either really happened to the author or to someone she knew.

- - -

Safia is the eldest of five siblings. She and her family live in a small village in Afghanistan. They are not rich, but they get by with a few animals, growing their own fruit and vegetables and her father training to become a Mullah. Safia is responsible for most of the household chores and looking after her younger siblings, while her stepmother spends her days playing hostess to her female friends, exchanging village gossip, drinking tea and eating too many sweets. 

As a girl, Safia has no access to any formal education, and no right to make decisions on her own. At around 13, her period starts; when her father notices, he beats her and locks her up in the house, as is the custom in the village. She is now betrothed to a much older man she has never met before, and the wedding is set to be in two years.

Meanwhile, the political situation in Afghanistan becomes more and more unstable and confusing. Most of the villagers are Hazara, an ethnic group who are regarded as sub-humans by other ethnic groups in the country. When the Taliban come closer, many flee; eventually, Safia's family also has to flee, her step-mother being badly hurt and one of her younger sisters dying on the way to Bamiyan.

After a long and exhausting flight, mostly on foot, the family find shelter in one of the caves in the Bamiyan rocks. But even there, the Taliban do not leave them in peace; they blow up the world-famous giant Buddha statues in the rock face and establish their regime, forcing the men to wear long beards and the women under the burqa. Of course, life was harsh and unfair for women before that, but now it becomes almost unbearable.

Still, it puts off the dreaded wedding, and Safia even manages to get in touch with the boy she loves, a childhood friend of hers from the old village. He arrives at their cave one day, with his elderly mother in tow. In the years that have passed since Safia's family left the village, he moved to Kabul and studied at university. After many discussion, her father finally allows Safia to marry her friend. Before the wedding, the friend has to travel back to Kabul but promises to return after three days.

A suicide attack in Kabul puts an end to Safia's hopes and dreams - her fiance dies. She moves out of the family cave to an empty cave where a wise man used to live, and dedicates her days to teaching the other cave-dwelling children to read and write as she was once taught by a friend, using the books the wise man left behind.

- - -

Zahra Hussain fled from Afghanistan in 1999 with her three daughters, having to leave her son behind. She lives in Germany, where she founded an organisation to help build a school in Bamiyan. The organisation has its own website here, but it is only available in German.