Wednesday 29 September 2010

A Mysterious Parcel

On Monday, I was going back to work for the first time since my operation.
Work starts only at 1.00 pm for me on Mondays, so I was still home when someone rang my door bell: a small parcel was delivered.

The stamp said "Guernsey", and there was no hand-written address label or sender. Much as I think it is a beautiful place, I've never set foot on Guernsey, and I don't know anybody there and had not ordered anything recently, so I really had no idea what this mysterious parcel meant.

Well, there was one way to find out!

Underneath the plastic wrapper, a pretty red cardboard box appeared, and now I had an incling of what was waiting inside.

This is what I found:

Mary, my mother-in-law, had sent this to me; she lives in Yorkshire, not in Guernsey, but the florist offering the flower card service is obviously located on the island.
It is the first such card I've ever seen, and I find it quite a moving gesture from her.

The flower card came with a little plastic pipette to water the green florist foam the flowers are arranged on.

The card sits now on my sideboard next to the other get well cards I've received.

And I am much better, although I am not allowed to resume all my normal activities just yet.
At least I can work!!

Saturday 25 September 2010

The Scent of Home

My home, that is.
I like my flat. It is neither particularly big nor special, but it is mine, and it has everything I need (apart from, maybe, a balcony, which is something I am thinking about adding if I'll ever come into money - how exactly that is going to happen is still a mystery, but life has a tendency to sometimes happen in rather wondrous and unexpected twists and turns, doesn't it?).

Saturday mornings I usually do the cleaning; once a week done properly is enough for a place with no kids and no other inhabitants than one woman and one cat.

It will not have escaped your notice that today is indeed Saturday, and therefore, I was going about my usual tasks of dusting and hoovering, mopping and wiping, when I thought of writing about how scents are usually quite characteristical of any building, be it a school or a shop, a hotel or hospital, restaurant or residence.

My olfactorial sense is certainly no different to that of the majority of people, with whole industries making a living by tapping into it, and by no means only the perfume manufacturers. Scents are deliberately added to the airconditioning of office buildings to increase work performance, in hotels to make guests feel relaxed and welcome, and I dare say we all have walked past a bakery where the air vent was placed on purpose to make the scent of freshly baked bread and rolls waft through the pedestrian area and up the nostrils of those walking by.
Let's go back to my place and find out what it smells of right now.

Some of my furniture belonged to my grandparents; they bought them in the 1930s when they got married. The wood is mostly in very good condition, although some of the surfaces have suffered water damage during the years my grandmother had put the sideboard in the spare room and kept potted plants on it in winter.

I like the colour and the style of those pieces, and every other Saturday or so I use a bit of beeswax polish on them. The smell of that is very warm and mixes with the scent of the rose petal potpourri I made myself; from time to time, I freshen it up with a few droplets of rose oil.
My coffee table with the glass top was also my grandparents'; they bought it in the 1960s, which is quite obvious from its clear-lined shape and square chrome feet. The glass cleanser I use has a lemony smell, like probably most such detergents, and adds to the overall mixture of scents in my flat, since there is glass in the form of table tops or mirrors in every room except for the kitchen.

The bathroom usually smells most prominently of the bar of soap I am using at the time; currently, it is lily of the valley (not my favourite scent but it is nice enough).

In the kitchen, scents vary with the time of day as they will in most homes.
Today at lunch time, I had this substantial stew made by my mum. It smelled and tasted as good as it looked (if you, like me, love soups and stews).

Half an hour later, that was replaced by the scent of coffee.
What does your home smell of?

Thursday 23 September 2010

Some More Time-Travelling

In July, I wrote about everyone's personal time machine, and the kind of time-travel described there is quite spontaneous and not really organized in any way.
But there is a more "all inclusive" way to travel into your past: Go where you've lived as a child.
And that is just what I've done on Tuesday.

When I was five, six years old, my parents, my sister and I used to live in a small village near the river Rhine, close to the French border. Both my sister and I attended kindergarden there, until my sister (being one year my senior) started school.

(Back & front view of the house we had rented; on the patio, left to right: my sister, grandpa, 5-year-old me, mum, grandma)

It was a good time for us, the way life in the country is for children: little road traffic to worry about, lots of animals to visit on the farms who belonged to our friends' parents, people knowing each other so that practically everyone kept an eye on the kids running around outside without the parents constantly having to monitor their offspring.

5-year-old future librarian with one of my kindergarden friends, Tanja (not the one I met again on Tuesday; I do not seem to have any picture showing the two of us back then).

For my parents, things weren't easy, mostly in economical terms, which was the reason for us eventually moving back into town (where we all still live).
Regardless (or because of?) their difficulties, they formed lasting friendships there, particularly with one family, and on Tuesday, we went on the roughly two-hour drive to the village to visit those old friends.

Of course, the village has grown and changed, but some bits there are exactly as I remembered them: the old house on the corner of the road where we used to live, the many orchards and gardens and fields on the village's outer rim, and the church as well as many of the older houses dotted around it.

I enjoyed seeing my parents' friends, and especially their daughter who is my age; we used to be pretty close as kids, but as life moves on and people (in that case, my family) move away, we lost touch.

When on Tuesday I saw her again for the first time in about 25 years, it was almost as if we'd never been apart for longer than a few years - she still has the same laugh, her face and looks have not changed beyond recognition, and it was really really good to see her.
After we had been talking over coffee and cake for quite a while, she suddenly reached into the pocket of her trousers and showed me three letters she had kept all those years: my sister and I had written them to her about 1 1/2 years after we had moved away from the village, in 1975, when I was seven and my sister was eight.

It was very touching to see that she had kept the letters for so long, and funny to re-read them; they reminded me of what mattered to us back then, what we found worth writing about (mainly our guinea pigs having had babies, but also school holidays and other things).
My handwriting was really neat back then, believe it or not!!

Later, we went to the river where we'd spent a lot of time back then, and there, the smell of the water on the pebbles added that time-travelling component I wrote about earlier. No two rivers smell the same, and the Rhine is very different from the Neckar which is the river closest to where I live now.

We took a look at the small lake on which I learnt ice skating during that one winter when it was frozen solid while we lived there, and I got a gnat bite as soon as I stepped out of the car; well, I needed a souvenir, didn't I!
The lake

It was a day I really enjoyed. Some of my friends tell me they don't do nostalgia and do not want to remember their teenage years or childhood, but I had a great time as a kid, something I will always be grateful for to my parents.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Ode To My Colleagues

Since November 2009, when my husband died, my colleagues have had to put up with quite a lot from me - or, rather, with quite little in terms of active contributions from my part.
The first few weeks, I went to work but was merely physically present and not really able to deal with much. Work was my personal therapy; it gave me a reason to get up in the morning and added structure to my days and weeks.
On top of that, of course I was absent for several days; first for the funeral service here in Germany, and two weeks later when I took the urn to England and we had a second funeral service there for the family and friends.

2010 started for me with a surplus of days off that I had not taken in 2009, making it an incredible total of 38 days to play with. And play I did!

I spent a long weekend (meaning not going to work on the Friday of that particular weekend) in Hamburg, another one in Aalen, then I went to Nice, later to Paris, after that I spent a whole week in the Provence for a family reunion, and in August I travelled to England again, adding another week off after that to work at a fair in Cologne (that work has nothing to do with my everyday job).
Only two weeks after coming back from the three week holiday, I had to go to hospital; I am still on the mend and I guess it'll be another three weeks altogether before I can return to the office.

And my colleagues as well as my bosses have been fabulous throughout.
There were no complaints, no "can't she pull herself together" comments from anyone, only sympathy and support, back in November last year or now when I learnt that I needed an operation.

Patrick is the one who has access to my emails at work, and therefore he has to deal with most of what my customers request. I know he has quite a lot to do without doing my stuff, but he does not complain and never leaves the office until he has done all the tasks.

Dieter's technical knowledge is vast, and I rely on him a lot when my customers ask in-depth technical questions (me simply lacking the background knowledge; I was originally trained as a Librarian assistant and had never had anything to do with the products I am selling now), so, when I am not there, he steps in to help whenever he can.

Goran is still new in our team, but he picks up the phone a lot and so helps to give the others time and space to do their stuff.

Jens is the man for delicate and challenging matters that sometimes arise in our relationship with a customer or in connection with a project. He was the one who originally employed me a bit more than 8 years ago, and I have learnt LOTS from him.

Nadine and Dorina deal with all our paper work; they process the orders and make sure backorders are shipped as soon as the goods arrive at our warehouse. They are both incredibly diligent and conscentious, and only leave when everything is done for the day. Apart from that, they are both very pretty young women and a pleasure to have as colleagues. Not to mention they feed me chocolate and biscuits when I get restless and hungry and have already eaten everything I brought, and there are still hours to go before I can have a proper meal.

Natalie works in purchasing (I am in sales), and I don't know anybody else who has such a beautiful and tidy handwriting (as opposed to mine, as you can see here). She is very reliable in dealing with all the stuff we put her way, and we are really lucky to have chosen her from the pool of applicants some years ago.

There are others - about 30 of us at the company - and although there are some I get along better with than others, they are all doing their job well, and it would be sad to see any of them go, for whatever reason. We do not always see eye to eye, and I would not want to spend my spare time with all of them, but that's not the point of having colleagues.

At the moment, I don't know yet when I will be able to go back to work, whether I'll need a second operation or not, but I am sure no matter what will happen next, I can count on my colleagues.

Thursday 16 September 2010

On the Mend

In my previous post (which was Post No. 101 - nobody was more surprised than I! Did I really write all that? Yes, must have been me...) I mentioned that circumstances had prevented me from writing for a while, and that I would tell you more about that in a later post.
Well, this is going to be said "later post".
Last week, I had to go to hospital for an operation. Nothing dramatic; it was a case of taking action before anything dramatic could have developed. Ever since March or April this year, I knew that there was the possibility of me having to have this done, and now the specialist as well as my doctor advised me accordingly, and the appointment was made.

I was in hospital for five days, and I remember what I thought while I was, neatly tucked in, wearing a tent-like hospital nightie and a funny plastic bonnet like a shower cap, waiting on "Death Row" (I know. It is not very tasteful to say that, with people sometimes really not coming out alive after an operation) until it was my turn to be wheeled into the operation theatre. While someone stuck a needle in my hand and I was observing my bed to be moved from fourth in line to third and second, I marvelled at how this very instant, me being surrounded by competent and very clever people who know a great deal about medicine and the human body, was (at that moment in time) the top point of a very long line of medical history, of people who had, millennia ago, discovered that certain plants and other things can help in case of injuries or sickness, and had made it their aim to find out about it as much as they could.

My marvelling went on to try and grasp the enormous steps that were necessary to develop a (mostly) fully functional national health care system, with hospitals, universities where there is a legally binding amount of things to learn and exams to pass for those who want to be physicians, regulations about medication and all sorts of beaurocracy and rules to observe, not to forget the astronomical sums of money involved, and all that from our humble ancestors who merely noticed at some stage that some herbs were better than others for an upset tummy or to still the bleeding from a sabre-tooth wound (I have not researched this, therefore I don't know whether anyone ever really recovered from a sabre-tooth wound, helped along by herbs; it is merely to illustrate my point of how far we have come since the time when our ancestors roamed the savannah.).

What I felt at that moment was gratitude; I was grateful for those people having chosen the job they were doing and which enabled them to take care of me today so that I need not worry anymore about something happening in my body that was not supposed to be happening.

Before, I always thought that, should I ever have to go to hospital for an operation, I'd feel like a helpless victim, like a piece of meat being lugged about by faceless and nameless professionals dealing with everything in a cold and distant manner (maybe I watched too many science fiction films with white-clad mad scientists performing experiments on humans to "save the world" or satisfy some Alien ruler).
Instead, I found I was in good hands, and that impression proved to be true in the hours and days that followed the operation.

Everyone I met during my short stint in hospital was kind and friendly, some showed a sense of humour that I appreciated very much, and although I knew they were very busy, nobody ever gave me the feeling that looking after me or answering my questions was bothersome or "just business".

I was also lucky in that they put me in the same room with a woman my age, who spoke my language (which is by no means to be taken for granted) and who liked to talk when we were both up for a chat, but was also content with being quiet and read or snooze and was not constantly blabbing my ears off or having the telly blaring mindless talk shows, adverts and series at me.

The food was alright; nobody goes to hospital expecting gourmet meals, but it was alright and thanks to my mum's generous contributions of chocolate cake, I never went hungry :-)

Almost all the time during those five days, the weather was beautiful. We had a spectacular view from our room on the 14th floor, facing East, but even that kind of late-summer weather which normally would not have kept me indoors for longer than necessary did not make me want to do anything apart from staying put, reading and talking to my visitors and my roommate - which was good, because I was not allowed to do anything else anyway.

Sunday morning after breakfast (taken on the 14th floor with a sunrise view of my home town with its many green parks and gardens) I was released, leaving with mixed feelings; I had been taken care of so well, and was not in a hurry to go home, while at the same time I was looking forward to having my own bed, my own bathroom and of course my cat there waiting for me.

Since then, I have had time to readjust to a more or less self-determined way of life again, without people coming into the room at all times of night and day, poking you with needles, taking your blood pressure and temperature, examining you, asking questions and telling you where to be when for whatever was lined up for you to happen next.

My mum and my sister had brought flowers to my hospital bed, and of course I took these home with me. There was some more chocolate cake for me, too, and coconut kisses.

Although I do get up and move about, I am never very far from my bed, and of course I read more than when I am at work.

Pukky and I have taken turns - she had to go to the vet's on Monday, because her upper right fang had come loose, and she'd been faffing with it to the point of lodging the broken tooth into her gum, behind the small front teeth. Of course she was in pain and bleeding, so in spite of me not really feeling up to it, I went to the vet's with her (kindly taken there by my dad by car) and they kept her over night so that they could put her under anaesthetics the next day and remove the tooth.

Waiting there at the surgery was quite daunting and made me realize how much in need of rest I still am. The noise level in the waiting area was not much different from what it is like at the office where I work; with the phone ringing a lot and many people talking at the same time, doors opening and closing and people walking back and forth. None of it requested any kind of response from me, and yet I felt overwhelmed and would have liked to shut my eyes and put my hands over my ears and ask people to just be quiet, please (of course I didn't to that. I kept staring straight ahead, hoping we'd be able to leave quickly.).

Now we are both on the mend. I suspect she is already quite close to feeling as good as new, whereas it will take me another week at least until my former energy comes back and I am ready to face the world again.

Monday 13 September 2010

Dear Dashboard

Originally, it was this post that got me started on the idea for "Dear Dashboard", but circumstances prevented me from writing for a little while (more about that in a different post).

The first blog I ever read was when a friend of mine sent me the link to one of his posts that would make me understand better something we had been discussing. It did help, and of course I went and read almost all the posts my friend had written until then.

It did not take very long until I started writing my own blog, and I soon discovered that this seems to be the literary genre suiting me best - I have always loved writing ("always" meaning from the time I learnt to read and write, which was in 1973, when I was five years old with my sister starting school and teaching me in the afternoons what she had been learning in the mornings), but I lack both inspiration and tenacity to write a whole book, and there is such an abundance of topics I find interesting that I simply can not settle on ONE subject for a very long time. See - I am doing it again; this finding so many things interesting also means that I am prone to a little digression every now and then, in my writing as well as in speaking.

Over time, I have begun to follow other people's blogs. Some of these people I know in real life, the majority I have never met personally but have only come across by reading their comments on other blogs or because someone else pointed their blogs out to me.

When I fire up my computer, one of the first things I do is checking my dashboard here. And it is always with anticipation that I come here - who knows what funny, interesting, moving or informative articles are waiting for me today? So I scroll down to start where I last left off; with me following quite a number of blogs now, no day passes without something new on here.

Let me give you a brief introduction to what (or, better, who!) makes my dashboard worth visiting every day:
(I'll stick to the alphabetical order of the blog names, as it is impossible for me to give them any other kind of "ranking".)
Cooking the Ideas is a blog I follow not because I am such a good cook (I am not), but because I know the author from a small group which is part of a much larger social network, XING.
Cozy Cat Cottage is - you guessed it - maninly about cats, but, as the author herself points out, it is a place where she can have fun with her creativity. She includes poems, writes about food, quilting, crocheting, farm life, her cats, blacksmithing, camping, barns, exploring country back roads... (I have simply used her own introduction here, as you will see if you visit her blog).

Next on my dashboard is
this blog from my friend Mel. I've known Mel for years through our common love for a computer game, namely "The Sims 2", and it was in the forums on the official website for the game,, that we first bumped into each other. Her blog gave me a chance to get to know her better, and I hope the same is true the other way round.
Martin's blog is a treasure trove for anyone who is interested in the finer points of English v. German, be it for professional reasons or simply because of a fascination with languages - and a good sense of humour. Martin is practically my neighbour, living only two roads up from where I am.

I came across
Female Sleuths while trying to find out more about an author whose book I had just finished, and google lead me to this blog. So far, I have hardly read any of the numerous books mentioned there, but the descriptions are interesting and I keep checking my local library's online catalogue for them (the books, of course, not the descriptions).
Why I am following
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf should be obvious from the blog name alone - it contains "Cat" and "Book", two things featuring rather prominently in my life. Need I say more?

As far as I remember, I stumbled onto Julie Whitmore's Pottery through another blog which will also be mentioned here. Now, whoever knows me in real life might be surprised that I am following a blog about pottery - me not really being the handicraft person at all, and living in an almost clutter-free flat, with a taste for clear-cut lines, wide open spaces and empty surfaces. And yet, I enjoy reading her blog and looking at the pictures of the things she makes. Apart from that, she seems a very nice person and has left many a kind and encouraging comment on my blog.

Most likely it was
here on Nan's blog that I first came across Julie's blog. Again, it may make you wonder how come I, probably one of the most unfarmy people around, would be interested in following a blog entitled "Letters from a Hill Farm". But Nan writes about many things that I also find interesting, books including! And probably because her life is so completely different from mine, I always read her latest posts.

Only today I have started following
Linda's blog - I came to my dashboard this morning and found that the number of my followers has increased from 10 to 11 (I know, it's not many, but I treasure each and everyone of them!), and Linda being "my" No. 11, of course I went to check out her blog, too. Again, here is someone leading a very different life from my own, and thus I find it fascinating.

There is another one of the "farmy" blogs I am following:
My Farmhouse Kitchen. The author's daily life and interests are exotic enough for me to marvel at her posts, and, just like some of the other writers whose blogs I follow, she seems kind and friendly and leaves comments on my blog every now and then.
This blog about New Driftwood, a fictional town filled with Sims (from the game "The Sims 2"), belongs to Mel who I have mentioned already.

A true gem is
this blog - and there is the advantage of it being updated every day! "Rambles from my Chair" is still new on my dashboard, but I already wonder what I read in the mornings before I found it. The author has even commented on my blog, which is quite an honour for me.

Pete's blog is
Tempestuous to Introspective, and if you are looking not only for information about many a different topic, presented in an entertaining manner, but can appreciate one of the most eloquent and elegant writers about, then that's the right place for you.

A bit further up in this post, I have mentioned XING, a social network platform where I am a member, and it is through there that I know Ange, who has become a friend over the years we have known each other. Therefore, it is with some regret that both her blogs,
the blue marble we live in and thoughts of *A* cactus have not been updated for a long time.

The painter who owns
this blog has featured before in my blog - namely in this post, and given that we have worked together for a painting, it is hardly surprising that I follow his blog.

Second to last on my dashboard is
Twinridge, another blog of Mel's about her Sims.

The man who lets me partake in the rambles from his chair writes more than one blog;
this one is about words and phrases, their origins and meanings, and provides me with inspiration every day.

Well, I have come to the end of my dashboard and thank any of my readers who have persevered until here. Maybe I have managed to make some of you curious about the blogs that I follow, and who knows, you might find them interesting enough to add them to your own dashboard.

PS: I have only just realized that this here is my post No. 101!

Monday 6 September 2010

A Sunday in September

Last Sunday truly deserved its name; it was a sun-filled day and brimming with such beautiful views and things to look at, typical for late summer in our area, that this post is going to contain a lot more pictures and a lot less words than what I usually put on here.

My parents' allotment I have mentioned before; it is by car less than half an hour away (always depending on traffic, of course) and their pride & joy. They are both retired and spend a lot of time there; if possible (i.e. weather permitting), all sorts of minor and major celebrations are held there, from Easter to barbecues to mum's birthday to gathering around a bowl of punch with their friends on a winter night.

Yesterday, my dad went to the garden straight after breakfast by car. Just after 12, my mum rang my door bell and we walked to the train station together, taking the train to one of the smaller towns dotted around our slightly larger town. From there, we walked across fields and between other people's gardens and orchards to the allotment.

It was a beautiful walk, with only buzzards for company most of the time. Again, hearing their cry and seeing them circling high up in the air, making use of the last few days and weeks with favourable thermal conditions, plucked my heart strings, just like I have described in this post earlier this year.

At a very leisurely pace, it took us about two hours. We paused every now and then, mainly for my mum to catch her breath after an uphill stretch of path, or for a photo opportunity.

Once we arrived at the garden, my dad had already put the kettle on, and so it was merely a matter of minutes until we were sat comfortably around the table on the sunny patio, enjoying home-made apple cake (the apples of course being from the garden) and coffee.

Afterwards, I went to inspect how all the flowers, fruit and vegetables are thriving under my parents' care. And then I decided to brag about it on here and show you some pictures:

These are called summer anemona (or something like that).
My dad planted this flower bed as a birthday present for my mum; it has many of her favourite flowers, such as snapdragons, calendula, lobelia, zinnia and aster. To the left, a flask pumpkin is trying hard.
A bit further down, beans cover the ground and climb up their stalks.
Mangold and brambles, and a fig tree which reaches about hip-high for me. I don't think the figs will manage to ripen this year, it is getting too cold now.

The roses are actually past their season now, but there are still some left.

Me not being any more of a gardener than I am a prima ballerina, I do like to be in the garden, and I regularly benefit from my parents' efforts. Right now, I have tomatos and brambles in my fridge and apples in the fruit bowl on my kitchen table (just as mentioned here) ; I finished the plums on Saturday.

As usual, I offered to do the washing-up; household tasks are something I don't mind at all, and even less so when the surroundings are as homely and picturesque as the inside of the garden hut:

While it was still nice, before any of us would feel too chilly, we went back to town in my dad's car. It had been a beautiful September Sunday, and I hope some more will follow.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Welcome, New Month!

Don't you love the beginning of a new month?
There is something about it that holds (an admittedly unspecified) promise of things to come, and depending on what you do for a living and how you have generally set up your life, it gives you the chance of a clean slate in some areas.

Today is the 1st of September. It is cold out there, only 7 Celsius feeling like 5 (that is 45, feeling like 41 Fahrenheit for you), but the sky is a pale clear blue and the sun is casting long bright patches across my kitchen floor from the window facing East.

I must remember to cut out this month's train ticket and put it into my train pass before I leave for work. The wall calendar in the hall I have already turned over to September just after I fed the cat. Later, at work, I will clean up my email folders; only the current month and the two previous months are kept in the in and out boxes.

This picture I took from my kitchen window a few days ago. My neighbour's garden is beautiful, isn't it? A rather nostalgic reminder of what we have just left behind us for another year.

What are your little start-of-the-month tasks and rituals?