Tuesday 23 August 2011

Catching Up: A Birthday Party

What with me having been away for a week to work at the GamesCom in Cologne and having RJ staying with me for several days before that, I have some catching up to do not only blog-wise, but obviously with some household stuff such as washing and ironing as well, while at the same time getting back into my normal pattern of work and sleep, sports and play.

Therefore, only now, more than ten days after the actual event, am I posting about my mum's birthday party.

All of July and August, the weather here was very unreliable and mostly way too cold with a lot of rain. Some mornings in July, I even had the heating on for a little while! So we had to plan things in a way that bad weather would not mean the end of the party.

I have written about my parents' allotment several times before, for instance here, showing pictures of the garden and the shed they have there. For smaller gatherings, we often use the patio in front of the shed, but for mum's birthday, there would not have been enough room for the roughly 20 party guests (ourselves included).

The allotment is part of a larger area of similar gardens, and everyone who has a garden there has to be a member of the local gardening club. Now, this wouldn't be for me (too many rules and regulations to observe), but there are some advantages to it, such as having a fence around the perimeter, a parking space and well-maintained paths as well as running water and toilets, and although my parents are not happy about each and every rule, they have adapted to it and made some good friends among the other garden owners there.
Another advantage is that there is a communal area the members can use for free: tables, chairs, a fully equipped kitchen, a bar, and enough space to have rather big "dos" indoors as well as outdoors, and my mother chose to have her party there.

At first, my sister and I were not particularly enthusiastic about the idea, because, frankly, we thought the place looked a bit shabby, not pretty enough to celebrate such an important event. But there simply were no alternatives, and since it was of course for our mum to decide where she wanted to have her party, we organized everything to make it a really beautiful day.
We were lucky with the weather - as you can see in this picture of the allotment, it wasn't overly sunny and hot, but dry and warm enough for us to set up the tables and chairs outside.
We put up some decoration as well, like this "Happy Birthday" garland. There was a lot more; we had candles and lanterns everywhere, but there are people with their faces visible on those pictures, so that I can not show them here - most people are very sensitive about their pictures being posted on the internet, and I have to respect their wish. In this case, the two men in the background are not recognizable except to those people who know them anyway, and therefore I have decided to use this picture.

 The tables and chairs...

...and some decoration on the tables, flowers from the garden and citronella candles (these are supposed to keep flying insects away).
My mum had sent out her party invitation by email, asking everyone to not give her any presents, but to bring food instead and get in touch with me, so that I could keep track of what was going to be there - we didn't want to end up with 5 bowls of the same kind of salad and nothing else! As you can see, we had plenty of cake :-) (From left to right: apple, plum, pear, peaches & cream, poppy seed)

As the afternoon wore on and everyone had had some cake, we got the food ready for the evening. I do not have pictures of all of it, only of the starters which consisted of Caprese (tomato, mozzarella, basil) and melons & ham as well as some mediterranean-type vegetable antipasti and baguette bread.
For the main course, there was plenty of meat (chicken legs and others), spuds salad, pasta salad, and at least two other types of salads.

My contribution to the buffet was one of the salads and, for dessert, fruit salad which I made out of what you can see here:
 It looked like this when I was finished chopping everything up, which took me about 3/4 of an hour :-)
It was the wonderful afternoon and evening my mum deserved, and we all had plenty of fun (and plenty to eat!).

PS: It was pointed out to me that, in fact, making use of the communal area did not come for free. My parents paid a small fee for using the place, including water (no electricity, since there is only a generator which we did not want to use for the noise it makes). It still was a lot less than what it would have cost to have the party at a restaurant, and it was more fun that way.

Sunday 14 August 2011

An Afternoon in the Park

After an evening with friends, I welcomed the possibility to spend an afternoon in the park all on my own on the next day.
The weather was fantastic, and since some of you liked to "join" me on my walk up the hill and around the castle walls to the restaurant on Friday night, why not join me again for a walk - this time, through the centre of my home town, across the palace grounds and to the park where I love to spend time, no matter the season or the weather. 
This beautiful borders of flowers greets the visitor shortly after entering the palace grounds by the main gates.
Once you manage to lift your gaze from the abundance of colours and shapes in the flower bed, you have this rather grand view of the South front of Ludwigsburg palace in front of you.
Along the way behind the hedges, some more modest, but not less beautiful gardens lay quietly in the early afternoon sun on that sunny Saturday.
The palace is not where I am headed today, instead I walk past it, along more beautiful flower beds.
A view across the "Valley of Birdsong"; the Palace is right behind me from where I took this picture.
See the small palace in the back? This is where I'm going.
A closer view of the small palace. It belonged to the same man (the Duke of Wuerttemberg) who lived in the big palace; this small one was never inhabited but used for festivities such as balls and dinners after a day out hunting. Today, like the big palace, it is open to visitors, but only by guided tour.
Again, I am walking past it, to the right, to find the wide open space behind it - this is where I have spent many a sunny afternoon on my own last year in the summer, and had precious little occasion to do so this summer (mainly because of the weather not being in favour).
I get out my blanket, my magazines, sandwiches, bottle of water, fruit and mobile - that's all I need (ok, I do not absolutely NEED the mobile, but it is good to have one at hand when I am out on my own; you never know - I could trip up on the path and hurt my ankle and have to call someone to pick me up, for instance. Besides, I am a communication junkie and feel incomplete without my mobile - even though I very rarely use it to actually make phone calls.).
Before I left from home, I put my bikini on underneath the dress, because I want to make as much use as possible of this rare occasion when I can actually sunbathe this summer!
High above, I hear the cries of a buzzard. It is difficult to capture him in-flight, but the camera zoom works rather well.
Someone joins me on my blanket - or, rather, on one of the magazines I've brought.
Hello! Nice weather today, isn't it!
The view from my blanket, away from the palace. As you can see, nobody but me seems to be in the park, which is exactly how I like it.
One of the big old trees. These are the reason why visitors to the park are not allowed off the paths - except for the lawn where I am on.
My little companion has, apparently, tired of looking at me and has brought a friend.
You can't hear it, but maybe you can tell from the way he (? or she?) positions the back legs that he is making that grasshopper sound that, to me, is part of the sound of summer itself.

Only when the clouds became too threatening towards the end of the afternoon did I pack my things and walked home; right on the last half mile or so before reaching my house, the first raindrops began to fall.
I am glad I did not let other things I could have done get into the way but enjoyed this quiet and peaceful afternoon on my own in the park.

Next week, I will be away to work at a fair, so this is the last post for at least one week - I hope my dashboard here on blogger will be filled to the brim with interesting, touching, entertaining and beautiful posts from all of you!

Wednesday 10 August 2011

An Evening With Friends

Do you sometimes wonder how it happens that you do not meet some of your friends for months or even years, in spite of living relatively close by? And with slight regret and maybe even feeling a little guilty, you say to yourself "I really must call so-and-so and get together with them for a drink or a meal", but somehow you never get round to do it, and another year goes by and all you do is call or send a card for their birthday and Christmas.
Understandably, we all have full schedules, what with work, family, hobbies and many other things going on in our lives. But there is an easy way to make sure you will keep seeing those of your friends that matter to you: establish a regular meeting.

A group of my friends have established such a meeting about 15 years or so ago. Every 1st Friday of the month, we meet at a restaurant or, when it coincides with a birthday, at one of our houses. Originally, the group consisted of ten women; most of us used to be colleagues, but friends and siblings of some of the women have made their way into the group, too. 

With some moving away, others having small children and others again having lost interest in the group, the original number has not been reached anymore for quite some time now, and these days, more often than not, there's only about five or six of us meeting - but we stick to the appointment, and even if there are just three of us, we meet, hoping that some of the others will be able to make it again next time. Of course, not everybody can be there every time, but the regularity gives us all a chance to see each other several times a year.

Last week Friday was, as you know, the 1st Friday of the month, and so it was time for the regular meeting. We go to a different restaurant every time, and this time, I took the train to travel to the next small town. From the station there, I walked to the restaurant situated on top of a hill in the confines of a castle, and the walk was so nice I took pictures and decided to share them with you.

 The start of the ascent, maybe 10 minutes after I have left the train station.
About half way up I turn around and see this; the small town and, on the horizon, my hometown.
The ascent is getting steeper, but I'm almost there, and my only worry is whether I will make it without having to open my brolly or not.
Looks rather forbidding once you arrive on top of those steps, doesn't it?
To get to the restaurant, I have to walk half way around the ditch (which was never filled with water, by the way).
On top of one of the old towers, I spot a pigeon. Zoomed in with my camera, it looks like this:
A little further on...
...and on...
...coming towards the bridge...
...that crosses the road leading up to the parking area. I am now more or less at the opposite side of the hill from where I got up those steps, having walked half way round the old walls and ditch.
The turret and the tower with the red roof, seen from the other side.
See the bridge leading across the ditch and the red roofed tower above it? There is another red roof just visible behind it, and that's where the restaurant is.
Today as in the past, the castle is used as a prison. In the past, those who entered through that dark passage were quite sure not to come out alive again, or at least not for many many years. Nowadays, it is a prison hospital. Those prisoners who need medical treatment that can not be given in their original prison are transferred here.
Seems an odd choice to have restaurant next to a prison, all in the walls of an old castle, but I guess that hardly anyone who comes to the restaurant thinks of the inmates just a few walls away. It is a very popular venue for family and business gatherings, and you should always book a table there, even if there's just two or three eating together, like we did that evening.

Here is what I had, in German it is called Flammkuchen, and it is NOT pizza:
It was delicious, and I was really glad that the thunderstorm only broke loose after I had arrived there!
By the time we left, it was pitch black dark, and the view from inside the castle through the gate was quite atmospheric:
Well, I hope you enjoyed my evening out with friends - I know I did!

Sunday 7 August 2011

A Quiet House

Not that long ago, I wrote here about how noisy my neighbourhood can be during the day.

On the last weekend of July, the young family downstairs moved out; I'd known about their upcoming move for a while, but they had always been saying it would be the middle of August, so I was quite surprised when it happened two weeks earlier.
The parents of the young man who live upstairs also left at about the same time; not to move out, but to spend the next half year in their home village in Turkey.

That left me and the cat on our own in the whole house, and I can not even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed the peace and quiet! Even outside, now that the school holidays have begun and a lot of companies have closed down for two or more weeks, it is much quieter; less cars, less lawn mowers, less hedge cutting and so on.

One morning, I took my camera round to the back of the house, where I usually do not go, since I consider this to be the downstairs family's garden (in truth, 1/3 of it belongs to me, but I never sit there).
It was all very green and quite overgrown, and very quiet, with all windows and the glass door to the patio closed and with no curtains on them anymore.

Even just looking at the closed door of the downstairs flat, although the door itself looks exactly the same as always, made me feel how quiet and empty the house was.
Was, I say - because yesterday, the new tenants for the downstairs flat have moved most of their furniture in already. I met them when I emptied the bins, and we had a quick chat; they are a couple, a bit older than I, and have a cat (who was of course not with them just yet). They do not sleep here yet, there's still some stuff they need to sort out, but the quiet period is as good as over; I am quite sure I will get along with my new neighbours fine, but I wouldn't have minded to be on my own in the house for a little longer.

Friday 5 August 2011

Read in 2011 - 19: Francesco, der Kater des Papstes

For a change, I've read something in German (well, I do that regularly anyway; my weekly paper comes in German, and when I am waiting my turn at physio therapy, I usually scan the local daily paper there, which is of course in German).

This little book of 187 small pages was actually a very belated birthday gift from a friend of mine who came to see me the other day. She had intended to come to my birthday "do", but her father-in-law got very ill and so they went to the opposite end of the country to be near him. All spring and early summer, they travelled back and forth, and we never had time to see each other until two weeks or so ago.

As you can guess from the picture, the title means "Francesco, the pope's cat".
It seems an odd choice of a gift for me, since I am neither Catholic nor particularly interested in the pope's life, but my friend knows I have a cat, and she thought I'd enjoy a book written from a cat's perspective.

Well, I did - sort of. Please do not get me wrong; I do not want to sound ungrateful, as if I did not appreciate my friend's gift. I did! But... the story itself and the style in which Renate Fabel has written is simply not really my cup of tea.

The story starts in Bavaria, where the current pope is from, and where he and the farm cat get to know each other. The pope (who at the beginning of the book is still a cardinal) decides to take the cat with him to Rome, where they live together in his apartment. It takes the cat a while to adapt to the new surroundings, and just when he gets used to everything, the cardinal becomes pope and has to move. No pets are allowed there, and the cat is given to a gardener and his mother. He sneaks into the Vatican gardens almost every day and meets the pope there, having a short break on a bench.

That's really about it - we accompany the cat to the Forum Romanum, where colonies of half-wild cats live, we meet some friendly and some less friendly cats, and learn a bit about how bewildering it must be for a pet when their humans take decisions and change things without them understanding what is going on.

There are some charming illustrations in the book, by the author's husband.
It is a lovely little book and I know just who of my friends would really like it - but the subject is not "mine", and the style, although written from the cat's perspective, is not "mine", either. Sometimes the cat or the people in the book use Italian expressions. These are not always correct, something a good editor would have checked. But now that's just me being picky.

Sorry - this was such a well-meant present, and here I am, taking it apart. But all of my book reviews show my honest opinion, and this one is no exception.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Going Green...

...food-wise, that is. Or was, a few days ago, when I decided to use the beans I had gotten from my parents the other day as part of the rich bounty shown here.

What I did was nothing special or elaborate; I cut off the ends from all the beans and boiled them in salted water while in a bigger pot, the pasta was splashing about in its own jaccuzzi.

When I thought both beans and pasta should be ready, I put them on a plate and added the last bit of my mum's home-made pesto with pine nuts - et voilĂ , there you have my green dish:
Farfalle con pesto e fagioli!

Done in 15-20 minutes, eaten in five :-)

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Read in 2011 - 18: The Ghost in Love

After "The Little Stranger", which was the 17th book I have completed this year and called "almost a ghost story" in my review, I have finished another ghost story last night.

But once again, "The Ghost in Love" by Jonathan Carroll is not your typical ghost story.
There are no haunted houses, nightly noises or eerie sights.
Instead, this is a quirky voyage of discovery of one man's live - and death, which did not happen - and the author is brimming with so many funny and weird ideas that it sometimes gets a bit much. For my liking, at least.

If you have read "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman, you will already be familiar with how the otherworldly becomes part of the everyday, mundane life of what seems to be a typical couple in the U.S. (New York in this case, I think; forgive me for being less than precise about that, but location is not what this book is about).

Jonathan Carroll's ideas are truly funny, quirky and - in their context - reasonably and logically explained, and all that in a language and style that is pleasant to read.

To give you an example, let me quote a conversation between the ghost and Pilot, the dog - two of the five main characters:

They had a cordial relationship. Like Icelandic or Finnish, "Dog" is spoken by very few. Only dogs and dead people understand the language. When Pilot wanted to talk, he either had to get in a quick chat with whatever canine he happened to meet on the street when he was taken out for a walk three times a day, or he spoke with this ghost - who, by attrition, knew more about Pilot now than any dog had ever known. There aren't that many human ghosts in the land of the living, so this one was equally happy for the dog's company.

The story is, in a nutshell, about a man who is supposed to have died when he slips on the snowy ground and hits his head against a stone curb, but does NOT die. His not sticking to the masterplan sets off a chain of events, some of them simply strange, others dangerous, and all of them leading up to a big showdown towards the end of the book. The relationship to the woman he loves is just as much part of the story as what the dog thinks and does, and I guess I am not the only one who comes to like the dog most of all the caracters.

It made for an enjoyable read, although sometimes there was a bit "too much" of everything: too many quirky ideas, too many strange events, too many completely different scenes following one after the other. Maybe I felt that way because of the slow flow of things described in my previous read; I don't know. Sometimes I just would have liked one thread of the story to be spun out a bit longer, to have a less fragmented feel.

A very unusual, very entertaining book with some very clever thoughts and deep insights, all in all.

Monday 1 August 2011

Welcome, August!

Not every month, but from time to time, I like to take the occasion of turning another leaf in the calendar to write about either the past month, or the one that has just started, or both. The last time I did this was in June.

August has begun today, and for me, it is the first month of permanent employment with my new boss. The trial period of three months ended on Friday, and I received a very good email from him on Friday evening - not that I had doubts about me passing the trial period, but one can never be 100% sure of such things.

So, in terms of business, July was really good.
Healthwise, it was less good, but I am alright now.
In terms of private life, it was really good, too.
But as a summer month, July was disappointing.

Some mornings, it was so cold I had the heating on, and it rained almost every day. Several times I meant to go for a run but couldn't (well, I know I "can" go for a run when it rains, but I don't want to), and attempts to spend some sunny hours in the park like I did last summer were usually thwarted before I even left the house.

Still, it can't have been too bad - look at the rich bounty I got from my parents' garden the other day!

The flowers, by the way, were given to my mum from the parents at the kindergarden where she reads stories to the little ones once a week, to thank her for her voluntary work.

Now I am hoping for August to be more summery than July!