Saturday 25 February 2012

Guest Post By My Mum: "Sixty-Three Angels"

In vain I've tried to find the original comment of one of my regular readers (was it you, Kay?) who suggested my Mum do a guest post on my blog; it must have been fairly recent, around the time of my Dad's birthday at the end of January, but I can't find it. Never mind - the idea was great, I suggested it to my Mum, and here it is: her first excursion into blogland, as my guest star!!!

Note: my Mum's English is fluent but she has not quite as much practice as I do; she wrote this in English even though I offered to do the translation from German for her, because she wanted to see for herself that she can do this - and I am sure you'll agree with me that she can! I have changed very little (of course on her request) and am quite proud of her, not just because of her ability to read and write English so well even though she only ever learnt it at school, and that was in the 1950s.

And now, without further ado: Sixty-Three Angels.

My daughter asked me to write a blog as a guest-blogger. I wondered what subject I should take, and she answered: Anything you have been impressed with, or you are angry about, or a fictional story.
Well, here is what deeply impresses me every year:

I believe in angels - at least a very tiny little bit ;-), though I am not a religious person, but there must somewhere exist special guardian angels.

In my hometown we have an institution called "Vesperkirche" (if you understand German or don't mind running a site through an online translation machine, you can learn more about this charity project here).

That means getting a complete meal in the church for very little money. First it was only for the homeless and other underprivileged poor individuals. But now it is open to anybody, for you and me as well. Of course those who can afford to are supposed to pay a bit more. The philosophy behind it is that all guests get together, the tables seat 12 each, and you can find at the same table all kinds of people: Academics, craftsmen, managers, lonely old ladies and men (mostly widowers), young girls and boys, families with children, and also down-and-outs with greasy hair and more and less smelling.
And it works: They are all chatting, talking and discussing together, while eating.
Everyone gets served, they only have to take a seat and order what they choose between 2 meals (one vegetarian). And the tables are prettily decorated with primrose flowerpots, table-sets and candles. The atmosphere is bright and cheerful.
Now the other side: There are needed every day about 60 helpers who do the work, 50 cakes (homemade or bought, but always donated). We serve daily between 460 and 500 meals, and that's a great logistical challenge, and that is what impresses me every time, how fantastically everything is organized. We helpers are all voluntary workers and no professional caterers. There are old and younger ladies, old and younger men, rich and poor, it's amazing to watch the high boss and owner of a big store washing dishes or serving tables. And one does not have to belong to the parrish, all are free, lots are in no confession at all.
But now my angel-story:
Once I was serving a large tray full of hot soup, the tables are placed rather close together with very little space to move, and I was bending to serve the plates. Then it happened: The soup bowls began to slide, because I was not holding the tray straight. Everyone around the table held their breath, so did I, and I tried to juggle to avoid pouring the hot soup over the lap of the lady near me! Finally I managed to catch the tray again horizontally  without an accident, what was nearly a miracle. Everybody was relieved, they nearly applauded me for my performance. ;-) And the old lady said: You know, here in this church there are exactly 63 angels (of stucco), and one of them was just with you!
- - - - - - -
All pictures taken by me when I went to have lunch there this week with my Dad on one of the days my Mum worked there.
Apart from the full meal (soup, main course, salad, coffee and cake for 1,50 Euro), there's loads more there at the church for those who are in need: two different daily newspapers every day, there is a kids' corner with toys and picture books to keep the little ones entertained while their parents or grandparents finish their meal in peace; second-hand clothes, a hairdresser, open clinic, sewing and mending service, hand massage, and sometimes a solicitor is there to offer free advice. While anyone can sit down for a meal, all those other services are meant exclusively for homeless and other poor people. In my opinion, a good way of making sure donations (in the shape of money, goods, a home-made cake or your very own time and energy) really get to where they are needed. And the churchy bit is not overstated; nobody preaches, nobody expects particularly pious behaviour in order to "deserve" help.

The church itself was built in 1903, when there was still a king in the castle and my hometown was still very much an active garrison. It was built specifically for the military people stationed in and around the town. After WWII, it was re-dedicated and is now called Friedenskirche, which means church of peace. Apart from alcohol being sold at garages, can you think of anything more contradicting than asking godly favour for one's instruments of war and death?! Well, I can't, but let's not go there, at least not now.
Under many aspects, this church is unusual; there is no darkness, but everything is airy and in bright colours. And I have never seen Jesus represented in a church like this, i.e. not on a cross:
Clearly a super-fit man from all the walking the length and width of Palestine, and no junk food and chocolate in those days! 

Sorry - this was supposed to be my Mum's guest post, and here I am, blabbing on about a subject I don't think you've ever heard me go on about before.

Friday 24 February 2012

Fashion Calendar: February

Yes, February is almost over, but there is still time for another instalment of my "Fashion Calendar" which I started in January, apparently quite to the liking of you, my precious readers - it was, by the way, the post that got me the nomination for the "Fascination Award" (see previous two posts for more info about that). 

Roughly speaking, the concept behind my "Fashion Calendar" posts is to present new additions to my wardrobe, preferably in line with the season or some special occasion of the month. This does neither mean that there will be one such post for each month, nor that they will all necessarily feature something new, but I think you get the idea.

This time, I am indeed going to show you two new items I bought this month, these two nighties from H&M:
Now, if you are familiar with H&M, you'll know that nothing that comes from there is ever expensive, and the two nighties were no exception - for both of them together I paid less than 20 Euros (and for reasons of decency, I only model the more modest one and show you the baby doll one only on the hanger - yes, even I know where to draw the line... sometimes!!). Not bad, eh?

My "one in - one out" rule applied, and I got rid of some old frazzled pajamas in exchange for the new nighties. Of course, with it still being a long way to go until those balmy late spring and summer nights, I won't be wearing any of these anytime soon, but that does not matter - at the moment, they sit there in my nightwear-and-sportswear-drawer, and I can look at them and look forward to warmer days (or, rather, nights)!

After the bitterly cold period we've had, the days are now much milder, there has not been any more snow, and this afternoon, for the first time in months, I sat on my window sill with a mug of coffee, soaking up the sun for a blissful five minutes. Or ten.
Yesterday, it was grey and looked as if it was going to rain any minute, so when I went out for lunch, I chose the most sensible footwear for that occasion. But grey skies does not mean a dull outfit - on the contrary, I like to bring some colour into such a day, and wore the very comfortable red plush zip-up I got for Christmas:
It did not rain while I was out, but nobody would have been better prepared than I! And isn't it wonderful that spring is now well and truly on its way? There are snowdrops and the pretty tiny yellow flowers called Winterling in German out in people's front gardens, the twigs of the cherry tree in front of my kitchen window have grown some tiny buds already, and I've even heard and seen two buzzards flying across the gardens the other day (with a bunch of crows hot on their heels, but I think the buzzards got away without injury).

Wednesday 22 February 2012

An Unexpected Email - Continued

If you go back to my previous post, you will find that I have updated it after someone had left a comment, pointing me towards their own and several other blogs with warnings about participating in the "Facsination Awards" in any manner. I was quite unsure about what to do, since of course I do not wish to cause any harm to anyone by anything I put on my blog, whether it is something I write or something I link to.
And since I could not find anything that appeared to me incriminating or illegit on the websites related to the Fascination Awards, I decided to write to the person who had originally notified me of my nomination.

This morning, I found their reply in my inbox:

Hi Meike,
Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns. We  value your feedback.
Our goal is to seek out only the most fascinating blogs on the web, and we achieve this goal through a very thorough (and time consuming!) nomination/voting process. It is true that the Fascination Awards generate exposure for our website, but that doesn’t make it a scam. On all of the fascination awards pages, including the polling page, you will not find any advertisement of any kind. We also do not collect any kind of personally identifiable information on these pages.
In our most recent application of the Fascination Awards, the ‘Most Fascinating Teaching Blog of 2011’ poll received over 2,200 votes. We take various precautions, such as randomizing the nominees on the poll every time the page is loaded, to ensure the fairness and integrity of the results. We utilize the enterprise version of Survey Monkey’s polling software, so you can be sure that we are serious about our goal, which is to select the most fascinating blogs in the fairest way possible.
We used the results from the poll to create a list titled “Top 100 Teaching Blogs”, you can view it here:       
A similar list for Librarian blogs will be published after voting is finalized.
If you have any more questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

- - - end of copy - - -

Naturally, I did NOT expect them to come back to me saying "Oh dear... you found us out... yes, the whole Fascination Awards thing is one huge scam, set up for naive guys such as yourself and your readers to make piles of money out of every mouseclick on our pages".
But still, the reply sounds reasonably logical to me, and as if it was written by a real person instead of just a standardized answer from some bot or other.

What do you think? Should I leave the nomination badge on my page or remove it? I am not much nearer to a decision than I was before; I do take the concerns voiced by the other bloggers seriously, and they are probably a lot more knowledgeable about such things than I am.

Monday 20 February 2012

An Unexpected Email

...was in my inbox today. It came from someone I'd never heard of, and they wrote:

Hi there,

An article you wrote in 2012 titled Fashion Calendar: January has earned your blog a nomination for a Fascination Award: 2012's Most Fascinating Librarian blog.

The comments posted in response to your post prove that your content not only inspires your audience, but it also creates discussion around your posts, both of which are requirements for the nomination of a Fascination award.

As a nominee of this award, you have full permission to display the "Nominated" emblem on your website. To learn more about the contest, the rules, or the prizes, click here: 2012 Fascination Awards Rules & Prizes.

To get started: 
  1. Accept your nomination by replying to this email by Thursday February 24th (11:59 PM EST).
  2. Claim your "Nominated" badge to display on your blog: - - - link removed, since I am not sure it is OK to show the link on here - - -

Voting begins February 27th at 12:01 AM (EST). The blog with the most votes by March 5th at 11:59 PM (EST) will win the grand prize, a $200 restaurant gift card.

Good luck and thank you for your participation!

- - - end of copy - - -

Needless to say, I was both pleased and surprised at the same time. For a moment, I even thought of it being hoaxy spam or a spammy hoax, but when I did follow the link to look at the rules & prizes, my doubts were gone and I now believe that one of you, my dear readers, must have sent them an email, telling them about my blog.
Well, whoever it was: thank you very much for liking my blog enough to tell others about it!
I am under no illusion as to the outcome of the voting; the winner won't be me - strictly speaking, according to the rules, my blog hardly qualifies. Plus even if I did win - I do not live in the US and therefore am not eligible to actually receive a prize.
Nonetheless, I am well chuffed, and once again want to say thank you to all of you who regularly read my blog and leave comments!

- - - Important update - - -

KaylaBeck commented (see below) on this post and pointed me to someone else's blog where they explain more about what is behind these nominations. Reading that has made me quite unsure about the whole thing, and I have replied to the person who sent me that email, asking for further explanation. It will be interesting to read what they have to say. Until then, please don't vote or put in anyone's name on that website. My intention was certainly never to create any trouble for anyone; since I was never offered any money in the original email or elsewhere, I did not think it could be some kind of scam. In fact, me not being resident in the US, I am not even eligible for an actual prize.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Day & Night

After my sad and serious previous post, I think it is about time to do another fashion one, to get some light-heartedness back.
On the subject of my brother in law's death, let me just tell you that Mary rang on Thursday night to let me know the flowers arrived, and we spoke for more than an hour. She is a remarkably resilient woman, and I admire her for never going into whining mode, in spite of her having more than one reason for it. She is still able to see the positive things in her life; she enjoys her garden and her cats and the closeness of some of her family, and she is also looking forward to my visit at the end of April.

And now for something completely different!
(Don't you just love that sentence? I can't remember now whether it was CJ or GB who used it on their blog the other day, but it made me want to find use for it as well, and here it is!)

That I like clothes and to dress up or down according to the occasion, mood and other influences is no secret to any of my regular readers; you can read my recent babble about this subject here.

Now I am going to give you an example of what a typical day in the life of the Librarian looks like, in terms of clothes:

Last Saturday, I went to work at a trade fair, not as part of an exhibiting team, but to visit my customers at their booths, talk to them and have a look at how they presented the hardware they bought from me (maybe you can imagine one or two of them getting a stern look from me across the rim of my specs if I think "my" hardware is not placed in a way to draw enough attention).
Since that day was still bitterly cold at -12 C (that's about 10 F) and I went there by train, I had to be ready to face both the cold on the way to and from the station and the usually relatively warm fair halls. 

The best option in such cases is, of course, a suit that allows you to take the jacket on and off as you need. And there was no question of wearing anything else than a proper business outfit (incidentally, this one is by comma, the same brand where I got the grey dress from; I am not usually in search of particular brand names, but there are some I find their clothes fitting me better than others, and being more according to my taste and within my budget). I got this suit back in 2004 or 5, but clothes like these never really go in and out of fashion, and I suppose unless my weight alters dramatically (which I doubt), I will still be wearing it for many years to come. It is also nice in that it can be worn on colder days, like here with the soft warm woolly jumper, warm tights and boots, or with a lightweight blouse, sheer tights and pumps.

It was a good day at the fair, and I spoke to almost everyone I had meant to (I went back on Tuesday to talk to the rest who I had not met on Saturday), but it took me quite a long time to get home because of the inexplicable habit of our local public transport of NOT considering the trade fair times (which are well known!) and keeping people for a long time at the station near the fair and then cramming what feels like millions of us into the usual short trains that are OK for normal traffic but completely inadequate during fair times.

So, back home, I did not have much time to dwell on what I wanted to wear to the party I was invited to (a "proper" party with both a live band and a DJ, with cocktails, food, a really big dance floor and lots of people), but as I usually don't take long to decide, my mind was made up quickly between these two outfits:

Don't worry - I did not leave the house wearing those shoes at what, by then, had gone as low as -16 Celsius (about 3F); I wore warm boots and socks and changed into the more dance-friendly shoes once I was there.
The party was fun and I spent most of the time on the dance floor, but it was over unusually early, with many guests leaving already at around midnight. At a quarter to one, I was already back home after a day that had been, all things considered, very much to my liking.

Now, have your guess: which one did I choose? Pink or blue?

PS: This is, I have only just noticed, my post no. 250!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Flowers For Mary

Flowers can not alleviate pain and grief, but they show the recipient that there are people who care about them, who are thinking of them and want to make a kind gesture when life is being very unkind.
When, a bit more than two years ago, my husband died completely out of the blue a few days after his 41st birthday, my mother-in-law sent me very beautiful flowers. They lasted for a long time and reminded me of her kindness every time I looked at them.

Last night, while I was in the car with my colleague, driving home after a day working at a fair, a text message from one of my sisters-in-law came through: Paul, Steve's older brother, was found dead in his home. By the looks of it, he slipped in the bath and banged his head. He was 53 or 54.

Now Mary has lost two of her four children. Only her two daughters remain, my sisters-in-law who I like very much. I have never met my father-in-law; he died before turning 50, when Steve was 12 years old. Looks like the men in this family are not getting old... But each time, the causes were very different: Mary's husband died of Legionaire's Desease; Steve died because his heart simply stopped beating with no former heart problems known, and Paul... I do not know all the details yet, but from what Angela wrote in last night's message, it did not come as a surprise but still was a shock. The reason why it did not come as a surprise is that Paul was an alcoholic*, and when I saw him last, he looked like a very old man, bony knees and shaking hands, his face deeply lined, although he was only in his mid-forties then.

Jack, Paul's son, has turned 18 a week or so ago. When he was about ten, things with his dad became so bad he did not want to spend weekends there for a while (he lives with his mother after they were divorced). While Paul (from what we know) never hurt his son, he could not bear to be near him when he was drinking. It must have been very scary sometimes, and apparently, he once asked his mum whether he could say something at his dad's funeral when he'd die. My hope is that Jack will never take the direction his father took.

I can not begin to imagine how Mary must be feeling. Earlier this afternoon, I had flowers sent to her through an internet florist's, wanting to do something for her as she did for me two years ago.

The picture is one I nicked from the florist's website; this is what the flowers are supposed to look like.

*and so was Steve, but he was what is called a binge alcoholic; sometimes he would go without for half a year or even longer, and then he'd spend a whole weekend drinking until he'd pass out on the settee. During the last few years of his life, he had his ups and downs, but he was getting better at fighting the battle, and for months before his death he had not had a single drop.

Sunday 12 February 2012

Read in 2012 - 3: The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe

A heavy read, not only due to the sheer size and length of the book (532 pages), but just as much for its content. Let me say something in advance: I am always extremely skeptical when it comes to conspiracy theories, whether they revolve around man landing on the moon, world economics, the true nature of UFOs, the existence of Aliens or the death of someone famous. Therefore, I picked up this book (it comes from the treasure chest full of books I received in spring last year from a very kind friend) with some reservation, but also interested in learning more about the actress whose face I have known all my life without really knowing much about her.

The author, Donald H. Wolfe, had this book published in 1998, 36 years after Marilyn Monroe's death. On the book jacket, he is said to have worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter and film editor for 25 years, and met MM in 1958 during the filming of Some Like it Hot. I was not able to find an author's website for him, but numerous references on sites dealing with MM herself and elsewhere.
Mr. Wolfe certainly goes about his subject in the most meticulous manner. There are footnotes throughout the book, explaining where certain information comes from, as well as an extensive appendix of source notes, ranging from FBI documents to personal conversations with those who knew Marilyn.
All this makes the information in this book seem very well founded, and not just like another nutter adhering to a conspiracy theory.

The title is a little misleading, since we accompany MM not only on an almost minute by minute account of her last days, but learn about her grandparents, parents, her own childhood, teenage years, young adult life and her career. The picture that emerges is one that is rather painful to behold: a talented, beautiful woman for whom nearly everything in her life went terribly wrong from the very start.
There were few happy times, and somehow these must have made it possible for her to go on, and it is hardly surprising after all that she had been through that, on more than one occasion, she attempted suicide.

Excerpts of interviews with Marilyn make it obvious that she was anything but a "dumb blonde"; in fact, she sounds rather bright and would have probably done well academically, being given the chance. Take this small bit of obversation she made about the then 70-year-old Fox studio czar Joe Schenck:

I liked sitting around the fireplace with Mr. Schenck and hearing him talk about love and sex. He was full of wisdom on these subjects, like some great explorer. I also liked to look at his face. It was as much the face of a town as of a man.

This is not a "dirty old man seduces innocent young starlet" scenario, but a 21-year-old woman, still inexperienced in the whole Hollywood and film-making scene, learning from someone who, as opposed to almost everyone else she came across, never took advantage of the trust she placed in him.

Or take this statement Marilyn made about herself, about what she was like at the time (we are talking 1947 here):

My illusions didn't have anything to do with being a fine actress. I knew how third rate I was. With the arc lights on me and the camera pointed at me, I suddenly knew myself. How clumsy, empty, uncultured I was! A sullen orphan with a goose egge for a head. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But my God, how I wanted to learn! To change! To improve! I didn't want anything else. Not men, not money, not love, but the ability to act!"

And my God, did she learn, change, improve and become able to act! 

There is lots more in this book I could go on about, but let me end here with saying that, on top of it being a well-written, well-researched biography, it also offers a caleidoscope of the political, cultural and economical landscape of the years it spans, and not only for the U.S.
It wasn't an easy read, but it engaged my mind, taught me a lot and I am glad I didn't put it back into the treasure chest unread.

Friday 10 February 2012

About Dressing Up... Or Down

Some time ago, fellow blogger SP wrote about her decision to do away with all her outfits that are not jeans or tops that can be worn with them, with an interesting discussion ensuing in a string of comments. GB was one of those who commented, and then did his own post about clothes and what they mean to him. SP's post made me want to write about the topic as well, and here I am - so, thank you, SP, for being the original muse behind this post :-)

Actually, it is not the first time I address this; if you go to "Fashion for the shallow-minded" under my header, you will find some more insight into the Librarian With Secret's mind regarding clothes; I won't attempt to avoid repeating some of what I wrote before.

For the majority of time, throughout civilization, strict dress codes were in order. The ruling classes determined who was to wear what, and if, say, a peasant woman in Medieval times would have somehow gotten hold of a garment in a colour not allowed to her class (purple or royal blue, for instance), she would have had to face dire consequences. 
In many cultures around the globe, such strict dress codes are still in order (I am not only referring to the burka), and not all of them have a religious background. Until not that many decades ago, in my part of the world fashion dictate reigned, and it was virtually impossible to find anything in the shops that was not in fashion but maybe would have fitted one's body shape a lot better. Today, at least where I live, there is a huge choice of garments, coming in all sizes, shapes and colours (and I am taking full advantage of this choice!), and although dress codes are still largely in place in the business world, it is widely accepted to actually go as you please no matter what the occasion, and only the size of one's body and purse along with personal taste and style determines what we wear.

While my clothes do not need to come from any particular designer or have to have a certain label attached to them (matching price tag included), there are a few shops where I hardly ever leave without finding at least one item to take home. The reason for that is simple: I am of such average size that there is always something there that fits me. Whether there is something there I like is a different question, of course. But, unfortunately, there almost always is...
I say "unfortunately", because while to many ladies, my wardrobe will seem modest in dimensions, I know that I own far more clothes than what I truly need, and therefore I have set myself a rule some of you have been thinking about adopting for their book cases: one in, one out (or, even better, one in, two out).
Since I am quite good at rules and sticking to them, I have indeed gotten continuously rid of items in exchange for the new ones I brought, so I am doing well in that department.

But why do I want all those different clothes anyway?
My choice of clothes dipends greatly on the occasion (work or play? work outside, at a fair, seeing a customer, at the office with my boss, or from home? a walk across the fields or into town centre? going to the opera or to the pub quiz?), the weather (-18 Celsius, as seems to be the norm these days, or +35, which makes most people seek the shade whereever they can but sees me positively thriving; rain and puddles on the pavement, or dry and warm enough for sandals? am I going to have to go there and back on my own two feet, or will someone drive?) and, last but not least, my mood.
While I may sometimes be in the mood for something more glamorous, the outside factors I have no influence on do in the end determine what I wear.
This does, I must admit, sometimes prevent me from looking the way I would like to for a specific occasion, but most of the time, I can reconcile the voice of reason with my own ideas of what I want to be seen in.

Getting dressed is part of daily life's fun for me; I enjoy putting together an outfit in my head first, and then in front of my wardrobe, and enjoy the feeling my clothes give me for the day (or the night). The whole process is a lot less time-consuming than it may sound; I am usually dressed within a few minutes and do not waste time in front of the bathroom mirror doing my hair (there is nothing to "do" there anyway) or putting on make-up (except for those special occasions, but even then, it is a question of five minutes - I wouldn't even know how to go about all the complicated stuff many women do with their hair and face every day!).

I also like caring for my clothes, arranging them neatly (more or less) in my wardrobe, ironing them, etc. Yes, I honestly like to iron. It gives me peace of mind; I am doing something with my hands while my mind can be occupied with something else. When I am on my own (which is usually the case while I am doing such householdy things), I like to listen to an episode of "In Our Time" on BBC Radio4's website.

For special occasions such as going to the opera (or, as was the case on New Year's Eve, a posh restaurant), deciding on what to wear and getting dressed up is part of the overall experience for me, which is one reason why I would never dream of wearing just jeans for such an event. A night at the opera is certainly not an everyday thing in my life, but indeed something very special, and I like to express this specialness by wearing clothes that I do not wear everyday.
Also, even though I know the artists on the stage can not see me in the darkened audience (and should not be distracted from their performance anyway), to me it is a sign of showing them respect for what they do, all the hard work so many people (and certainly not just those visible on the stage!) have put into this, creating an unforgettable evening. It IS a lot of hard work, it deserves respect, and that respect, for me, ends not with paying for the ticket and being quiet while the show is going on.

Don't get me wrong - by saying that, I do not wish to imply that the many people who decide NOT to dress up for special occasions are not showing respect to those who make it all work for them. I am convinced they enjoy the performance as much as anyone else, and do not take it for granted that they have the possibility of being there. This is entirely my personal opinion about the subject, and why it matters to me what I wear.

The same is true about invitations to friends; of course there is a difference between a lavish dinner and an informal party where 50 people squeeze into a 2-room flat and spend the evening, bottle or glass in hand, standing because there are not enough chairs, chatting to the other guests and having a relaxed good time. But still, an invitation means someone wants me to be at their place, and I want to show them that I feel honoured by their appreciation of me, and I show this by dressing nicely. And I feel just as relaxed and up to the fun in a pretty dress than I can in a pair of jeans.

When I am the host and my guests arrive, I do of course notice what they are wearing, but I do not judge them by it. If someone comes to a party of mine and they are in jeans, this won't mean they will never be invited again - I may even be wearing jeans myself :-) (And, frankly, I am much more often at other people's parties than I am hosting my own anyway.)

So, the shallowness of getting dressed up (or down) is not really that shallow after all, is it? In fact, quite a lot of thought goes in there, and to wear the same kind of outfit day in, day out would feel much too uniform-like to me. Again, I emphasize the last two words: TO ME. Not necessarily to anyone else!

And naturally, this post is a good excuse to post some more pictures to show you examples of my day-to-day type dressing up and down:

Monday 6 February 2012

Another Première & Something About Being Kind

My previous post was about my Dad's 70th birthday, and as a première, I showed you a picture of my Mum (of course I had asked her permission first). Some were wondering why, in spite of it having been my Dad's birthday, I showed her and not him. Well, the reason was simple: I did not have his permission - which was simply because he had not known I had asked for it :-)
On the next day, my Mum told me that Dad has absolutely nothing against me showing him on here, and therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen, *ta-daaa* here he is, my Dad!!
The picture was taken in May last year, when we were watching the Horse Market parade in our town. As you can see, it was a sunny day; you can look at many pictures of the horses, carriages and groups in colourful costumes if you click on this picture. Pferdemarkt 22.5.2011 

Well, the title of this post also says "Something About Being Kind", and so I am going to tell you a bit about what I did last Wednesday.

Ever since 2007, when I had my first breast cancer scare (it was a false alert, and all the others since then have been the same, therefore I should not really call it "scare", should I!), I've had to have regular screenings. They only annoy me in that I have to go there, sit around in the waiting room for sometimes hours, and then I'm in and out within five minutes. There is one such test, though, that is not only annoying but also a little painful. Those of you who've had a mammography will know what I am talking about. What makes it alright is that it is over in the blink of an eye, and the discomfort and pain is instantly forgotten, especially if the result is "nothing", as it luckily has been for me so far.

Last Wednesday morning, I had another mammography scheduled, and was prepared for a long wait and a quick escape afterwards. The other women in the waiting area were, mostly, more or less my age and older; it is rare to see someone younger than 35-40 there. Some where flicking through the women's magazines, some had brought their own reading material, some were fidgeting nervously on their chairs, and a few looked outright scared. Nobody talked.
One lady in particular was looking about rather wide-eyed with fear, and trying to catch someone's eye - obviously in desperate search for someone to talk to and ease up the tension a little.

She looked at me, and gave a tentative smile, seeing that I was neither reading nor staring into my lap, and I smiled back. Then, before we could say anything to each other, I was called in.
Now, at the radiology clinic where I go, they call you in twice; first you have the mammography, then they tell you to sit in the waiting area once more until they call you in again for the ultrasound examination, by which time they already have the pictures of your mammography ready and give you the result.

When I came out after the mammography, the only available chair was next to the lady who had smiled at me, and when I sat down, she smiled again and said, "That was quick!" I told her that it had indeed been quick but that I was having to go in again soon. She then said that she was really scared because she had never had a mammography and didn't know what to expect. So I explained to her what it was all about, and also told her that, yes, it did hurt but it was over so quickly it was easily bearable, and they'd already have her results when they'd call her in for the ultrasound.
She was pending on my lips, and her relief at having someone explain to her what was going on was palpable. When I looked around, I realized that everyone in the waiting room was watching us and listening; nobody was reading anymore. Some of the ladies quickly looked away when they saw I had noticed they were listening, but some others gave half-smiles, and I seriously wondered what, if anything, their doctors had been telling them before sending them here.

There are many foreigners in Germany, and in our area where unemployment is a lot less than in some other parts of Germany, the number of women who do not speak and understand German very well is quite high. The lady I was talking to spoke with a heavy accent, so possibly she had not felt confident enough to ask her doctor about the procedure, or he/she had explained it to her but she had not understood everything.

Anyway, I am usually not a charitable or overly kind person, but I felt really sorry for the women, waiting there, alone with their fears, when a bit of explaining could have gone a long way. Unfortunately, for some of them, the fear will be justified, as not everyone will be as lucky as I, with it always being false alarms. Knowing that, when I came out the second time and put my coat on, ready to leave, the lady I had been talking to was still there. I briefly touched her shoulder and said that I wished everything would be OK for her. And I really do.

Thursday 2 February 2012

A Birthday To Remember

On Tuesday, my Dad turned 70.
Now, I am not the only one who has a fantastic Dad and loves him to bits; my fellow blogger Kay whom I also consider a friend has mentioned her Dad several times on her blog. A lot of people have had a troubled childhood, endured abusive parents or neglect, or they lost their parents early. Therefore, I consider myself extremely lucky and do not take having my family close by (in more than just the geographical sense) for granted.

My Mum's birthday was in August, and I posted about her party here. But now, as I said, it was Dad's turn! Having one's birthday at the end of January usually means (at least if you live in Germany) that a garden party is not feasible. Most years, my parents invite their closest friends and the few relatives of my Dad's who live in the area (both his sisters are far away, one in the South of France and the other one on Bornholm, an island in the Baltic Sea), my Mum prepares a delicious meal and we gather at their place, with tables and chairs and settees being shifted about in order to accomodate everyone. But a 70th birthday calls for something special, they thought, and so about 25 people were invited, too many to seat in my parents' living/dining room; holding the party at a restaurant was thus the logical option.

The restaurant was chosen and booked, and the invitations sent out.
During last week, several of those invited cancelled - in some cases, it was obviously a rather lame excuse, while in other cases, we understood. Still, there was a moment when we were quite disappointed with the dwindling number of guests; in the end, though, there were 19 of us, and it was a very nice evening.

The morning of Dad's birthday started like this:

The snow made us fear even more would cancel, but all those who had said they were coming did indeed make it to the party.

On the invitation, my Dad had explicitly stated that he did NOT want any presents; instead, he asked his guests to donate money to a charity project he regularly works for. All over Germany, there are 870 shops were poor people can shop for groceries at prices so low things go almost for free. The goods (groceries, bread, fruit, vegetables etc.) are donated by bakers, farmers, greengrocers, supermarkets and so on; they are sometimes on the "sell before" date (never past), or the fruit does not look nice enough for the supermarket but is perfectly alright, or the companies donating them are simply doing a good deed.
Voluntary hands are always needed at the shops to unpack and sort the goods, to make sure only those who really are in need are getting in, and to work at the check-out. My Dad works in one such shop in our town almost every week for an afternoon, and the work is rather demanding (and unpaid, of course) both on a physical and emotional level. I admire him very much for it, and it is such a wonderful gesture of him asking his friends to give money to the project instead of buying things for him that he does neither want nor need.
For those of you who understand German, you can find out more about this particular charity here.

My sister, Mum, Dad and I went to the restaurant early enough to decorate the table.
Of course the tablecloths and cutlery were from the restaurant, but we brought the flowers, name cards, candles, candle holders and napkins.

Just before the first guests arrived, my Dad took this picture of me and my Mum (yes, she has allowed me to use it, so, this is a première - my Mum appearing on my blog!):

Here is a close-up of my place at the table before the food was served, with the name card (my Mum had them printed, using pictures she'd taken in their garden, and writing the names by hand):

There was plenty of food and something for everyone (not easy when you have to consider the various requirements of vegetarians, people who can't eat lactose, others who need gluten-free food, and a diabetic or two for good measure); I dare say nobody left hungry! The menue in itself was set, with a choice between three different main courses for everyone, while dessert was optional and à la carte. My choice was this.
Mouth-watering, isn't it?

When everybody had left, we took the table deco back home, and I got two of the yellow primula. They look very pretty on my window sill now:

It was, all summed up, a very nice birthday party, and I hope my Dad will be around for another 70 years :-)

Wednesday 1 February 2012

I've Been Featured!

Today, I have something special to report:
I (or, rather, my blog) has been featured!!!

Click here to find the post on Cathy's "Scene of the Blog", where she regularly features bloggers.

Some time last year, Cathy approached me, asking whether I would like to be featured in her very interesting series. Of course, I did not have to think twice about that and instantly said yes. It was fun to write up my summary of why and how and where I blog, and to take and select the pictures I wanted to go with the article.

Originally, I had heard about "Scene of the Blog" when this blog, which I have been following for quite a long time now, was featured. It just is such a good idea of Cathy's that it almost makes me wish I had it myself!
By the way, when looking at some of the other "Scenes", I realized that the only other featured blogger situated in Germany has the same model of desk as I. And I assure you, it is not of German make :-)

This series is by no means all you can find on Cathy's blog. There is so much to read and discover that you best get a sandwich and mug of coffee ready before you go over there!

Cathy, thank you very much for having given me this opportunity. It was great fun!