Wednesday 31 October 2012

Read in 2012 - 34: Tropenarzt im Afrikanischen Busch

Note: If you have missed my Cold Season Giveaway, you can still participate; just click here.

"Tropenarzt im Afrikanischen Busch" was written by Ludwig Külz, a medical doctor from Germany, and first published in 1910. I read the Kindle edition, based on a later edition with some additional notes by the author.
Dr. Külz lived from 1875 to 1938 and spent more than ten years in Africa, in what used to be then the German protectorates Togo and Kamerun.
Ludwig Külz, 1902 in Togo
The book is actually a collection of letters (to his wife, to his brother and to colleagues) and journal entries, more than half of them written from Togo, a land he grew to love very much and regretted having to leave for Kamerun on government's orders.

It is obvious on every page that he loved not only the land, but his profession, and took his work very seriously. His main concern was to vaccine and treat as many of the natives as possible; pox (variola) was a real threat in those days, and Dr. Külz managed to develop and produce a serum in large quantities and vaccined thousands of people. Many other deseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, lepra and frambesia were afflicting large numbers of natives and some of the European residents in both Togo and Kamerun, and the doctor saw it as his duty to fight those evils.

His first stop and the place he came to see as a home away from home was the Nachtigal hospital in Klein Popo, Togo. There, he treated mainly European residents; racial segregation was the normal (and government-induced) procedure in those days, and he treated the natives in their own policlinic, holding open practice there every day.
Nachtigal hospital in Klein Popo, Togo
He wasn't naive about his motives; while he openly speaks about wanting to keep the native population healthy mainly because the fatherland needed the workforce for political and economical reasons, unlike most of his contemporaries, he saw them as human beings and truly strived to improve their living conditions. Hygiene was top on his agenda, and he clearly saw the relation between many diseases and the lack of personal and public hygiene. Where his co-nationals and other Europeans in Africa were concerned, he was convinced that many times, they brought their illnesses upon themselves, and a lot of the problems they blamed on the tropical climate were really down to alcoholism and not adopting more sensible clothing and general behaviour in the hot and humid weather. 

For some of the native workers at the hospital, he saw himself as a benign father figure; he made sure they received an education (reading, writing, German and, most importantly, basic medical knowledge) and were able to work with the patients.

To give you an idea of the monumental task Dr. Külz was given by his government: at the time of his first arrival in Togo in 1902, the country was estimated to have a native population of 1 million, and 120 European residents.

I learned a lot from this book. The living conditions back then were very different to what Europeans were used to, and the author adapted admiringly well - because he wanted to adapt, and because he came to love the place. He talks about his trips through the djungle (on missions to help the only other German doctor practising far away from the coast) frankly, not glamourising the hardships, but he also beautifully describes flora and fauna, as well as the various native tribes, their villages and attire, he encounters.

He complains about the beaurocracy and gives a lot of insight into how such colonies were administrated. It was an interesting read, and taught me a lot about a period of German history I knew very little about; colonial efforts were made by most European nations, and none of these endeavours really shed a very favourable light on the nation in question.

I could go on at length about this topic, but this is only supposed to be a book review, and so I'll end

Sunday 28 October 2012

Cold Season Giveaway!

- - - Update 06.11.2012, 12.47: the giveaway has ended - - -

My Mum suggested I do another giveaway on my blog, and I like her idea, so, here goes:

- If you leave a comment to this post, your name enters the drawing once.
- If you are (or become) a follower to my blog, you get a 2nd entry, increasing your chances to win.
- If you mention my giveaway on your blog and link to it, you get - surprise, surprise! - a 3rd entry.

Wait a minute, I hear you say; what's the prize?

The winner has free choice of a hand-knitted item by my Mum, out of the ones she has on offer in her Etsy Shop.

The giveaway ends on Tuesday, the 6th of November, at noon German time.

My Mum wrote about her knitting some time ago on my blog; you can read her guest post here.

Now, let the fun begin :-)

Saturday 27 October 2012

Has It Ever Been So Early?

Early in the year, I mean, for snow.
Because this morning I woke up to find the view from my kitchen window like this:

And now, two hours later, it looks like this:

Dear me, isn't winter long enough already without it starting to snow at the end of October?!

According to the forecast, it'll warm up again a bit by the middle of next week; at the moment, it is 0 Celsius (32 F) out there, and should get back up to somewhere around 7 or 8 Celsius (46 F) on Wednesday, which will put an end to any snow that might still be around by then.

I'd much rather enjoy another three or four weeks of Golden October!

Anyway, if it is anything like this where you are, and you have started thinking about getting some nice presents for your loved ones (or for yourself), individual and useful at the same time, you are very welcome to browse my Mum's Etsy shop for her hand-knitted socks and woolly hats - she also does requests, if you can't find the colour, shape or size you are looking for :-) The pictures on the top left corner of my blog take you there. 

Addendum: My Mum sent me a set of pictures, taken today on her balcony, where until yesterday, the beautiful autumn flowers were still basking in the autumn sun: When I wanted to upload it just now, I had once again the message about me having run out of space... This comes up every now and then, but usually, a day or two later, everything is back to normal and I can upload pictures again without having made any changes.

Addendum II: A smaller version of the pictures worked fine this morning:

Thursday 25 October 2012

Fashion Calendar: October

Several months ago, I showed you two of my most used running outfits here. In that post, I also mentioned that I never run in the colder half of the year.
Well, that was true until this year, when, unlike what used to be my habit in previous years, I stopped running relatively soon after the CityRun (which was in July) and never ran any later than September, which can still be as warm as summer in my part of the world.

This year, I took up running once a week with V, an American lady I know through her husband - he is part of my pub quiz team, and they live in the neighbourhood, so that V and I don't have to "go" anywhere but can simply start running directly from the front door, out on the fields for our usual round, or stay in the neighbourhood (which is advisable now when it is dark by the time we meet after work).

We've been pretty regular with this, and as long as it does not rain or snow or the temperature gets below a certain point when breathing in the cold air can become painful, we are determined to keep it up.
Until recently, the outfits I showed you in May were still warm enough, but last week I knew the time had come for me to invest in a pair of long running pants.

On that day, I happened to mention it to my sister who I'd met in town for lunch, and she told me that Tchibo, a chain of coffee shops all over Germany, had running clothes on offer right now. (You know what coffee shops are like these days - you can get anything there from jewellery to travel arrangements, from mobile phone contracts to frying pans and, yes, even coffee!) So we went to the shop after our lunch and I found this pair of long, thermal running pants for just under 20 €:

They are very comfortable, the inside is nice and soft on the skin, and they have reflecting bits that should in theory make car drivers notice you when you run close to a road (which we can not always avoid). I wore them the same day (or rather, night) for the first time and am very happy with them. What a bargain!
Actually, we were scheduled for our weekly run tonight, but I had to tell V that I can't make it tonight; last week I caught a nasty cough from someone I met at a fair and have been coughing all week, not sleeping properly because of it and finding it quite exhausting and difficult to talk (which is why my GP has put me on sick notice for the entire week).
I am confident, though, that I'll be fine in a few days, and next week, will be able to wear my brand new running pants again :-)

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Guest Post: Growing Orchids

For a change, this guest post was not written by my Mum. Instead, it was offered to me by a friendly lady named Ella who works for a website named Flowers by Post.
The reason why I decided to publish this guest post, against my first impulse, is that there is no financial gain in it for Flowers by Post. Contrary to what you may think (and what I thought when I first saw it), the website is not set up (yet) for commercial activity; you can look all you like for a catalogue or online price list or order form or phone number - there isn't one. Instead, as Ella explained to me (she really was very patient with me - I had so many questions before I agreed to do this!), "...the function of this website is to provide certain infromation to our readers, regarding flowers. It is projected to perform informative not practical function and this is why there is no available option for ordering bouquets. As you could notice there is also a blog section, containing intriguing and useful information about flowers."

So, here goes:


Orchids have been growing in popularity significantly over the years, but the awareness that anyone can grow them successfully indoors is what has caused a serious boom of purchasing the flowers and their seeds. There are three varieties of orchids which are considered easy to grow indoors and they have their own characteristics you need to consider.

One type has the reputation of easily adapting to indoor conditions. It comes in a wide selection of colours; the leaves are fleshy and thick and the flower stays in bloom for up to three months.

Recognized for the wide range of beautiful colours, another orchid has markings on its blooms and the petals finish with a frilly edge. The blooms remain for about a month.

Also known as the Dancing Lady Orchid, this is a versatile flower which can survive in different conditions, even in cooler temperature. The blooms range in colour and size and thrive easily indoors.

One of the top characteristics of the orchids, for which they are highly favored, is their fragrance. Most florists and gardeners state that no other group of flowers produces such a wide range of scents that can be compared to the orchid’s fragrance. Of course in order for the orchids to grow beautifully and smell divine, you need to provide some basic conditions and care. 

Humidity and temperature are vital factors for the survival of orchids, when grown indoors. The majority of orchid types develop well when the room temperature is between 16 and 29 degrees Celsius. Since the natural habitat of orchids (at least for most of them) is a humid location, you need to pick an area at home that has a higher humidity level. One of the ways to do that is to prepare a tray of moist pebbles or gravel, without any water and place the orchid pot on that. This way you are securing just enough humidity for the flower. 
Watering depends on the duration and quantity of rain that the chosen by you type or orchid would get in its natural habitat. In hot weather, increase the frequency of watering. You can try watering the orchid once a week and see how the flower will take it. 
In the wild, orchids usually experience a mixture of sun and shade, without exposure to strong sunlight. In order to replicate this environment condition, place the orchid pot on a window which is facing east in summer and then move the plant to a sunnier window for the winter. 
When you are planning orchids use a well-drained soil which will allow the circulation of the air around the roots. The normal fertilizers are not suitable for these plants. You can use a water-soluble fertilizer. If the orchid is lacking the adequate nutrients the leaves will turn yellow.

To sum it up, it could be said that growing orchids is not the hardest of tasks, but you need to be aware of all the specifics and needs of this plant. Orchids are expensive and this way you can ensure that you have this beautiful exotic flower at home throughout the year. It brings a definite touch of style, sophistication and luxury which can brighten up any room. As long as you try to treat the orchid as if it is in its natural habitat, growing it will be successful.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Read in 2012 - 33: 6 Rainier Drive

This is the 2nd book by Debbie Macomber that has found its way to my shelf, and just like the first one, it was part of the small stack of books my mother-in-law gave me to take home when I went to see her in England earlier this year. You can read more about the author and find a link to her website in my first review.

6 Rainier Drive is the 6th book in a series about a town called Cedar Cove; it is not necessary to know the first five books in order to enjoy this one, but I suppose it would have helped me to feel a bit closer to the various characters. As it was, I never really got "into" the story; I'm afraid I hardly cared about how things were going to turn out for everyone.
Maybe the main "problem" for me with this book was simply that there were too many characters to follow, too many plot lines to keep up with, each of the 46 chapters dealing with one family or household, taking turns between enough of them for me to sometimes come across a name, stop for a second and think "Who's that Gloria again?"
Admittedly, there is a list of characters at the start of the book, almost 3 pages long, but I couldn't be bothered to consult it while I was reading, and after a few more sentences, I always remembered who was who; this certainly took away something of an otherwise pleasant reading experience for me.

The things the characters are going through range from the mundane to the dramatic; there are family reunions, births (no deaths), a crime is solved that was commited already in the previous installment of the series, romances begin and end. Only one relationship between a male and a female character does not go the way the woman would like it to go; everything else really ends well, which is probably one reason why Debbie Macomber's books are so popular.

Someone who has been following this series from the start is probably eagerly looking forward to more stories from Cedar Cove; I doubt I'll read another one anytime soon.

A question to everyone who knows anything about horses: Can you really say that a horse is "pawing frantically" the air when upset? Last time I looked, horses had hooves, not paws... 
And if you were to ring your daughter-in-law, would you say "This is Ellen Bowman, your mother-in-law", instead of just saying "Hello, it's Ellen", trusting that your daughter-in-law would know which of the dozens of Ellens she knows is on the phone?

(Yes, I know - that's again me being a bit particular about details.)

Monday 22 October 2012

Read in 2012 - 32: The House Boat Boys

Wikipedia says about the author: 
St. George Rathborne Prolific American dime novelist and series book author. Likely produced in excess of 330 volumes of fiction in the course of a 60 year career. He had a strong proclivity for and obvious skill in producing outdoor adventure stories, and his best works fall within that category.
He lived from 1854 to 1938, was married and had four children. From 1910 onwards, he wrote almost exclusively for the juvenile series genre, clearly aiming at boys' general liking for adventure. Apparently, he used more than 30 different pseudonyms, which were not always documented, making it difficult to attribute all of his works to him.

 "The House Boat Boys" was first published in 1912.

This places it in the same time frame as "The Ship Dwellers", which I have recently read and reviewed here, and although the intended readership of the one differs quite from the other, the books have more in common than just the time of writing:

Both books deal with a voyage aboard a ship, with all that entails: living in a confined environment with the same people around them all the time, adventures good and bad along the route, as well as the careless (because it was considered normal back then) display of racism.

The story in itself is simple enough: two young lads (about 16), both without parents, are offered the possibility to work and live aboard a large freight steamer, where the uncle of one of the boys is captain. To make the long trip from their Kentucky home town to New Orleans in order to meet the freight ship, they use the shanty boat owned and lived in by one of the boys.
Along the route, they meet friendly people and some less so; they get into real danger a few times but also discover an unexpected fortune. Their friendship helps them through everything, and their good hearts as well as physical and moral strength does the rest.

"Negroes" and "darkies" are referred to almost as a different species, but the boys are sensitive and sensible enough not to condone lynching (it does not take place in the story, but is referred to a few times) and feel decidedly uneasy about the methods of 'coon hunting employed by the planters down South, while they themselves have no qualms in shooting ducks, geese and possums to spruce up their daily diet of fish.

I did like the book well enough to read it as a whole; the river itself, the landscapes passed through by the boys, their friendship and how they go about their daily lives aboard the boat are depicted interestingly enough to have made me reading on. It was not very long and kept me company for a few lunch breaks. I won't actively look for more books by the same author, but this one was, I think, a good example of boys' books from that era. And of course, it was a free ebook :-)

Sunday 21 October 2012

Pumpkin Parade

Well, not really a parade, but an exhibition, just like last year's one, which you can read about here. This year, the theme was "Switzerland" (it being the home country of the company who organises the exhibition), and so the pumpkin displays showed all sorts of things associated with it, such as the Matterhorn, cows, Wilhelm Tell, the Swiss flag, cheesemaking (I think), a man playing an alphorn (if you are not familiar with what an alphorn looks and sounds like, simply go to youtube and type "alphorn" in the search box; there is plenty there), and so on.

The Matterhorn

Knowing that the exhibition is going to close in two weeks' time, and with another wonderful Golden October day ahead, my Mum and I decided to go there yesterday.

Now, we're actually not that keen on the exhibition itself, but we are glad it attracts so many visitors from all over the world, bringing attention to our home town and money to match. We love our palace grounds very much in all seasons, and wanted to have a look at the beautiful colours of trees, bushes and flowers now that summer is over and the atmosphere at the park is quite different.

As long as the exhibition lasts (about 6 weeks altogether, I think), there is an extra area where one can have food and drink, everything has something pumpkin in it: pumpkin soup. pumpkin risotto, pumpkin quiche, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin sparkling wine, and so on.

We managed to find a seat in the sun, and I enjoyed the quiche very much; we had some pumpkin sparkling wine with it (the taste reminds us more of apricots than of pumpkin, to be honest; it is very fruity and sweet), and my dessert was a pumpkin cookie.

Walking in the park, taking a rest on a bench every now and then, was a most pleasant way of spending this beautiful sunny afternoon. It may well have been the last time this year that we walked there together, but the park will still be there next year, waiting for us in spring with the first buds coming out.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

I Should Be So Lucky

A bit of a daft title for a blog post, but it was what came to my mind first when I decided about today's post.

This is Lucky, my downstairs neighbour. Sometimes he allows me to pet him, and he's always up for a little chat when I look down from my bedroom window first thing in the morning and he is on the patio, as I showed you back in July with this post.

It is a lot colder now at night, and I don't see him as often as during the summer months, but on one of the lovely sunny Golden October days we had last week, he was on the neighbour's garage roof when I looked out of my kitchen window.

As soon as I started talking to him, he began rolling around - I was too far away, but I would have loved to tickle his belly there and then! 

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Best Pesto In The World, of course, the one my Mum makes at home!

She has been making pesto for a long time and with varying ingredients, and the other day, she gave me a jar of Basil pesto.
As far as I know, it also contains olive oil and pine nuts, as well as salt and pepper; if anyone wants the recipe, I am sure she'll be happy for me to post it.

Anyway, this pesto was so delicious I was very much tempted to eat it directly out of the jar with a spoon. Instead, I was being good and made myself a hot meal for a change (instead of my usual cheese sandwich for lunch); I still had some mushrooms left over from the weekend, and some pasta, so it all combined very nicely.

If you look closely, maybe you'll see the shape of the pasta - it's flowers and Hello Kitty heads :-D

Today, I am going to spend my lunch break at my parents', so I am guaranteed to have a delicious lunch, no matter what it is going to be!

Saturday 13 October 2012

Fog & Florentines

A very short post today, probably not unwelcome after my lengthy book reviews :-)

It was Monica who took a walk in the fog the other day and showed us her beautiful pictures; incidentally, I had taken a picture of the foggy view from my kitchen window around the same time, but unlike her, I didn't go out, and so there is only this one to show:

If you compare it with the many other pictures on my blog of the same view, you'll have an idea of how dense it really was that morning.
Later that day, the sun came out and it became one of those treasured "golden" days.

And here, totally unrelated to the fog except for the word also beginning with an f, are some more Florentines for John:

I was on about Florentines not that long ago, but the ones I posted then were not the "original" ones I remember so well from my childhood.
These ones that I had at my Mum's for dessert (just one, not all three of them) after lunch on Thursday come as close to the original ones as possible. I swear they were wider back then, though, and thinner; so thin you'd have to be a bit careful in removing them from the paper bag in which they came from the bakery, so as not to break them. 

So, John, how are these for Florentines?

Friday 12 October 2012

Read in 2012 - 31: The Ship-Dwellers

The full title of this non-fiction book by Albert Bigelow Paine is "The Ship-Dwellers - A Story of a Happy Cruise" and was first published in 1910.

You guessed it - it was one of the many free ebooks I downloaded from the Kindle store after I first got my Kindle for my birthday earlier this year.
I didn't know anything about the author, and wikipedia does not offer much information apart from the basics such as that he lived from 1861 to 1937, was a member of the Pulitzer Prize committee, became a full time writer after an initial career as a photographer and had a wife, Dora, and three daughters. He was a great admirer and friend of Mark Twain, and dedicated this book to him; in fact, one reason for him to undertake this ship cruise and write about it was that he wanted to walk in Twain's footsteps, who had been on such a cruise several decades before.

We may not learn a lot about Albert Paine from wikipedia, but the book gives insight into his way of thinking, how he looks at the world and the people around him, how he connects current events with history. His humour is undoubtedly there; his writing does sometimes feel more modern than what you would expect to find in a book from 1910, and he conjures up some beautiful pictures for the mental eye of the places he's seen and of the ship he lives on for months and its occupants.

I would have greatly enjoyed the whole book, had it not been for some very racist remarks which, in those days, were probably perfectly normal with nobody thinking any less of the author for it. In fact, he may have been considered a tolerant and open-minded man by many of his contemporaries, but in our day and age, he'd have caused a scandal by writing what he did (mainly about the Turkish people he came in contact with during his voyage).

Maybe I am confusing things here, but I seem to remember that Nan at Letters From A Hill Farm wrote in one of her many excellent book reviews that she had experienced something similar; reading a book that would have been great if not for the disturbing thoughts, carelessly and shamelessly published - because they were completely normal at the time - based on national and racial prejudice.
Don't get me wrong; I am not someone who strives for political correctness all the time, and in fact find it quite refreshing when people really speak their mind. But such deeply ingrained intolerance does bother me.

Nonetheless, there are some really beautiful and poetic descriptions and thoughts in this book. It does not aim to be a travel guide but allows an interesting look at what travelling for tourists was like in those days (for the well-off, of course) and what the countries and sights dotted around the Mediterranean were like back then.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Read in 2012 - 30: The Shop on Blossom Street

This was one of the small stack of books I took home with me in May after visiting my mother-in-law in England, and it was a pleasant read.

Debbie Macomber's "The Shop on Blossom Street" is, as I found out, the first of a series of books set in the same Seattle neighbourhood. There is a lot of information about it (and of course, about the author herself) on her website, if you're interested.

The book centers around "A Good Yarn", a knitting shop opened by a young woman who has just overcome not one, but two bouts of cancer, and to her, this shop means an affirmation of life. She proceeds to start a knitting class at her shop for beginners, the first project being a baby blanket. By doing this, not only does she bring together three very different women who would have never met otherwise, but between the four of them, they form lasting friendships, and chains of events are set in motion that change the lives of all of them.

Sounds familiar? Yes, with the set up of bringing together people unlikely to ever meet and for them to become friends with life-changing effects is pretty much what Frances Garrood's "Basic Theology for Fallen Women" is about, a book I wrote about here and which I enjoyed very much. But while Frances has a lot more humour in her book, the drama in "Blossom Street" is more... dramatic, I'd say. Like Frances, Debbie Macomber has divided her book neatly into chapters, each of them dealing with one character at a time, taking turns. But while all of Frances' chapters are written from the character's perspective without being in the 1st person singular, in "Blossom Street", the lady who opens the shop is a 1st person narrator, and the other characters aren't. Another obvious difference is that Frances is English and Debbie Macomber American, something that of course reflects in their writing style. In American English, people look out windows and walk out doors, while I'd say they look out of windows etc. Enough of the (uncalled for) comparison, and on to the book.

When we first meet each character, their lives are not looking very good. While they come from completely different walks of live, from the very poor to the very rich, none of them are truly happy. As events unfold and friendships are starting to form, things look better - until they get, for a while, almost worse than before. There is some suspense as to what will happen next; some of the goings-on weren't much of a surprise, but I definitely had not expected what happens in chapter 46. All ends well (I think it is safe to tell you that without spoiling the book for you), and if my mother-in-law gets the next one in the series, I'll definitely be interested in reading it, too.

A lot of the book has to do with knitting, obviously. The author's website tells us that she has her own knitting shop in real life, and a brand of her own knitting yarn is available. When she talks about socks, I instantly thought of my Mum:
With the inventive new sock yarns on the market, socks were the current knitting rage. I carried a number of the European brands and loved the variety. My customers did, too. Several of the new yarns were designed to create an intricate pattern when knitted. I found it amazing to view a finished pair of socks, knowing the design had been formed by the yarn itself, and not the knitter.
This is exactly the kind of socks my Mum makes - you can look at what she currently has on offer in her Etsy shop at the top left hand corner of my blog, and of course you can read about her being "a sock-knitting maniac" in her own words here.

All in all, I'd say the book is well edited, but every now and then, the use of tenses could be somewhat better. Here is an example:
Dad's not here to help me anymore, and the sense of abandonment I experienced was overwhelming. I was furious with my father for dying. I'm so angry.
There is another quote about the main character's father I want to share with you, although for other reasons:
My father is the one I thank for giving me the courage to move forward with my life. His death taught me such vaulable lessons. I suppose the irony is that his death taught me about life. [...] in this last year I've learned to draw upon the inner strength he instilled in me.
Almost three years ago, my husband died; and although of course the circumstances were very different and the relationship between father and daughter is not the same as between husband and wife, Steve's sudden and untimely death taught me about life, too, and I drew some valuable lessons from it.

As mentioned above, this was a pleasant read; sometimes I found it difficult to relate to the behaviour of the characters, but we all know we don't always act in a way others (let alone ourselves) find logical. Recommended for anyone who likes to relax and be entertained by a book without too much of a challenge; it doesn't matter whether you are a knitter or not :-)

Wednesday 10 October 2012

What's In My Bag?

Mella at "Just a moment, please" has come up with this in her most recent post, and I liked the idea enough to adopt it for today.
Hasn't it been one of the big mysteries of humankind (especially for men) what ladies' handbags contain? Well, some of us are willing to lift the veil of myth surrounding our most beloved and important accessory (for some of us, handbags and shoes are on the same level there, while others couldn't care less), and I am one of them :-)

The handbag I currently use most days (but not every day) is the one I first showed you in my Fashion Calendar: September post. Its colours go so well with much of my autumn wardrobe, but the fabric is thin and "summery", so I guess I won't use this handbag for much longer this year.
Now for the contents:
As you can see, I carry all the obvious things around such as a few business cards (you never know), tissues, my keys, a pen (usually one of the freebies I get from hotels, banks etc. or at various events I attend), my wallet, phone, kindle (only when I know I'll be travelling or have to spend time waiting at a doctor's), and the tiny extra bag that came with the handbag is very useful to hold hand cream and lip balm.

Depending on where I go, what the weather is like and for how long I'll be out, I also carry my camera and a small bottle of water. This handbag is obviously too small to fit that in, but of course it is not my only one :-)
Occasionally, when transferring the contents from one handbag into another (to either match my outfit or the day's requirements better), I have forgotten to take out the small hand cream and lip balm. Therefore, in two or three of my handbags, there already are cream and balm in a smaller compartment of the bag. I find the creams you sometimes get for free testers very useful, and they last surprisingly long.

So, with some of my secrets revealed, what are yours?

Saturday 6 October 2012


...but what?

Several of you, dear readers of my blog, post "Weekend Reflections" every now and then, and I always like looking at your interpretations of the topic.

Although I do not participate in any of the numerous picture challenges that exist in blogland, the weekend reflections seen on other people's blogs clearly were inspirational to me for doing this post.

See that weirdly shaped reflection across the wall of my living room / home office?

I still don't know what created this; have a look for yourself:
This is the direction the light (obviously from the window) came in. So, what looks as if it could make such a "wave" of light on the wall?

Apart from this unsolved puzzle, I liked this pattern of light and shadow through the wickerwork on my old armchair very much: 

Wednesday 3 October 2012

The Ghost Writer

In my recent post about "Trust", I mentioned that I had also been watching "The Ghost Writer" and found smiliarites between the two films, in that they are both more on the quiet side and both end not the way you'd expect your typical Hollywood ending to happen.
Something else they have in common is that they truly both live from the excellent performance of their actors and not from any technical gimmicks or special effects.

"The Ghost Writer" is based on  "The Ghost", a novel by Robert Harris. The author has worked closely with director Roman Polanski, co-writing the script. Robert Harris also appears on the DVD's extras in interviews.

Ewan McGregor plays an English ghost writer who is asked to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (played by Pierce Brosnan, who, like everybody else in this film, is just perfect for the role). The ghost writer's predecessor has died (apparently by accident), and to finish the work, the new man is sent to the house on Martha's Vineyard where Lang, his wife and a number of staff are staying.
Soon after his arrival, the ghost writer has the feeling that not everything (and everyone) is as it should be. Did his predecessor really die by accident, or was he on to something from the former Prime Minister's past that should have better be left undiscovered? 
At the same time, Adam Lang is publicly accused by his former Foreign Secretary of having allowed terrorist suspects to be handed over to the CIA, in the full knowledge that these suspects were then subject to torture to gain information from them.

The ghost writer gets entangled in a mess of political and personal threads running through the past and present life of Adam Lang and his wife Olivia, and fears for his own life, which leads him to take action - and that then really sets things in motion.

At the end of the movie, we have three dead men (not counting the first ghost writer) and a finished book that is about to become a bestseller.
I won't say more about what is going to happen and what the ghost writer found out, because the film is well worth watching without me spoiling all the suspense.
And there is a lot of suspense - building up in a quiet manner, without a lot of the "action scenes" so typical for many Hollywood blockbusters. Even the one car chase is quiet, believe it or not.

The styling throughout the film is impeccable: the house on Martha's Vineyard, where much of the story takes place, is modern, cold, angular; the colours of everybody's clothing fits in with that atmosphere, the bleakness of the grey sky and landscape add to it, and nothing you see, nothing at all, is there by chance. The ghost writer is never named - something I didn't even realise until later. Unusual for a central character in a film not have a name, but it works!

When I watched the extras on the DVD and read up on the film, I found out that the scenes set on Martha's Vineyard were actually shot in Germany, on the islands of Sylt (North Sea) and Usedom (Baltic Sea). I read a few reviews and descriptions of the film and found that most of them mentioned the visual stylishness - but what amazed me is that nobody said anything about the extremely sparse use of music.
For a lot of the time, all you hear in this film are the sounds that you'd really hear if you were there, in that house, in those rooms, on your own on the beach, at a hotel bar where you are the only guest, and so on. And when there is music, it is not designed to quicken your pulse with suspension by dramatic crescendos, but it does so in a quiet, almost secret manner, adding to the atmosphere of secrecy surrounding the entire project of Adam Lang's memoirs.

The parallels to real life politics are certainly there, but not always intentional; when Robert Harris wrote the book, a lot of what we know now had not yet happened.
This was one film I can definitely recommend.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Day & Night

No, don't worry - this is not going to be yet another fashion post like the "Day & Night" one that I did back in February and which, strangely enough, still features as one of my most popular posts.

This time, it's all about the sky.

A few days ago, upon coming into the kitchen first thing in the morning, I saw this beautiful sunrise, and before I even started the kettle to make myself coffee, I went to grab the camera and take a picture:

Around the same time (not in terms of hour, obviously, but day) we had a dramatic full (?) moon again. I know I've shown moony pictures here on my blog before, but if you are anything like me, you're never bored of looking at the sky.

And, just to make this post complete, here is what the view from my kitchen window was like last Friday, at the end of September:

Soon, a lot of that green will be gone, but no matter the season or weather, I always like looking out across these gardens.

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved sunsets and sunrises, and views of the sky. When I was a kid, my bedroom window was facing West, and I often watched the sunset from there.
Have you ever heard of Caspar David Friedrich? He was a German painter (1774-1840) who is often cast aside as being overly romantic, but few have, in my opinion, managed to capture the colours and atmosphere of the sky in all its different appearances as well as he did. The above painting is from 1822, and I shamelessly nicked it from somewhere else on the internet.

Monday 1 October 2012


Something I had not eaten in... oh, at least ten years: Polenta.
In case you're not familiar with it, Polenta is a dish made of maize/corn (whichever word you prefer) semolina. It is so easy to make even I manage to get it right :-)

It was on offer a few weeks ago at my preferred supermarket (Aldi), and I prepared some Polenta last week when the evenings were already chilly enough for me to feel like cooking.

We had a leafy salad with tomatos and a mixture of pine nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds with it. Tomato season is actually over in Germany, and I was a bit skeptical about buying these ones coming from a greenhouse in the Netherlands, but they are surprisingly tasty and their scent is very aromatic (I still have two more left).

For the polenta, you need twice the amount of water (in relation to the amount of semolina); salt it, bring it to boil, and stir in the corn/maize semolina. Then leave it on very low heat so that it keeps bubbling every now and then (stay away with your face when you open the lid - it has a tendency to splash upwards), and stir it a few times over the next 15 minutes.

In the meantime, I was making my very basic way of sauce bolognese. All there is to it is frying some minced meat in a pan with a bit of olive oil, and once the minced meat loses the pink colour and turns all brownish, pour the tomato sauce (it is only squashed and sieved tomato, no spices or anything else added) over it, stir, and spice with salt, pepper, and whatever herbs you happen to find.
To make it more tasty, of course I could have added garlic and/or onions, but I didn't have either, and the sauce turned out nice nonetheless.

We had the polenta with sauce bolognese on Wednesday night, and on Thursday for my lunch break, I fried the left over polenta in a pan and put an egg over it.

I am sure this won't have been the last time this season I make polenta - quick, easy and filling, just how I like my food :-)