Monday 30 December 2013

Christmas and New Year

For me, the whole period of Christmas and New Year is what makes winter - that least loved of all seasons - bearable. I know I have no real reason for complaining; we have not been flooded, or hurricaned, or earthquaked or anything else, and temperatures have been more like March than December for most of the month. Still, winter brings darkness and cold (cold enough for my liking, anyway!), cuts long walks short and stops my running until I feel like taking it up again in spring. Therefore, from the first Advent weekend until the 6th of January, I am glad to have Christmas and New Year to look forward to - and also to look back on.

Christmas Eve at my parents' was as cosy and nice as always, just the way we want it. Here is a picture of the tree with the (real!) candles lit:

My sister spent most of the afternoon helping my Mum to decorate the tree (this year with a red and gold theme) and generally get everything nice and shiny for the evening, while I did nothing but show up for the evening, a bag with presents in tow.

On Christmas morning, I opened the presents that had arrived from Yorkshire. Every year, I can't believe how many nice, beautiful, useful and thoughtful gifts I receive! This year's highlight certainly is the pretty gold bracelet from my sister. I have already been wearing it a few times since. And you won't be surprised to hear that half of the contents of the Cadbury's Milk Tray is already gone (with no help from others).
See the small pink handbag? That's the one that came with the dirndl I bought at the end of November.

RJ joined me on the afternoon of the 26th. We went to my parents' for a delicious dinner and a game of "Who wants to be a Millionaire". To everybody's surprise (including my own), I won!

The 28th saw my Mum and I attending what was a première for us: we went to a show cooking! Or cooking show?
A Turkish lady had invited my Mum to the event, which was held at a school less than a 10- minute-walk from where I live. The cook, Ömür Akkor, is apparently one of the most famous TV cooks in Turkey and author of several cook books. He is also here on blogger - unfortunately, I do not speak Turkish (I really should, what with having so many neighbours from that country).
Thankfully, there was a young man translating for the German guests, and so we had an interesting and fun afternoon, watching Mr. Akkor prepare several easy-to-make and very delicious dishes, which we all shared afterwards. I did not bring my camera, but I am sure most of you know enough of Turkish cuisine to imagine the delights that were in store for us - and all that for free, with no work involved on our part!
Mr. Akkor was not at all like a "celebrity"; he was very kind, down-to-earth and with a sense of humour obvious even though I could not understand a word of what he was saying. My Mum bought the cook book, and I am sure I will read it, too: it is not just a collection of recipes, but the recipes are embedded in a love story set in the days of the Seljuk dynasty (10th and 11th century). Mr. Akkor received the "Gourmand Cookbook Award" for Best Historic Cookbook in February 2013 at the Paris fair "Gourmand International".

Tomorrow, RJ and I will attend a gala dinner buffet & dance for New Year's Eve; that was my Christmas present for him. Of course, I have been thinking about what to wear from the moment I had the idea :-) It was not difficult to settle on a dress, but I still did not have matching shoes - my proper dancing shoes are black and don't go with the dress at all. On the 23rd, I braved the insane masses of people in town and went to three or four shoeshops - it wasn't too bad, actually, as I was mentally prepared for the pre-Christmas madness, and knew exactly what I wanted. I was in and out of town in an hour, and came home with two pairs of shoes. Both of them would look good with the dress, but I guess I'll go with the more subdued pair. It has exactly the same pink as the palest pink in the flowers on the dress. The "Barbie"-pink shoes will go well with the dirndl, don't you think? :-) Besides, they cost only a tenner, and so they simply came with me. Which one would you choose?

Whatever you'll be doing tomorrow to welcome the New Year, here's wishing all of you the very best for the next twelve months!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Mere Hours To Go...

...until we'll all (i. e. my parents, my sister, some close family friends and myself) meet at my parents' place for Christmas Eve. That is the most important part of Christmas for most Germans, and we are no exception.
Most families have a traditional meal they serve for festive occasions; ours on Christmas Eve is Frankfurters and spuds salad. Of course, it is the same delicious spuds salad my Dad always makes; you can find his recipe here.
We will also exchange our gifts tonight. The (real) candles on the tree will be lit. It will be a cosy evening of togetherness and harmony (provided we don't sing!).

I wrapped my presents yesterday. Together with the ones sent from England to my parents and sister, they make quite a nice pile, don't they!

Another impressive pile is sitting on the sideboard in my living room, next to the Christmas cards I found in my mail box this year. There have been a few more cards arriving since I took the picture, but you get the idea. These presents are all from my Yorkshire family (they really do spoil me!), and I will open them on Christmas morning. I will then ring my mother-in-law for a nice chat (usually takes an hour).

On the 26th, RJ will join me here for a few days. We'll be at my parents' again for dinner, and probably go for walks (weather permitting) and generally just enjoy spending time together and try not to talk about work too much :-)

I am very much looking forward to all of this, and I hope you have plenty of reasons for looking forward to Christmas, too, no matter which way you choose to spend it. 

Let me end this post with some pictures I took over the last 2 weeks.

On the morning of the 13th, I still had hopes for a White Christmas:
But it was all gone by the next day, and now we are having temperatures more like March than what you'd expect in December. The birds seem to believe it, too, and I am almost waiting for the first flowers to pop up.

This one was taken on the 17th. I just had to try and capture that beautiful sunrise, seen from my kitchen window.

One day and one hour later, a different picture:

And this morning:

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Sunday 22 December 2013

Read in 2013 - 51, 52, 53: Some More Holiday Reads

Yes, I've done it again: I've given my mind a sugar-shock of over-sweet holiday reads once more, after the ones listed on this post. And just like last time, for the brevity of one of them, I count them as three reads although there were actually four of them.

Christmas with the Alexanders
by M. Malone
This was relatively short and relatively nice. The Alexanders are a big, close-knit family who celebrate Christmas at their house with so many people I lost count: several sons and their wives/girlfriends, a bunch of children, plus some non-relatives who end up as house guests. A man and a woman who keep their feelings hidden from each other, thinking that the other person mustn't know they love them. A young single mother who feels more at ease with the Alexanders than with her own parents. A car crash that could have ended really badly. These are the ingredients for a story that, I realized later on, I should not have read - since it was not meant to be a standalone read, but is part of a series about the Alexanders.
You can find out more about the books and their author here.

Nine Days in December
by Suzie Dawson
Too short for me (approx. 30 pages, if it were in print) to really get into the story or the characters, whom I didn't like very much in the first place. A woman loses her job when she ends her affair with her (married) boss. She has to come to terms not only with having no job and not much money just before Christmas, but also with her mother coming to stay. 

Home For Christmas
by Patricia Kay
The best of this bunch of free ebooks, and also the longest.
Quinn and Maureen's parents died when they were children, and they were raised by their aunt. All during their childhood, they were very close, but later fell out over a man. That lead to Quinn leaving their home town and not return for ten years. Only when their aunt needs her help after an accident does Quinn come home - in time for Christmas. Will she make up with her sister? What role does her aunt's tenant play?
The typical ingredients - girl meets guy, they both heartily dislike each other, and you know exactly where that is going to lead - are there, but the story is well written and the characters, to a certain extent, are credible.
Several scenes had enough tension for me to keep going; they could have gone different ways (but in the end did not fail to deliver as expected).
Unlike with the other books, the editing was well done; there weren't any typos or other errors. The author is apparently quite well known; it was the first time I have come across her. Click here for her homepage.

Santa (Maybe)
by Alice Bex
According to the subtitle, this is a "rom com", a romantic comedy. Romantic, yes, because there is plenty of that in the book. Comedy - hmm... maybe my sense of humour differs greatly from the author's, since I did not find anything to laugh about in the book. The story is quickly told: Divorced mother of cute little girl knows that what is really missing from her life is love. At a shopping mall, the daughter insists on meeting Santa. The man behind the Santa beard and costume happens to be an old school friend of the woman's younger brother, who always had a crush on her and never stopped loving her in all those years. But he is in trouble because of another woman, and she has no idea who he is - how will she react once she'll find out?
The author is on blogger, too; you can find her here.


Something all four of these (free) ebooks have in common are the male characters: They are invariably dishy, with fabulous bodies and faces to match. Not so the ladies; at least two of the main characters are described as not being exactly skinny, and looking as tired and stressed out as you do if you juggle work, family responsibilities, money and other worries. I wonder whether that really is what women want to read? Well, I did read these stories, in spite of having some really good books (not ebooks) on my to-be-read pile, but I'd find them just a little more realistic if the people in them were a bit more like real people, especially the men.

Saturday 14 December 2013

An Unexpected Acquisition

Two Saturdays ago, in addition to the regular Christmas market I have already told you about in recent posts, there was a smaller indoor Advent market held at the Kulturzentrum (literally "Culture Centre") in the town centre. This was organized by a lady from the Municipal Administration for her fellow Civil Servants. All municipal employees could apply for a stall to sell home-crafted items, with 10 % of the proceeds going to a project in Burkina Faso.
This was a welcome opportunity for my Mum to try once more to sell her hand-knitted socks, after we had not been overly successful with our stall at the outdoor market in the summer.

I had arranged to go and help out for a bit, so, after my usual Saturday morning round of cleaning, I went to join my Mum.

Our stall was at the back of the largest hall in the Kulturzentrum. It was amazing to see how many pretty things people had made and were offering at their stalls, from delicious looking muffins and brownies to silver jewellery and ornaments. Most of what was there was more or less "useless", for decorative purposes, and since I am not one for much deco at home, I did not want to get anything from these stalls. 
Unfortunately, there was another socks stall nearer the entrance of the hall, which meant that most visitors passed there first - more than once, people arriving at our stall told us they really liked our socks but had already bought what they needed from the other stall.

We did not sell as much as we had hoped for, but a small sum still went to the Burkina Faso project, and we had so many nice and interesting conversations that we did not consider the whole thing a waste of time.

The stall next to us, on my Mum's side, was rather big and manned by a whole family. The parents had some decorative stuff on offer which I can't even remember properly, but the daughter...! She had put on display her own creations of beautiful dirndl dresses, and one in particular caught my eye as soon as I arrived at the hall:

And you can guess what happened, can't you?

At first, I merely looked at it. Then, I asked the stall holders permission to take a picture of the one I found most beautiful. Next, I asked the size. It happened to be mine... Then, I agreed to try it on in a small room behind the back wall of the hall. It fitted... I kept going back to my chair at our stall and think about occasions to wear the dirndl.

That wasn't so easy to work out, because my part of Germany is not like Bavaria, where ladies wear dirndls more often than here. In fact, I was quite against the "dirndl hype" that has been going on here for the past 5 years or so, with cheap dirndls being on offer even at supermarkets every year around the time of the Octoberfest and also in spring, when there is a big Frühlingsfest (spring fest) in Stuttgart. Whenever something - a specific piece of clothing, a book, a film or a new type of sports - is the subject of a hype, I usually do not follow that hype but look at it with a mixture of distaste and ridicule, and that had been the case with those mass-produced pseudo-dirndls.

But this one... a hand-made individual dirndl, like nobody else would have; very well made, beautifully put together, and so reasonably priced it was almost too good to be true. Last time I owned and wore a dirndl was when I was a little girl of 5 or 6, and I loved the full skirts, little aprons and puffed sleeves back then.

I agreed with the young lady who makes these wonderful dresses to keep "my" dirndl on the dummy, and if someone else wanted to buy it, not to wait for me to make my mind up. When the market ended at 4.00 pm, "my" dirndl was still there, though. Many visitors had admired this one and the other dirndls, but nobody had bought one.
So... I ended up taking this one home with me, already having several occasions in mind where I would get to wear it next year.

Just look at how much detail there is! Each of those tiny roses around the bodice is hand-made of satin ribbon. The little blouse is made of lace. The skirt is of deep pink satin, and the bodice and apron are of a rose-print on cotton with tiny glittery bits interspersed (I don't think you can see them in the pictures). Don't look at my footwear - of course I would not really wear those in public with this outfit.

My secret worry was that RJ would think it too kitschy and over the top, but when I showed him my new acquisition Saturday evening, he loved it as much as I did.
Now all I need is a pair of cream Mary-Janes to go along with it...

That is what can happen when you set out to sell socks: you end up buying a dirndl!

Thursday 12 December 2013

Dropped Off...

...the planet. That's an expression I have heard and read many times, and it came to my mind last night when I was snuggled up under my feather duvet and extra woollen blanket, before drifting off to sleep. That time of the day (or night) has often been when my mind came up with an idea for a blog post, and it did so last night:

Friends I miss, who have seemingly dropped off the planet.

It is easy to lose touch, with each of us being busy with our daily lives, and I know it is next to impossible to keep up the threads of communication with everyone we've ever seen as part of our (wider) circle of friends and acquaintances. Of course, email and blogs do help, but if you email someone and they stop replying, or you leave comments on their blog and they never come back, all the wonders of modern technology do not make a difference.

I dedicate this post to some of the people I was in touch with regularly for years and who have, for unknown reasons, stopped communicating. Who knows - one or two of them might even stumble across this post, recognize themselves, and get back in touch. And even if they have reasons for not talking (or writing) to me anymore (reasons I honestly don't know), at least they will know that I have not forgotten them.

There is Robert, who lives in Canada and was in regular email contact with me for a few years, even co-authoring some of my stories (you can read them by clicking the "short stories" label on my blog - most of them are my own, but there are two or three of Robert's).

Philippe, one of the handsomest men I know (don't let him hear that - he hates it!), a Parisian originally from Cayenne (French Guyana), who has a great sense of humour and whose generosity and ability to deal with difficult circumstances in his life I much admire.

Marjatta, a lady from Finland who combines stunning physical beauty with superior brain power and, again, a great sense of humour and no haughtiness at all.

Ange, my "sister" in Singapore, whom I struck up a close friendship with over a discussion of the merits of Ricky Martin (whom we both dislike), and who is extraordinarily gifted when it comes to languages (and yet another very beautiful lady). She is so honest it can be painful to some.

SP, fellow resident of blogland, whose blog I truly enjoyed until she stopped posting. I do so wish she would reopen it, or at least let her former readers know that she's alright.

The Hattats, whose blog several of you also have been following, and whose posts always allowed me a glimpse of a way of life very different from my own.

Macy in Scotland, who has had more than her fair share of trouble and grief, and whose blog so often made me want to be able to write like her.

There are many more; some have moved their blogs away from here, and I did not follow them there because I find my time taken up well enough without adding yet another platform to my social media portfolio. Most of them I have never met in real life, some others I have. 

Every now and then, someone drops back on to the planet, as has happened recently with Mark, whose blog you'll reach by clicking on his name here.

If any of you should happen to read this and not find you mentioned by name, let me assure you it does not mean I never think of you. There are just - sadly - quite a few of you, too many to fit into one single post. I hope that your silence is not my fault. If I have done anything to offend any of you, it was done unwittingly. Come back if you feel like it; and in any case, I wish you happiness and peace, whereever you are now and whatever you do.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

A Very Varied Week

Last week, I had three very different evening things in my diary, all of them enjoyable.

On Tuesday night, I opened my home for the neighbourhood, participating in the "Living Advent Calendar" that is organized for my part of town from one of the church communities. I am not a member of that curch, but I like the idea of it: Each of the days from the 1st of December to Christmas Eve, just like you would open a little door on an Advent calendar, you can visit a family, company or other venue. You are not told what it is about beforehand, just like you don't know what you'll find behind the door fo the calendar. The address is given, and the time, that's all. For instance, the school library hosts such an event; a local wine trader, an organization that helps single parents in need, and several families open their yards or even houses to anyone who wishes to attend.
Two years ago, my parents took me along to one such event. The family who had bought my Grandma's house from us had a fire going (in a very safe iron fire basket) in their back garden, served hot tea and cookies, and we were all gathering around the fire to sing a few Christmas songs and listen to a Christmas poem the hostess read. I didn't know anyone there apart from, obviously, my parents and the hostess, and I really enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. That made me want to try this myself, and the following year - i.e. last year - I hosted my own little Advent Calendar evening for the first time (no fire in my living room, don't worry!). So, that was Tuesday.

On Thursday night, my Mum and I went to a concert of our favourite live band, Cobario. I have mentioned them before on my blog, and you can watch a video of one of their live performances at Ludwigsburg's International Street Music Festival here:

Last week's concert was, of course, not in the park, but in the beautiful Music Hall in our town. Some good pictures from both inside and outside the hall can be found here.
This festive setting demanded a matching outfit, but since I was working all day and going to the concert directly from work with no time to change in between, I had to wear something suitable for both the office and the concert hall. Here is my choice:

On Friday night, my girlfriends were coming over for our annual Schrottwichteln. I've described the event here already, so won't go into all the detail again. Let it suffice to say that we had so much fun I was slightly worried about my downstairs neighbours (I talked to them the next day, and they assured me that it had only been "a little" noisy!).

Saturday was spent quietly, catching up on sleeping, cleaning, washing, ironing, reading, writing and playing.

On Sunday, I went to my parents' for a cosy Advent afternoon with coffee, homemade cake & Christmas cookies, and board games.

If I were to do "Thankful Thursday" posts like some of you, I'd have certainly more than enough reasons to be thankful!

Sunday 8 December 2013

Time For All That Again!

After some rather boring book reviews as my last two posts, I have some more Decembery pictures for you today.

Three posts back, I already told you about the Christmas market. Last week, my Mum, my sister and I went there for our first visit of this season. After I had taken this picture, we had a look at nearly every stall to find presents for my Yorkshire family, and were of course successful.

This week, I wrapped up all the little gifts for them and posted the parcel to England, hoping it will get there alright and in time. In all the years such parcels have been going back and forth between Ludwigsburg and Ripon, only once one from Mary got lost on its way to us.

Last Saturday, just in time for the 1st of the four Advent Sundays, I put up what little decoration I use this time of the year. You'll probably recognize some of it from last year:

My living room, with the Advent wreath kindly given to me by my parents.

The desk in the Third Room, with my favourite Christmas cards from past years underneath the glass plate. (That thing gets heavier every year!)

This angel was given to me years ago by one of my Mum's friends, and it always has its place in the Third Room, too. (And now I am wondering whether Frances will see things in the wood of the cabinet doors!)

I can't remember who gave me this sweet little pop-up card, there is no note on the back.

The plate of baubles is new this year. I like it!

By now, Christmas cards have begun to arrive, and the sideboard in my living room is filling up nicely with them. Lots of activities - some Christmas-/Advent-related, some not - have been going on for me since the start of this month, which I will tell you about in another post or three.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Read in 2013 - 48, 49, 50: Some Early Holiday Reads

This year, I wanted to do what I know some of my friends in blogland have been doing every year: Holiday Reading. So, two weeks or so ago, I started on a specific hunt on Amazon for free ebooks with a holiday theme, and found quite a lot.

Here are short reviews of the ones I have read so far. (Since all of these were rather short, and I did not complete the last one, instead of counting 5 books, I count them as 3.)

Four Weeks 'Til Christmas
by Jayn Wilde
Jayn is on blogger, too, as I have found out. You can find her blog post announcing the release of her christmassy novella here. This romantic story starts - you guessed it - four weeks before Christmas, when Noelle literally bumps into a man at the department store where she works.
Little does she know (but the reader, of course, does!) that this event has consequences - both for herself and the man. Read this if you are not afraid of very sweet romance, where the people involved "gasp for breath" nearly every time they set eyes on each other, and their bodies "tingle" all over whenever they hear each other's voices etc. Some of the characters are quite nice, some are too good to be true, and I don't think I am going to go and look at all the other books by this author.

The Christmas Bake Off
by Abby Clements
Click here for the author's website. Any book that involves a Yorkshire village and its characters is bound to catch my interest, and this short story did not disappoint. It was just what I had expected: some real characters, a Christmas bake off at the village hall, a budding romance and a crime (that turns out very harmless and is solved in a most unpretentious manner). Short and sweet, and I wouldn't mind coming across this particular setting again in a longer book.

Courtney's Christmas Wish
by H. M. Bailey
Couldn't find an author's website apart from Facebook, but I am not linking there; if you are on Facebook, of course you can look her up easily.
Courtney is invited to a party at her best friend's place, knowing full well (and preparing for it) that she'll see the man there she's had a crush on for so long. Of course, things don't go smoothly at first, but I can't imagine any reader being kept in suspense by this short novella, or surprised by the outcome. Just right for the length of two or three short train rides to and from work. 

Christmas Miracles
by Kristine Pierce
The author's website with more information about the book is here. A - for me - unusual approach to Christmas: Here, we are in the Philippines, and it was quite interesting for me to read how this holiday is celebrated in a part of the world I know very little about, and which in all likelihood I am never going to see for myself.
Read this if you want a short, easy Holiday read with a different approach (no snow in this one!).

A Grosvenor Square Christmas
by Anna Campbell, Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly and Kate Noble
I only read the first of the four stories in this book and then deleted it, because I know I am not going to read the other three. For me to enjoy romance in a (more or less) historical setting, I have to be in a certain mood, and I definitely was not in the right mood for Regency when I started on this one.
Don't get me wrong - the writing in this one is not so bad (I've seen much, much worse), and I can imagine that the stories do grip the imagination of some readers, just not mine.

For all the sweet romantic stuff in those five ebooks, I was very much in need of something more substantial, just like you'll want something savoury to eat after you've spent an afternoon baking cookies. Good job then that I can parallel-read when it comes to very different subjects, and that is what I have been doing nearly all the time, with a rather interesting work of non-fiction. That, of course, will be subject of another review.

Friday 6 December 2013

Read in 2013 - 47: Polly and the Princess

Sounds like a children's book, and is one; not for small children, but quite clearly aimed at girls of about 10 - 12 years of age. "Polly and the Princess" was written by Emma C. Dowd and published in 1917. 

I could not find out anything about the author, apart from that she died in 1938. This book is part of a "Polly" series, but I shall leave it at that and won't go looking for the others.

In this book, Polly is 13 years old. She is a physician's daughter and lives with her family near the hospital where her father practises. In the grounds, there is a home for elderly ladies (what went for "elderly" in 1917 is not necessary the same as today: some of the residents are described at being in their 40s, which would make me eligible for the home, too).
From the outside, people have the impression that the "June Holiday Home" (so named after its foundress, one June Holiday) is like paradise on earth for the ladies allowed to live there, and that they do have fun all day long, sumptuous meals and not a care in the world.

Polly knows better, though, because she is a frequent visitor, especially to one lady she has struck up a close friendship with: The head of the home rules with an iron rod. Everything is regulated, from talking (or rather not talking) in the hallways to walking only on the carpet when using the stairs (which means that one nearly blind lady almost falls, because she is not allowed to walk with her hands on the rail), to visiting times (only on Wednesdays from 2.00 to 4.00 pm) and very, very meagre meals (no dessert, stale bread, and the weakest of tea).
Things get really nasty when Polly finds out that the headmistress intercepts mail and does not pass on messages received by phone.

She does what she can to brighten the lives of the ill-treated women, who are all afraid of being turned out of the home, should they dare to rebel, and have nowhere else to go. One of them indeed flees the home and marries the milkman out of sheer desperation! 

Finally, Polly manages to make the president of the committee responsible for the running of the home see what is going on, and action is taken. Not only do the happy ladies end up with each having their own telephone installed in their rooms, but Polly also acts as something of a matchmaker for her best friend.

This was sometimes really funny to read, but more often than not, it was just a bit too sickly sweet with Polly being soooo innocent and gold-hearted like nobody ever is in real life, and the lovestory being so predictable.
As always with books written in times past, this one offers a glimpse into everyday life from back then, when telephones were still brand new, and motor cars a luxury very few could afford.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

As Far As the Nose Can Smell

Of course, I know that the above is not a real saying. But "as far as the eye can see" is, and I thought my adaption of it quite fitting as the headline for this post, because it is about perfume.

Until not that long ago, although I was well aware of how scents can affect us (see this post about everyone's very own time machine), I did not know much about perfume. Since I often use scented shower gels and body lotions, I used to wear perfume very rarely, thinking the result of combining the two would be too strong. The only perfumes I owned were two tiny sample bottles which I had been given from a cosmetics supplier.

Then, RJ started to become interested in perfumes. Whenever something hits his curiosity button, he goes about it in a very thorough manner. Having a Ph.D. in natural sciences and a diploma in physics, he uses an almost scientific approach to all his favourite subjects, and perfumes are no exception.

From a mere two or three bottles of scent, he is now the proud owner of a collection of just over 300 perfumes, all stored in an in-built cupboard at his small bachelor pad - even his stock of food had to make room for that.

Apart from simply enjoying a well-composed perfume, RJ can tell you everything you want to know about what elements it is composed of and in what way the "scent pyramid" works, showing its head note in the first few seconds, and revealing its heart and base in the course of several hours. 
He loves choosing his perfume for the day according to his outfit and matching the occasion. He can discern many different types of scent now, and many of the single elements a scent is composed of. Many perfumes have a history; some have been reformulated after their original recipe, such as "Bois du Portugal", which was apparently Napoleon's favourite scent. 
Like clothes, food, hairstyles and a lot of other things, perfumes follow trends and fashions. The 1980s had very different popular perfumes from what most people prefer now. Sadly, many let themselves be fooled into buying a scent that does not fit them (and is not particularly well done) simply because some celebrity or other lend their faces (and bodies) to its promotional campaign.

There is a whole world of knowledge connected with perfumes, and of course I can only scratch the surface here. RJ has given talks about his scented hobby several times already, to different groups, from a semi-business environment to the totally private "Perfume Party" we threw the other Saturday:
We invited some of our friends, shared a meal with them, and RJ talked about perfumes. He had brought a small collection of scents from his vast stock, to illustrate the various types of scent and to advise our friends on what they should know before making an informed decision next time they intend to buy a bottle of perfume.

It was interesting and entertaining, and I think all our guests had as much fun as we did in preparing and hosting the event.

By the way, ever since RJ embarked on this new hobby of his, my meagre stock of perfumes has risen to about 7 or 8 normal sized bottles (not counting dozens of samples). Some of them are better suited for spring and summer, others are proper winter scents; I choose a different perfume for going out than for a day at the office. I will never spend as much money on them as RJ does, and don't want to give so much space over to hundreds of bottles, but it certainly is an interesting hobby, and well worth taking a closer look (or sniff?) at.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Sure Signs

...of it being that time of the year again: Christmas is fast approaching. Dreaded, I guess, by just as many as welcomed. For me, Christmas has not lost its magic; I still am as excited about it all as when I was a little girl.

Tonight, the Christmas market starts in my hometown. It is famous for being very beautifully laid out, and busloads of tourists come visiting every year. Just look at the picture on the official website and tell me you don't agree!

Sunday will be the first of the four Advent Sundays. It will also be the day when I'll put the few bits of Christmas decoration up that I want to see for the next six weeks or so. 

Other sure signs are:

My new boots! I finally found exactly what I wanted, after having looked around in two or three different shops, and then I couldn't decide on which pair - so I bought them both, something that would have been unthinkable only a year ago. But things have changed (for the better) since then, and so I walked out of the shop with two large boxes in bags, feeling like the proverbial shopaholic. My Mum was my good advisor, as usual.

The one pair is for every day wear, with a robust sole, and I chose them half a size larger than necessary, to be able to wear an extra pair of warm socks in them.

The other pair is obviously not made for snowy and very cold weather; it is very lightweight and feels as if you're not wearing any shoes at all. Inside their box, they came with an elegant satin bag to store them in, stating the manufacturer's name - a traditional company of over 175 years.

Last week, my Christmas parcel from England arrived! I was not going to open it until Christmas Day, but when I rang Mary to thank her, she asked me to open the parcel (just not the presents) beforehand, because she'd put Christmas cards inside for me, my parents and my sister. For now, it sits in the Third Room (which used to be Steve's bedroom).

I have almost all the presents ready that I want to give, except for a few things I hope to get maybe on Thursday at the Christmas market, and then I can wrap them all nicely and put those together that are going to be sent to England.

When I left work yesterday, it started to snow. I don't like winter and snow very much, but the first snow is always special, isn't it? Very fittingly, on the train I ended up standing next to an old man with a large white beard :-)
This morning, I woke up to these views which I will use to end today's post, wishing you all a happy, peaceful and stress-free (remember: that kind of stress is home-made!) three and a half weeks until Christmas!

PS: If you're looking for a small, individual present that is lightweight and unbreakable (and therefore easy to ship), have a look at my Mum's Etsy shop; the link is on the left side of my blog. There's still time enough for whatever you choose to arrive before Christmas.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Read in 2013 - 47: Life of Benjamin Franklin

The full title of this work by William M. (Makepeace) Thayer reads "From Boyhood to Manhood: Life of Benjamin Franklin", and - you guessed it - it was yet another free ebook I found on Amazon's Kindle shop.

The author lived from 1820 to 1898 and wrote the book long after its hero died. There is, of course, a lot about Franklin to be found on the internet; wikipedia is maybe the first stop if you want to know the basic facts about the man - or brush up on what you remember about him.
He lived from 1706 to 1790 and was - quoting wikipedia - "one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'. He facilitated many civic organizations, including a fire department and a university."

Thayer's book makes mention of almost all of this, but its focus is on Franklin's childhood and youth, which was spent mainly in Boston and Philadelphia.
According to the book, he was a highly intelligent child, an eager learner, and although he had the chance of only two years of proper schooling due to his parents' precarious financial situation, he took to reading and writing like a fish to water. A lot of his time was spent studying a variety of subjects; he must have used every waking minute (and sacrificed many an hour of sleep) on that. In a rather glorifying manner (and maybe a bit unrealistically), the author claims that young Benjamin excelled at anything he undertook, be it swimming, or printing, or learning a foreign language.
After a short stint at learning the trade of candle-making, which he hated, Benjamin became a printer, being apprenticed with his older brother at the age of 12. Circumstances put him in charge of the entire business of printing and editing a weekly paper as well as writing articles for it at the age of 15 or 16.

As lucky (and industrious) he was in terms of career and business, as unlucky was his choice of friends. Twice he was severely disappointed by close friends, causing him to lose a considerable amount of money.
He fell in love with and finally was allowed to get engaged and later married to Deborah Read.

How he became a statesman and arrived at all the other achievements mentioned above is described well in the book, but I hesitate to really recommend it. To me, it made a welcome change after several novels (more or less shallow ones, as you know from my previous posts). But I felt my patience tested quite a lot with this book: Thayer has a way of telling his readers about some event or other that occurs in his subject's lives, and a few pages on, a detailed account of the event or development is repeated in conversation between the main character and another person.
That can get quite annoying, and I must confess that I did go very quickly over some pages.

Still, it was interesting to learn a lot more about Franklin, his life and times than what I had known up to then. Also, I learned a lot about what business - especially the printing business - was like back then.
So, not a waste of time, just... quite a bit longer than necessary.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Read in 2013 - 46: Cocktails for Three

You guessed it - "Cocktails for Three" by Sophie Kinsella (writing as Madeleine Wickham, her real name) came to me in a parcel from my mother-in-law. I would not buy any of her books for myself, but I do like some light reading in the evenings, as you know from my previous post.

Also, I do like cocktails very much (as you know from several posts already, such as this one or the ones about my own cocktail parties, such as this year's party post). Therefore, seeing the title of this book, I thought, yes, that one sounds like fun.

Well, it is not quite full of light-hearted fun as you'd think. Quite the contrary. The story deals with postnatal depression, bullying at the work place, cheating, a fatal disease and grief.
There is friendship in the book and love, but also hate and people deliberately hurting others by their actions. There is trust, but also deceit. There are secrets, which shall all be revealed in the end, but not everything turns out well for everyone in the end.

Three friends meet once a month for cocktails, always at the same bar. They think of each other as being close, but they all harbour secrets - BIG secrets, with big consequences - from the others, which makes them question their closeness.

Most of what goes on in the book is rather credible, but as is so often the case when I read this kind of "chick lit", I can't but wonder at the amount of alcohol consumed by young, professional women. At least, this time, there is none of the "waking up next morning besides a stranger and not remembering how they got there", which is something I have always found rather unrealistic. Does that kind of thing really happen in the lives of young, professional woman as often as books and films want us to believe? I doubt it.

So, what I had expected to be very light reading turned out to give me quite a few things to think about, and left me somewhat sad several times. I did not have any preferred character, and did not care deeply for any of them, but the overall "message" (if I perceived it right) is something to be mulled over when my mind is not occupied otherwise.

By the way, the quip printed on the back of the book, taken from a review in "Marie Claire", is total rubbish: "These three women fairly sashay - or should that be stagger - off the page." No, they don't sashay at all, and while one of the women staggers a bit in one scene, that certainly does not characterize the whole story.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Read in 2013 - 45: Village Fortunes [and asking my fellow bloggers for help]

For some strange reason, I can not see the search option for my own blog; it used to be visible in the top left corner, but has disappeared. Of course I have checked my blog settings and layout, and it should be there; I haven't yet figured out how to fix this. Also, I can not see search boxes on other people's blogs, which has lead me to contact some of you about a book review I have read on one of your blogs but can't remember which one.

Does anyone else have or had this problem, and has any idea for me how to remedy it? I am using Mozilla's Firefox as a browser.


Now to the book review: "Village Fortunes" is the 17th installment of the Turnham Malpas series by Rebecca Shaw. Some years ago, my mother-in-law sent me the first three, and then kept sending them in small doses, until I was hooked and wanted to know what was happening in the village and to its inhabitants. 
(You can find my review for book # 16 here.) 

Some of you will probably shake your heads at my sometimes very simple literary taste, because not even the author's best friend could attribute a really good writing style to her. Usually, I appreciate books when the language is elegant without being too "artsy" in a forced manner. Well, the Turnham Malpas series is certainly neither elegant nor artsy - just cosy village stories that make you unwind when your brain has been very busy all day long with matters as dry as writing a manual for an insurance company's automatic document archivation system (one of my current projects).
An example of the sometimes "wooden" style (which, in my opinion, could have been edited to improve):
They spent a stormy Saturday, kind of speaking but not speaking all day, and Marie was glad when it was half past nine and she heard Barry tap softly on the back door. That was significant in itself coming to the back door as everyone used the front door because that was the easiest, seeing the way round the house was built.
That second sentence is, in my opinion, a misconstruction. It sounds like something a 6th-former would write. Or am I too picky?

In this book, Turnham Malpas' "big house" is inhabited by the young heir, his wife and their two babies. The heir's brother, who leads a hotel business in Brazil, comes visiting, and that visit is the cause for most of the drama in the story.

Also, a couple of former residents return to the village after a stint in prison, and opinions vary in the village as to whether that was a good idea or not. While generally, the couple are welcomed with open arms, there are still some who think that the prison sentence was deserved, and are quick to come to conclusions when the lead from the church roof is stolen.

The village shop owner's youngest daughter is torn between wanting to stay in the village and work at the shop and following her older siblings to university. Also, a secret love interest complicates matters, and eventually nearly puts her life in danger.

Another village character wants to find his now grown-up sons that were taken away by his ex-wife when they were little; after a life dedicated to business, he now feels he wants a proper family.

All these tales are intertwined because the characters know each other and live in the same village. There are many familiar faces, and a few new ones. It is a bit embarrassing, but I have to admit I can not remember the returning couple from previous books; I know I have read them all, but probably was not terribly interested in them the first time they appeared on the scene.

I must also admit that I enjoyed this book more than I remember having enjoyed the previous one. Be it that I was in the right mood, or that the writing was slightly better this time, I don't know. One thing I do know for sure, though: I will also make sure to get # 18.