Sunday 28 June 2015

Be My Guest

Being a host is something I enjoy very much, even though I love living on my own and loneliness was never a problem for me since my husband died 5 1/2 years ago.
One room in my flat is what I call the Third Room. Actually, it is the second bedroom; while my husband was still alive, it was his. He had his amateur radio station in there; it is where he slept and kept his clothes as well as part of his do-it-yourself stuff, all very neatly organized, his pride and joy.
Nowadays, the bed is there for any of my friends who want to spend the night, for instance when one from our original Girls' Night group who now lives near Hamburg comes visiting.

Earlier this year, I saw a leaflet at the baker's about visitors to the Kirchentag looking for private quarters for a few nights, without any further duties (such as providing meals etc.) for the host. You probably don't know what the Kirchentag is, therefore I have found this description for you in English. In an excerpt, it says:
“A mixture of an Open University summer school, a Bible convention, Taizé, a synod meeting,the Edinburgh Festival, a brass band festival for 500 bands, an ideal homes exhibition and a cup final – all rolled into one and all going on at the same time ...” That’s how one participant from Great Britain has described the “Kirchentag”, a phenomenon that, like the word itself, is hard to define or compare to anything else. It is a unique event and a tremendous experience."
I was never interested in going to the Kirchentag (literally, "Church Day") myself. But I thought, why not play host to someone for a few nights; the room and the bed are there anyway, and I don't need to do anything beyond providing clean sheets and let whoever gets assigned to me use the bathroom in the morning and at night, as they will be away all day anyway.
So I signed up as a host via the form on the internet. There, I could state the number of guests I was prepared to accomodate (1), and any special requirements, for instance whether my flat was suitable for someone in a wheelchair (no), whether I spoke any language other than German (yes), if I requested specifically that my guest be male or female (no preference), or anything else. The only requirement I put in the form was that I did not want anyone to smoke in my flat.
Some weeks later, closer to the big event, a letter arrived with contact details for the person assigned to me, a man from further down south.

We exchanged emails and a phone call, and very late on the evening of the first day of the Kirchentag (at the beginning of June) my guest arrived.
Thomas is a man in his mid-thirties, married with two small daughters, one of them was only a few months old (which is why his wife wasn't with him for the trip). He is a school teacher, and a drummer in a band in his free time. It was due to the band that he attended the Kirchentag at all; they played three concerts on one day and four on the next.

I had prepared the bed for him with fresh sheets and showed him where everything was; we sat in the living room for a little chat and then said good-night.
The next day, he left for the train station after a mug of tea and a slice of bread, and I went to work. This same pattern was repeated for two days and nights, and on the third evening, he travelled back home.

It was not much work for me at all, but gave me the opportunity to meet someone I'd never have otherwise met, and have some interesting conversations. For my guest, it was a chance to attend the Kirchentag and play the concerts without having to spend much money, and also to meet someone he would have never otherwise met.

My guest was tidy enough in the bathroom and kitchen, but not very much so in his own room. Never mind - it was his room entirely for the time he stayed here, and I only entered it when the phone rang (because that happens to be in there). 

The day after he left, it didn't take me long to restore the room to its former order. 

It has of course been slept in a few more times since, and will continue being used as my guest room. If any of you should ever happen to be in the area, you are very welcome to spend a few nights here. And I am not just saying this, I mean it.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

The Way Things Go...

...sometimes here in Blogland is my topic today.

A few times over the past years I have already written about my motivation for blogging, for instance here in 2010. But what happened yesterday was just so overwhelming that I want to share it with you - not because I wish to "bathe in glory", but because it shows so well what is one of the reasons for me to keep blogging, why I love living in Blogland so much, and it is a great example of the way things can go sometimes, when we post something with no idea of how what we may consider a simple (or even boring) post can have impact on others.

Back in April, my Mum wrote one of her guest posts (they are always very popular, and rightly so!) for me. That time, she chose to give us her recipe for Easter Bunny Cookies.

There were comments from you, dear readers, and both my Mum and I appreciated every one of them.

Yesterday, I received this email (which I have permission of the sender to publish here):

"Thank You...
. . . for your gentle, warm and generally lovely blog, Meike. And thank you, too for "Meike's Mum" who appears in giuest spots from time to time. 

I wrote a version of this note last week and sent it off into cyberspace, and it vanished. That said, what follows is the jist of the letter.

I wanted to thank you and “Meike's Mum” for the ever-cheerful offerings on the blog that even includes recipes from time to time. I love your potato salad, but it is the Easter Bunny cookies, and the tale of Easter bunny cookies that I thought you might most like to hear. The cookies, the best I have ever made or eaten, are becoming a story in themselves and I thought you might find their new history interesting.

I shared the bunnies and the recipe at Easter with my friend R., who made them for the "Doors Open" event held at [our] church [...].

R., who organizes the event for the church, made the cookies to help welcome people when they came to look around the church. I wanted to let you know that your impulse to share has been passed on, I think, in quite a lovely way

And there's more: I belong to the Women's Music Club of [...], another venerable institution with a proud 120 year history in the city. The club presents concerts and raises scholarship funds for emerging musicians. One of our fundraising events took place about 10 days ago - and Meike's Mum's cookies feature there, too. "Swing Into Spring," takes place annually in one of the grand houses here, the venue for the event the product of a host's generosity in making it available for the WMC, who move in and out like a small army to set up a lovely lunch with party / tea sandwiches and board members' homemade dainties that are effectively a club signature. At this event, some of the tuxedo-ed and white-gloved husbands and partners of board members (all women, at present) serve champagne to welcome guests as they arrive, while music of one of the scholarship winners fills the entranceway, the open rooms of the house, and sometimes, even the gardens – romantic, yes.

Your cookies, Meike's Mum, in the shape of eighth-notes, were this year for the first time part of this very fancy event, and they have now done their bit in contributing some of the $3,000.00 raised for the scholarship fund.

I am now curious about the next event these cookies of yours will appear at, and looking forward to having a little more fun with them. Thank you so much!"

- - - end of copy - - -

Wasn't this a wonderful message to receive on a Monday afternoon while working from home? I instantly passed it on to my Mum, who was just as overwhelmed as I by such a lovely response. I thanked the sender and asked for permission to publish the message, to which I had a positive answer and the additional comment "You spend hours on that blog, and you have readers who derive pleasure from it, but feedback is limited too often to brief response, and sometimes there should be more."

I couldn't agree more, and really hope that my comments on other people's blogs give them an impression of how much I enjoy reading their posts. And please note: I appreciate ALL comments, however brief they may be!

Lots of love to all of you

PS: I altered the [...] bits in the message so as to protect the sender's privacy. Maybe some of you will still recognize her identity, but this is not the time or place for it.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Roses and Haystacks

Where I live, June is the month of roses and cherries, of strawberries and the first hay on the fields. The neighbourhood is perfumed with the scent from the flowering privet hedges, roses and many other flowers in people's gardens. As soon as you leave the vicinity of houses and arrive out on the fields, you can smell the new hay and, depending on where your walk leads you, strawberries. It truly is a wonderful time of the year, and the long hours of daylight make it easy to enjoy it even after getting home from work.

Somtimes I go for a (short) walk nearby without my camera; I simply do not expect to come across anything I would want to take a picture of and show to you.

One such walk took me to the palace grounds, where of course there is always something worth looking at, but I've showed you the park so often that I fear you'll be bored to tears by yet another post ont he subject.

However, these two roses were just too perfect not to try and preserve them in pictures:

You know my mobile camera is not the best... but I hope these two shots still convey an idea of how large and beautiful they were! It's a shame the camera can't capture their scent as well. 

On another day when I was out on the fields (again without my camera), I came across some old-fashioned haystacks. 

This is how it used to be done; a frame of wooden poles was set up and the new hay heaped on top. Those haystacks still were to be seen everywhere when I was a kid, although the bale-pressing machines had already been introduced (I am not THAT old). The machines producing those huge rolled-up bales came a bit later, and that is what you see in our parts most of the time now. So, finding these traditional haystacks was like a nostalgic greeting from years long gone. 

As a kid, I would not have thought twice about crawling underneath the stack and playing "house"; as an adult, I think of all the little insects living in the hay and don't want to get too close. That's a shame somehow, isn't it?

Friday 19 June 2015

Sense and Sensibility - The Film

In my book review of "Sense and Sensibility" I told you that, along with the book, I was also given the DVD for my birthday, and that I was very much looking forward to watching it now that I had finished reading the book.

Earlier this week, I was home on my own after a long day at work, and as there was nothing on telly I wanted to see, and I felt neither like playing my favourite computer game nor like reading, I watched the DVD.

Mine is the 1995 version (I am sure the book has been adapted before), starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman and a host of other more or less well known actors, such as Gemma Jones, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Robert Hardy and Elizabeth Spriggs.

I enjoyed the film very much, and although some bits from the book have (naturally) been left out, and others changed, I still find it a very good adaptation. For instance, Lady Middleton and her children are missing completely, as is Lucy Steele's sister Ann. Also, Elinor Dashwood - 19 years old in the book - is 27 in the film, which was not only done because the actress (Emma Thompson) portraying Elinor was already 35 and would hardly have made for a credible 19-year-old. Another reason was to make it more plausible to a modern audience that Elinor does indeed fear to be condemned to spinsterhood and a life of poverty and loneliness, something less difficult to believe of a woman approaching 30 than of 19-year-old.

My favourite character in the book remained a firm favourite in the film: I just love Elizabeth Spriggs as Mrs. Jennings, having known her until now only from two episodes of "Midsomer Murders". And of course, who could watch Robert Hardy and not love him? He is incredibly funny as Sir John, and one of my favourite scenes is when the two of them (Sir John and Mrs. Jennings) explode with laughter at their own jokes.

Do I need to tell you that I adore (just to avoid inflationary use of the word "love") Alan Rickman? While I couldn't care less for Hugh Grant (simply never been my type), Rickman is - to me - super sexy, most of his appeal coming from his wonderful voice. If he were my husband, I'd make him read even the most boring bits (such as the stock index) in the newspaper to me every morning, just so that I could bathe in the sound of his voice.

Costumes, houses, furniture, landscapes - everything is done with an extremely good and faithful eye for period detail, and matching the characters. 
In short: It was a pleasure to watch, and I am certain this wasn't the last time I've spent a relaxing and entertaining evening with this DVD.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Small Acts of Kindness

Most weeks, I work from home on Mondays and Fridays and go to our biggest customer's office from Tuesday to Thursday. To get there and back, I take the train, changing lines half way through. When everything goes according to schedule, I never spend more than 10 minutes on either train, which is why I never look for a seat but remain standing near the door. There's plenty of time to sit down for the rest of the day, when I am at my desk, in the canteen for lunch or in a meeting.

Yesterday on my way home, while I was waiting for my train I blew my nose. This often ends with a nosebleed (always on the left side), and the same happened yesterday. It did not worry me because it usually stops quickly enough, and I know I could simply have the weak blood vessel responsible for the frequent bleeding dealt with at the surgery, but so far, I've not done anything about it.
Of course I never travel without tissues, and so I held one to my nose and got on the train like that.
The bleeding had as good as stopped by the time I had to change trains, but just to make sure I really wouldn't be dripping blood on my smart business outfit, I still kept the tissue to my nose on the second train.
That second train was unusually packed for the time of the day, and there were no seats (not that I wanted one) and no standing up space available near the door.
So I walked a bit further into the carriage and stood where I could hold on to a handrail with one hand, the other hand still clutching the slightly bloody tissue.
A young man looked at me for a moment, then offered me his seat. I thanked him but declined the offer, giving him what I hope was a reassuring smile and saying that I was alright.
It was such an unexpected act of kindness; I hardly ever witness anyone offering a seat to someone on the train, and I certainly did not take this gesture for granted - you can tell I find it worth mentioning here on my blog.

This morning, someone else was on the receiving end of a (very) small act of kindness - this time from me.
I was on my way to another customer and had 10 minutes to spare at the station. A woman had trouble using the ticket machine, so I helped her. I still had plenty of time to get my own ticket, but a couple behind me obviously was in a bit of a hurry. Although it would have been my turn now, I told them to go ahead of me and buy their ticket. They were very surprised and thanked me profusely. I admit I would have never done it had I not had time to spare, so I don't think I was really that kind - I didn't sacrifice anything, unlike the young man yesterday who was ready to give up his seat for me.

Makes me think, stuff like that.

Monday 15 June 2015

Into the Woods, Part II

As I said at the end of my previous post, we left Solitude palace after a short rest with sandwiches and water and went on, into a different part of the woods, towards a lake and yet another (tiny) palace where we know they serve coffee and cake.

Don't worry, I am not going to bore you to death with even more pictures of trees and leaves and paths, just this one because I found it so impressive:

After another hour or so of walking, we arrived at the "Bärenschlössle", "Bear Palace".  It does not really have anything to do with bears, but takes its name from "bear creek", a small river that used to flow nearby. In 1768 - 200 years before I was born - the then Duke of Wuerttemberg wanted yet another special place for his beloved hunting parties, dances and other festivities. He loved Venice and had an artificial lake created where original Venetian gondolas carried him and his guests across the water. The lake is still there, called Bärensee (bear lake), but the original building was demolished some years after his death.
In 1817, the King of Wuerttemberg had a new building erected. It was badly damaged in WWII, re-erected, and burned down completely in 1994. Since then, it has been rebuilt close to what it looked like in 1817. 
Today, it serves as a restaurant and can be rented as a location for private and corporate events.

It is very popular with walkers and cyclists who come to this part of the woods and stop here for a meal. We were lucky to find a table on the gallery, with a good view of the lake. Coffee and cake were most welcome!

Afterwards, we walked on, crossed the Bärensee on this dam and walked along it until our route led us across a busy road and into another bit of woodland adjacent to Stuttgart's university area.

Wildflowers along the way. The camera does not do justice to the brilliancy of their colours.

Last bit of wood - I promise!

Between the students' dorms and university buildings, the whole campus area is rather green. We spotted a heron on the roof of one of the dorms (overlooking a pond with huge carp in it), and this bird circling above. I know it was not a buzzard, but I am not sure what it really was. It was very difficult to take a decent picture, I wished Graham was there with his camera!

The campus train station was where we were headed. It had been a very good walk and the perfect route for a day like this.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Into the Woods

...was where we wanted to go last Sunday, and so we did.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm enough to welcome the shade under the trees.
In Ludwigsburg's immediate vicinity, there are no woods to speak of, but a few train stops away, closer to Stuttgart, is a large woodland area (called "Glemswald") where many paths offer enough space for walkers, runners and cyclists without getting in each other's way.

The font with the hare relief above is called Häslesbrunnen, "hare's font". It has been there for centuries as a welcome stop for people (and probably their horses or other animals, too) to refresh themselves with a drink of water. Until the 1950s or so, the water was deemed of drinking quality, but standards have changed and nowadays a sign says "no drinking water".
The relief was created in the 1950s by an artist about whom I didn't know anything, but was to learn a lot before the day was over.

Getting closer to the small pleasure palace "Solitude" (built for the same duke of Wuerttemberg who gave Ludwigsburg's palace the size and look it has today), the road leads past horse pastures and stables. The stable building in the back is as old as the palace, mid-18th century.

Tucked away behind a high hedge, we arrived at this handsome building. It houses a small museum for the artist who made the hare relief above the font. We had time, there was  hardly anybody about, and we were curious, so we went inside and spent a very pleasant half hour or so learning about the life and work of Fritz von Graevenitz (1892 - 1959). The building and garden once were his family's house and workshop, and the museum is still managed by the family. A short biography (in German) and pictures of the artist and his works can be found here.

We were now approaching Solitude palace. The palace itself is the central point of an ensemble of buildings. As was the fashion of the time, everything was planned perfectly symmetrical. Rows of small houses, the "Cavaliers' Houses", lead the way to the palace. These smaller houses are very well kept and privately owned, not open to the public.

We didn't feel like joining a guided tour (the only way to be allowed into the palace), but caught some glimpses nonetheless:

Through the central archway underneath the palace, one has a rather spectacular view of the Greater Stuttgart area, all the way to Ludwigsburg, where we live (provided the right weather conditions, of course).

The plaque on the ground is an official measuring point of what in the UK you would call ordnance survey. It shows the exact distance to Ludwigsburg palace.

Here is the view towards our home town:

We sat there on the grass for a while, eating our sandwiches and having a drink of water, before we set off on the next part of our walk.
One last glimpse back towards Solitude palace:

Part II will be the subject of my next post.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Read in 2015 - 18: Sense and Sensibility

None of Jane Austen's books really needs a review anymore - they are very well known all over the world, they have been reviewed and analyzed to death by countless generations of readers, literary critics, literary scientists and students. But my blog serves various purposes, one of which is a list of books I have read, just so that I can look them up again or check whether I have read something by a certain author before, for instance.

"Sense and Sensibility" was part of the many lovely gifts I received for my birthday this year. It may surprise you to learn that, although I was originally trained at Librarian School and worked at Ludwigsburg's central library for several years, until now I had never read any work by Jane Austen, in spite of knowing of her/about the books, of course.

I was therefore in for a pleasant surprise when I started reading and found that I actually enjoyed the book very much - there is elegance of language, style and wit, there are characters you can imagine rather well, and places described detailed enough to form a good picture in your mind while reading. Conversations and thoughts/feelings/emotions do have a slight tendency to go on a little long, but that is only in contrast to today's writing which is often rather fast-paced and suits the short attention span of the average person somewhat better.

There is no favourite character I have in the book; well, maybe Colonel Brandon and Mrs. Jennings, if I had to settle on a male and female one. And I would have liked to see a little more of Margaret, the youngest sister, who features only marginally. But the book was a delight to read, and I was pleased to come across terms I'd not seen before only once or twice.

The edition I was given (Oxford World's Classics) comes with additional information: There are an introduction, a "Note on the Text", a select bibliography and a chronology of Jane Austen's life and her works. The appendix contains even more information: A chapter about rank and social status (which are all-important to the story), one about Dancing and then a wealth of textual and explanatory notes.
Those explanations are not indispensable to understand the story, but they are very useful in providing some background. For instance, in the course of the book, the amount of money someone has - either as their annual income or their "total worth" - is mentioned frequently. To me, reading that "the living of Delaford was said to be worth around 200 pounds p.a." does not mean much - I have no idea how far 200 pounds would go in the early 19th century towards supporting a family in rural England. But with the explanations given in the appendix, the reader gets a pretty clear idea of what the sums mean, which were of course clear as day to Austen's contemporary readers.

Some words back in 1811 (when the story was first published) were spelled not as we spell them today. For instance, "show" was spelled "shew", "choose" was spelled "chuse", "crowd" was spelled "croud".

If you have followed the link back to my birthday post and looked at the rest of the presents on the table, maybe you have spotted the DVD there. I am really looking forward to watching it, now that I have finished the book, and will be comparing the way the characters look, talk and behave to the way I imagined them while reading.

Monday 8 June 2015

Summer Colours

Just a very quick fashion post before I start working on the task I have set myself for today (working from home): Summer colours.
White - which is actually said to be a "non-colour" - is the most summery of all colours, even though in nature, it occurs much more in winter (at least here in central Europe, where we do get some snow and ice each year).

Of course anything goes well with white, except for maybe cream and ivory. This year, I have been wearing greens and aqua blues quite frequently, and usually team them up with white.

Two examples, one for work and one for a day off, meeting a friend.

I don't think I need to tell you which one was the work outfit and which one I was not wearing to the office.

The green skirt was bought 5 years ago at Manchester Airport while my sister and I were waiting for our flight back home. The white cardigan and the capri jeans are recent Aldi finds. The white t-shirt is from H&M, and the top I am wearing with the capri pants comes from comma. The white heels are Tamaris, the flats Esprit (so, nothing expensive there). The latter ones I've had for ages - every year when the warm season comes round I think I can't wear them another year, they really are too knackered now, but then I throw them in the washing machine and they come out nice and white again, and I wear them "just one more season"... I guess I'll keep doing that until they will fall off my feet mid-walk one day!
Do you have such favourites you'll be wearing until they drop off you in rags?

Saturday 6 June 2015

The Hottest Day

...of this year so far in my area was yesterday, with the thermometer showing 33 Celsius (just above 91 F). On a day like that, most people try to keep relatively cool by staying in climatized rooms or sit in a street side café, having chilled drinks and ice creams, or they stretch out on a lawn in the shade of a large tree and spend the afternoon by having a nap or reading - in any way, not doing anything too strenuous. Except for the first option (I don't know anyone in Germany who has air conditioning at home - it is just not something we really need here, with there being only so few really hot days every year), I could have done all of that, having taken the day off.
Instead, I started by going to the gym (early enough before it would get too warm in there). Lunch was at my Mum's, with a refreshing salad straight from the garden and some cold sparkling wine to go with it. In the afternoon, I first returned to my place for a bit and thought about what I'd like to do next.
There was a pair of shoes I had seen in town the other day which I wanted to look at again, and so I set off again. Having reached the shopping centre, I found I really wasn't at all in the mood to buy anything; maybe the rather too cold air conditioning in the building had something to do with it.
So I just went out again, and started to walk, with no precise place in mind.

A very good place to be on a hot sunny afternoon is somewhere with lots of trees - the park seemed a natural choice.

Since I did not think I was going to go on a proper walk, I had left my camera at home. Therefore, all the pictures in this post were taken with the low quality camera of my mobile phone. I hope they still give you an idea of the 3+ hours I spent walking.

A part of the palace grounds I like very much. Those roses not only look beautiful, they smell very nice, too.

I don't think I've ever shown pictures of the large aviary in the palace grounds. The upper part of it is supposed to look like a tiny piece of the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, with plants and rocks and a straw-covered building typical for that area. (It is where my sister and I spotted the love-sick stork earlier this year. The nest is still there on the roof, but empty.)

The aviary has a set of metal cage doors at the upper end but is left via a tunnel at the lower end. The tunnel is as old as the palace (early 1700s). In the late 1980s or early 1990s, I am not sure when, it was transformed into this lit-up place with orchids and rocks, plus a tiny stream running the length of it, and harp music playing softly in the back.

Leaving the aviary by the tunnel, you reach a deep valley with many shrubs and trees and winding paths through the greenery. There was hardly anybody about, I had the place nearly to myself.

Walking to the end of the palace grounds and crossing a major road via a foot bridge, the deer park that has featured several times before on my blog was the next part of my walk. Again, few people were out and about.

Every time I look at these signs, I can't help but think how very German they are.

The signs are put up at regular intervals along the road through the deer park. They forbid people to leave the path (except for a designated area near the palace, where I have spent many an afternoon sunbathing and reading) on the grounds of it being dangerous because of the large old trees. Those trees are mostly left completely untended, and after strong winds, their largest and oldest branches tend to break off. Of course I understand the City of Ludwigsburg does not want to be hold responsible for anyone being hit by a falling branch. But did the sign have to be like this, even referring to the legal paragraph? Wouldn't it have been a lot nicer to simply ask people "Please do not leave the path"? 
At both ends of the park, there are maps of the park and descriptions of the animals one is likely to see. Why not put a brief explanation there, saying that it is not allowed to leave the paths for two reasons: So that the animals can retreat safely (there are two or three signs across the park where that is stated), and to avoid injury.

I wonder if anyone is more inclined to stick to the rules when a paragraph is mentioned. Generally, the majority of people walking or jogging in the park are well behaved, and stick to the path anyway.

The last part of my walk, before starting the long way home, lead me to the third of Ludwigsburg's three palaces, Monrepos ("My Rest") by the lake.

There, I met this heron. He did not seem the least bothered by me.

I thought his left foot looks a bit strange. After I had already observed him for about 15 minutes, he limped closer, looking at me and really dragging his poor left foot behind. I felt very sorry for the beautiful bird. He may still be able to fish with the use of just one leg, but it makes wading along the banks impossible. 

The small bird you can see at the bottom of one of the pictures is a baby coot. Mummy and Daddy Coot were nearby.

Three hours and 10 minutes after I had set off, I was back home, ready for a drink of water and a rest. It had been a lovely walk, although seeing the injured heron made me a bit sad.

It's going to be another hot day today, I think, but first, I need to do the washing and cleaning. Enjoy the weekend, whatever you'll be doing!