Wednesday 30 November 2016

Last of November

Can you believe tomorrow we're already entering the last month of this year? Where did this year go? Wasn't it just the other day that we celebrated New Year's Eve?
And yet, when I look back at the events of the first 11 months of 2016, it does feel like a full year. In fact, so much has happened that you could make several years out of it!

Generally, November has a bad image - it is often dubbed "the saddest month" and, statistically, the one with the most suicides. I find that image unjustified; for me, November wasn't a bad month at all.

There was of course the very sad anniversary of my husband's sudden death 7 years ago, only 5 days after his 41st birthday. And of course I am not enthusiastic about the rapidly dwindling hours of daylight; getting up at dark and coming home from the office when it is dark again is not as nice as when I know there are hours of sunshine left after work.

But, all things considered, November is not worse than any other month. We had sunny days (in fact, a little more rain would have been welcome), beautiful autumn colours in the woods, orchards, vineyards and gardens everywhere, and surprisingly mild temperatures most of the time.
I had work to keep me pleasantly busy, but not too much so as not to feel stressed out. My weekends were spent either at O.K.'s place or he was here with me, and we always did nice things such as going for walks and seeing friends and family, enjoying delicious meals and each other's company.

The one good thing about the shorter daylight time is that I get to see sunrises - something that rarely happens from springtime onwards; I simply get up too late for that at 7:00 most mornings. Here are two particularly good examples, as seen from my kitchen window in November:

On November 14, some of my friends in the blogosphere were looking for the Super Moon. I knew it wasn't worth looking, as it was completely overcast in my area, and therefore I was happy when I was able to show you the Super Moon above Ripon Market Square, courtesy of George Pickles.
Now let me show you what the Super Moon looked like about 90 km east of my home town, where my uncle lives; the place where my sister and I spent a snowy weekend in January 2015. My uncle sent me this picture by email, and I have his permission to use it:

It is usually a bit colder where my aunt and uncle live than here in Ludwigsburg, and the way some of you have recently mentioned "Jack Frost" not painting flowers on the window panes anymore how he used to do in pre-central heating times made me want to use this picture, too:

My uncle took this photo of a window in his attic room, and again, I have his permission to use it.

Definitely something to look forward to in November was - at least for me and my Mum - the opening of our beautiful Christmas Market. You have seen several pictures of it in past years; here is one from the opening night, taken by my Mum:

That was my November. December has even more to look forward to, but that's another post for another day.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Guest Post by my Mum: Almost 103!

My Mum wrote this for my blog the other day. I hope you'll like it as much as I do!
- - -

Such is life.

Recently I emptied my postbox, and it contained two extremely different letters:

The one was a birth announcement for a little baby girl named Annika Sophie, with cute fotos and very happy parents.

The other one was quite the opposite, a cousin of mine telling me that her mother Berta had passed away at the age of nearly 103 years!

She was born when in Germany we still had Kaiser Wilhelm, she was already alive in World War I, though a little child, then lost brothers in World War II, her husband was missing for a long time, and all the time she lived in a small village near my hometown, from birth to death. 
You can imagine how many people came to the funeral.

I remembered, when I was a child, we often went so see the family, I played with my cousins, my aunt was a good cook and very good host. Later my mother and I visited her from time to time and always got a pretty good cup of coffee and cake or cookie, homemade, of course.

The last 13 years her mind vanished, at last she didn't even recognize her own daughter and son. So sad.

But- such is life, the little baby arrived, and the old aunt died.

When I told my brother, he said: So it makes me thinking, that now we are next. Before, there have been always the older ones "before" us, but now... Well, I don't want to complain, I want to stay around much longer!!! But I will enjoy every good day, and that is what I want to recommend to eveybody.

- - - end of guest post - - -

I do not remember my great-aunt Berta, but one of her granddaughters. We weren't close but knew each other through school; we did not attend the same family gatherings.
Of course I want my Mum and Dad to stay around for many more years to come, too! And like her, I enjoy every good day - I know very well how sudden our days can end. Thankfully, nearly every day for me is indeed a good day. I am very lucky at that, and I know it.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Read in 2016 - 42: The Life of Herman Melville

There are books and names of authors "everybody" knows, even if maybe we have never actually read the book. "Moby Dick" is one of those books, with probably a large percentage of (not only) the English-speaking world having come across the author's name at some stage.
But how many of us have actually read "Moby Dick" or know something about Herman Melville? Admittedly, I am one of those who'd have to answer "not me".

I knew the author's name, of course, but of Moby Dick I only know the film starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. I found the story gruesome and the film not at all entertaining, and so was never really induced to find out more about the author and his work.

Still, I was interested enough to download this free ebook about him. It is part of a series of books aiming to "provide superior editing and original writing services, with the expertise to create digital content for publishers across a vast range of subject matters".

Anyway, I did enjoy reading this brief account of Herman Melville's life and work. It is neatly presented in 8 chapters and comes with a handful of illustrations. Until now, I did not have the slightest idea that Mr Melville had such a tragic life; his career as a famous author was solely based on his first two books, and "Moby Dick" was published many years later, when he had already pretty much disappeared into obscurity. The story was only properly discovered in the 1920s and has since then risen to become one of the best regarded classics of American literature.
Melville died in relative poverty, almost completely unnoticed by the literary world, a forgotten genius who seems to have enjoyed only brief periods of happiness in his life.
His wife, only briefly mentioned in this biography, must have been exceptionally kind, loving and generous. She battled alongside her husband against his alcoholism and frequent bouts of depression, apparently being instrumental in several victories. It was also thanks to her skill and intelligence that the family, although veering on the brink of bankruptcy a few times, recovered enough to allow the ageing couple a level of financial security.

I think I'll look for a few more books in this series. They are not much longer than a special feature in a magazine would be, and are really perfect for my trips to and from work.

Monday 21 November 2016

Guest Post: Super Moon

On November 14, the moon was closer to the earth than it has been for almost 70 years. This closeness coincided with a full moon, an occurrence called a perigee-syzygy, or, to make it easier to remember, type and pronounce, a supermoon. (The opposite is an apogee-syzygy, or "micromoon".)

Some of you, dear fellow bloggers, were able to observe that supermoon from your homes. Not me; it was covered by a dense veil of clouds. But a friend of mine sent me an email with a photo of the supermoon as seen from Ripon's market square, and I have his permission to use the photo and what he wrote.

So, here is a mini guest post from George Pickles, Ripon's Hornblower until 2015:

Like most of the world we have been experiencing the Super Moon, but unfortunately here in England with our usual cloudy weather at this time of year, there was very little chance of getting a good view. However, with a little patience and a lot of good luck I managed to get this picture. 
A break in the clouds saw the super moon light up the Ripon Square so brilliantly like I have never seen before. I submitted the photo to the local papers and it was published today (on the 18th).

Also, as a symbol of 'remembrance and unity' we had a soccer match between the British Army and the German Army. It was very well supported and was nice to see. You will be pleased to learn that the final score was Germany 2 goals to Britain I goal.
- - -  end of guest post - - -
I must say I liked the image of the Super Moon shining down on Ripon just as much as the idea of a friendly soccer match between British and German soldiers. Much better to have a bit of sporty competition on a football ground than on a blood-stained battlefield, isn't it! All the more it makes me sad when some "fans" abuse football and turn stadiums and surrounding city centres into real battlefields again.

Anyway - thank you, George, for letting me and my blog readers see the supermoon! Our next chance to see one is a few years off yet - on November 25, 2034 (when I will be 66 years old.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

A Monument to Love

Remember the autumn walk my sister and I went on last week? In that post, I said that the building you could see on top of the hill deserved its own post, and here it is.

Just like the mausoleum on my hometown's old cemetery is a monument to friendship, the building on the hill is a monument to love.

It is a sepulchral chapel, built between 1820 and 1824 by King Wilhelm I in memory of his beloved wife Katharina. Of course, the location was no coincidence: The top of the hill with beautiful views of the river Neckar's valley was one of Queen Katharina's favourite spots. Also, being King and Queen of Württemberg, the couple felt a close connection to the place, as on this very hill the original House of Württemberg once stood.

View from the chapel.
This is in the middle of the floor, separating the ground floor from the underground room where the coffins and busts are.
The same grill, seen from underneath.
Behind these doors is the altar. The chapel is still used for Russian-Orthodox services.
For Mum!
Statues of the four Evangelists Luke, Matthew, Marc and John adorn the chapel. As you probably know, each of them has their own symbol. The lion is Mark's.
Busts of Katharina and Wilhelm are placed near their tombs.
Other kings of Wuerttemberg (Wilhelm's family).

Katharina, daughter of the Russian Tsar Paul, was actually Wilhelm's cousin. She was his second wife and had two daughters with him, Marie and Sophie. They married in 1816, and only three years later, Katharina died - she was 31 years old.

Her husband must have felt responsible for her death, as it was his affair with an Italian noble lady who made her rush after the two (or away from them - sources differ) in a carriage, wearing only a thin dress in spite of it being January and very cold. She caught a bad feverish cold, made worse by an infection she had been suffering from since November, and died a few days later.

Maybe he really did love her as much as he professed, but not enough to stop him having affairs. Anyway, he had the chapel built, with the words "Die Liebe höret nimmer auf" above the entrance: "Love never ends".

When Wilhelm died in 1864, his coffin was placed next to Katharina's, in spite of him having remarried a year later (another cousin of his, Pauline).
Their first daughter, Marie, was put to rest there as well.

There's certainly enough drama in the lives of this couple - and everyone else in their families - for a few books and even films, but as far as I know, nobody has ever turned their stories into a film. It is sad to think of them, as they had everything they would nave needed to be happy, but somehow never really seem to have found happiness.  

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Read in 2016 - 41: Lethally Married

"Lethally Married" by Bill Wenham is crime fiction a bit different from what I am used to: The story as a whole is told by the leading character, Detective Chief Inspector Meacham, looking back on the events. Therefore, the "who" and "how" of the crimes are made known to the reader from the start, while the suspension lies in learning how Meacham and his team solve the case.

A married couple tour the UK, robbing small shops at gunpoint. To them, it is just a job - like other people go to the office in the morning, they go looking for their next target, always on their black motorbike, always in black leather, wearing black helmets.
At one point, things go wrong, a shot is fired, and from then on, murder becomes part of the "game".

The dynamics in the couple's relationship and their shift from robbing to murder is told in much detail and not from the detective's persepective. Some of it I found hard to bear and quick-read over a few scenes.
The detective's life and how it is changed forever by the terrible deeds of the "lethally married" criminals is much more interesting.

An altogether good read, not overly long, not too much gruesome detail (in spite of my remark about having quick-read a few scenes) but still plenty of suspense.

The author was completely unknown to me and has, I suspect, not been a writer for very long. His style is... how shall I put it; a little clumsy at times. Many exclamation marks, several sudden (and sometimes wrong) switches in grammatical construction of a sentence, and typos which could have been avoided with some editing. However, it was a free ebook and still a good read - just not a great one. 

PS: From his Amazon author page, I found out that Bill Wenham is 84 years old and has been writing since 2005. In the 1950s, he served in London's Metropolitan Police Force until he emigrated to Canada in 1957, working for Air Canada.
There is an entire series of Inspector Meacham mysteries; the one I have just read is # 3.

Friday 11 November 2016

Read in 2016 - 40: The Romance of an Old Fool

Published in 1902, after having read several contemporary books in a row (some really good ones, some less so) this came as a refreshingly old-fashioned excurse into a time when elegance was not only emphasized more in clothing but also in language.
(To call something refreshingly old-fashioned may seem a bit odd, if not altogether impossible, but I think you know what I mean.)

This novelette by Roswell Martin Field was as predictable as it was short - but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It has wit, a small set of characters, a simple plot that was easy to follow, and just gently and humorously flows along like a small babbling brook next to a path in the woods on a fine, calm summer's day.

The narrator, John Stanhope, is 48 years old and recently (but not unhappily) widowed. He travels from the big city to the village of his childhood, where he rekindles old acquaintances and makes new ones.
Soon, he comes across Phyllis, the 22-year-old daughter of his old flame, now orphaned. And the inevitable happens: He falls in love...

How this romance of an "old fool", as he calls himself, plays out I am not going to tell you here - read the short (free) eBook for yourself, if you like.

But one paragraph I found particularly poignant, because I read it on the "Day After" on the train to work and found it very fitting:
Mary Eastmann had accepted the situation without comment. She neither congratulated nor demurred, but went on with her household duties with the same method and precision as before.
Men may come and go, hearts may be won and lost, republics may totter and empires may fall, but the grand scheme of sweeping, dusting, bed-making, and cooking knows no interruption.
I find I have that in common with Mary Eastmann, finding comfort in the most banal of household tasks when I'm upset.

What I could find out about the author is sparse: Roswell Martin Field was an American journalist and writer. He lived from 1851 until 1919. (Therefore, he was around the same age as the narrator at the time this book was published - and I wonder how much of the real Mr Field is in the fictional Mr Stanhope.) He wrote several books and sometimes collaborated with his brother, Eugene Field, who was a poet and is much better known.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Another Autumn Walk

In Germany, the 1st of November is a day off for most people. It is called Allerheiligen (All Hallows), and in predominantly Catholic areas, people flock to the cemeteries to light candles for their dead loved ones.
For the majority of people, though, it is simply a welcome interruption of routine, and when the weather is as beautiful as it was here, everybody tries to take in as much autumn sun and fresh air as possible.

My sister and I went for a walk from one of Stuttgart's outskirts. Leaving the car half way up the hill, we walked a pleasant two hours or so through woodland, vineyards and orchards.

I had not brought my camera, but my sister kindly took the pictures you see here (I have her permission to use them) with her mobile phone:

The building on top of the hill in the distance is where we were headed. It deserves its own post.

We came across this overgrown garden with the empty hut - I would have so loved to explore, but didn't venture any further than a few steps towards it:

I like the panoramic pictures - isn't it amazing what the cameras on mobile phones can do these days? My "proper" digital camera is way too old to be that clever!

It was a wonderful walk, and although there were many other people about, everyone was relaxed and it didn't feel too crowded.

On our way back, we stopped at a bakery (some are open for a few hours on Sundays and Bank Holidays, while all other shops are usually closed) and bought some cake. We ended the afternoon with coffees and cake at my place. It was a very good way to spend a day off, and I am glad we made the most of the gorgeous weather.

Monday 7 November 2016

Trying Something New

Ever since I've moved into this flat 13 years ago, I have been doing 99 % of my food shopping (and quite a lot of other things) at Aldi's, as that supermarket is about 5 minutes walking distance from where I live and has almost everything I need.

When I am at O.K.'s for the weekend, I like looking through the leaflets, brochures and weekly magazines that arrive in his mail box on Saturdays, and the weekend before last, there was an Aldi brochure with a recipe that sounded so good I wanted to try it.

You know I usually do not cook when I'm on my own, so I waited until O.K. was here for this past weekend before I gave the recipe a try.

Here is what you need: (I apologize for the blurred photos - I took them very quickly while preparing this and probably was not focusing the camera properly.)

- Hokkaido pumpkin
- Feta cheese
- Honey, lemon juice, salt, pepper, thyme
- Olive oil

Heat up the oven - the recipe said 180 Celsius and explicitly did NOT recommend using the fan, so I did as I was told.
Make a marinade of honey, lemon juice and olive oil. I can't tell you exactly how much I used of each; the mini pot of honey was a left-over from having breakfast at a café months ago, and I simply used it all, squeezed a generous amount of lemon juice on it and added about 3 table spoons of oil.

Cut the Hokkaido in half and remove the seeds. Cut it into slices like these, and arrange on an oven tray.

Drizzle the marinade over the slices. The more, the better! Then put into the oven (which should be hot enough by now) and leave for maybe 25 - 30 minutes, depending how thick you've cut the pumpkin and how well "done" you like it.

Remove the tray and sprinkle the pumpkin slices with crumbled feta and some thyme (dried or fresh - I only had dried one, and that was fine). Put back into the oven for another 10 minutes or so.
Note: Feta does not melt like other types of cheese you may use for gratins, so don't wait for that - it will be ready when you think it's ready.

In the meantime, make salad or whatever else you want to eat with this.
Then pour a nice glass of white wine, light a candle or two and sit down with your loved one(s) to enjoy.

Preparing takes about 15 minutes, time in the oven between 30 and 40 minutes. A tasty, easy meal just right for an autumn evening.
(Again, sorry for the blurred picture!)

Friday 4 November 2016

An Autumn Walk

Last weekend, I was at O.K.'s again. When I arrived around lunchtime on Saturday, the sun was still struggling to burn off the fog that had been covering the village in the valley and the surrounding area all morning. But by the time we were ready to go out, we had the most wonderful weather and soft mellow golden October sun to enjoy.

Come along for our walk, if you like!

You can tell, from the last picture especially, that we walked until dusk. I couldn't get enough of the colours, but had not brought my camera this weekend. Good job O.K.'s mobile phone makes such good pictures! I have his permission to use his photos; they are much better than what my little old camera could have produced anyway.

The next morning, Sunday, we went running, partly on the same route as the Saturday walk. It was a completely different atmosphere - so foggy you could hardly see through the trees in the woods, and the vineyards and orchards were all mysteriously shrouded in grey light. It was just as enjoyable as the walk in the sun, though; the two opposite ends of autumn light, and I loved it.

By the way, some of the pictures are taken from nearly exactly the same spots as the ones in this post from March, so if you like, you can compare what this beautiful part of the country looks like in different seasons.