Friday 27 January 2017

More Winter

Every now and then, I take a picture, fully intending to use it on my blog, and then either forget about it or do not have the time or inclination to write a post where it fits. It has happened again in December and January, so I have decided to offer you a "mixed bag" of pictures I took during this month and last. 

After my last visit to O.K.'s before Christmas, I travelled back home on Monday morning instead of Sunday evening. The sun was doing its best to break through dark and heavy clouds, and it made for a spectacular skyscape, which I was watching from the train. I took these pictures on the 19th of December with my mobile - I'm afraid they are not very good, but that is to be expected when you're dashing along at more than 200 km per hour:

The 16th of this month was a Monday, and I was working from home, as I do most Mondays. Shortly before 10:00 am, I found the view from my kitchen window pretty enough for yet another picture:

Less than an hour later, the sun came out, and I noticed how a gap between the buildings along the street next to mine was letting the sun shine through, creating a path of light across the snowy garden:

A close-up of the "path":

Still back in December, one weekend when I arrived at O.K.'s, we took a quick stroll through the city centre. Walking past Hallhuber, I noticed a dress in the window that made me go back and have a closer look. Well, what shall I say - I ended up buying it, thanks to O.K.'s patience who went into the shop with me and waited while I was trying on this one and another one which I liked but didn't buy.

It is of rather heavy Jersey fabric, well suited for winter, and can be glammed up or toned down a little, depending on whether I wear it just for the office or am going somewhere in the evening as well.

It is time to pack my little red suitcase for another weekend away (at O.K.'s). I'll be going straight from work with no time to go home in between, so I better make sure I do not forget anything important!

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Winter Walk

All of last week, it was bright and sunny, but very cold. Nights went down to -12 Celsius (around 10 F), and it was still around -4 C (25 F) or so during the day, with the exception of secluded sunny spots where no wind would reach.

O.K. was here for the weekend, and we took advantage of the sunshine both Saturday and Sunday. Because it was so cold, we left the house equipped as if for a polar expedition, and could only stay out for a few hours at a time, making sure we'd always be moving. But it was beautiful, and certainly worth braving the cold!

On Sunday, we walked to Monrepos, a small palace by a lake that was planned and built as part of the large estate of Ludwigsburg's residential palace. You've seen the place on my blog before, for instance last July. But you have never seen it with snow and ice, right?

The sky really was as brilliantly blue as in this picture:

The lake was completely frozen over, and the ice thick enough to carry hundreds of people:

Officially, it is forbidden to step on the ice. But the sign is mainly up for the purpose of self-defense; if anyone should break through the ice (and they do in each of the years when the lake is frozen, usually unreasonable folks who think it is still safe even after several frost-free days), they can not sue anybody, and only have themselves to blame.
Still, it is somewhat ironic to see all those people playing ice hockey, skating, sledging or walking right in front of the sign.

In spite of there being so many people, the atmosphere was great; relaxed family fun on a Sunday afternoon. People were queuing for mulled wine and hot sausages, children were laughing, dogs were having fun and couples walked hand in hand.

We took a different route back home, via the fields and through the deer park you have also seen several times on my blog, just never with snow.

The stag in this picture really has only one antler. (If you click on the picture, it enlarges, and you should be able to see it better.)

This one was complete. He looked very interested when I was rummaging in my bag, but when he realised only a mobile phone (camera) came out and not a paper bag with bread or other treats, he went back to what he had been doing before.

We covered three parks that day - the one around the lake, the deer park and the palace grounds. By now, the sun was much lower than when we had started. Two and a half hours after we had left the house, we were back - ready for mugs of steaming hot coffee and a piece of cake.

If winter is like that, I don't mind it that much. But I wouldn't mind warmer weather now, either!

Saturday 21 January 2017


A few days ago, this post on Yorkshire Pudding's blog, my comment there and his reply to it made me think of posting something about handwriting - my handwriting, to be precise.

In 2010, when my blog had only about a handful of readers and was a little different from what it is now, I posted an irregular series of four posts titled "Notes to Self", the first one being this one. Funnily enough, that post was inspired by something I had been reading on someone else's blog, too - just like this time.

And the reason for my handwriting being as untidy as it is was already mentioned there: I used to work at a company where 60 weekly newspapers of small rural communities were produced every week. I was responsible for the adverts pages in those papers, and this was long before nearly everybody had access to the internet and was sending emails back and forth all day. 
Back then, most of our business was done over the phone, and I was constantly rung by customers wanting to place ads in our papers. They gave me whatever they wanted published over the phone, with me scribbling along as fast as I could. We did not have headsets for our telephones; instead, I was always squeezing the receiver between my left shoulder and my ear.
You can imagine that this was a) not leading to particularly neat handwriting and b) very bad - on the long run, especially - for my neck, shoulders and back. I am still struggling with the consequences of working like this for years, even though I have left that company more than 15 years ago.

Back to my handwriting: I have never been particularly good at this. Maybe it has to do with bad eyesight (I was wearing specs already at the age of 7), maybe part of it is due to my own impatience of getting my thoughts on paper as fast as possible, as it was when at school we were told to write an essay. I would cover pages and pages (easily 10 of them) with my scribbles, and although I guess my teachers sat there, sighing over my untidy writing, they usually liked what I wrote, and I always received good grades for my essays. Or did my teachers simply give up and put a good grades underneath, just to get it over with? I will never know!

When I knew it mattered, I tried to write really well and made an effort - as I still do when, for instance, I write Christmas cards. Those of you who have received a card from me will know that I do not always succeed! But this example of my handwriting from the early 1990s shows you what I mean:
Part of a CV, back when they were still meant to be written by hand

In 2011-12, I was working from home most of the time, selling point of sale hardware to people whose business it was to install their software on our hardware and sell the finished product to shops, restaurants and anywhere else where people pay for goods or services. I kept a log of orders to make sure my boss did not omit any of them when adding up my monthly bonus, and it looked rather tidy, too:

The above mentioned post by YP was all about his diaries. I have been keeping diaries for some years now. They started out as mainly for work, and still contain all my work-related appointments. What with me often working in 3 to 5 different locations in one single week, I don't want to get up in the morning, not knowing where I am supposed to be today!

I put down notes about the weather, personal appointments and remarks in them, too.
Here is my collection from 2011 to 2017 (left to right, with the brown one being my current diary):

Typical example of a 2014 week. Entries include when I was going to the gym with a friend, work location and when to put out the bin.
These are all names of customers I planned to ring (and did ring) each day when I was still selling hardware. After each phone call, I crossed out the name on my list. Other entries are about the weather and when I was having lunch with my parents.
Self-explanatory, I suppose!
Last year's Yorkshire holiday. I wonder whether you can read any of it - you have the posts here on my blog for reference.

After all this, what is the conclusion? That someone who loves order and enjoys keeping their flat neat and tidy can still have very untidy handwriting? Could it be that, precisely because my handwriting is so "un-neat", I need more order around me?
I really don't know, but would like to know what you think about it.

Friday 20 January 2017

Read in 2017 - 2: Driving Home for Christmas

This was the last of my 2016 Christmas reads - I started it just before Christmas, but finished it only a few days ago.
It still fitted my mood, not only because Christmas was just a few short weeks ago, but also because of the weather: We've had snow, fog, more snow and sun, and it is freezing cold.

In "Driving Home for Christmas" by Emma Hannigan, we meet the Craig family. They and their house in the countryside near Wicklow (Ireland), Huntersbrook, are the main characters.
Paddy and Holly are the middle-aged parents, running the country house by hosting hunts, renting out their stables to rich customers and leasing their land to nearby sheep farmers and others.
Their three children Lainey, Joey and Pippa all live and work in Dublin, but are frequent house guests back home with Mum & Dad.
Then there is Maggie, Holly's 80-year-old mother, who last year very suddenly left Huntersbrook to follow her lover to his Australian home. Last but not least, Sadie is the one who, along with Holly, keeps the house spic and span and food on the table.

This year, Holly approaches Christmas with mixed feelings. She loves this time of year and adores all the decorating and so on, but it will be the first time without her mother, whom she has not really forgiven for upping sticks and going to live on the other side of the world.
Also, there are financial worries; if the effects of the recession keep getting worse, she seriously will have to consider selling Huntersbrook, the Georgian country pile which has been home to her family for several generations.
She keeps all her worries hidden from her family, determined to give them the best Christmas ever, even if it should be their last one here.

The grown-up children have troubles of their own: Lainey is still suffering after being dumped by her boyfriend. The growing friendship with a new colleague at work makes her realise a lot about herself, and truly changes her life.
Joey's girlfriend is a personal trainer and sports fanatic who does not like country life one bit. The meals at Huntersbrook are inconsolable with her extremely strict health regime, and she feels like an alien among Joey's family. Getting away with him for Christmas therefore seems a great idea... to her, but not to Joey.
Pippa, the youngest, is a living Barbie doll who has no grip of real life whatsoever. She thinks she can walk over people, spend money that is not hers, dress always in the latest fashion in spite of not having a proper job, and still get away with it. For a while, it seems so, but then events take a turn for the worse, reality hits, and she has to grow up and face her situation like she has never done before.

A lot of what happens in this book is foreseeable, but there are some unexpected twists, too. There is humour, and a rather realistic depiction of friendships and family relations, where everything is not always what it looks like on the surface.
The characters develop - maybe with the exception of Paddy, who remains the good, solid husband and father in the background, seemingly without much going on with him.
I didn't like Pippa; even when she did come to her senses and finally took some responsibility for her own life, I was not reconciled, as she still came across very much the spoiled brat. With Lainey and Joey I could sympathise, and even with Holly to an extent.

The descriptions of Christmas preparations and the actual festivities were nice and not so over the top as to be unlikely.

Altogether, this was a pleasant and engaging read, editing was good, and should I happen to come across another Huntersbrook novel, I would read it just to know what happened next in the lives of the Craig family.

If you like, you can watch the author introduce her novel in a short video here:

Tuesday 17 January 2017

A Place For All Seasons

It is the middle of January, and I don't know how long winter will last this time. We've had years when there were spring-like days already in February, warm enough to venture out short-sleeved, with snow and ice coming back with a vengeance in March.
Other years, spring came late and I was nearly going mad with longing for warmer days.
No matter how the seasons will be playing out this year, I like observing the change. And one way to make the change visible is by taking pictures of (almost) the same place throughout the year.

This is what I did with a place near O.K.'s, the view towards Schloss Ortenberg (Ortenberg Castle) from one of the paths we're on regularly for walking or running.

Vineyards in March
Nearly the same view in October

Speaking of which, I have not been running since before Christmas - it is simply too cold, and sometimes too wet, for me right now. I miss it, and hope I'll be able to go for a nice leisurely run again soon.

Anyway, I hope no matter what the season in your part of the globe is right now, you are well and enjoying the good things each season can bring.

Friday 6 January 2017

Another Walk in the Snow

As opposed to Monday's walk (see previous post) in the snowy woods, where we really could not see very far due to the thick fog or mist (what's the difference?), Tuesday looked brighter. We spotted patches of blue in the sky and wanted to see what the fields, orchards, woodland and vineyards directly around the village looked like in the snow.

Off we went, and found some very beautiful play of sunlight and clouds.
The first set of pictures is as seen through the camera of my mobile phone:

This is what O.K.'s mobile phone camera made of the same route:

It was wonderful, and the only downside to it was that I knew I was going to have to board a train home a few hours later. By then it was dark, and I could not see the beautiful scenery from my place near the window. But I knew it was out there, and will be there next time - which will be soon!

Thursday 5 January 2017

A Snowy Walk

On Monday, I was still at O.K.'s, and the plan was to go on a hike. We woke up to a grey day, though, with rain or snowfall threatening any time, and decided against a hike. But we still wanted to go out, stretch our legs, breathe some fresh air, and went for a walk instead, not venturing too far from the car in case things would be getting worse.

A few random snow flakes were beginning to fall just as we got into the car. Driving through Offenburg and out at the other end was more wet than white. But as we left the town centre and parked the car at the bottom of a hill called "Hohes Horn" ("High Horn", at 547 m the highest elevation closest to the city), it was snow instead of rain, and there was already a thin layer of it on the ground.

The day was still grey, and we walked into a dense fog, plus it was snowing more and more by the minute. We were dressed for it, though, and determined to reach the top of the hill, with 3 km of a (mostly gentle) uphill path ahead, through the woods.

A viewing tower - its fourth incarnation since the first tower was built here in 1891 - is at the top, and we very carefully climbed it, even though we already knew we were not going to see much. Still, I found the very quiet, still atmosphere in the woods enchanting, and we can always return here another day when beautiful views of Offenburg and across the Rhine valley all the way to France in one direction and back across the Black Forest towards the Kinzig valley in the other direction can be enjoyed.

 View from the top platform - you can just about make out the path we came up on:

As far as I know, on a less foggy day you could see the city of Offenburg here:

Or is it this way?

The wooden hut at the bottom of the tower came in useful for us to at least for a moment take down our hoods, wipe glasses and get rid of the snow that had been accumulating on our coats.

The way back down:

As it had not stopped snowing since we had come up, the further down we came, the less visible our original footprints were, until they completely disappeared.

 Can you see it? There are houses there, barely visible:

The vineyards look very different now from when I showed you their beautiful autumn colours!

Walking up had made us think we had dressed in too many layers, but going back down required a lot less effort and we were just beginning to feel a bit cold by the time we reached the car again.

We had worked up quite an appetite, too, and were ready for steaming mugs of hot coffee at home.