Friday 31 August 2018

Another Summer Gone

Meteorologically speaking, summer ends today. Here, the weather matches this transition; it was chilly, grey and rainy all day, similar to last Saturday. I spent last weekend at OK's, and it felt strange having to think about socks and coats after we had not needed any of that for months.

Saturday late afternoon, the sun came out, and we went for a walk before it was time for dinner. I took this picture from a hill above the village, looking west across a field of sunflowers:

The end of August and beginning of September to me always feels a little like entering a very different part of the year. I get nostalgic and melancholic and want to keep summer just a little longer, while at the same time I very much look forward to the colours and abundance of autumn.

One year ago today, I wrote this and found it rather interesting to re-read and remember. This year, again August was a very busy month for me, but finally, I am on holiday starting now!

Next week, OK and I will drive to the Bavarian Forest, a National Park on the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. We love walking and hiking, as you know, and neither of us has ever been in that region, so we shall explore it together.
You can find out more about the National Park here on wikipedia.

Right now, it does not yet feel like being on holiday; I am rather knackered after a full working week but will be going out for a meal with my friends in a bit. We've not met as this particular group in quite a while, so I am looking forward to it and just hope I'll stay awake long enough and won't end up with my head on the table!

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 13: The Old Ways

The Old Ways
Robert Macfarlane

For months, this book has been on my bedside table, and finally, last night I managed to finish it. Now, this is not the book's (or the author's fault) but mainly due to me being a slower reader than before, because of my eyesight making it difficult to read at night after a whole day spent reading and writing on a computer and on paper.

When I saw "The Old Ways" at The Little Ripon Bookshop (a "must" for my sister and I every time we are in Ripon), I remembered Yorkshire Pudding's review of it. You can find it here. In my comment to YP's review, I said that the book sounded like something I'd enjoy reading, and I did - even though it took me so long, and I did not always find it easy to "get into" each chapter. Replying to my comment, YP mentioned the book containing several words he had never encountered before. Knowing this has happened to him, who is a native speaker of English, a former English teacher and a published author, makes it less surprising for me to have also come across a number of words never read before. None of them stopped my reading flow, though, as it was always clear from the context what the author meant.

The sub-headline says "A Journey on Foot", which, strictly speaking, is not entirely true, as some of the trips described in the book are taken by boat. It all serves to show how paths exist not only in the shape of foot paths on the ground but also as invisible ones across water, or even in the air (think of the migration of birds). And of course, there are many paths across our inner landscape, so to speak.

Robert Macfarlane describes 16 different trips he made, mostly on foot, mostly in the UK, but some abroad. His trips follow some famous, ancient routes, some less well-known ones and some he read about in other walkers' descriptions. They are not set up as in a guide book, but he explains what walking (not only the particular trip described) means to him personally, what it generally means and meant throughout history, what it meant to those who walked there before him and how walking can generally affect us - actually, how walking shapes us and how we shape the places where we walk.

A lot of it I can relate to; some of what he writes is an expression of what I have been feeling/knowing in myself about walking but would not have been able to express in such clear terms. Some is rather too mystical for me. All in all, I can highly recommend "The Old Ways" to anyone who enjoys walking - no matter on what level - or did so at some stage of their lives.

If you want to know more about the author, his wikipedia entry is here.

Friday 24 August 2018

An Overdue Update

There is about an hour left before I'll get on the train to O.K.'s, where I'll be spending the weekend. My little red suitcase is packed, the flat won't benefit of any cleaning while I'm away, and so I use the time for a long overdue update here.

What have I been up to since I last posted properly?

Well, I have had more "health issues" (yes, Frances, issues!) to deal with; another operation was due. This time, it had nothing to do with my eye. Instead, it was a "women's thing" that wasn't dangerous or worrying; I've had the exact same operation 8 years ago and my doctor advised me to have another operation so that we hopefully will never have to think about it again.
All went well; I was allowed home two hours after I woke up from the general anaesthesy  (provided someone was going to pick me up, which my sister kindly did). The hardest thing about the whole day was not being allowed to eat after 7:00 in the morning and nothing to drink after 10:00 - and it was a really hot day, too. A sandwich never tasted so good as the one I finally had at 5:30 in the afternoon!

I was on sick leave for a week after the operation but did a bit of work here and there from home. For the rest of the time, I was not allowed to do much because of possible bleeding. I was fine, though, and allowed to resume all normal activities 3 weeks afterwards. Now I really hope I've seen the last of my "old acquaintance" from 8 years ago!

As you know, summer has been exceptionally hot and dry here. I have already written about one of the ways O.K. and I have devised to keep cool; it was not quite as easy here in town where I live, especially not on work days at offices without airconditioning.

But cold drinks and ice cream were readily available after work, and one afternoon, my parents, sister and I met up in town at the ice cream parlour:

The ice cream in the front is mine, the drink is a Tocco Rosso and was my Mum's choice. (I have told you about this delicious cocktail here.)

On one of the weekends when O.K. was here, we had breakfast on Saturday at the café where we first met (with the difference that back then, it was February and we were of course indoors - and there were no wasps!). The breakfast menue at this café is really good; they have set breakfasts named after artists or literary figures. Mine was called Miss Marple and included Earl Grey tea, scrambled eggs, bacon and toast:

We have all been noticing more and more how the sun rises later and sets earlier; several of you have remarked upon this on your blogs. Here is a sunrise I watched from my kitchen window earlier this month:

Last weekend, we were having another BBQ at the allotment of O.K.'s family. Just like last time (as shown here), I could not resist taking pictures of the beautiful sunset we enjoyed there:

The five pictures were all taken within less than half an hour.

The Perseids do not need an explanation, do they? Anyway, the best night to watch them in my part of the globe was 12th/13th of August (the 12th having been my Mum's birthday, by the way - another reason to celebrate!). O.K. travelled home that night and sent me a text to say he'd arrived home safely (as is our habit). He mentioned the beautiful starry sky in his text, and that made me go to my kitchen window to have a look - I wasn't even thinking of the Perseids at that moment. And believe it or not, seconds after I had started looking, I saw a shooting star! You bet I made a wish :-)
And last weekend at O.K.'s, we saw one together from the balcony at night!

Yesterday after work, I met my Mum and sister for a drink at Ludwigsburg's Weinlaube (wine fest). For me, it was the third and last visit to this year's fest, and I enjoyed every one of them. This last visit somehow marked also the end of summer for me, and the weather looks as if it feels the same: From temperatures around 30 Celsius earlier this week, today we are down to 17. The weekend will remain more or less like this, next week is forecast to be a little warmer again, but it seems that the extreme heat is broken. I must admit I am ready for autumn, even though I am sad to see this superb summer end. And besides, we often have still very good weather in September.

Anyway, here's to summer ending and autumn being on its way!

Now I'm about to leave. We'll have another family birthday to celebrate on Sunday. Like YP said the other day in his blog, there is plenty of Beautiful to focus on, if only we want to

Wednesday 15 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 12: In Homespun

Another "old" book, this free ebook was first published in 1896.

It is a collection of stories by Edith Nesbit, an author I much admire and always enjoy. I have written a short paragraph about her and her life at the end of this review, and there are several other reviews of her book on my blog; if you are interested, simply type "nesbit" in the search box on the top left corner of my blog.

The stories in this book all have one thing in common: They center around a female character who tells the story in her own words. The women are all of more or less humble backgrounds, unlike many books of that time, when novels were often set in aristocratic circles. They tell the reader of how they got where they are now, how they found their place in life, in the world, and what made them do what they did - how circumstances and their own personality worked for or against them and formed their actions.

With some of them, the reader can fully sympathise; with others, the impulse is rather to tell them what one thinks of their actions. No matter which way the reader is inclined with each story, they all offer a good glimpse of what life used to be like for the "average" woman more than 100 years ago in a village, small town or on a farm in southern England.

And, if you know Edith Nesbit's work, you'll find her typical sense of humour coming through more than once.

It definitely made me grateful for living here and now, where I can largely lead the life I want, choose where I live (and who with) and what I want to do for a living and how I want to spend my free time.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Read in 2018 - 11: Happiness and Marriage

This was another free ebook I downloaded years ago - I am reading the books on my kindle largely in the order I downloaded them, unless it is a seasonal read (around Christmas time) or a new book I am particularly keen on.

"Happiness and Marriage" was originally published in 1904. Therefore, you may be forgiven to expect a conservative approach to the subject, based on the classic role models for husbands and wives.

Well, this one comes as a surprise, as it is rather modern, portraying men and women as completely and absolutely equal. Marriage is seen as not the only way to happiness (or the only way to exist for a woman at that time, for that matter), and it can be just as well based on reason or friendship as on love. More than once, the author states that husband and wife can be good friends and live happily together without being lovers, as long as there is mutual respect.
And if nothing will work, or if either of the two love someone else, they should be reasonable and set their unhappy spouse free by leaving - after a period of testing their own feelings for the person they believe they love.

Wikipedia says that Elizabeth Towne, who lived to be 95 years old (from 1865 to 1960), was an influential writer, editor and publisher in the New Thought and self-help movements.
She certainly had plenty to say about marriage from her own experience, having first married at the age of 14! She had two children with her first husband, divorced him later on and married a man who was also of the New Thought Alliance. You can read more about her here on Wikipedia.

I had not heard of her before, and sometimes found her writing a little condescending. But she always makes clear that her advice (given in the book based on letters she received from men and women who apparently saw her as an Agony Aunt) is meant for both sexes.

I am not at all familiar with the New Thought movement, and personally, am a little skeptical about some of the beliefs in the wikipedia entry about "New Thought". But I can not see any harm in the ideas Elizabeth Towne shared in this book, and it is short enough not to be considered a waste of time. It did offer an interesting glimpse into what must have felt rather revolutionary ideas at the very beginning of the 20th century.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Keeping Cool

The high temperatures we have been experiencing here in the south of Germany are no exception; something around 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) has become the rule during the days, it seems. O.K.'s area is often a few degrees warmer than where I live, and last weekend, we had 37-38 C (around 100 F). That's all very well and nice to enjoy summer and a lot of outdoor time, but it becomes hard to bear when the nights do not bring relief and our houses and offices simply store the heat of the day without a chance to cool off during the night.

Nobody I know here has airconditioning at home, and not all offices and shops are equipped that way, either. The trip to and from O.K. last weekend saw me on three different trains each way, two of them being without a/c altogether. 
Up until recently, very hot summers were rare here, and temperatures above 30 C never lasted long; after a few days, a thunderstorm would break the heat. It was normal to complain about our summer weather being wet and chilly, which is why so many of us took to going abroad for their holidays, to countries like Italy, Spain and Turkey, where sunshine was almost guaranteed.
Therefore, it never seemed to be necessary to have a/c in private homes or most offices; one could cope with the heat for a few days, and installing a/c was considered an unnecessary expense.

Things (i.e. the climate) are changing, however, and new buildings are already planned in a different way, to be more energy-efficient (both to keep the warmth inside in winter and the heat out in summer).

Anyway, what did we do last weekend to keep (relatively) cool?

O.K.'s village has several fountains lining the main street, and his house is close to one of them. It is a large stone through, hewn from a single block of sandstone. Larger than a bath tub, but not big or deep enough to swim in. Fresh water is constantly coming in from a pipe. I managed to find a picture of "our" fountain on the internet (O.K.'s house is not in the picture):

After we had our first coffee on Saturday morning, we walked over to the fountain and sat on the rim with our feet and legs in the water. At first, it feels so cold you want to shriek (I didn't, I merely gasped!), but then it becomes wonderfully refreshing. After a while, I bent forward and also put my arms in almost up to the shoulders - they were dry again very quickly.

We repeated that three times a day and spent the rest of the time mostly on the balcony in the shade of the big umbrella there, with O.K. serving chilled drinks. No running or walking this time! Another nice thing about sitting at the fountain was also that we could watch village life go by and had the occasional neighbour stop for a little chat, and some joined us in the water.

On Sunday, he prepared blueberry pancakes for breakfast - they were an experiment, but it definitely worked very well for me!

When I returned home on Sunday night, the air in my flat felt very "closed in". The sun did not have a chance to get in, as I had shut everything before going away on Friday evening, but it was still warm at about 26 or 27 C in my bedroom (around 80 F). 

View from my kitchen window at 20:46 on Monday

Yesterday, my colleague and I left our stickily warm office together, and for the first time, it definitely was cooler outside than in. During the night, it has cooled off nicely; thunderstorms and rain are forecast for the next few days until we'll be back in the 30s next week (mid-80s to 100 F).