Wednesday 30 December 2020

A Moon Walk

These days, I have read on several blogs how we tend to lose track of time during this period between Christmas and New Year, how we don‘t know what day of the week it is and how a Monday feels like a Sunday and so on.

I agree - it is a very special time of year. The old year is not completely gone, and the new one has not yet arrived. Many who would normally know the week‘s days by their work or other activities are staying home, with no appointments, work-related or for socializing, to interrupt what is actually a rather short chain of days.

An entire morning can easily slip by, sleeping in and having that first mug of coffee in bed, munching on two or three leftover Christmas cookies, before we even get showered and dressed. Lunch is skipped after that late start, and the afternoon with still preciously few daylight hours spent walking, if possible. Sunset is still well before 5:00 pm here, and by 6:00, the night is as dark as it gets, making it feel closer to 10 than to 7. With no lunch, tea/dinner is wanted early, and after that, the evening sees us settling on our favourite comfy spots, our books and tablets within reach, maybe a glass of wine or some other drink, chosing what to watch on TV - nothing too demanding, please; just a bit of fun or light entertainment. Eventually, eyelids start to droop, and legs and backs want to stretch properly - bed calls, and sleep comes easily with the assurance of no alarm clock starting off the next morning.

After a week or so of that, I usually am well rested and feel very ready to tackle the new working year, pick up where I left off before Christmas, easing into the familiar routine of my weekdays.

We are not there yet, though, and yesterday‘s walk made for some beautiful pictures I want to share with you. All but one were taken by O.K., and I have his permission to use them.

Setting off relatively late in the afternoon, not long before sunset, the low sunrays lit up the slopes above Ortenberg beautifully - there are no yellow trees or vineyards or so, it was just the sun making it look like that:

Less than half an hour later, looking back the way we had come:

And later still, before reaching the third village on our walk, a still almost full moon made for a spectacular sky:

We were wrapped warmly, and the route was not demanding, just an easy up and down on gentle hills, 13 km altogether. Most of the paths were good, with the exception of one muddy stretch. As I am typing this, our shoes have been cleaned, ready for our next excursion; it is raining right now, so we may wait a bit.

Sunday 27 December 2020

Read in 2020 - 27: The Quartet Murders

The Quartet Murders

J.R. Ellis

The 25th book I have read this year was the first of this series, and since I had enjoyed it, I was looking forward to the next book. I was not disappointed, and was drawn into the story right from the first sentence. The book starts on a Friday night in late November, and guess when I started reading it: on the last Friday in November, when I was on my way to OK for the weekend.

A famous violinist is shot dead at the end of a concert in Halifax, right in front of the audience - among them Inspector Oldroyd, who has driven over from Harrogate for the evening.

Because he has been there when it happened, he helps with the investigation in spite of it not being in his policing district. Like in a locked room mystery, it seems impossible that the killer has gotten away, but apart from the murder weapon being found on the premises, he or she seems to have vanished without a trace.

The violin played by the victim has also disappeared in the immediate tumultous aftermath, and since it was a world famous Stradivari and worth millions, the reason for the deadly shot seems to be clear.

But nothing about this case is as straight forward as the investigating team would like it to be. On top of the obvious, the case has personal and political implications, and the number of suspects grows. The more the team learn, the deeper the clues point towards the past.

Oldroyd‘s personal life is also not without complications, leaving plenty of room for further development in the following books of the series.

Just like with the first one, I enjoyed this mystery. I did guess the general direction of the underlying reason behind the first murder (yes, another man loses his life before the investigation is successful), but it was never boring, superficial or too easy to guess. Most of what happens and how the characters act is credible enough, too - apart from a scene towards the end, involving a cat.

I won‘t say more because one or two of you might want to read the book, too. For me, the next one is already waiting!

Friday 25 December 2020

Read in 2020 - 26: Coming Home for Christmas

Coming Home for Christmas

Julia Williams


This paperback was, I believe, part of a Christmas parcel from my mother-in-law from Yorkshire two or three years ago; this December, I felt like some seasonal reading other than on my kindle, and indeed finished it last night, after a very nice and peaceful Christmas Eve with my parents, my sister and a close, brother-like friend.


For different reasons, three women who have been friends for a long time dread Christmas: One of them was left by her husband not long ago and struggles to keep her farm going, the second one is faced with the impact her reaching of middle age has on her career as a TV chef, and the third finds herself suddenly sharing the family home with her husband's ex-wife.

On top of the troubles and complications in their private lives, the whole village is under threat when plans of an investment company for a big modern spa complex become public. Will the villagers manage to save their community? Are the three friends going to find solutions for their individual problems?

Well... it's a Christmas novel, and therefore you can guess it all ends well. There are a few sad moments in between, and of course the obstacles are not overcome in an easy, straightforward manner, but the book leaves the reader on a positive note with some Christmas cheer, if you are so inclined.

It was just the kind of reading I could handle during this month, which was very busy work-wise and often left me rather exhausted at the end of a day. Also, due to the early darkness, I was not able to do as much walking as I would have liked, and of course the restrictions here meant that there was no Christmas market to look forward to for the evenings.

That is as far as I want to go with the complaining - I have plenty of reasons to be cheerful, and right now am in the last stages of packing my suitcase for the trip to O.K.'s, where I will stay until the 2nd of January.

Enjoy whatever you will be doing today for Christmas, and tomorrow for Boxing Day! I am still going to read your blogs while I'm away, but there will probably be no post of my own until I'm back at my own computer again.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

My First Christmas Tree

At 52, it is certainly about time I grow up and have my own Christmas tree, don't you think? - Actually, no. A lot about Christmas has to do with feeling like a child again, in the best possible sense. At Christmas and in the weeks leading up to it, many of us stick to traditions learned at home when we were little - traditions often passed down at least one or two more generations back. Over the years, we have added our own new traditions to that, especially those of you who have children. 

In spite of me spending Christmas Eve with my parents and sister, and Boxing Day with O.K.'s family, last year I suddenly felt like having my own tree (one of Jennifer's posts triggered that wish). It didn't work out then, but this year it has!

My parents bought an artificial tree years ago, and set it up for several years. This year, my Mum bought a small potted tree that will live on their balcony during the year and last for a few Christmases before it will grow too big and need to be replanted somewhere. We need more space in my parents' open-plan living/dining/kitchen area this year, as we will celebrate socially distanced, with plenty of space between our seats. Also, my Dad's mobility issues mean he will have less difficulty navigating the room when there is only a small tree on a side table instead of the larger one with branches, ornaments and candles sticking out in every direction.

Their artificial tree is now mine, sitting in the corner where my yellow armchair normally is:

I set it up yesterday during my coffee break, and started putting ornaments on it after work. It is not yet final - I have another box full of Christmas things in the cellar which I will bring up today, and put some more baubles on it. As you can see, there are already a few presents under the tree; some of them are what has arrived for me from England, but the majority are the ones I shall give to the family on Christmas Eve. I have not yet finished wrapping my presents and hope to do that today, too, leaving tomorrow as a day of rest - my first day off since September - until it will be time to put all my presents in a large bag and walk over to my parents'.


Dear friends in blogland, this was a year like no other; I need not elaborate on that. But it also was another year of exchange with you, something that means a lot to me. I value and appreciate each of you, no matter where you live and how frequently you comment here. Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

Friday 18 December 2020

This Time of Year

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that, in my flat, I am not overly fond of many decorative objects; I like my surfaces to be largely empty. But the weeks leading up to Christmas are an exception, and I open my personal floodgates in terms of decorating.

This year, I have put up a little less than usual, but still enough to give the place a festive look.

The Advent calendar village is shared between me and O.K. - one year it is my turn to fill it for him, and the next year the other way round. This year, it's mine to enjoy every morning:

The reading lamp above my bed:

The top of my shoe cabinet in the hallway:


Like last year and the year before, my Mum, my sister and I went to a nearby garden center, run by a very nice family, some of whose members are my sister's neighbours. We chose our Advent wreaths and Mum paid for them. In other years, we would have made it more of an outing, with food and drink offered at the garden center as well as Christmas carols played by a small group of local musicians, but it was all banned this year; just put your mask on, enter the shop, browse, choose, pay, leave. It was still nice to see the place all decorated, and I really like my choice.

Can you believe we are already going to light all four candles this Sunday?

There is also a new star in my window, a gift from my sister. It is beautiful, and I have taken pictures of it when lit in the evening, but somehow the picture was not transferred from my phone to the computer. Must try again.

More cards and even a small parcel have been arriving this week. Once again, thank you if you are one of the senders!

A few days ago, one of my late husband's oldest and closest friends sent me a short video clip he made of us back in 2006 or so during a holiday in Scarborough. There were five or six of us meeting at a pub, and friend N. filmed us sitting at the table with our drinks, talking and laughing. It was strange in that this was the first time in 11 years that I heard Steve's voice again and saw him move - not just stationary on photos - and his facial expression change during the conversation. Also, I was looking SO MUCH younger (probably because I WAS!) there, with longer hair and a very smooth face.

N. was hoping that seeing this would not upset me too much, and honestly - it was not upsetting at all, maybe because it's been so long now since Steve's death, and I have found love and happiness again. But it made me smile and remember more of that holiday - I have not been back to Scarbie since, I think. Maybe some day, when we can travel freely again.

Back to topic: 

My Christmas preparations are coming along nicely. I plan to put up my tree today or tomorrow, and wrap my presents some time next week. Including today, there are only four days of work left for me this year; from the 24th onwards, I am off until January 4. And the break will be very welcome, as work has been so busy - while much about Christmas is different this year, this has not changed: My clients still come up will all sorts of things they want done before Christmas! Often enough, these are things I have been reminding them of for months already, so there is really no need for all this last-minute rush. But clients are what they are, and they keep my bread buttered and the roof over my head, so I am not complaining - just saying... ;-)

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Just a Quick One... show you what it looks like now:

The work around the house was finished weeks ago. I took these pictures on the 25th of November. 

What remains to do is a proper light above the front door; there is a light, but it only comes on when you press the switch at the top of the letter box, and it is not very bright; when you come in from the street and walk up to the house, you do so in almost complete darkness. I don't mind much, as I know the way of course, but it is not ideal; anyone could stumble or fall. Not that we have many visitors these days, but even for ourselves, proper lighting is a good idea. The two brothers who co-own the house with me have promised to have it done "soon". This was weeks ago, and I'll send them an email to remind them of this issue. (They don't live in the house, so they do not need to negotiate the path leaving or coming home in darkness every day.)

On other news, Christmas cards have been arriving every day - thank you if you are among the senders! I still have one small present to buy, which I have stupidly left rather late to do. From today onwards, all non-essential businesses here are closed. I should still be able to buy what I have in mind for this particular present, but I really could and should have done this weeks ago.

Last night it was on the main news on TV that vaccinating could start as early as next week for a select few (it won't be my turn anytime soon). Funny, isn't it, that the vaccine itself was developed in this country (Tübingen, where CureVac's headquarters are, is only about an hour's drive from my town) but other countries are distributing it first. I know it has all to do with the process of approval which normally can take years (but much of the current situation is hardly what we would have called "normal" this time last year).

Anyway, only six more days to work this year (I finish on the 23rd)! I am well, and so are my nearest and dearest. That is what counts, and I hope the same is true for you.

Thursday 10 December 2020

Last Autumn Walk

Our last walk this autumn, before everything out there took on a more wintry look, was on the 21st of November. We spent that weekend at my place, and I wanted to go down to the river where I had last been more than two months ago. So, off we went with a rucksack full of good things and wearing warm coats, as it was a sunny but rather cold day after one of the first night frosts we'd had this season.

Most of the time, walking to the river means also walking along it, usually in the direction of Marbach, like in the post I have linked to above. This time, I suggested we walk somewhere less familiar, and we crossed the river on a foot bridge and went up the hill on the other side, through Neckarweihingen, which used to be a village in its own right but became a suburb of Ludwigsburg decades ago.

We stopped for our packed lunch at a sunny bench near the top of the hill before walking on through orchards and fields up there.

View towards "our" side of the Neckar

I knew where we were but did not know each and every path, and so it was a bit of exploring until we made our way back towards Neckarweihingen, this time approaching it from its newest neighbourhood.

Foot bridge in the newest part of Neckarweihingen

Another foot bridge allowed us to cross the road, and from there, we walked downhill to the river and along it until we reached the bridge again where we had first crossed the river.

Foot bridge from Hoheneck to Neckarweihingen, where we first crossed the river
Once we were on "our" side of the river again, it was a slow but steady uphill walk almost all the way back home. 18 km and several hours after we had set off, we arrived at my place in time for coffee and a welcome rest.

Back home through the deer park

For our evening meal, I made shakshouka, and we tried a red wine new to us, a Syrah, from the Duke of Wuerttemberg's winery not far from home. It all made for a very nice Saturday in late autumn.

Monday 7 December 2020

Around the First Advent Sunday

Yes, I know - last Sunday has already been the second Advent Sunday, but you are used to me being at least one or two weeks behind with my posting here, and this is no exception.

Before I start properly on this post, let me give you a message from my Mum. She was overwhelmed by all your comments on her guest post about her father, and because she can not comment here herself anymore (we still have not figured out what's wrong), she asked me to pass her words on to you: 

I feel very honoured by your comments, and your compliments make me blush! But I am happy to see that my feeling for my Papa came across so well, how much I loved and adored him. Thank you! - Meike's Mum.

- - -

Now back to the days surrounding the 1st Advent Sunday. I spent that weekend at O.K.'s, and on the Satuday evening, after we had been busy all day with various things around and inside the house, we wrapped up VERY warmly and set off for a nightly walk. All day, it had been grey and overcast, and only about an hour before sunset did the sun finally come out. When the moon rose, it was large and bright, and we were looking forward to our walk taking us across moonlit fields.

The idea was to cover all three villages that form the administrative unit of Hohberg, with O.K.'s village being the "main" part. We wanted to see how the villages had decorated their respective town halls and churches, starting with O.K.'s village and its beautiful Christmas trees in front and on top of the town hall:

Rathaus Hofweier

However, as we were walking on towards the next village, fog descended and became more and more dense. The church there still looked beautiful, but we were a little disappointed to see that their town hall was completely dark and without any visible decoration:

St. Birgitta, Niederschopfheim

Then followed a relatively long stretch of walking along a beck across the fields. There are no street lights or houses there, nothing to shed any artificial light on the path. The moon was shining brightly above the dense cover of fog, and the fog itself was giving up a strange, beautiful kind of brightness. We saw the path clearly, and the atmosphere on that part of our walk was simply wonderful - mysteriously romantic, and very special.

Arriving in the last of the three villages, we found that neither their town hall nor their church was lit up or decorated. But there was a large Christmas tree on the village green, and stars in a tree next to the church. My phone's camera was unable to get a clearer picture - this is what it made of the tree and the stars:

After another half hour or so of walking along the road (we met with little traffic, and for our safety had attached blinking lights to our coats, the kind you sometimes see on runners or people walking their dogs at night), we arrived back at O.K.'s village. The patron saint's little chapel at the top end of the village road was lit up. St. Gallus had his own Christmas tree:

Gallus-Kappele Hofweier

For me, this had been a wonderful start of the Advent period.

Back home on Monday, my sister and I met up after work to buy a few things for our Christmas parcel to our family in Yorkshire. Soon, it was completely dark, and we went to see the market square; strangely beautiful with all its usual Christmas lights, but no stalls, no sounds, no scents of mulled wine, frying sausages and caramelised almonds, and of course no people:

This road leading onto the market square is usually bustling with people - you would find it as empty at this only in the middle of the night, hours after the Christmas market has closed, and hours before the first workers appear to clean up and start the day.

On Tuesday, the 1st of December, as if on cue, we had our first snowfall of this season! It was only a light dusting, but combined with all the other "advently" things I had been doing and seeing over the past few days, it put me into a very Christmassy mood:

It has not snowed again since, but we have had rain and solid grey skies all of last weekend. We still managed to go for two walks, a bit shorter than what we usually do, but good enough. Other than that, we have not been seeing anyone and are following the recommendations of self-isolating as much as possible so that we feel safe when we get together with our respective families again for Christmas.

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Guest Post by My Mum: My Father, My Hero

(Written by my Mum)

Recently was the 31st anniversary of my father's death. This was a reason for me to look back to my childhood and what he was to me. Meike asked me to write a guest post, here it is:
My Father, I called him "Papa", was born in the month of May, during WWI, his mother, my beloved "Oma Engel" (that means Granny Angel) delivered at home, as usual in this times. He was the oldest, then came a little brother, who died in child's age, and then came Otto, I introduced him to you in this guest post.
Oma was a cook in a home-style cooking restaurant in the town where we still live. Her husband, my grandfather, was a porcelain painter, he came from the German East (now Poland) and before coming to Ludwigsburg he workd at Meißen's Manufactory.
Here he couldn't find work in his profession, so he worked in the office of a big health insurance.
They had not much money, but weren't poor; they had what they needed and were content.
Erich Engel

Papa went to Grammar School, and after this, he became apprentice in a big enterprise in the neighbouring town. He was trained as a toolmakera craft nearly unknown today. That apprentenship took four years, and he stayed at the same company nearly until he retired
In his youth he must have been rather sporty; he drove a motorbike and flew gliders.
Then he met my mother, they fell in love and married, shortly before Hitler came into power and WWII broke out. Of course he had to be a soldier and was sent to the front. He was POW in Russia but came back rather healthy. (His father lost his job, because he refused to say "Heil Hitler", someone denunciated him.)
When I was born, the world was burning allover, Papa was in Russia and learned much later that he now had a little baby girl. I didn't hear the bombs, my mother said I was sleeping all the time in a little basket which she could take to the bomb shelter when the alarm sounded. 
The family in autumn 1946. Erich was 31, Else 30, my Mum one year old and her brother was six. (I know this because it is on the back of the photo in my Oma's handwriting.)

My first memory is of Christmas, when my father gave me a doll's kitchen, with a real working little electric stove (everything made by himself), and every pot, plate and pan like my mother's, just tiny. I could cook little pancakes or soup from stock cubes. 
He also made a little shop, with electric light showing "Kaufhaus Engel", (Engel's Store). Engel was our family name, it means angel. Mother filled all the drawers in the shop with little sweets, nuts, fruits, and my 5 years older brother and I loved to play with it, we even had play money.
In this time after the war these toys were something very special, because you couldn't buy them in a shop or order from Amazon. 
I admired him for this, and all the other little toys and things he made for us children, such as toy furniture, a little bed for my doll, a chair for the teddybear and many more.
Our name "Engel" I loved so much that one day, I think I was about 3 years old, I told my parents: "You know, when I am big, I will marry Papa, then I can keep my name Engel". Mutti asked: "And what about me?" I thought for a moment, then replied: "Oh, you will be dead then". 
In our basement he had a workshop in one room, very cold, no heating, where he had good tools, the most prized was a turning lathe. He made the prettiest little wooden boxes and bowls with it, here is one he gave me for my 3rd birthday for little trinkets, it is only 6 cm in diameter.

The greatest for me was when Papa allowed me to sit on the ground on a thick doormat underneath his working table, where also his turning lathe was. I liked the sound of the machine's motors, the smell of the metal chips, all in all really nothing to inspire a little girl, but for me it was heaven to be near my Papa, seeing what he could do with his hands, admire the result. Until my mother called me to come upstairs, because she was afraid I would catch a cold down there.
There was really nothing Papa could not do or fix, you could bring him everything, and he would make it alright. Once he was away on a health cure, and he sent me lovely letters in his beautyful exact handwriting, always with handdrawn little pictures.
On weekends, when he did not have to work (Saturday morning was still a working day back then), we went to a nearby forest to pick strawberries, rasperries, or just flowers for my Mom. (I called her Mutti.) Most Sunday mornings, Mutti cooked a very good meal, and Papa and I went for a walk, mostly ending at a beer garden where I met other children and there was a playground for us.
In the evenings he told me stories he made up himself, about fairies, gnomes, giants, dwarfs and also animals who could speak, his imagination never ended.
Once he went with a friend to pick cherries from a tree that belonged to the friend's brother. The next morning when I woke up, there hung a big grape over my bed, all made of the big red cherries, it made me so happy, I did not even want to disturb this piece of art. (But I did...)
I remember Papa as a very, very good, kind and empathic man, but he was born in May, under the sign of Gemini, and Mutti always said: He has two souls in his chest, and sometimes this was true. He could be very, very furious, and when he was convinced of a matter, nobody and nothing could bring him off it. Or when he could not stand someone, he showed it and was not very polite. He was also rather jealous, it often bothered my mother.
Erich in 1967

When he became grandfather (five grandchildren), he also loved them and they loved him. 
When he was 72 years old, he had a bad stroke, the whole left side of his body was palsied and he had to suffer for three horrible years, very, very ill. That was not an end he deserved, but we could only be there for him, though the main load rested on my mother. We tried to help her as best as we could, but we had to go to work and I think it was not enough. 
He died at 75, peacefully at home, no more pain, no more sorrow.
--- End of guest post ---
I suggested this guest post when on November 19th, the four of us (my parents, my sister and I) met at my parents' and drank a glass of what used to be my grandfather's favourite type of red wine, Trollinger. 
My sister and I called him Opa, the usual affectionate German term for grandfather. I remember him as the kindest and best Opa any child could wish for - not once during my childhood did I hear the words "not now" or "I don't have time" from him.
Like my Mum wrote, he could make the prettiest and most delicate things out of wood and metal, and we still own the toy kitchen and shop he made for his own children when they were little, so many years ago.
He also made up stories for me and my sister, often about the stuffed toy animals my grandparents kept in their living room for us so that we could play with them whenever we came visiting (which was often!). 
Sometimes we got an incling of what he could be like when his "other soul" took over - a grumpy man whose sharp wit was directed at my grandmother ("Oma") or a particular neighbour he could not stand.
There is loads more I could tell you about Opa, but it would make this post even longer than it already is, and as a regular blog reader myself, I know that it is hard to read overly long posts.
I have added two photographs; since I do not own a scanner, I clumsily took pictures of them with my mobile phone and uploaded them here.