Sunday 26 April 2020

Spring in my step

Next week Wednesday, a 1 1/2 week period off work begins for me. This was supposed to be our holiday; O.K. and I were booked into a spa hotel in the mountains and intended to have a week the way we love it - hiking during the day, followed by relaxing in the spa and then dinner. But of course it is not possible now. We still need time off work, though, and so we are going to spend it together at O.K.'s - definitely more of a holiday for me than for him!

It's not like I don't help with the housework; occasionally, I will even make a meal. But of course it is always the one of us who is the host who feels most responsible for everything. Also, O.K.'s cottage is the obvious choice; what with it having a balcony (unlike my flat) and the countryside around the village, with vineyards, orchards and the Black Forest so close, lends itself for more and nicer walks and hikes than my place in town. 
Last but not least, O.K.'s father turns 80 on Wednesday, and although there won't be a proper celebration, we still hope to have coffee and cake on his parents' patio in the back garden (far apart, of course). What we'll do if it rains (as is forecast), I don't know yet; we'll see.

Because of the upcoming 1 1/2 weeks being together almost 24/7, we decided that this weekend we'll both do our own stuff. Therefore, it was with my sister that I went for a long walk yesterday.

Again, I woke up to radiant sunshine and blue sky, but the wind was still chilly enough to want more than just shorts and a t-shirt.

My sister arrived at my place at 10:30, and we set off. It was well after 4:00 pm when I came home, and we had walked just a bit over 18 km by then.

Meadows full of buttercups under a blue sky - what's not to love!
Kay, this one is for you. Can you see why?

Around lunch time, we stopped on a sunny bench for the delicious sandwiches my sister had prepared. We even had Oreo biscuits for dessert, and brought water to drink.

Very few orchards are still in bloom.
The next leg of our walk took us to Hoheneck and around the castle ruins I have showed you here in February. What a difference it was now, in the sunshine and with plenty of other people about (in small groups, either couples or families, sticking to the rules).

Does the shape of this gnarled old tree remind anyone else of the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter?
In Hoheneck (which is a suburb of Ludwigsburg but much, much older), we had a look at the old church and then strolled across the picturesque streets towards the antiquarian book dealer. The shop was of course closed, but they have shelves outside, sheltered under a sort of porch around the old building. You can browse the shelves to your heart's content; if you want to take a book home with you, you leave 2 € in a cash box outside. Hardly surprising, my sister found several books, and I couldn't resist a children's book that ties in very nicely with my current reading (a biographic novel about the Brontes).

Neckar between Hoheneck and public swimming pool, where my sister and I learned to swim more than 4 decades ago.
On we went along the river, struggling for space with many cyclists and walkers by now. 

And then we were in for a lovely surprise: Near the public swimming pool (closed, of course), a kiosk was selling snacks and drinks - on the condition that customers kept their distance from each other AND would not consume the bought items within a 50 m radius of the kiosk (otherwise it would have counted as a beer garden, and not allowed to operate).

It had turned rather warm by then, and we could both do with something refreshing. My sister bought two bottles of shandy. They were well chilled, and we took them far away enough from the kiosk, to the rows of empty bike stands at the entrance of the swimming pool and had a short rest there.

Getting back towards Ludwigsburg from the river means a long, steady uphill stretch, mostly in the sun. It was warm enough then, plus the uphill walking, that every bit of shade was welcome! Good job we still had some water left in our bottles.

View towards Poppenweiler across the Neckar, taken from the first bit of uphill back towards Ludwigsburg.
The rest of the walk across town was still good, but we were both ready to go home. We said good-bye at a crossing, and when I was home, the first thing I did was make myself a cup of coffee and put my feet up (actually, the very first thing was going to the bathroom and wash my hands). After half an hour's rest, I finished my Saturday cleaning, vaccuming and mopping the floors.

It was a good day, and of course I was still in touch with O.K. via text messages every now and then, and talking on the phone in the evening.

I don't know if this video works for you - it was just a bit of fun, and gave me the idea for this post's title :-)

Friday 24 April 2020

From Monday Onwards...

...wearing a simple face mask will be mandatory in my part of Germany. 

This is valid for everyone above the age of six, every time one is in public (not in one's own garden, on the balcony or similar), such as walking to the shops, inside a shop, using public transports (including the time spent waiting at bus stops, on platforms etc.). Wearing a mask is NOT mandatory for just walking or running, and of course people who for medical reasons can not wear them (think people with breathing difficulties, for example).
The point is: Masks should be worn whenever and whereever the recommended distance of 1.5 m can not be guaranteed, which is often the case in shops and on public transport.

Of course our government does not mean certified masks such as worn by medical staff; these should still be reserved only for those who really need them. Fabric masks, home-made or bought ones, are recommended; the guidelines explicitly state that knitted or crocheted masks should not be used.

There are simple instructions for handling the masks (wash your hands before picking the mask up, do not touch the fabric but hold the mask by its rubber bands or ribbons, wash used masks in the washing machine with normal washing powder), and an FAQ tells us what is useless (spraying masks with disinfectant spray, for instance) and what should never be done (shaking out a worn mask, the way you would shake a table cloth with crumbs from a meal).

I understand all this and will of course observe the new regulations. 
Some of our shops are now allowed to open again (supermarkets were open all the time) and even some schools (at least for those classes who are supposed to have exams now), but we are still far away from what we used to know as normal, and of course all those measures are cautiously monitored. If infection rates should rise again, the restrictions will be tightened again.
Let's hope it won't come to that, although I would not be surprised if it did.

Here I am with the mask my Mum's friend made for me. 

The inside is white linen, cut from things that used to belong to my grandmother, still with her monogram stitched into it. 
My Mum's friend is a trained nurse, and she recommended to use a hot steam iron on the mask after washing, which of course I did. 
According to the government guidelines, that is not necessary; what really makes the virus harmless is soap, simple soap, as in washing powder. And of course the virus will only be in/on my mask if I am infected - which at the moment I am pretty sure I am not! Or if anyone carrying the virus will cough or sneeze directly in my face or otherwise come close enough to place it on the outside of my mask - again, this is very unlikely to happen.

So far, I have only worn my mask once. 
I went to my eye doctor on Monday of this week, and I knew they were asking patients to wear a mask while at the surgery, and so I brought mine. As soon as I was back home (public transport was no problem - there were so few passengers on the train that we were very far apart), I put it in the washing. Now it is ready for use, should I need to go shopping. As masks are not mandatory for walks and runs (and on these occasions, I can control my distance to other people very well), I shall not wear my mask then.

Friday 17 April 2020

Walks After Work

One of the good things about working from home is that I can go for a walk the moment I finish work. All I need to do is put on a pair of shoes, and off I am.
But wait - first, I shut the company laptop/notebook (I never know what the difference is), pull the plug, store it in its bag and tidy up all reminders of work. That way, I have a clear separation between work hours and leisure, adding structure to the day.

The beautiful spring weather we've been having has of course helped. After the almost summery warmth of our Easter weekend, we had a cold Monday night and Tuesday, but by Wednesday, it began to warm up again, and yesterday was warm enough for short sleeves.

O.K. also goes for walks after work whenever he can, and we send each other pictures. Here is a collection of the past two weeks.

The first set is from the weekend before Easter, when O.K. and I could not see each other, and I went for a long walk on my own.
Along the way, I met this cat, who was much more friendly than she looks here:

Next picture: asparagus fields. At the time this one was taken, it was still unclear whether the many seasonal workers from Romania and other Eastern European countries were going to be allowed to travel to Germany to harvest asparagus and strawberries. I was looking at these seemingly endless rows and wondering what was going to happen.

Now I feel ashamed, having read about how it seems far more important to our government to have 80,000 seasonal workers flown in, than to help the refugees stuck on the Greek islands. Only 50 children who are without family are "generously" going to be brought to Germany, out of the 40,000 refugees. Not a big fan of white asparagus in the first place, I suppose I'm not going to buy any this year, although that won't make a difference to those poor souls suffering in the Greek camps.

Usually, on a beautiful Sunday like the one two weeks ago, lake Monrepos would be full of rowing and pedal boats. Not now - it all belongs to the ducks, geese and swans.

A pair of geese with chicks - alert but not frightened by people walking around the lake.

The next two are from O.K. Look at the moon! That was the evening before the night of the "Super Moon". He says that in reality, the moon appeared much bigger than in the picture. I know what he means. And the beautiful sunset speaks for itself.

Last week Tuesday after work, I decided to walk in the opposite direction and went towards the water reservoir.

Don't you just love the various shades of the early green leaves and blossoms on the trees right now?

Easter Monday, walking between O.K.'s and the next village. Many trees in the orchards are already shedding their blossoms; I was about a week too late. But this row of fruit trees caught my eye. And look at how dry and dusty the fields are; we really need rain, and soon:

On the Tuesday of this week, O.K. was again out walking after work, of course without me. He sent me the last set of pictures for this post. Magnificent, aren't they!

If going for walks was banned here, I'd definitely find life much harder! The way it is right now, I personally have no reason to complain; my family and I are fine, I have everything I need (including plenty of work), and not going to the pub, eating out at restaurants or seeing friends for a few weeks is really no big deal for me.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Spinach and Eggs

In my next-to-last post, I mentioned how the weekend before last, because of O.K. and I not seeing each other at short notice, I had lots of food to prepare and either consume or store; throwing food away is very much against my ethics. Therefore, I found myself spending much more time in the kitchen than what would normally be the case when I am on my own.

One of the meals I had planned for us was based on a recipe I found in The Dalesman. Some of my readers may be familiar with this monthly magazine, subtitled "The best of Yorkshire". For those who are not, wikipedia has this to say: "Dalesman is a British monthly regional magazine, based in Skipton, and serving the English county of Yorkshire. Its first edition was published in March 1939, under the original title of The Yorkshire Dalesman: A Monthly Magazine of Dales' Life and Industry." And of course, it also has its own website.

Last Christmas, my sister gave me a subscription for this year. Every month (more or less - it has not worked smoothly, and my sister has had to write to them a few times about this), I find the latest issue in my mail box.

The March issue (not the one pictured here) contained a recipe I wanted to try the moment I read about it: Herb pudding.

Now, whenver there is spinach involved, you can be sure I'll want to try whatever dish it is! I just love spinach, and have always done so. Also, it sounded easy enough, and all measures are given in both imperial and contintental units.

Here is what you need, according to Mrs Simkins (whose "Country Kitchen" is a regular feature in The Dalesman):
  • 430 ml (3/4 pint) milk [I needed a bit more in the end]
  • 275 g (9 oz) breadcrumbs [I went for the lazy option, not having any stale bread anyway, and used the ready-made kind]
  • 2 medium eggs [I used three, maybe they were smaller than what goes for "medium" in Yorkshire]
  • pepper
  • nutmeg
  • 50 g (3 oz) diced salted butter, plus extra for dotting (or suet if you prefer) [again, I deviated, as I had neither salted butter nor suet]
  • 3-4 generous handfuls of spinach leaves, washed, dried and chopped
  • generous handful of chopped chives and parsley [I didn't have chives, but plenty of parsley, it grows on my windowsill]
  • salt to taste, if necessary [it was necessary, since I used unsalted butter]

Preheat oven to 160C (fan), gas mark 4.
Butter a pie dish of around 23 cm (9 inch) diameter.

Pour the milk into a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Whisk the eggs well, season them (best is freshly ground black and white pepper and freshly ground nutmeg), stir in and leave to stand for a while. The recipe says 30 minutes but it did not take quite that long to set.

Stir in the butter and spinach and heat through gently.
Stir in the herbs (just parsley in my case), test for seasoning and pour into the prepared pie dish.

 Bake for 25-30 minutes or until risen and golden.

 Mrs Simkins suggests to use nettle tops in place of some or all of the spinach, which I can very well imagine - only I do not have easy access to nettle tops around my flat.
She also explains that herb pudding was once a Good Friday tradition around Whitby and that it is good on its own (I can confirm that) or with fried bacon (sounds delicious).

So, thanks to Mrs Simkins and The Dalesman - and of course thanks to my sister! - I had a proper, home-cooked meal on my own for a change. I ate two pieces immediately and two the next day (heated in the microwave, which worked well). The second half of the pie is in my freezer, waiting for the next time O.K. will be here with me - hopefully this coming weekend.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter eveyone - whether you celebrate it as a Christian feast or not. The long four-day weekend is very welcome, as I have had busy weeks with work. Here in Germany, Good Friday and Easter Monday are Bank Holidays, so no work for me or O.K.

Speaking of which: O.K.'s colleague had his coronavirus test results - and he is negative!! This means that O.K. and I can spend the weekened together. Because of public transport still being a risk that can easily be avoided, he will pick me up here tomorrow and then drive to his place with me - not be most environmental friendly way, admittedly, but this is truly an exception.

We won't be visiting anyone, or have visitors at the cottage. The original plan "before Corona" was to host the family lunch on Easter Sunday, which has always been at O.K.'s sister's in the past years; we wanted to return the favour for a change and had already planned the full meal, with leg of lamb and all the trimmings. But we can always do that some other time, can't we.

Yesterday, I went shopping, having run out of fresh fruit, salad and dairy products. For the first time since "all this" has begun, I had to wait outside my local supermarket because there were already a certain number of customers in the shop. It wasn't very long before I was allowed in, and then I only bought the essentials, of course ;-) 

Toilet paper, champagne, flour and coconut chocolate - as I said, only the essentials!
Today after work, I have been at my Mum's "Dustbin Bar" (see previous post). This time, my Dad came down the stairs, too; my parents sat on foldable chairs near the door, while my sister and I were at a good distance on the steps in front of the house. We exchanged our little Easter gifts and shared a bottle of sparkling wine between the four of us - that was our Easter family gathering.

With the warm weather and (mostly) sunshine, and the occasional neighbour walking by, it was rather pleasant; different from what we would normally do, but still nice. It was good to see both my parents "in person" (as opposed to on the screen of my mobile phone or my ipad), and they are in good spirits. 

Chocolate bunnies and home-baked bunny cookies
Now I am looking foward to spending a few days somewhere else than my own four walls. Not that I don't like being home (I honestly do!), but O.K.'s cottage is also very nice, and unlike me, he has a balcony for those nice sunny afternoons and balmy spring evenings (G&T, anyone?). Also, the area around the village is especially beautiful this time of year, with orchards in bloom and the tender green of the woods; with different paths for walks than here in my more "towny" environment.

Sunrise this morning, as seen from my kitchen window
Are you going to mark Easter in any special way?

Sunday 5 April 2020

A Weekend Alone

Ever since O.K. and I have been together (a bit more than four years now), there were maybe one or two weekends every year when we did not see each other, mainly because of things such as rehearsal weekend before the village band's annual concert and other band-related stuff, or (very rarely) because one of us was ill.

O.K. took this picture on a lone walk after work on Monday, from above his village. The next two are from the same walk.

This weekend, we are both fine, there is of course nothing happening with the village band right now, but we are staying each at our own places.

The reason? The partner of one of O.K.'s colleagues has been tested positive. Her work is with a local care and nursing service, and she is not the first of her colleagues to be infected. She is now in home quarantine (she is fine apart from a bit of a cough), but of course, living with her partner means that he has to be tested as soon as possible, and before the result is known, everyone who has been in contact with him should stay away from others. 
O.K. and his colleague have last seen each other on Thursday, and only briefly; still, they worked in the same room for a while, and even with keeping their physical distance and very carefully and thoroughly observing all the usual hygiene standards, there is no guarantee the colleague has not unwittingly spread the virus in their department and elsewhere.
Walking on Wednesday after work between my town and the next smaller one.
Same walk, view towards Asperg with the castle on top of the hill.
We sensibly decided that, unlike the last couple of weekends, O.K. stays home. Depending on the result of the colleague's test, further action may be necessary. For now, he does not even know yet whether he'll be working next week, or ordered to self-isolate. We'll see.

As we only found out about this late on Friday evening, I had already done all my food shopping with nice weekend meals for the two of us in mind. Now I am doing my best to use the perishable parts up on my own, such as the baby spinach leaves I bought two bags of; I have given one to my Mum who will certainly make something nice with it for my Dad and herself.
Plum cake, as enjoyed by O.K. alone yesterday afternoon - that would have been one of his contributions to this weekend's food.
Fillet of trout with horseradish cream, fried spuds and fresh parsley - that would have been one of our meals together.

Yesterday, I met my Mum at her newly established "Dustin Bar", and we had sparkling wine together mid-afternoon before I went for a walk. In front of the house where my parents have a flat on the top floor, there is a concrete housing with metal doors where the dustbins are kept. We stood well apart (further than in this picture) and never got closer to each other than the recommended minimum distance, and my Dad was upstairs on the balcony, every now and then joining in our conversation.

Today is the start of the warmest period of this year so far. I don't know yet when, for how long and in what direction I am going to walk; I expect it to be rather full of people no matter where. Hopefully, so many people being out and about won't lead to more restrictions, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Friday 3 April 2020

Read in 2020 - 10, 11

# 10: The Life of Herman Melville
by Charles River Editors

Charles River Editors is, you guessed it, not a person, but a publishing group specialised in free or relatively cheap ebooks and audiobooks. You can find lists of their publications on their website.
In their own words, they were founded by Harvard and MIT alumni to provide superior editing and original writing services, with the expertise to create digital content across a vast range of subjects. They also republish great literary works, making them easily accessible to a new generation of readers via ebooks.

I did of course stumble across this book by chance, when browsing the Kindle shop for free ebooks in English, preferably non-fiction.

Up until having read this book, the only thing I knew about Herman Melville was that he wrote "Moby Dick", a book I have never read but knew "about" it and knew the story. No person is entirely defined by just one single piece of writing, painting, building or any other art or science they have become famous for, and the same is true about Herman Melville.

This book covers his life (1819 - 1891) with enough detail to get a clear picture, but not that much detail to make him come truly alive - at least not for me. Still, I learned a lot about the man and his work, and found it rather sad that by the time he died, he was all but forgotten; the immense success of "Moby Dick" was already 40 years in the past then. Also, nearly all his life Herman and his family struggled financially, and he was never really happy in the various jobs he had to do in order to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

The book is as much about Melville's life as about his work. An entire chapter treats "Moby Dick", but the reader also learns about his other works, some of which the author himself considered inferior, written merely out of necessity to make some money.

Like I said, the book did not make its subject truly come alive for me, but it was indeed well edited and put together; good for getting a general idea of one of America's most famous authors.

# 11: Secret Ripon
by David Winpenny 

I bought this a year ago at "The Little Ripon Bookshop" (one of our all-time favourite shops) when my sister and I spent our annual Yorkshire holiday in Ripon, but got round to reading it only now.

David Winpenny is Vice President and former Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, who look after Ripon's architectural and other treasures. Their plaques can be found on many buildings throughout the city, and my sister and I have walked past them countless times.

Mr. Winpenny has a website where you can learn a lot more about him. I'd love to meet him, he seems a fascinating man, combining knowldege AND humour.

"Secret Ripon" may be a relatively thin book, but it is full to the brim with interesting, quirky and fascinating facts about Ripon's inhabitants and its history. It is cleverly laid out according to what you will find if you follow each street leading from the market square, but it also has chapters about the ground beneath your feet, the cathedral and the three rivers.

I loved each and every bit about it and can just picture myself walking around Ripon, this book in hand, pointing out various places to my sister and getting on her nerves by reading to her what I consider the most relevant bits!

We have actually planned this year's stay in Ripon for the end of June, booked "our" cottage and our flights months ago, but at the moment it is impossible to either confirm or cancel; we simply don't know what will happen over the next 8 weeks or so.

In the meantime, even if our visit may have to be postponed, I can enjoy Ripon by reading about it.