Tuesday 28 December 2021

Done and Dusted

Well, not yet, not quite. Christmas itself may be over, but "dusted" it will only be for me once I have put away the decoration and cards, and will indeed have dusted the cabinets and shelves.

It was a beautiful Christmas Eve with my family. My Dad is better than he was this time last year - he even made his famous spuds salad (click here for the recipe). Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may remember that for us, Christmas Eve is the most important part of Christmas, and our traditional meal consists of Wiener sausages and spuds salad.

The tree was beautifully decorated by my Mum and my sister. I must admit my contribution to the entire evening consisted in little more than opening a bottle of sparkling wine and clearing the table after our meal; all day, I had been busy at home, with about an hour in between to look after Hobbes.

Next year, I want to have more time before Christmas, not working right up to it, leaving me to press all household work etc. into Christmas Eve itself.

On the 25th, I got up early and was with Hobbes a few minutes after 7:00. I made sure he had everything he needed and his toilet was fresh and clean. Back home, I showered, dressed, packed my little suitcase and the presents for O.K. and left the house at 9:00.

My three trains were more or less on time, and O.K. picked me up at the station as planned. We even had enough time to drive back to the village, leave my suitcase in the cottage and freshen up a bit. O.K.'s parents joined us for the short drive to where his sister and her husband live. They had invited us for a festive Christmas dinner at their beautiful home. We ate, drank and were merry, and of course took the family group portrait of the six of us, just like we have been doing for the past five years. It is fun to look at the group portraits of former years and see how much (or not) we have changed over time.

On the 26th, more rain was forecast, but O.K. and I managed a good walk around the village before it rained again in the course of the afternoon and for most of the evening and night. We spent the day reading, resting and watching TV and were happy with a meal of cheese, bread, wine and salad in the evening.

O.K. has to work this week, so yesterday (Monday, the 27th), he took me to the train station at 7:00 for me to catch my usual Monday morning train. The train was delayed by about 20 minutes because the doors would not open! This happened again during one of the stops on our way to Stuttgart, but in the end, I arrived at my flat only about 15 minutes later than usual. And it wouldn't really have mattered, had I arrived later, because I am on holiday!!!

I love watching the morning sky on those early Monday morning train rides, but it is nearly impossible to take a good picture of the sunrise over the Black Forest hills when one is rusing past at breakneck speed, plus the reflection of the window.

After unpacking and doing a quick food shop, I went to Hobbes. He was fine, but happy to have company after having spent two nights and one entire day all on his own. I sat on the settee with him for almost an hour, reading, and he slept on my lap for a while, before I had to go to keep my appointment at the Vaccination Centre just up the road from where I live.

I had to queue at check-in, and then again to get my booster jab, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. Then I had to queue again in order to get my certificate with the QR code. And that last queue just did not move. We could see from where we were standing that the people at the six or eight computer desks were rushing from one desk to the other. Something was clearly wrong. Then, a technician appeared. About five minutes later, another technician joined him. 

One lady came to the head of our queue and advised us to sit in the waiting area, because "this could take a little while". With some sighing and shuffling, we all made it to the white plastic chairs in the waiting area. I pulled out my book (still in my bag from my Hobbes visit) and read for 10 minutes, until the lady appeared again. This time, she told us we could leave our paperwork with her and just the keep the provisorial proof of vaccination, go to a pharmacy and have a certificate with QR code printed there. 

More sighing and some grumbling ensued from the waiting crowd, but I just put my book back in my bag and walked to a nearby pharmacy, where it took all but two minutes to have the code generated and the certificate printed. After that, I went home to have a well deserved cup of coffee and some Christmas cookies.

I slept reasonably well but am feeling a little off colour today. My left arm hurts, like it did after the first two jabs, but I am confident that by tomorrow, I will be as good as new :-)

Thursday 23 December 2021

Next Stop: Christmas!

Here is my little red London bus, on the way to its next stop: Christmas! 

Today is my last working day for this year; I will only pick up work again on the 10th of January. Two weeks off - such luxury, and so very welcome! 

And tomorrow is Christmas Eve, with my schedule looking like this: 1) Only get up when you've slept enough and are ready. 2) Open last door of Advent Calendar; Coffee; shower; dress. 3) Iron Thursday's washing. 4) Dust, hoover and wipe. 5) Wrap gifts. 6) Visit Hobbes (see further down). 7) Ring Mary (my mother-in-law in Yorkshire). 8) Put gifts in large bag and/or rucksack and walk to my parents'. 9) Celebrate Christmas Eve with parents, sister and friend.

I guess there will be a quick sandwich somewhere between 5) and 6), and probably a mug of coffee at around 7). It will be a busy day, but all at my own pace, not dictated by meeting schedules and calls from clients. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that Christmas is really already here again.

Most of December has been grey and wet here, but we have enjoyed the odd sunny day in between. Last Friday was such a day, and my sister and I met for a lunch break walk. And although I have been walking every day, it just felt so much better under a blue sky:

Another day, we met up after work for some errands and a walk in town. You already know that once again, we have no Christmas Market this year, in spite of the square being all lit up. Imagine our surprise when we rounded a corner at one of the two churches and saw - a stall!!! We were quite excited, wondering what they were selling - until we came closer and spotted the sign and saw the person behind the counter. 
Turning a Christmas market stall into a Covid testing station is symbolic for this entire 2021 Christmas season.

Remember what 6) on tomorrow's plan is? Meet Hobbes:

Hobbes is 17 years old and the last remaining of originally three feline siblings living with my American friends V and G. V has been my running partner for many years, and both of them have been part of my pub quiz team for just as long. A week ago, they have packed their suitcases and their two little girls and travelled to the US to be with their families for the holidays. 

They live only 5 minutes away from me, and so I have been walking over there every day since they have left. I place all their mail (and there is plenty) on the dining table, feed Hobbes, clean his toilet and take a quick tour of the ground floor flat, making sure all is in order. Then I take my paperback out and sit on the settee for a while. And although Hobbes allowed me to stroke him from the first day, it took until Day Four before he jumped up on my lap and settled for a good long cuddle. 

It is nice to look after a cat for a while. We have had cats living with us almost as long as I can remember, but since my last one died of old age in 2013, I have been without a pet. And to be honest - opening the smelly cat food and cleaning the smelly cat toilet reminds me of the few things that are not so nice about having a cat. Also, my clothes have not been full of cat hairs in a long time, and I need to replenish my sticky roller thing for cleaning up; after all, I will be visiting Hobbes until New Year's Eve.

The last set of pictures were sent to me yesterday from O.K. He started and finished work early enough to catch a bit of daylight and a beautiful sunset. It had been a frosty night and day with temperatures around -6C in the morning, and everything was covered in glittering frost, looking very beautiful:

I don't think I will have the time to write another post tomorrow, therefore let me now wish you all Merry Christmas today! May you and your loved ones all be safe and well. Thank you for sticking with me another year, reading and commenting on my blog.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Guest Post by My Mum: Angels at Home

[Written by my Mum]

Meike sent me the link to Monica's lovely "Angels" post. This inspired me to write about my many angels. In my house there are many little angels, not only at Christmas time. Here they are:
My daughter* gave me this card with a guardian angel (Schutzengel in German) when the pandemic started, together with this little golden chain. The ear studs came later, they look as if they were cut out of the pendant.

There are some more earrings my husband bought me at the Christmas market years ago:

Then there are some angels hanging over my bed, from lamps, and even in my kitchen:

In my bathroom sit 2 angels with lights inside (I bought myself), and the one laying on its tummy was a gift from my oldest friend, she made it herself:


Even my bed is protected by angels (on the bedsheets):
And last but not least this cute little angel, my daughter* made when she was 10 years old as part of this tiny nativity scene. I think it is the only such scene with an elephant. She said back then that she could not make a cow, so she made an elephant instead.

Now I wish you all a merry Christmas, and a happy and healthy New Year! 
Meike's Mom
- - - End of guest post - - - 

As soon as I read Monica's post about the angels in her flat, I thought of my Mum and sent her the link. It's been a while since her last guest post here on my blog, but it's not the first time she has written about angels! Her maiden name is Engel, which means angel in German, and she has always had an "angelic" affinity :-)

You can find all her guest posts under the label "Guest Posts". If you want to (re-)read the ones about angels, click here and here.

Happy 4th Advent Sunday to all of you, whatever you'll be doing today!

* not me, but my sister.

Friday 17 December 2021

Read in 2021 - 17: The Humber Monster

This was what in German would be called a Fehlkauf - a "purchase error" - only that I did not actually purchase this ebook, but downloaded it for free from Amazon's Kindle shop some years ago. Every now and then, I go to the shop and put "Yorkshire" in the search box. I then filter through the results, excluding all books that are about Yorkshire terriers, and sorting by price, meaning the free ebooks appear first.
It must have been during one of such downloading sprees that I came across "The Humber Monster", mistaking it for a work of crime fiction.

I did not know that the author, Mike Covell, is relatively well known around Hull for his investigations into mysterious and paranormal phenomenae; according to his LinkedIn profile, he is a "Freelance Writer, researcher, author, working on various multimedia projects across the board from film, tv, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, ezines, podcsasts, and blogs."

Anyway, the book was clearly not what I had expected. Instead, I found myself going through pages and pages of copies from old newspaper articles about reported "sightings" of the Humber Monster, sort of that region's very own Nessie. Frankly, I was bored, and only stuck to the book because I thought there would be some kind of summary at the end, with the author stating what little known facts there were and giving his personal verdict on the myth. But this wasn't the case, and so the only bits of the book that were slightly interesting to me were the descriptions of the towns and places on Yorkshire's East coast, some of them familiar to me, and how Mr Covell spent hours, days and, in one instance, even an entire night there, watching the sea with his equipment (only to find nothing).

So, instead of this post's title being "Read in 2021" it should be "Scanned in 2021", because I can't really claim I read the entire book.
If you are interested in Hull's past and present, Mike Covell keeps writing extensively about it. Find out more here.

Friday 10 December 2021

The Mysterious Basket

After work yesterday, I went to my sister's to meet with her for a walk and then visit our parents. In her staircase (like me, she lives in the middle flat of a three-story house), a basket full of parcels of various sizes and shapes, all wrapped as Christmas presents. My sister didn't know who the basket was for or from, but she said it had been there since the day before.

We then went for our walk and to see our parents as planned.

Back home, my sister sent me this picture (names and addresses erased by me) of the letter that was attached to the basked:

A woman who lives further down the street has written this message to all her neigbhours. It says that with so many of us feeling stressed out, exhausted and fed up this time of year, a little surprise may be welcome. Therefore, she has put together a stock of small gifts, and placed the basket at her neighbour's door. The intention is for every household to pick a parcel, and maybe (if they feel like it) add one of their own; then pass the basket to the next house. She hopes to get the basket back at Christmas, empty or not, and that it has brought a little cheer to every house.

People who have already had the basked are asked to write down where it's been, so that it does not go twice to the same house. A kind of secret Santa - you don't know what is in the parcels, who they are from and who is going to pick them.

Isn't that a lovely idea? Those who have so far participated, obviously think so, too; some of them have not only written down their family name and address but also left a short comment along those lines.

Let me end this post with this morning's sunrise, as seen from my kitchen window.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

This Time of Year

For me, the last November and first December days mark the transition from autumn to winter, and the beginning of Advent with all its Christmas-related preparations and activities.

Today's set of photos illustrates it quite well, I think.

On the 24th of November, we had a sunny day for a change. I interrupted work mid-afternoon (sunset is now at around 4:30 pm here), went for a walk and got back to work afterwards, when it was dark anyway. Seeing those blue skies after days of grey was great:

I was at O.K.'s for the 1st Advent weekend. Therefore, the 1st candle on the Advent wreath on my coffee table remained unlit until Monday night.
Tuesday, the 30th of November, started with a very light dusting of snow, as seen from my kitchen window at 8:00 in the morning. The snow turned into rain a little later, and by noon, all white was gone. It has not snowed properly again since.
My sister and I met after work on Thursday, December 2. We had a few errands to run in town, and then went to the market square. The Christmas market may not be there (again!) this year, but the lights are all up, and the otherwise empty square has a beauty of its own. Still, it is a catastrophe for the vendors and of course disappointing for us.

Last weekend, O.K. and I were here at my place. We had a delicious meal of roast goose with the stuffing my Mum makes and that I like so much (chestnuts, apples and so on) at my parents' on the Saturday, which was a rather dismal day weather-wise and not suitable for long walks.

But on the Sunday, sunshine drew us out in the morning, and after a very late and sumptuous breakfast with some resting and reading afterwards, we were out again in time to catch the sunset across the fields. This picture was taken at 4:18 pm. If you click on it to enlarge, maybe you can spot the dark grey curtain of rain to the left of the setting sun:

This year, I am not putting up quite as much Christmas decoration as last year. I plan to have last year's tree up again, but not until one or two days before Christmas. My little London bus (a giveaway at a trade show in Munich where I worked many years ago) looks quite happy next to the trees, I think - I've never used it for deco before, but when I came across it this year, it seemed a good idea:

Whatever (and however much) you do this time of year, stay well and safe!

Thursday 2 December 2021

Read in 2021 - 16: Big Sky

Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite contemporary authors - not only is her writing excellent and her plots are very clever, keeping me wanting to read on and on and on, but also some of her books are set in Yorkshire, which is always a plus with me.

"Big Sky" is her fourth book featuring detective Jackson Brodie, who was so well protrayed (in my opinion) by Jason Isaacs in the eponymous TV series.

Places I know feature in this book: Scarborough, Robin Hoods Bay, Helmsley, Bridlington (which was one of the few places in Yorkshire I did not really like), Harrogate and Leeds, for instance.

The case Brodie is given at the outset of the book does not feature all that much in the course of the story, but that thread is picked up again towards the end. Speaking of threads, Kate Atkinson proves once more a master weaver. When you least expect it (most of the time), her characters, places and events form an artful pattern, to be admired as it emerges. 

A lot of the book involves sexual exploit of girls and women; definitely not my favourite subject and nothing one should draw entertainment from, and yet it forms the backbone of the book, along (of course) with Jackson Brodie and the place in life he founds himself at. In spite of this, it is a beautiful book - I can't put it any other way.

I would like to tell you loads more, but that would only spoil the reading experience for you, if you plan on borrowing or buying the book. In case you have read it, you are welcome to guess in your comment who my favourite protagonist was (clue: a human being, not one of the dogs).

PS: I have used my mid-afternoon coffee break to write this review, in case you were wondering about the unusual time for me posting.

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Dream Paths of Light

Sounds a bit odd, doesn't it? That's my fault - I have been thinking about how best to translate "Leuchtende Traumpfade", the title given to a festival held in Ludwigsburg's palace grounds from the end of October until next Sunday. "Lit-up dreamy paths"? "Illuminated paths of dreams"? Never mind the name - it was beautiful!

This festival was originally planned for last year but then did not come about due to the pandemic. When it was announced that it was going to go ahead this year, my Mum immediately said she wanted to go, and so one November evening (on the 17th, to be precise) after work, my sister and I met up with her at the main gates of the palace grounds.

The palace grounds are vast, and the "paths of light" do not cover the entire ground. Instead, things are arranged so that visitors can follow a sign-posted round trip of about 1.5 km. Of course it is not easy to take good pictures at night, but between my sister and myself, I have manged to cobble together this post and give quite a good impression of what it was like. As a rule of thumb, you can say that the better pictures are my sister's, and the more blurry ones are my own.

I loved this bit particularly - there was a bubble blower at the side of the path, and the stream of bubbles was lit up. Enchanting!

The decorative castle (it never was a real castle, but only built as a folly) had a waterfall and a "lightfall" coming down the rock it stands on:

The circuit did not actually lead up to this small temple, but it was illuminated and looked very pretty:

Visitors from the Deep Sea! Their tentacles were slowly moving in the wind, really making it look as if they were in the water.

We took a rest in the orangery, which was open and showing Christmas decorations. 

Last but not least, the tree-lined main path connecting two different parts of the palace grounds was like a tunnel of light beams, in constant movement.

It was an enjoyable couple of hours, and I am really glad we went. As you can see, there were other visitors about, but not too many; we always felt safe and comfortable, and of course everyone was checked at the gates.

My sister and I waited with our Mum at the bus stop before we walked home, and as the bus pulled up and the door opened, I saw that the driver was a friend of mine - he drove our Mum home safely, and later even sent me a quick message to let me know he had dropped her off at her stop as requested :-) Of course he would have done that anyway, but it was nice to see him and have a (very) brief chat.

That evening, we did not yet know that the Christmas market was going to be cancelled; all the more I am now glad we had at least this outing together.