Wednesday 31 March 2021

Last Week

After my many and varied birthday-related activities, the working week was short at only three days. It meant I had to catch up and squeeze as many of my regular tasks into those three days, so by the time the weekend (and O.K.!) was here again, I felt as exhausted as after five days of work.

The Dalesman's March issue arrived on the 23rd, looking very Easter-like. The magazine regularly features a walk, and this time it was OUR walk - the one from Ripon to Fountains Abbey and back, a walk I could do in my sleep (and actually  sometimes walk in my mind to help me getting to sleep). It made me quite nostalgic, wondering when I will have the chance to be there again.

On Thursday, I met Mr. and Mrs. Easter-Bunny a few minutes before sunset on a bit of open woodland at the edge of town, discussing logistics as to where they should start distributing chocolate eggs and other treats this year.

On Friday evening, O.K. and I made use of several of my birthday presents at once: The red wine was part of my parents' large gift box, the cheese board and knife were also from my parents, and the cheese itself was bought using vouchers for a specialist cheese shop in town given to me by my sister - my idea of the perfect start of the weekend!

Saturday was rather cold with very strong winds and fast moving clouds, but the sun lured us out. We wrapped up warmly against the wind and went walking to Asperg and the castle on the hill that you have seen many times before on my blog.

Signs of spring are everywhere now, even if the trees are still mostly bare. We took a different route on the way back, passing the lake. The clouds were getting darker, making for a rather Gothic atmosphere around the ruins of the church on one of the small islands in the lake.

Sunday was much warmer, and saw us out on the fields in our running shoes before a very late and leisurely breakfast. It was also the day the clocks changed for us (same as in the UK, I think).

And since Monday, we have been having the nicest spring weather you can imagine, a bit warmer every day, with 23 Celsius forecast for today! It won't last all over the long Easter weekend, but I hope to make the most of it when and if I can.

Monday 29 March 2021

The Week Before Last, and My Birthday

 Recently, we've been having all sorts of weather, sometimes within a few hours on the same day. Monday and Tuesday (15th/16th of March) were cold and mostly grey, with some sleety rain. I had no need to go outside except for a quick walk to the post office and the bakery, and did not even go for after-work-walks on either day.

By Wednesday (March 17), I felt restless enough to want to go out no matter what, and arranged to meet my sister after work for a walk. We started out in beautiful late afternoon sunlight, but on our way back had to struggle against strong, cold wind blowing snow and rain in our faces.

Thursday was again a mixed bag of cloudy and sunny skies, rain and snow. I had lunch at my parents' and again an after-work walk with my sister before it was time for the monthly meeting with my girlfriends. While I really don't feel like spending another hour at the computer after I've been in online conferences all day already, it is the only way I can see my friends these days, and so I do attend our virtual meetings - an hour once a month is not too much to ask for, I think.

On Friday, the 19th, my sister and I had sad news from Yorkshire: Our landlady is retiring and selling up - "our" cottage, where we have spent our annual Yorkshire holiday for many years, will be gone forever, without us having a chance for one last holiday there! Of course we perfectly understand Sue's reasons; at 74 and with her grandchildren offering a much more pleasant way of spending her days than catering for her B&B guests, she will be happy to see the work gone and move to a smaller, more convenient place. And we will stay in touch with her and meet up next time we're in Ripon - whenever that will happen!

My sister came to my place in the evening for some reminiscing and a commemorative G&T.

Then Saturday was here, and the start of a series of things to do with my birthday: First, O.K. arrived for what was to be a long weekend - we both had taken the Monday and Tuesday off.

I picked up the cake I had ordered at the bakery down the road, and we went to my parents' for coffee: Phase One of my birthday celebrations, even if it was two more days before the actual day. But Covid regulations only allow for two households to meet, and so we split things up. The cake was very nice, and my parents had not seen O.K. in a long time, so it was a welcome occasion for catching up.

Back home in the evening, we ordered pizza and watched TV - quite relaxing!

Then came Sunday, the 21st, another cold and grey day - not really walking material, but we had something else lined up anyway: an afternoon at a private Spa!

Just down the road from where I live is a spa place that normally offers all sorts of stuff such as massages, pedicure, facial treatments, as well as an entire floor of saunas etc. Under Covid regulations, the sauna part is not allowed to operate... unless you rent it privately and use the facilities all on your own, with no other visitors or staff present. And that's what we did: We had the entire upper floor with two different saunas, a steam bath, the showers, relaxing couches and so on all to ourselves! The staff only let us in, gave us quick instructions and then left us to our own devices before coming back to clean and lock up.

It was a most pleasant and relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon! 

Then it was Monday (March 22), and my birthday. O.K. had brought a huge stack of presents for me, plus there were the ones I had already received on Saturday at my parents. Unpacking took a while, and I was happy with each and everything. There were several kitchen items I'd had on my wish list, a big box of wine from my region, and much, much more - plus the many cards, emails, text messages and phone calls. So many kind people were thinking of me!

It was still cold and windy, but I so wanted to go to the palace grounds on my birthday, and so we did. It wasn't really very pleasant - not only because of the weather, but also because we are required to wear masks throughout our visit, even if there is nobody else about and we are out in the open. If you wear specs like I do, you know what that means - you are constantly struggling with steamed-up glasses and poor visibility. Never mind, I had my stroll in the palace grounds!

My sister finished work early and was at my place in time for coffee and cake, bringing more presents! I now have my very own mini garden on the window sill, planted by her:

She stayed for the evening, and we ordered Indian food - not from a takeaway place but from the very good Indian restaurant nearby, who are of course not open these days but offer food for pick-up or delivery.

The last phase of my birthday celebrations came on Tuesday. At the spa where we had spent Sunday afternoon, I had booked massages for O.K. and myself. Afterwards, we had enough time for a walk on the fields before I made our tea. O.K. left for the long drive home, and our nice long weekend and my birthday celebrations were well and truly over.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Election Sunday

Last Sunday, my and one other of the 16 federal states of Germany held an election for the state's parliament. I already told you that I was going to volunteer, and here is how the day went.

Getting up much earlier than what is normal for me on a Sunday wasn't hard, because I had something to look forward to. My place is closer to the venue where we were assigned to, and so my sister passed my way, and together we walked there in just under 20 minutes.

Entrance to the kindergarden. The yellow sign shows the covid rules that apply here.

The venue normally serves as a kindergarden. It's been several decades since I went to kindergarden myself, and to see the tiny chairs, low tables (and mini toilets!), toys and crafting materials was a reminder of those days, even though this was not my kindergarden.

The largest room - not open to visitors - with tiny chairs.

In Ludwigsburg, of the roughly 91,000 residents, around 59,000 were invited to cast their vote. They could do so at 59 venues all across our town. At each venue, a team of volunteers was responsible for the smooth operation and strict observation of covid rules.

Coming through the entrance door.

First stop: show your election letter and ID to have your name checked against the register by the friendly volunteer.

Second stop: the person behind the desk hands you your ballot paper.

Finally, you stand in the cubicle and make your cross behind the name of your choice. Then it's back to the desk, put your ballot paper in the large container next to the desk, and leave.

Two teams of three split the day in two shifts; voting was possible from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. After that, both shifts worked together at counting.

The area covered by our venue held around 1,100 possible voters. This year, hardly surprising, many more than usual opted for voting by mail instead of visiting an election venue. We had 322 votes cast, which made for a steady stream of people coming and going, without it ever being stressful.

After each person, we wiped the inside of the cubicle with disinfectant. The pens we provided were also disinfected after every use. At the entrance, hand disinfectant was offered, and we had extra masks ready to hand out in case someone forgot theirs at home.

Of the 322 cast votes, only 2 were invalid - those voters had made their cross behind more than one name on the list, when only one was possible.

Generally, people were friendly and patient; sometimes they had to wait outside, because only a maximum number of two visitors were allowed to enter the venue at the same time. Sometimes it took us a while to find them in the register, which meant another short wait for them.

An elderly gentleman, almost completely blind, came to cast his vote, and told us that his wife had meant to vote as well but was sick at home. It was admirable that he walked to the venue and back on his own, at his age and with his condition! But he and his wife obviously took their democratic rights seriously, and so did we.

After the counting (which was done rather quickly - it does not take all that long for six people to go through 322 ballots, even with double-checking), our team manager transmitted the results by phone to our town hall. The ballots were packed up, ready to be delivered to town hall later. 

My sister had brought a bottle of sparkling wine and glasses for six, and one of the others had made savoury snacks as well as muffins for all. 

It had been an interesting day, serious work but fun, thanks to the great team and the many good people coming to our venue.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Spring Skies & More

Actually, I don't know if the skies I am showing you in this post are typical for spring, but I was looking for a headline for this post that had something to do with spring and skies, so here you are.

Thursday, March 11, the day my sister and I were finally able to visit the palace grounds again, we were heading west on our way back to our respective homes and found the evening light particularly beautiful:

This was taken when I was back home, from my bedroom window looking west:

Friday, March 12, a few minutes past 7 in the morning, view from my kitchen window:

A few hours later, out for a quick lunch break walk, forsythia and hawthorne in bloom:

The same day, 5:45 pm once again out on the fields for an after-work walk:

Last but not least, I have put up a few bits of spring/Easter decoration:

The bird's nest is a real one. Last year in summer, when the breeding season for most birds was over, O.K. helped his parents cut down the huge ivy growing on the facade of their house. It had become a veritable tree with big wooden trunks and sturdy branches, not easy to cut, but threatening to split the wall and generally getting out of hand.

This nest was high up in the ivy, and long abandoned; we believe it was a blackbird's home. I found it too beautiful to let it go along with the cut-off branches, and took it home with me, intending to use it for decoration next spring. And here it is, now holding a tin in the shape of a Fabergé egg, and a small artificial narcisse that was once included in a birthday parcel from England many years ago.

That first evening after we'd cut it down, the  large colony of sparrows who used to live in the ivy were clearly confused, fluttering about, darting back and forth, looking for their usual resting places. I did feel sorry for them, but they are still around; close to O.K.'s parents' house are dense privet hedges and shrubs in their garden and the ones bordering theirs. The sparrows seem to have found new homes, and since we always hear and see many blackbirds around, too, I am not too worried about them, either.

Saturday 13 March 2021

A Week of Firsts

This week's motto for me is "Firsts", and I will show you why.

Nothing out of the ordinary on Monday; it was cold but sunny, and I managed to put in a 1.5 hour walk between work and an online conference in the early evening.

On Tuesday, I was up bright and early on my way to the eye clinic in Stuttgart, where my eyes were thoroughly examined and we planned my operations. 

Contrary to my regular doctor's suggestion, the clinic are not willing to operate both eyes at the same time. Now I have two dates; June 16 for my left eye and July 13 for the right one. In between, I probably won't be able to work - it depends on how my brain can cope with the big difference between the eye with the new (artificial) lense and the yet-to-be operated eye. 

Right now, my shortsightedness is at about -14 (left) and -9 (right); already a big difference, making it hard to focus properly and judge perspective. With the left eye at around -2 after the operation, but the right one still at -9, the difference will be even bigger. We'll see! (in the true sense of the word.)

After both my eyes have new lenses, I will of course need new specs. Glasses are usually not ready within a day or two, so it will take some more time before I shall be able to work again. Well, it is what it is, and I have told my clients so that they know what to expect from me (or not) over the summer.

The first "first" of this week was on Wednesday: The group of volunteers I am part of had our first meeting (online, of course) with our town's Mayor. We are working towards improving the overall situation at and around our train station, which is a disgrace, to put it mildly. The meeting was constructive and pleasant; now we hope that at least some of what Mr. Knecht promised will come true.

On Thursday, I went to my parents for my lunch break. As usual - definitely not a first! - my Mum had prepared delicious food for us; home-made mashed potatoes, Sauerkraut and Schäufele (that's the name of the meat you see in the picture).

But there was a first later that same day: For our after-work walk, for the first time in many months, my sister and I were able to visit the palace grounds again! They are now open for the public with certain restrictions as to the maximum number of people allowed, leaving your contact data at the entrance and wearing a mask throughout (which is not strictly necessary out in the open, but that is their rule and so we stick to it - we're just happy that we can go there again!).

They are getting everything ready for the proper opening of the season on March 19. As you can see, work at the temporary flower beds is in full swing. It will no doubt look very beautiful once it is finished; it always does, although to be honest I don't actually need all that - the palace and the gardens are wonderful enough anyway.

Friday brought another "First": I had my very first corona test! It was one of those quick tests where you learn the result after about 15 minutes. As expected, mine turned out negative. 

A one-way system has been established to get in and out of the testing venue. Usually, this is a popular beer garden right in the middle of town.

Getting closer. I decided to keep this picture, even though it shows a person I do not know and whose permission I have not asked - the young man in front of me is not recognisable anyway, especially not to my readers here.

I did this in view of the last "First" of this week: On Sunday, I am volunteering at one of the many venues dotted around town where people can vote for our federal state parliament. Two of the 16 federal states of Germany are holding elections this Sunday, and I have wanted to be part of an election for many years. The corona test was not required, but offered, and although I know I could still catch the virus in the time that passes between the test and Sunday, I decided to have it done anyway, even if it is just for my own feeling of safety.

Oh, and another sort-of first is that for the first time in months, O.K. and I are spending the weekend apart - with me being out all Sunday (and having to get up awfully early), it just makes no sense for him driving 150 km to be here only for the Saturday. Of course I miss him, but I will use the day to catch up on household things that I won't get round to doing tomorrow.

Monday 8 March 2021

A Week of Treats

Last week was full of treats - some expected, some unexpected.

Hairdressers were finally allowed to open again on Monday after having been in lockdown since mid-December, and you bet I was one of the first ones to have an appointment! My hairdresser is also my neighbour, and our relationship resembles a friendship more than a customer service one.

The mood at the salon was chatty, bubbly and cheerful, with the three hairdressers all being excited and happy to be working again, and their customers equally excited and happy to get their hair taken care of again.

My last visit had been well before Christmas, and my grey-white roots were showing more and more week after week. I was determined to go all grey/white now and stop the colouring for good, but was advised against it; the part of my hair that was still brown would have required rather aggressive chemicals to get rid of the colour, and as I do not have much hair to begin with, we agreed on a scheme of slowly fading out over the next few months. Maybe by late summer/early autumn, my hair will be all natural, and I will only go to the hairdresser's for cuts, not colour.


The day was beautiful, sunny and mild. I met my sister for a lunchtime walk, as we both had conference calls later on and well into the evening.

Tuesday began with temperatures below freezing, but it was another sunny day and warmed up to about 14C (57F). I had no meetings between 10:30 am and 2:00 pm, and treated myself to an early walk, extending my lunch break. 

The colours were incredibly brilliant!

The deer park that has featured often on my blog is usually so popular on weekends that O.K. and I don't go there when he is here. On a Tuesday pre-lunch time, there weren't many people about, and I enjoyed every minute of that sunny walk.

On Wednesday, I was required to go to work outside my own four walls for the first time in months! It felt strange but good to take a train to work, and although the sky was a solid grey and it was a bit cooler than the day before, I took advantage of being in Marbach for work and went for a walk around there once the meeting with my client ended.

View across the river Neckar from Schiller National Museum, Marbach

The museum, part of the complex of buildings where I work occasionally

I went for lunch at my parents' on Thursday and an after-work walk with my sister, a mix of sun and clouds making for a beautiful sunset:

No walk on Friday, as I was busy after work with food shopping, cleaning and generally getting everything ready for the weekend. It was rather cold, with a sleety/haily shower just when I left the supermarket. O.K. arrived at around 8:00 pm.

All weekend was cold, but sunny, and so we decided against running but went walking on both Saturday and Sunday instead. Nowhere spectacular, as we left the car where it was, limiting our range of possibilities to familiar paths on the fields around town.

Cold days call for hot food, and so it was a chili with sweet potatoes on Saturday and something resembling mac & cheese on Sunday.

My part of Germany is holding a general election on Sunday, and my sister and I are volunteering, working at one of the many venues dotted around town where voters can go. We are rather excited and looking forward to this - it is something we have wanted to do for a long time. Having to get up very early on Sunday and being away most of the day and much of the evening, it makes no sense for O.K. to drive all the way here for the weekend, and so we won't be seeing each other until the weekend after.

Tomorrow, I am scheduled for an examination and planning my eye operation. That is an appointment I am not looking forward to, but it is necessary, and I know I will be in good hands at the clinic; it is the same where I was for my first eye surgery in 2018.

Have a good week!

Monday 1 March 2021

From Sunday to Sunday

Sunday a week ago was beautiful; sunny and so warm that many people we saw on our walk were showing off their (rather pale) bare legs and arms. A couple of young men, obviously fuelled not only by the sun's warmth, were even walking around with their shirts off - not really worth a second look, but they probably felt much more comfortable that way.

O.K., my sister and I walked to the ruins of the castle above Hoheneck and then down the hill into the historic center. I have told you about Hoheneck, the castle ruins and the book market before; the book market, usually a highlight in our town's year in September, has of course not taken place in 2020. But the seller of antiquarian books is still there, and with their outdoor shelves and a box for the cash, accessible all day, every day.

While my sister was browsing the shelves (and of course finding something to take home) and O.K. was sitting in the sun, I went inside the nearest restaurant - not open for patrons to eat there, but operating an order and pick-up service over the counter. We had not ordered anyhting, but it was possible to buy bottled drinks, and so I got us three bottles of shandy - always a welcome refreshment during a walk.

A friendly black and white cat kept us company for a while.

The sunny weather held all week, and I tried to get out between work calls or afterwards as much as the busy schedule allowed. On Wednesday, I only had a bit more than half an hour left before sunset, and by the time I reached the fields 15 minutes from home, both the moon and the sun were up in the sky. The milkiness came from the Sahara dust that had been around since the weekend.

I had lunch at my parents' on Thursday, and my Mum served home-made lasagne - the best lasagne I had eaten in a long time! 

After work, my sister and I went for a walk together. It was a balmy evening, spring-like in spite of it only being the 25th of February, and the moon was beautiful to look at.

Friday was still sunny and beautiful, but considerably cooler. By the time O.K. arrived for the weekend at about 8:00 pm, it had become so chilly that I cranked up the heating, and we were glad about the spicy rice and vegetable wok dish I had prepared.

This month's Dalesman arrived just before the month was over; mail service between the UK and Germany has slowed down considerably since Brexit is beginning to show its full effects. I was of course delighted to see the cover:

All weekend (and this week, by the looks of it), mornings and nights were cold to the point of frosty. It didn't stop us going for long walks on both Saturday and Sunday, but especially on Saturday, a cold wind blew across the fields, and I was chilled to the bones by the time we were home again.

Sunday saw us more or less back to where we had been the previous Sunday, only this time we did not go down the hill into Hoheneck, but took the path along the top overlooking the Neckar valley.

Everything is pointing towards spring now, and we enjoyed the sunshine and clear blue sky very much.

O.K. drove home just before 8:00 pm, and rang from the car shortly afterwards to tell me to look at the moon - it was still rather low in the west, but appeared very large and yellow. This picture taken from my kitchen window can only give a very poor idea of it; it was much more golden than what it looks like here.

And now March is here, with a lot in store for me! Not just work, but many other things as well - more in another post :-)