Wednesday 28 December 2022

Two Walks in One Week, and Christmas

The week leading up to Christmas did not only see me putting up my Christmas tree, as described in my previous post. I also managed to get two good walks in.

On Monday, December 19, after my trains back from O.K.'s were both on time, I arrived at my flat at around 9:15 in the morning. At 3:00 pm I interrupted work for two hours, walking to Benningen and taking the local train back, then working for another while until I called it a day.

Arriving at the outskirts of Benningen. The sunset was much more colourful than what my mobile phone's camera picked up.

Tuesday (Dec. 20) was much milder, which was good since I had to go to my client's office to work there, and they won't heat the building as good as in previous years so I am permanently cold there. I had another appointment in the same industrial estate that day, to look at facilities we will use in February for a meeting of our professional association. They invited me to have lunch at their beautiful canteen, and the rooms are really good for our purpose, so we're all set for February.

It rained on Wednesday (Dec. 21) morning, but then the sun came out, and it was spring-like at 11 Celsius (51.8 F). Working from home allowed me to schedule my day more or less as I pleased, and you know what I had in mind - another walk, of course! I walked to Benningen once more, but on my "lower" route (I have an "upper" and a "lower" route and usually alternate between the two; both are between 10 and 11 km). The light was incredibly beautiful; my pictures can not really do it justice. Look at the golden light and dark grey clouds and imagine this about twice as intense.

I found this day with its promise of spring and spectacular light very fitting for solstice.

Thursday (Dec. 22) was the final day of our Christmas market. For my lunch break, I met up with my sister for one last visit; we ate there and then ran some errands for our Mum before I went back to work. It rained later, so no walk.

It was again really mild on Friday (Dec. 23), and in spite of heavy clouds I walked for about 1.5 hours between work and cleaning my flat, catching some of the rain on the last bit of the walk.

And then it was Christmas Eve! At noon, I went to my Mum's for some cleaning and last preparations for the evening. My sister and I had lunch with her before the two of us walked to the cemetery to leave a mini Christmas tree and candles for our Dad and R. 

Dad's bird with the mini tree and a poinsettia

Back home, I had enough time to speak to O.K. on the phone, have a shower and change before going back to my Mum's for our actual Christmas Eve celebration. For the first time ever, there were only the three of us, and my Mum remarked on how poor the dining table looked, laid out for three instead of the usual five or six (and more in some years in the past). 

But we lit the real candles on our pretty little tree and had our traditional Wiener sausages and spuds salad, exchanged our gifts and talked; funnily enough, there were no tears that evening, maybe because we'd done quite a bit of crying at the cemetery in the afternoon.

Sunday - Christmas Day - was still warm and began sunny and bright. I rang Mary (my mother-in-law in Yorkshire), and we chatted for close to an hour before I went to my Mum's to help getting everything ready for the Christmas lunch she was hosting for us, R's brother and his partner who were here from Berlin not only to see R's family (and us) but also to wrap things up at R's flat; a sad and demanding task, emotionally as well as physically.

Can you believe the amount of Christmas presents I received? And that's without the ones from England (they have not yet arrived) and the ones from OK!
The meal was roast goose with all the trimmings - delicious and very filling! When the others left to go to the cemetery, I went home, picked up my suitcase and was off to the station. My trains were punctual, but about 10 minutes before we were due to arrive at Offenburg, we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Nobody knew what was going on until after a while it was announced that a switch had to be repaired before we could continue our journey, and so I ended up delayed by 1/2 hour, arriving at 9:00 pm. O.K. waited in the car and we were texting back and forth while this was going on.

At the cottage, we exchanged our gifts before sitting down for a light supper.

The week was over, but Christmas wasn't - not yet!

Saturday 24 December 2022

Christmas Eve

As you know, this Christmas will be very different for my family, with two gaping holes never to be filled again - my Dad and our closest family friend who was like a brother to my sister and me, and like a son to my parents.

And yet, I am looking forward to it. My heart and mind are full of Christmas spirit - not the consumerism we all keep bemoaning, but what for me is the true core of Christmas. I won't go into this in detail on my blog, as I have long ago decided not to cover religion (as well as sex and politics) here. 

Last year, we were all still around, and my Dad even made his famous spuds salad. You can read about my Christmas 2021 here

In 2020, I had my first own Christmas tree, and wrote about it here. Last year, I did not feel like setting it up, but then regretted not having it. Therefore, this year, I made the effort again, and am glad I did!

On Tuesday after work, I went down into the basement and brought up the tree which is stored in two parts in large bin bags, as well as a box with the lights and another one with ornaments. It did not take me long to set it all up, and although it is a rather ugly tree (especially if you look closely), I believe it is the ugly Christmas trees that deserver to be loved the most.

Note the beautiful old stand - it is actually the most beautiful part of the slightly tattered tree and could be as old as the 1930s, certainly not younger than the 1950s. My Mum found it at a charity shop and made it a surprise gift for me.

The tree in all its "glory":

I have put all my parcels underneath; most of them are the gifts for my Mum and my sister, but there are a few early ones I have received from my neighbour and the lady I regularly go to for my back and shoulders. She also crocheted the beautiful snow flake ornaments on the tree, her gift last year.

In my post about Christmas 2021 I wrote: "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." Well, that did not quite work out, since once again I worked right up to it. Yesterday was a regular working day for me, but of course with many clients already being on holiday, it was quiet, and I managed to finish early so that I could do most of my cleaning in the afternoon and not leave it all for today.

I have a few things I want to do here before I leave for my Mum's before noon to help her with her Christmas preparations, mainly hoovering and whatever job she has in mind for me. 

At 1:00 pm, my sister will join us for lunch, which traditionally is a made-from-scratch chicken or vegetable broth with soup noodles in it. After that, we plan to walk to the cemetery and visit our Dad and friend R.

Then I will be home for a few hours in the afternoon, before Christmas Eve starts true and proper with our traditional meal of spuds salad and Wiener sausages. We will light the tree and exchange our gifts, and I do not doubt that there will be tears. But we are determined to celebrate still having each other, and treasure the fond memories of past Christmases.

On Christmas Day, my Mum is hosting a festive lunch for R's brother, his partner and us. Late afternoon will see me traveling to O.K.'s, where on Boxing Day I will go to the village church with him for their traditional family mass with the village band providing the music. After that, another festive meal awaits us at O.K.'s sister's. And just like last year, I will take the usual Monday morning train (only that it will be Tuesday) on the 27th back home. This time, though, not because O.K. has to work - he is on holiday until New Year, but I have not a single day off left and will be working that week, for the first time in many years.

Until then, here's wishing you all Merry Christmas! Treasure that precious time with your loved ones; you never know how long they will still be around.

Friday 23 December 2022

Read in 2022 - 32: Elizabeth and Her German Garden

Elizabeth and Her German Garden

by Elizabeth von Arnim

Originally, it was the title that intrigued me: What is a German garden? A garden with all plants native to Germany? A garden where people speak German? A garden somewhere in Germany?

It turned out to be the last of the three, and although the garden is at the center of the book, it is actually a collection of stories and scenes, sometimes more like vignettes, gathered in the course of a year in the life of Elizabeth.

She tells everything from her own perspective, and chapters begin with a date, like entries in a diary.

Her life is that of a lady of leisure, with three small daughters and an often absent husband who lets her (largely) do as she pleases.

Most of her days are spent either out in her garden or, when the weather is inclement, indoors planning what to plant, ordering seeds and so on. She resents everything that takes up time she can not spend in or on her garden, such as visitors or invitations to dinners or dances.

Her little daughters feature regularly, as does her husband and one of her friends; the rest of the cast are servants (largely so one-dimensional they seem hardly human) and visitors.

The book is not without humour, and not without interest. But it is very much rooted in the context of the time it was written in, and more than once, the modern reader will wince at the ideas and conventions people were subject to in those days. If anything, it made me glad to be alive today!

Should you wish to write a novel or the script for a film set in that time, the book is useful for research. Other than that, it is not something I can really recommend. There is not even a proper storyline to speak of.

The author at the age of 34
The most interesting part is when Elizabeth revisits her childhood home without announcing herself and sneaks undetected into the garden where she used to play as a child. For a few pages, it makes for quite an exciting read – but it leads to nothing of any consequence for the rest of the book, and left me disappointed.

According to its own wikipedia entry, the book - first published in 1898 - was very popular with more than 20 reprints within the first year of its publication. I didn't know it is part of a series about Elizabeth (who is, of course, the author herself, although the books are described as being only semi-autobiographical).

From what I gather from her own wikipedia entry, Elizabeth von Arnim had a colourful but not exactly happy life, in spite of her wealth and success as an author. Her name is certainly familiar to me, but I believe it was my first read of any of her works, and to be honest, I don't think I shall be looking for more.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

A Walkless Week

Walkless does not mean I did not use my feet at all during that week. But every time I did walk, it was to get from A to B, to meet someone or to do something, never just for the sake of walking; no distance greater than maybe 15 minutes, and all within town or village. And I so missed a good, long walk! But the week  was again full of good things.

Monday, the 12th of December, was a cold day with the sun making it through the clouds only around lunch time. After work, I met up with an old school friend to visit the Christmas market. We have known each other since we were 9 years old, and although we still live in the same town where we were born and went to school, it is not always easy to find the time for a meeting. But when we do meet, we always have plenty to talk about. 

The thermometer showed -8 C (17.6 F) on Tuesday morning (Dec. 13). I was back at the Christmas market after work, this time to meet my Mum and my sister. We enjoyed our visit, and on the way back, my sister and I walked through the brightly lit and decorated mall, browsing two or three of the shops (but buying only a bit of stationary), something we had not done in a very long time. It felt good!

Wednesday, Dec. 14, brought snow - proper snow, and enough of it to even cover the roads and stay there. I had an appointment at the hairdresser's after work, and later, my upstairs neighbour came for a chat. She brought me a dish of her home-made hummus, which I later had with my evening meal - very nice!

View from my kitchen window around lunch time...

...and just before 5:00 pm
On Thursday, the 15th, I had to travel to a client's in spite of more snow. My sister spontaneously invited me to her place for the evening, sharing her meal of oven-roasted veg and dumplings with me. It was delicious, and I brought a bottle of red to go with it. 

Thursday morning

Each khaki/kaki/persimmon has its own little snow hat!
I worked quietly from home on Friday (Dec. 16), then did my usual round of cleaning etc. before packing my little red suitcase for the weekend. My trains were almost on time, and I arrived at Offenburg station at around 8:30 pm. As usual, O.K. picked me up, and back at his cottage, we had our customary Friday night meal of salad, bread, cheese and wine.

Friday lunch time
Saturday, the 17th, was an important day: The village band's gala concert was scheduled for 8:00 pm, and there was still plenty to do before that. We were up at the village hall at 9:00 in the morning and worked for about 3 hours to set things up for the evening. A quick lunch of hot soup at the cottage and a bit of a rest were next before it was time to change into our finery (the festive uniform for the musicians, and a nicer-than-jeans outfit for me as the presenter) and walk back up to the hall in the icy dark - at -12C (10.4F) it was the coldest night this year so far. 

For the band, the next hour and a half was one last rehearsal, while I sat quietly and listened, going through my presenting notes one last time.

The doors were opened and the audience took their seats, the lights were lowered, and the concert began. I gave a short presentation before each piece, and before a 20-minute break, some of the musicians were honoured for their long-standing work with the band - one gentleman has been with the band for 60 years. Quite an achievement!

The second half of the concert was maybe even more beautiful than the first. Everyone gave their best, and big rounds of applause with the occasional "bravo!" shouts followed each piece.

The stage as seen from about the middle of the hall.

I was given a beautiful bunch of flowers for my contribution, and then the lights went back on, a few tables were set up at the back of the hall, and everyone was welcome to stay on for snacks and drinks. We did, too, chatting with friends and neighbours as well as with the other band members, before we finally wrapped up warmly again and walked home very carefully through the icy night, reaching the cottage at around 2:30 in the morning.

Do you know that weird feeling when something you have been preparing for weeks or even months is over?

Of course, there was no lie-in for us on the 4th Advent Sunday - we were back up at the hall at 10:00 am to pull down again everything we had set up the day before. There were enough helping hands to have the hall empty and clean again in about 1 1/2 hours; during the week, it is used for PE by the schools, and many other activities take place there regularly.

We were home before noon and had a quick snack before preparing the Advent coffee with O.K.'s parents, his sister and brother-in-law. At 3:00 pm our guests arrived, and we spent a pleasant afternoon together. We'd not really had time to sit and chat in many weeks, so this was a welcome occasion for me to catch up with them.

O.K. and I spent the evening quietly on our own, and I was tired enough to be in bed by 10:00.

The last week before Christmas was about to begin!

Friday 16 December 2022

Read in 2022 - 31: Wanderlust

Wanderlust: A History of Walking
by Rebecca Solnit

When I spotted this book at The Little Ripon Bookshop in July, of course I had to have it – you know me well enough to understand that!

It took me a long time to finish, because in spite of it being „just a paperback“, the print is rather small and the type densely set, and I mostly read it during my lunch breaks, so never very long in one go.

The book is a good read on all accounts, and I really like the author’s writing style – and yet, I can not honestly say that I completely enjoyed each and every page.

Some of the author’s thoughts and interpretations of what a walk could be or should be, what it means or meant to people of various cultures and at various times in history I can not wholeheartedly agree with (although what she writes mostly rings true and is based on facts and thorough research).

What irked me every now and then were her generalisations, of „the Germans“ for instance. There is no such thing, is there, and in other instances she is so keen to point out marginalisation, discrimination and generalisation as being dangerous and something to be avoided, that her using something like that herself just did not add up.

On the other hand, what she says about how our world became so car-dominated and how for many people it has become unthinkable to use any other means of transport is exactly what I have been observing in the 45 years or so I have consciously been aware of more than my immediate surroundings.

Anyway; I learned a great deal from this book and found it very interesting – for all readers, no matter whether you are a walker or not and a good read, as I said.

Does or will it change the way I see my own walks?

No, I don’t think so. It is good to have background information on things that are part of our everyday lives, but, you know – sometimes a walk is really just a walk, with no need for further interpretation or heaping it with meanings it does not have.

Rebecca Solnit's website with a mini biography and much more about her books, plus interviews etc., is here.

Monday 12 December 2022

A Very Full Week

Last week held so many different activities, encounters and emotions that it felt more than just seven days.

Monday, the 5th of December, saw me arriving home from Offenburg on the dot - for a change, my trains were on time. Apart from a brief sunny period around lunch time, the day was grey but remained dry.

After work, I met at the Christmas market with three from my volunteer group. We spent a couple of hours together, and when we all had steaming mugs of mulled wine (or similar) in our hands, one of the ladies said she wanted to say something: How much she enjoyed our group, working with us towards a common goal, and that we had become friends and what that meant to her. It was touching and she echoed exactly how the rest of us felt.

Night sky over my neighbourhood at 7:35 pm
I was back again at the Christmas market on Tuesday (Dec. 6), this time to meet one of my main contacts from one of my clients and his wife. He is retiring and we won't see each other at work anymore, and over the 10 years I have been working for this client, I have met the two of them on several occasions outside work.

Earlier that day, I had spent my lunch break at my Mum's. She cooked a nice chili con carne for the two of us, the ideal food on a cold December day, and had prepared a lovely fresh winter salad to go with it; leafy plus walnuts and bits of tangerine.

In the afternoon, my sister stopped for a cup of tea and a chat, and to leave her presents for our England parcel with me. For obvious reasons, I have not seen as much of my sister as we are used to, and I was glad for her to pop in.

On Wednesday, the 7th of December, I met my friend for a pre-work walk in the morning. After work, I took the box of presents for the family in England to the post offfice, along with all the Christmas cards and two smaller parcels for friends and family outside Germany. Surprisingly, I did not have to queue long and was in and out of the post office in less than 15 minutes, paying exactly 59,59 € for all postage. Hopefully, every card and parcel will reach its recipient in time, and in one piece!

During mid-morning on Thursday (Dec. 8), I picked several khaki fruit off the tree behind my house and took them to my elderly neighbour. She had asked for them, and seeing as nobody else was interested (I am not keen on them, and apparently the rest of the people in the house feel the same), she was more than welcome to have them. It always seems such a shame to let them go to waste.

I extended my lunch break for a walk, as I really had not been out much in daylight this week; the sun eluded me but I still enjoyed the walk a lot before I went back to work.

I took a small detour on the way back to visit my Dad's bird.

The stone lid now bears his name.
O.K. arrived shortly before 10:00 pm that evening.

The second funeral for my family within a few weeks took place on Friday, the 9th of December. R's death was a heavy blow to all of us, not only because it happened so soon after my Dad. The chapel was packed, and the celebrant spoke well. Gathering at the same spot on the grass where we had stood so recently felt strange, as did going to the same place for the traditional coffee afterwards.

It started to snow while we were in there; somehow, looking out of the window and seeing the soft flakes slowly fall was comforting. 

Inside the restaurant
We spent the late afternoon and evening with a smaller group of family and friends at my Mum's; once we were back home, I was so exhausted I went almost straight to bed, even though it was only half past nine.

O.K. and I had a late breakfast on Saturday (Dec. 10) and then walked almost 12 km, well wrapped up against the cold (-4 Celsius in the morning, that's below freezing point). 

Almost every year, this tree on the outskirts of Pflugfelden is adorned with baubles for Christmas. Nobody knows who puts them there, or takes them down after Christmas. It was good to see them back on the tree now.
After coffee at home and a bit of a rest, I made my version of Shepherd's Pie for our evening meal. O.K. had to drive home the same evening, as he had rehearsal for the concert on Sunday morning.

The Third Advent Sunday (Dec. 11) started very fittingly with snow. 

View from my kitchen window at 8:48 am... 9:21...

...and at noon.

What's left on the khaki tree, as seen from my bedroom.

I spent a very leisurely morning on my own before it was time to walk to my Mum's. She had ordered a taxi to take us to the venue in town where the sing-along Christmas concert was held. We'd been there twice before (in 2018 and '19) and had enjoyed it greatly. This time, we were sure there'd be more tears than before, but strangely enough, both of us were mostly dry-eyed. The concert was beautiful and some of the pieces very touching, and it really does feel special when all the audience and the choirs on stage join their voices.

Back home, I lit three candles on my Advent wreath, talked to O.K. on the phone and watched some TV before going to bed rather early just after 10:00 pm.