Tuesday 29 November 2022

Last Full Week of November

The last full week of November and the 1st Advent Sunday is behind us; December starts the day after tomorrow. This year, it all feels different and yet so much is the same as "always". It makes for quite a mix of emotions, I can tell you.

Almost every day that week, we had a mix of sun and clouds with a few sprinkles of rain in between. It was colder than the month had been so far, but still "too warm for the season", according to the weather folks on TV. 

Monday, the 21st of November: Only one month to go until winter solstice, and the slow but sure increase of daylight! The fortnightly meeting with my volunteer group was cancelled, because there would have been only three of us. This gave me the opportunity for an after-work walk; nothing special, but good for me nonetheless.

Our Christmas Market opened on Tuesday (Nov. 22) - the first one since 2019. I didn't go, because my Mum, my sister and I had planned to write the cards I'd had printed to notify everyone of R's death. 

The parcel from the printer's arrived as scheduled, but... the card was done entirely wrong! Instead of the photo we had chosen to be on the front only, it was printed on the front and back, so that you could only see half of it when you looked at the card. Instead of the card opening to the side (like a book), it opened from bottom to top (like a wall calendar). And instead of the inside showing a poem on the left and the actual notification on the right side, they had squeezed both pieces of copy on one side, upside down when you open the card. That was definitely NOT what I had ordered, but now we needed to react fast.

My sister talked to the people at a local copy and print shop, and they agreed to print our cards over night if they got the data this afternoon. I prepared a USB stick and met my sister at the shop after work; we explained what we wanted (I also showed them the wrong print) and placed our order to be picked up the following day.

We popped in at our Mum's to pick up two parcels she had asked us to post for her, did that and then went home for a quiet evening in. With all the back and forth and the dismay about the card, it was good to see my sister.

For my lunch break on Wednesday, we met up at the shop again. The cards were now exactly how we had wanted them, and I was very relieved. For our actual lunch, we walked over to the Christmas market and had one of our favourite foods, a "Holzofen-Dinnede", as shown here. It was our first "proper" Christmas market food since 2019, and tasted just like it should, piping hot directly from the wooden stove.

After work, the three of us gathered round our Mum's dining table and wrote the cards; my sister posted them that same evening while our Mum heated the vegetable lasagne she had prepared for us (the best ever).

Thursday, the 24th of November - Christmas Eve exactly one month away. It will be so very different this year with just the three of us there. 

I worked on-site at my client's office with our customary walk around the block after lunch. For the evening, my boss had invited us to our annual party; he was supposed to cook a festive meal for us at his home, but a spontaneous change of plans meant the three of us (our fourth colleague was excused) met at the Holiday Inn next door instead. It was good to see them and catch up with each other, and our boss drove both me and my colleague to our respective homes afterwards.

A day of mixed activites was Friday, Nov. 25. I spent the morning working from home as usual. In the early afternoon, I attended a guided tour on the abandoned industrial area next to the train station; I have posted about it a few times, for instance here for its official opening (in parts) to the public.

The Mayor of Ludwigsburg addressing the crowd of about 50 before we split in two groups for the tour

The tour covered 10 stops where we were asked to leave our feedback and ideas for future use; what we would like to be kept and what needed changing in our opinion. Half of the area is now owned by the city of Ludwigsburg, and they really want to develop it for public use, not the enclosed space it was during the decades of production.

I took many pictures but will show them to you in an extra post.

By the time the tour finished, I was freezing - all that standing around, listening to explanations and people voicing their views, mostly in empty unheated buildings. But my flat was warm and cosy, and when my friend arrived shortly after 6:00 pm, I was alright again. 

We were to meet our former school mates at the Christmas market later that evening, but we always want a bit of time to ourselves before we meet the group, and even more so this time as she has recently lost her Mum and I my Dad - we used to live next door to each other, and I have known her mother since before I was six years old. After an hour or so, we left for the market. It was packed, and I thought about leaving a few times, but then adjusted, had something to eat (you can guess what, can't you) and to drink. We later walked the short distance to a restaurant where a long table was booked for us; nobody ordered food, but some of us had plenty to drink (not me). At some stage, it was all getting a bit too much for me, nice as it was to see my old school mates, and I was first to leave.

Saturday saw me doing my usual cleaning, washing and ironing; O.K. arrived mid-afternoon. After coffee and cake, we went for a quick walk before dark. I then retreated to the kitchen where I prepared Kässpätzle for the three of us - I had invited my sister for the evening, and Kässpätzle is great for when you have guests and want to get the kitchen warm and cosy. 

My basic recipe for Spätzle remains unchanged since I posted it here, but I do not add ham anymore and use a different mix of cheese and cream. The Merlot I served with the meal was good, too, but best of all was my sister joining us.

During the night and very early Sunday morning, the temperature dropped to just below frost at -2 Celsius. O.K. and I had our customary leisurely breakfast before going for a walk in the sun. We then went to my Mum's for coffee, and afterwards, I put up a few first bits of Advent decoration and lit the first candle on the Advent wreath bought last week.

This year, the Advent calendar village is at my place - we switch between the two of us every year.

Then it was time to cook so that we could eat at 7:00 and it would not be too late for O.K. to start the long drive home.

Wednesday 23 November 2022

A Soothing Walk

At the end of my previous post, I mentioned that I went for a walk on Sunday (Nov. 19). My Mum and my sister were going to spend the afternoon together, so there was no urgent need for me to be there.

The rainy morning did not deter me; I took my little brolly with the fox print, a gift from my sister some years ago when we were in Ripon together and spotted it in a shop. Twice during that day I actually needed my umbrella, each time only for a few minutes until the shower had passed.

I took the local train to Marbach, which takes just over 10 minutes, and started my walk at the station at 12:05, leaving the town on the route my Mum and I used to walk so often when my parents still had their allotment near Steinheim.

It was windy, and the clouds were hurrying in the direction I was walking, with blue bits of sky and sunshine in their wake, so I was certain I would not encounter many more (if any) showers.

My Mum and I always liked that stone wall and the orchards in this part of the walk:

Coming out at the top end of that hill:
First view of Steinheim, where I was going:
Coming up to the first houses, what was that near one of the trees?
A black-brown fluffy cat, not at all interested in me but in the rustling of small animals in the grass:
Crossing the bridge over the river Murr to enter the small town properly; the river was not showing signs of the dry summer months anymore:

Steinheim has many such corners:

Now leaving the town, a long uphill stretch lay before me, lined with vineyards, some of them abandoned, others still working:
I reached the enclosure where my parents' allotment was. Today, not one single car was parked behind the locked gate. The weather was not gardener-friendly, and I would not have gone in anyway, even if the gate had been open.
The sun had bravely been trying to pierce through the clouds, and finally worked its magic over the land, lighting up Lehrhof, a tiny hamlet seen from the lane leading past the allotments:
The white building was where I wanted to go next. It is a place for seminars, deliberately far out so that the  there can completely focus.

Meanwhile, some other people had figured it was "safe" to go out and not get too wet:
The empty flag poles near the seminar building were lit up by the sun:
On I went...
The woods in the background were my next goal.
Silver birches:

But first, I needed to eat; breakfast was long gone, and it was nearing 2:00 pm. I perched on the driest part of a bench to eat my sandwich and chocolate bar and drink some water, with this view:
It was windy there and I did not want to stop for long, and soon made my way into the woods:

I have always felt at home in woodland, and this path was particularly beautiful. The woods here have a different character to the Black Forest, gentler and more leafy; each with their own beauty.

The path dipped into a valley, leaving the woods behind:

It then went uphill again and along the ridge opposite to where I had been walking before; if you know where to look, you can see the spot where I stopped for my late lunch:
Wide open skies always have a positive effect on me:
I walked through Steinheim again and left the small town at the same spot where I had entered it. The cat was still there, although now in a different orchard:
Nearing Marbach, this is a spot my Mum and I always stopped for breath after the first uphill bit:
A familiar view for me and my Mum:

I reached Marbach station with about 20 minutes to spare. Sitting on a bench was welcome after the 20 km or so of walking in about 3 1/2 hours I had walked. It was not yet sunset when I arrived home; I was a little tired but felt very calm after that soothing walk, and spent a quiet evening, talking to O.K. on the phone later and watching another episode of All Creatures Great and Small.

Monday 21 November 2022

Last Week

Parts of last week were so intense that looking back, it feels like a lot more than just seven days.

Monday, Nov. 14, began at almost freezing point - 2 Celsius is very close to frost. The sun came out after a rainy morning, and in the afternoon I walked to our friend R's house to pick up the mail. It felt weird to think that he was not in there, but in a hospital bed many miles away. 

Sunrise - taken on Nov. 14 at 7:25 am from my kitchen window

The same view 12 minutes later

I went to work on-site at my client's on Tuesday, the 15th of November. My sister's message about R's death reached me just after lunch. You can imagine I did not get much done that afternoon. Thankfully, the person I had a meeting with was kind and understanding, and after I wrapped up things for the day, I left at 3:00 pm. Getting off the train in Zuffenhausen (two stops before my hometown), I walked the rest of the way. This took me just under 2 hours, and I stopped at my Dad's blue bird marker at the graveyard before going to my Mum's for a bit. The walk helped; thoughts and tears flowed freely with hardly anyone about.

This year, I lost my Dad and three friends, the last one like a brother to me. My childhood friend's mother died shortly after my Dad; although that did not affect me in my daily life, it was still sad; another bit of my childhood and youth gone.

It was good to start Wednesday (Nov. 16) by meeting my friend and her little daughter. After dropping off little C at school, V and I walked and talked for about an hour before we went to our respective homes and started work.

My sister arrived home from the town where R had been in hospital and where she had been staying for several days. We met for a walk on the fields until sunset, something that did us both good. It was the first time I saw her in a while, and I had really missed her. As we all know, grief is an individual process that follows no set pattern. My sister suffers the loss of our friend terribly and most acutely, and of course our Dad's recent death does not make it easier.

I was back at my client's on Thursday, the 17th of November. This time, it was not merely for work, but also because I had put my name on the list for a flu shot - the first one in my life. All went well, and I had no side effects at all.

Friday, Nov. 18, was the start of a weekend without O.K. The village band are preparing their annual concert (the first one since 2019), and the entire weekend was dedicated to rehearsals, starting Friday after work until 10:00 pm and finishing Sunday at lunch time. It did not make sense for me to go there, and it was good to stay here so that I could help with the tasks around our friend's death.

Some of his siblings and friends gathered at our Mum's place, and I joined them later so that we could talk about the card they wanted to send out to notify everyone of R's death and the funeral arrangements. Those few hours at my Mum's were rather overwhelming, but necessary.

Saturday morning (Nov. 19) was spent cleaning, washing, ironing and so on. In the afternoon, I met my Mum and a friend at the Advent exhibition and sale of our local garden center. The center is run by one big family, and since one of the ladies is my sister's next door neighbour, for the past few years we have made it our family tradition to buy our Advent wreaths there and spend a couple of hours browsing, sitting down for something to eat and drink, and listen to a small brass band playing carols. Of course, the losses we have suffered so recently were never far from our minds and kept popping up in conversation, but it was something we needed, too; a little light at the end of a dark and difficult week.

Here in Germany, Sunday (Nov. 20) was an important day in the course of the church year: Every community remembered the people who had died during the year from their community. In a special service, each name is read aloud and a candle lit for them, plus an extra candle for all those whose names did not appear but who are also sorely missed.

We are not a family of church goers, but my Mum, my sister and I each watched the live streaming of the service online at our respective homes. We lit candles, listened to the music and to the words of the local priest, who spoke well and meaningful. I knew that my childhood friend whose mother had died was also watching. Don't ask how many tissues I needed during that hour, but we all agreed that it was a beautiful service, conducted with dignity and empathy.

It had been raining all morning, but by the time the service ended, it looked a little better. I knew that what I needed most now was a good long walk, and so I set out at a quarter to twelve to do just that, as you will see in my next post.

Sunday 20 November 2022

Read in 2022: 28, 29, 30

I am so behind with posting that I decided to write one post with only brief reviews of my last three reads. 

With everything that has been happening here since September, I have once again become a slow reader; not slow as such but in that more often than not, I found it hard to focus on a book and so most of my reading was in small bits and bites during train trips, waiting at stations and so on.

Before further ado, here goes:

#28: The Woman on the Island by Ann Cleeves

Many of you will know that Ann Cleeves is the creator of Detective Vera Stanhope, made more famous by the TV series "Vera". I have always liked the series (and the character, played by the wonderful Brenda Blethyn), and when I saw this free ebook at the Kindle shop, I downloaded it.

It is only a short story and not a fully fledged Vera case, meant to be a teaser to get readers interested in buying the series.

Vera decides to get away from everything for a while and visits Lindisfarne, an island where her father often took her as a girl. She meets a mysterious woman, and eventually figures out what sort of relationship there was between her father and the woman.

The story makes a good atmospheric read with the island setting at an off-season time, and gives the reader an idea of what Vera's youth was like.

I don't believe i need to tell you more about the author; her website is here.


#29: Secrets of Willow House by Suanne O'Leary

One more example of a free first book in a series. It made for light reading and did not require much concentration, which was just what worked for me at the time. 

The story follows the well tried and tested blueprint of a young woman who, for various reasons, has to get away from her stressful city life and returns to the idyllic remote place of her childhood, where of course she does not only bump into the guy she knew as a teenager but also uncovers a family secret, and while she's at it, opens up a whole new future for herself, her elderly aunt and... you guessed it, the man she falls in love with.

The author was born in Sweden but has been living in Ireland (where the Willow House series is set) since 2002. You can find out more about her and her books here.


#30: Detroit Wheels by John A. Hoda

For a change, I read a crime trhiller set in the US. Admittedly, the writing style left something to desire; the book would have much profited from professional editing. It is book 3 in a series about FBI agent Marsha O'Shea, a troubled young woman who is struggling with alcoholism but proves to be an eccellent team player and can trust her instincts when it comes to solving crimes.

In this book, she is after a serial killer who murders one Muslim woman every year on September 11. For the reader, the connection jumps out instantly, but it takes months of very hard work for Marsha and her partner to find the culprit. Obstacles are thrown her way all the time, and in the end not just the case is solved, but a web of corruption and cover-ups throughout various institutions of law enforcement is untangled.

More than once I thought about not finishing the book, but I found the descriptions of the agents' actual work quite compelling. Needless to say, this book was for free; I doubt I will look into any other of the series.

According to his website, the author is a former Police Officer, Insurance Fraud Investigator and for the past 25 years has run a successful Private Investigations business, and that reflects on the book.

Thursday 17 November 2022

Nov. 7 - 13

Here is my summary of the week from November 7 to 13.

Monday, the 7th of November, started adventurous as my train trip home from O.K.'s did not touch Stuttgart but went to Esslingen, where because of it being completely overcrowded, I could not get on the intended train to Ludwigsburg but had to take the local train to Stuttgart and change again for Ludwigsburg. Good job it wasn't too cold or wet, or all that waiting on platforms would have been very unpleasant. I arrived home quite a bit later than planned, but as there were no meetings scheduled in the morning, it was ok.

There was no time for an after work walk, as I had the fortnightly meeting with my volunteer group.

On Tuesday (Nov. 8), I worked on-site at my client's and went to help my Mum with a few things afterwards. It was good to have at least a little walk in the sunshine during my lunch break. 

The moon as seen on my way home from my Mum's

Wednesday, the 9th of November, was rainy. I was back at my Mum's after work to help writing the thank you notes to people who had attended my Dad's funeral or written to us. We wrote close to 60 cards, and that did not include some of those who we were in touch with via email or telephone. 

These are only the condolence cards sent to me - my Mum received many more.

This one was included with one of the cards - the sender did not know how perfectly the colours match my new rug. I will keep it on display in my living room.

It was sunny and mild on Thursday (Nov. 10), and I was glad to meet up with my friend and her six-year old daughter, dropping little C off at school and then continuing our walk. The exercise, daylight and opportunity to catch up with my friend and share our worries and joys really makes a difference to a day.

The news about our gravely ill friend were not good, and so my sister, his brother and another friend traveled to where he was in hospital. My thoughts were with all of them, and I found it very hard to focus on work. Shortly after 3:00 pm, I realised it was no use, shut my laptop and went out again. I dropped off some of the thank you cards at those friends who live in town and then walked on until sunset.

Friday, the 11th of November, saw me up early. My boss picked me up well before 8:00, driving to Metzingen with me where we were to attend an event organised by a regional group of our professional association (data protection officers). It was the first time this year that I saw my boss "live" and not just on a computer screen. We made good use of the drive to catch up with each other, on personal matters as much as on work-related things. 

The event was interesting in many ways, and it is always good to meet my fellow DPOs. I was home at about 5:15 pm and did my cleaning etc. in preparation for the weekend. O.K. arrived at my place at around 9:30 pm. We sat down for shakshouka and a bottle of pinot noir which we did not even empty - unusual for us.

I had invited my Mum and my sister for a family meal on Saturday (Nov. 12), but with my sister now away to be with our ill friend, there were just the three of us that evening for my home-made Yorkshire puddings, roast spuds, parsnips and parsley roots, with beef goulash made in a rich and creamy sauce based on the same red wine we later drank with the meal.

But that was the evening; during the day, we went into town (where I took the photos shown on this post) for a late breakfast at a café we like. Our next stop was a clothes shop where O.K. found a shirt he wanted, then on for an espresso at a coffee shop. We dropped in at our favourite wine merchant's before going home, where another coffee was in order before I started cooking.

It was good to have my Mum over for the evening, but we missed my sister and our thoughts and much of the conversation revolved around our dear friend.

Sunday, Nov. 13, was again sunny and mild. After a leisurely breakfast (almost at lunch time, really) with fresh croissants and rolls delivered to my door by our Brezel-Taxi, we went on a long walk down to the river and back across the area called Hungerberg which I first showed you here

View across the river towards Neckarweihingen

Cemetery chapel in Hoheneck


Footbridge between Hoheneck and Neckarweihingen

Steps leading up from Hungerberg

View from the top of Hungerberg

After coffee and a rest, I put a ready-made vegan lasagne in the oven for our evening meal. It was alright but I won't buy this particular product again; it was a little disappointing in terms of taste.

O.K. left shortly after 8:00 pm, and I ended my week watching another episode of "All Creatures Great and Small" (the DVDs were a gift from my sister).

I am very sad to tell you that our friend has died on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The week I describe here was overshadowed by the worries about our friend - and also about my sister, who was very close to him and is suffering the most.

 All this was of course not made any easier by our Dad's death only five weeks ago. You can truly say that, as a family, we are having our roughest year yet. It will all take time to process, and the gaps in our lives will never be closed. But at least we are still here, and can be there for each other.