Monday 30 January 2023

A Week of Highlights

For me, the week from Jan. 23 to 29 held several highlights, some of which I had planned, while others came as a surprise.

Monday, Jan. 23, started nicely with a pre-work morning walk with my friend. We had not seen each other since before Christmas, when she and her family went to the US over the holiday period to be with their families there. I didn't know it then, but that was to remain the only walk worth mentioning for days.

Then followed a succession of appointments, and by the time the work day ended, I was ready for a quiet night.

After well over half a year since our last pub quiz, on Tuesday (24th of January), my team finally played the quiz again! We made it to 3rd place, and two of our team mates went home with a bottle of sparkling wine each (not me, as I prefer the brands O.K. and I usually buy). It was great fun and felt so much like "before" - although admittedly, I still find it hard to handle a very full and noisy venue, and we still miss our deceased friend Martin.

On Wednesday (Jan. 25), I worked at the office and managed a brief walk with a colleague during lunch break. Like most of the week, it was a day of humid cold without really raining; not pleasant to be outdoors but good enough as long as one kept moving.

The only bit I walked on Thursday, the 26th of January, was between my Mum's and my place. I spent my lunch break there, enjoying home-made lasagne straight from the oven. Perfect food for another cold and wet-ish day, and always good to see my Mum, of course.

Friday (Jan. 27) saw me on my usual journey to Offenburg. My trains were on time; a good start to the weekend.

Between finishing work, cleaning and washing and packing my little red suitcase, I did not want to rush around and so it was one more walk-less day.

The weather was again cold, windy and grey on Saturday, the 28th of January. We walked to the bottom of the village (O.K.'s cottage is in the upper part) for one or two things we wanted from the shops, and instead of going straight back home, we took a detour across fields, orchards and vineyards - the 2nd and last walk of the week. 

It may sound a little obsessive to some of my readers, but I really do feel that something is missing when I can not walk as often and as long as is my habit, and so I was truly glad for that hour or so.

Back at the cottage, coffee and cake were next, and then I rested for a bit while O.K. took care of some matters he had not had time for during the week, before he prepared our evening meal.

One of the surprise highlights of this week came after the meal; let me explain: Many of you are familiar with the Harry Potter books or films (or both). I love them, and you could say I am something of a fan. 

When some time last year I found out there was a "20 Years of Hogwarts" reunion of the cast and crew, with interviews taken at the original film sets and plenty of background information, I knew I had to see that. But at the time, the event was viewable only via tickets bought on Sky TV (which I do not have). O.K. wanted to give me the viewing as a Christmas present, but his research only produced illegal (and probably bad quality) stuff which neither of us wanted to have anything to do with. 

That evening, he found it available for streaming/download on Amazone Prime (which I do not have, either), and bought it for me to watch there and then - and I loved every minute of it!! I know I will want to watch it again.

My last highlight of the week was on Sunday (Jan. 29). Actually, two: For the first time that week, the sun broke through properly around lunch time. The rest of the afternoon was of clear blue skies, just right for the Winter BBQ in the woods we were invited to.

This BBQ is a special event on behalf of one of the nearby communities. They, like all the other communities in the area, hold auctions for wood in their communal woods every year. This usually happens on a Saturday in January or February. People come and bid for lots in the woods where responsibility of cutting the trees falls on the winning bidder, while others bid for trees that have already been cut by the community. Usually, a fire is lit, sausages and bacon are grilled, and drinks can be bought - all very basic and rustic. 

The bar is open! Drinks are self-service, grilled food is not.
The following day, the man who organises those auctions invites a bunch of friends and acquaintances to help finish off the remaining food and drink. A list is kept of how much everyone has to eat and drink, and folks end up paying very little money for freshly grilled meat and sausages as well as beer, water, lemonade etc. Most people will add something to the event, such as bring a home-made cake for dessert, bottles of sparkling wine or Schnaps, and so on.

We all gather round the fire, have our food and drinks, catch up with those we have not seen in a long time, and chat to our friends. 

At a quarter to 5:00 pm, the sun gets ready to leave.

Click on the picture to enlarge it; if you look carefully more or less towards the middle, you may just about make out the moon.

Large tree trunk I came across while looking for a place to answer nature's call.
Dusk falls, and by the time it gets properly dark (which was at around 6:00 pm on Saturday), the fire is the only light. An old Christmas tree was put on the fire, making the flames shoot up high, and the scent was wonderful, too. The star-studded sky was not black yet, but of a deep velvety blue - it was magic.

The Christmas tree made for an impressive bonfire!

A few minutes before 6:00 pm; down where we were, it was much darker.
But after almost 5 hours outdoors (without moving much!), even wrapped up in several layers of warm clothes, the cold gets through, and after we helped clearing up, we drove home and were happy to spend the rest of the evening inside the warm, cosy cottage.

Monday 23 January 2023

My Week January 16 to 22

Last week saw a good mix of work and play, with some socialising thrown in for good measure. The weather was as wintery as we would have liked it at Christmas; still not overly cold, but cold enough for snow and frosty nights.

On Monday, the 16th of January, I arrived home from O.K.'s well in time for work, with both trains running as scheduled. The sunrise was spectacular - my photos can of course only give a poor impression of it, as we were speeding along and there is always the window's reflection. 

From around lunch time, the sun was shining, and so I interrupted work for about 2 hours in the afternoon and went for a walk until sunset, picking up work again afterwards. On the last kilometre of that walk, the first rain drops started to fall.

The rain turned into snow on Tuesday (Jan. 17). It was one of two on-site working days for me that week, but unfortunately, about half of the local trains were cancelled because of too many of the staff missing due to illness, and getting to the office took me a full hour when the actual train rides are supposed to be only 17 minutes long and I live and work only a few minutes from the respective stations.

You can imagine I was not in the best of moods and found it hard to get warm for the rest of the day, especially as the office building is not properly heated due to energy cost.

View from my kitchen window at about 9:30 pm on Tuesday
Wednesday, the 18th of January, went a lot smoother - I caught all my connections, managed a lunchtime walk in winter wonderland with my colleague, had a good hot meal in the canteen, and an even better hot meal in the evening at my Mum's. My sister and I helped my Mum with a few household things and then sat down for a lovely spuds casserole. 
The same view just before 8:00 the next morning.
It was still cold enough on Thursday (Jan. 19) for the snow to last, and the sun was out again, but I did not have time for a walk. After work, my sister and I joined our small group of volunteers for our first meeting of this year. Over the years we have been working together, we have become friends, and it is always nice to meet up.

Friday, the 20th of January, was sunny again, and this time, I managed a beautiful walk between work and starting on my weekly cleaning round. 

Not long until sunset - and we have passed the 5:00 pm mark now!
O.K. arrived for the weekend some time after 9:00 pm, and we enjoyed the leftovers of the "Thai" style thick, creamy vegetable soup I had made for my cousins between Christmas and New Year and put in the freezer for just such an evening. Spicy with ginger, nutmeg and pepper and on a coconut fat base, it was really warming and very filling (spuds, butternut squash, carrots and parsnips); add to that fresh crusty bread and malty beer - we wanted nothing more.

We like to spend weekend mornings at a very leisurely pace, and Saturday (Jan. 21) was no execption. Hardly surprising, we had "breakfast" at noon, and it was early afternoon before we were ready to start on a walk - we would not have gone out earlier anyway, because it was snowing and windy for most of the morning. Although there was only the odd snowflake coming down while we were out, the cold wind made walking a little unpleasant, and so we were back home after just over 7 km.

Preparations for the evening were now in order: We were booked for another virtual wine tasting. We have participated in such online tastings several times over the past few years, and always enjoyed it. This one was my birthday present for my sister, and it was up to her to decide whom to invite and were to gather. She chose my flat, and there were my sister, my Mum, a close friend of ours, O.K. and myself.

As before, the tasting was fun, the sommelière and the winery's manager were the right mixture of entertaining and informative, and all five wines were nice. We had various snacks with them, no cooked meal, but I believe nobody left hungry. O.K. and I walked my Mum home afterwards; it was cold but not slippery.

It was noon again when we sat down for "breakfast" on Sunday, the 22nd of January

Sunday morning from my kitchen.
Another cold day but maybe 2 degrees warmer than before, and with less cold wind, meant we were ready for a longer walk that lead us to the lake, back via the deer park and then through the palace grounds before crossing the centre of town for home, where we arrived still in time for coffee and cake.
It's not been cold enough yet for the lake to freeze over properly; what you see is just a thin layer of slush.

You can buy hot drinks and cake here, but we had both waiting for us at home.

The small palace by the lake is called Monrepos, "my rest".

The deer was very interested in the many people walking in the park. They know that some always come with food for them.

This small palace in the deer park is called Favourite.

North front of Ludwigsburg's residential palace; this is the oldest part of what was supposed to be "just a little hunting lodge" in 1704 for the then Duke of Wuerttemberg.

View across part of the palace grounds.
I made a quiche for our dinner, making the kitchen really warm and cosy. (I posted the recipe here some years ago, along with pictures of each step and the final product.)

O.K. had to drive home, and I did not envy him! On Sunday evenings I always wait until he texts me that he arrived home, and this time it took him about 1 1/2 hours - no traffic jams and no icy roads or snow and rain to make driving difficult.

Wednesday 18 January 2023

Read in 2023 - 2: A Gingerbread Café Christmas

A Gingerbread Café Christmas 

by Rebecca Raisin

Years ago, my mother-in-law in Yorkshire had a stack of paperbacks ready for me to choose from which books I would want to take home after my holiday. As I have always loved seasonal reading in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I took this one with me but only got around to reading it this past December and finished it at the beginning of January.

It was a nice enough read but not something that kept me wanting to know more, or to particularly like any oft he characters. Neither the author’s style nor the story itself are challenging – and sometimes that’s all I want from a relaxing read after a day that was challenging enough in ist own way.

The main character is Lil, a young woman who has worked hard to keep her small-town café going after her husband left her not only for another woman, but also with very little money.

When a new shop opens across the road, selling some of the same things she offers at her café, of course Lil is furious and thinks of a way to drive the shop owner – handsome as he may be – out of town.

Well, I think you can guess even from that one sentence what the outcome of that is! Needless to say, obstacles crop up left, right and centre, but with a large dose of home-baking and an even larger one of friendship and love, Lil overcomes them all.

The small-town setting is nice, if somewhat idealised (not that I don’t know that similarly close communities do exist). Many of the cast are a so cliché they are almost funny, and of course anyone who plays a significant role is either super gorgeous and sexy, or at least so kind and friendly their looks do not seem to matter. I am the last person to object to escapism, but sometimes I wish people in books were just normal, regular, average folks. Yes, indeed, people can fall in love with someone who does not have the looks of a super model.

Reading this book sometimes truly felt like eating a big, sweet, creamy piece of wedding cake with a lot of icing, but I suppose that is more or less what the author intended. I read this paperback alternating with the mystery I last reviewed, which I read on my kindle. If I had to give stars for each, I would give 5 to the mystery and 3 to this one.

The author's website is here.

Monday 16 January 2023

Public Transport Week

Last week was my personal Public Transport Week - nothing official, just the headline I decided to give last week's summary. 

For the first time in a long time, every working day of that week saw me using public transport. Is that so unusual? It never used to be; I went to work by train from Monday to Friday for decades, but that all stopped long before the Covid pandemic. 

In fact, I began to work from home on a fairly regular basis in 2011, but although the number of days per week did vary over the years - anything from 5 days from home to 5 days at various sites -, it was only in mid-March 2020 that I, like so many others, officially stopped going to the office completely for many months.

Therefore, it struck me as unusual when I realised on Friday that I had indeed been using public transport (there was even a brief, rare bus journey at one point!) for five days in a row.

Monday, the 9th of January, saw me on "my" usual trains back from O.K.'s. They were both on time. The day itself was remarkable in that a) I did not go for a walk - the only walking I did was from Ludwigsburg's train station to my home - and b) the Christmas present my sister-in-law had posted for me in Ripon, Yorkshire, on the 2nd of December, arrived. Better late than never...! 

The 10th of January (Tuesday) was my sister's birthday. Understandably, so soon after our Dad's and R's deaths she did not want a party or even gathering with friends. Instead, she invited my Mum and me to an Italian restaurant in  town, easy to get to for all three of us, and known for their good food.

In the morning, I had already been on local trains to and from Stuttgart for my regular check-up with my eye specialist (all is well). After the meal at the restaurant, my sister and I went on the bus back with our Mum for a drink before going to our respective homes, and that was the rare bus trip I mentioned above.

Wednesday (Jan. 11) was wet and unpleasant in terms of weather, and so I did not go for a walk during lunch break in spite of working on-site in Weilimdorf, where I usually join two colleagues for their regular lunchtime walk. 

I was back there on Thursday, the 12th of January, and this time did join the two colleagues on their walk. It was still chilly and windy, but not raining. Also, that morning I had woken up with a headache and was hoping for the fresh air to sort me out. Well, it didn't, and once I was back home, I managed to stay up only until the main news on TV were over, and was in bed by 8:30 pm - not my usual bedtime!

The next day, Friday (Jan. 13), I felt fine again and not only managed to  complete all the tasks I meant to finish that day, but also went for the first "proper" walk of the week. The sun lured me out, and it wasn't cold, but VERY windy, and walking with the wind constantly whipping my face and head made walking less enjoyable than what I had hoped for. Still, it was good, and put me in the right frame of mind for my usual round of weekend cleaning. I had enough time to pack my little red suitcase before I was back at the train station for my trip to O.K.'s. 

Friday's high winds blew even more fiercely on Saturday, the 14th of January. It still was mild for January (11 C or 51.8 F), but the wind brought clouds and rain on its wings, although we had a dry couple of hours in the early afternoon for a walk around the village.

That's O.K.'s village in the distance, and the hill behind is part of the Black Forest.

A friend of O.K.'s had invited us to a birthday meal at an Indian restaurant in town, and we arrived there at 6:00 pm on the dot. The food was good and the company (there were six of us) pleasant. After the meal, the small party continued at the friend's house.

As forecast, the temperature dropped quite a bit on Sunday (Jan. 15). It was still windy, not quite as much as on Saturday, but enough for us not to risk a walk in the woods with potential danger from falling branches. Also, it was a day of fast-moving clouds, making for a fantastic "light show" - I wish my photos could convey better what we actually saw! 

The field in the middle of the picture was lit up by the sun and looked like a patch of glowing gold - much brighter and shinier than in the photo.

Can you almost feel the wind?
I enjoyed our walk very much, and the coffees and cake afterwards were welcome. As Monday mornings mean an early start for us (the alarm is set for 5:15), we usually make sure to have a quiet evening in and go to bed early enough to get sufficient rest before the next week starts all over again.

Can you believe the first half of the first month of this new year is already over?!

Friday 13 January 2023

Read in 2023 - 1: The Railway Murders

The Railway Murders (The Yorkshire Murder Mysteries, #8)

by J.R. Ellis

The latest book in the series about DCI Oldroyd was just as enjoyable as the others – thank you, Monica, for reviewing it on your blog! Otherwise I would not have known about its release until much later, probably.

Once again, Oldroyd is asked to investigate an „impossible“ murder – a classic Locked Room Mystery.

And once again, his trusted team rallies round. Steph and Andrew appear as a couple comfortable in their own skins and with each other, and this time, Steph is not only playing a bigger part in the investigation than Andrew, but she also faces an important decision in her private life.

Oldroyd’s partner Deborah is involved, too – in more ways than one. Their relationship is more pronounced in this book, I think, and I quite like that.

His sister makes an appearance, too, but his daughter is only mentioned briefly, and his ex-wife even less.

The case? A historical railway in Yorkshire (where else!) is used for filming a period drama. One of the actors, disliked by many in the industry for his womanising, and notorious for borrowing money without paying it back, is shot dead in the carriage he was to get off from while they were filming.

Nobody else was in the compartment with him, nobody was seen to get in or leave, and there was no access from the other compartments or carriages.

The list of suspects is long, and it soon becomes apparent that this can’t have been the work of just one person. That most of the suspects are actors does not make interviewing them any easier! Also, the railway is under pressure to open to the public again, and the film people need to know if they can go ahead with their work.

After the investigation seems to be stuck in a rut, sudden dramatic developments (and more deaths) speed the story up. Things come to a climax, and after the mystery is solved, the team is left with a new appreciation for what the good in their lives.

The story is set in summer, and the description of the Yorkshire landscape (Bolton Woods and surroundings, mainly) is very evocative. It felt odd reading about sun-dappled woodland paths, flowers and birds, while waiting for trains on windswept platforms in the dark and cold of a December or January morning or evening.

Hopefully, J.R. Ellis comes up with many more cases; I really like this series and will certainly buy the next book as soon as I learn about it (from Monica's blog, probably!).

Monday 9 January 2023

The First Week of 2023

You already know how this year started for me, and that I was at O.K.'s for New Year's Day.

On Monday, Jan. 2, O.K. took me to the train station as usual, and I am pleased to say that both trains were on time, allowing me to start work early enough in order to go for a walk afterwards (or, rather, in between) while it was still daylight. I walked to Benningen enjoying sun and clouds and very mild temperatures of 12-15 Celsius (a max of 59 F).  

The photos here were from that morning's train ride. I love watching the sunrise over the Black Forest hills on my way to Stuttgart, but getting a decent picture from the high speed train, with the window's reflection (and often dirt), is difficult.

Tuesday, the 3rd of January, was cooler but sunny. It was actually a fabulous day but work did not allow for a walk. My sister came over for the evening; I had prepared a meal for us (couscous with a coconut-based sauce of steamed carrots and ground ginger), and we watched one of my Christmas gifts to her: a virtual tour of Castle Howard* in Yorkshire, a place we both love but have so far managed to visit only once. 

View of the night sky from my kitchen window at 6:15 pm, shortly before my sister arrived.
It was still christmassy at my flat.

It was very windy with some rain on Wednesday (Jan. 4), but still not really cold at 11 Celsius. I spent my lunch break at my Mum's, enjoying her cooking and her company, and after work went for a walk in a part of town I had not visited in quite a while.

A sunrise like this (as seen from my kitchen window at 8:15 that morning) often means wet weather later in the day.
Thursday, the 5th of January, was the last working day of that first week of 2023. In my part of Germany, the 6th is a holiday (Epiphany/Three Kings). My upstairs neighbour was going to stay with her elderly parents in Turkey for a month, starting the following Monday, and so we made sure to meet for an hour or so and a good chat after work. I also managed to fit in a quick walk around lunch time but somehow did not feel well; not ill, sick or in pain, just really exhausted and a little wobbly and weak. 

Another beautiful night sky, just after 7:00 pm.
I was grateful, therefore, to be able to stay in bed two hours longer on Friday (Jan. 6), and felt fine when I got up at 8:00. 

Traditionally, Christmas things are put away that day in my family, and I had just enough time to do that and pack my little red suitcase before heading to the station.

The tree, the cards and the star in the window are gone, and my yellow armchair is back in its usual corner.

I forgot one single item - everything else is packed away in the basement, waiting to be brought back up in about 11 months.
This time, my train journey to O.K.'s started on the dot, but the last of the three trains I had to take that day was delayed by about 20 minutes. It made the whole trip a bit more relaxed, as the 7 minutes I usually have in Karlsruhe are a bit tight, and it was the last leg of my journey anyway, but of course others weren't so lucky.

Clouds over the Black Forest, as seen from the train that afternoon
O.K. picked me up and we even had time for a quick coffee before setting off to a nearby village, where friends had invited us to a winter BBQ. Of course, conditions here are not all that wintry at the moment, but we were outdoors, and after a few hours, the cold creeps up from the ground, no matter how warmly you wrap up. Nevertheless, it was nice seeing some of the friends I had not met since the wedding in July.

Another winter BBQ with a different group of friends was planned for Saturday, the 7th of January. This time, we were to go just across the road and did not need the car. The gathering was in the evening, and so we made use of the sunny day and brilliant blue sky by going for a 12 km walk in the afternoon, straight from the cottage, to the next village and back in a large loop among vineyards, orchards and fields - mostly dormant this time of year, of course, but in a sunny spot near a beck I spotted my first crocus of this season! Their white, yellow and purple blossoms looked so promising.

Birch and hazel look as if it were late February or March.

Can you believe that azure sky?

After that beautiful day, it was hard to believe the forecast for Sunday (Jan. 8) - but it turned out to be true, and apart from a few hours in the afternoon, it was raining almost all day. We used the rainless period for a walk; nothing big or special, just around the village and only about half the distance we had walked the day before. The first week of 2023 ended with a quiet night in at the cottage.

*The link leads to the first of a series of posts about our 2015 visit of Castle Howard. Just click along to the next posts, or type "Castle Howard" in the search box of my block, if you want to see more of that fantastic place.