Friday 26 May 2023

Covid Week

My last diary-style post ended with Sunday, May 14. Let me now pick up where I left off, and cover the week that began on the 15th of May.

That Monday (May 15) was my first day back at work after the break. I worked from home, as I do on most Mondays, allowing myself to ease back into things in a relatively relaxed manner.

My Mum needed something from the pharmacy, and so I went to get that and took it to her. Just like the day before, we neither hugged or came any closer  than 2 m, and of course we wore masks. I left as soon as I was sure she had everything she needed.

I felt decidedly unwell on Tuesday, the 16th of May, but my Covid test still resulted negative. A headache was making it hard to focus on work; I admit I took 3 Paracetamol in the course of the day. 

After work, I thought a walk would help with the headache, and at first, it really felt good to be out. But it didn't take long until I was exhausted enough to turn round, and was glad to reach my flat again, spending the evening on my own - while my pub quiz team went ahead without me. It was our last time before the quiz broke up for the summer, and I had really been looking forward to it, but the way I was feeling by then, it just wasn't feasible.

My team did me proud! Along with one other team, they had the highest number of points. They did not guess the right answer to the tie break question, and so The Corner Shop ended the quiz season on a very good 2nd place.

For the first time ever since the pandemic began, I tested positive on Wednesday morning (May 17). Of course it wasn't a surprise, but it felt weird nonetheless. Here I was, thinking I might get away with not catching the virus at all; during the past three years, I tested so often and had "red" warnings on the Corona Warning App on my phone (it notified you when your phone had been in close proximity to the phone of someone who had tested positive and stored the result in the app), almost every time after a long train journey - but never caught it. (Of course, wearing FFP2 masks on public transport had been compulsory for many months.)

That it would be my Mum of all people who'd pass the virus to me was not a scenario I had expected. But now I was feeling somewhat sorry for myself, working (with many breaks in between), worrying about my Mum, my sister and O.K. After all, the four of us had been sitting at the same table on Friday night. Funnily enough, I was the only one to catch it.

Anyway, I was glad to know my Mum's friend was back from a brief trip. This friend is a retired nurse who lives downstairs in the same house as my Mum, and her practical help has been truly precious over the past years when my Dad's health deteriorated. Now she was making chicken soup for my Mum, and offered to bring me some, too. How sweet was that! She even brought a handful of fresh strawberries, the first (and so far only) ones I've had this season.

My headache was much better, no need for tablets, but the sore throat and cough were getting more pronounced.

Thursday, the 18th of May, was similar. I worked, although not to full capacity, and did not set foot outside my flat, in spite of it being a beautiful sunny day.

Somehow I felt worse on Friday (May 19); I'd had a bad night, which makes me feel like a zombie even when I am well otherwise, and now I clearly was not. I worked only for about 5 hours, but it left me totally drained, and I slept for about 1 1/2 hours in the afternoon. That made me feel a little better, but I still took 2 Paracetamol that day.

Another sunny day was here on Saturday (May 20), but I didn't really care; I was not well enough to go out, only doing the most basic houework, resting in between tasks. 

Sunday, the 21st of May, was a proper early summer's day here, but once more I did not leave my flat. I kept the windows open, though, and after the morning's headache subsided, I could feel the other symptoms retreating somewhat, too, with just the cough remaining.

O.K. went for a walk near his village and sent me these photos. Knowing the place so well, it almost felt as if I was there, too.

During my self-isolation, O.K. and I talked on the phone at least twice every day, and I was relieved to know he was fine.

It was a strange week, with a lot of reading (when my head would allow) after work, and some easy TV. My personal highlights were certainly the soup, and the afternoon I spent reading "Still Time to Wonder". Also, I was very glad to have daily updates from my Mum, who was getting better (and tested negative about 3 days ahead of me).

I know it was unwise to work, but I did not want to get behind on my tasks after I'd already been away for two weeks. It helped that it was a quiet week with very few calls or meetings, and of course it was only possible because I was working from home.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Read in 2023 - 13: Lily


by Rose Tremain

If I remember correctly, my sister bought this paperback last year at our favourite bookshop, The Little Ripon Bookshop. When we're in Ripon, we always make it a point to go there, and we never leave without great new books - limited only by the fact that every item will need to fit in our bags and be carried between trains and across train stations on the long journey home.

Many of the books my sister buys for herself end up being read by me and our Mum, too. We do not have the same taste in reading material, but more often than not, a book she buys will appeal enough to me that I borrow it from her sooner or later.

"Lily" was one such book. The author's name seemed to ring a bell, but upon searching my blog, I find that I had not read anything by Rose Tremain before.

In this book, we follow Lily from the icy November night of her birth, when she is abandoned and left to die but survives against all odds. As it was the custom then, foundlings were sent to foster families for the first six years of their lives and then returned to the institution that provided for them until they were old enough to make it on their own.

In theory, some of that sounded as good as all the institutions and mechanisms in place today that are about the welfare of children. But as we all know, not today and certainly not back then did things really work out for the children's best interest. There was (and often still is) hardship and abuse, and the result was a vast number of traumatised young people leaving such institutions with not much hope for a good life.

Lily gets a chance at happiness, though: She finds employment and her own (very modest) lodgings, makes a friend in her employer and finds solace in her Sunday visits to church, not for anything to do with religion, but to look at the coloured light coming through the stained glass windows.

But a terrible secret never really lets go of her, and she knows it is only a question of time before her past will catch up with her.

There is sorrow, but also humour in the book. Some characters come to life and acquire colour in the reader's mind, such as Lily herself, but a few remain two-dimensional and very black and white. This might have been the author's intention, adding to what other reviews have described as fairy-tale elements of the story. (There is nothing supernatural about it; everything is very well researched, and the reader learns plenty about Victorian London, wig-making, the way orphans and foundlings were treated, running a farm, and even some police work.)

I enjoyed the read and can recommend the book, even though I can't say I engaged as fully with the main characters as the enthusiastic reviews say.

Speaking of reviews - do you think it is necessary to cover a book inside and out with blurbs from reviews? Have you ever bought a book because of sentences such as "Heartbreaking, wonderful and totally unputdownable!" or "Another masterpiece by the author of [insert other title by the same writer]" printed on the cover?

While a brief summary of what the book is about can be decisive for me, the reviews (or their excerpts) definitely are not. I still read each and every one of them, though.

Rose Tremain has her own wikipedia entry but not, it seems, her own website. Still, you can find plenty about her and her books online.

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Read in 2023 - 12: The Light We Carry

The Light We Carry

Michelle Obama

Back in 2019, I read Mrs. Obama's first book, "Becoming". You can find my review of it here. Much of what I said back then is also true for this book.

I enjoyed each and every page, and it won't do any harm to pick it up again in a few years or so, to see how much I remember and how much (still) applies to me then.

If you are looking for a self-help book with check lists to work through, or "I know it all" type solutions to any of life's challenges, don't read this book. 

But if you are looking for some practical wisdom and strategies that have helped Mrs. Obama (and her family and friends) and may be helpful for you, too, in staying balanced and hopeful in a world that seems to become more and more uncertain every day, read it.

Or, if you simply like what she has written so far (like I do) and admire her as someone with a very good head on her shoulders, someone who can put her thoughts into words in a manner that makes for a great read, you won't be disappointed, either.

The book's jacket reads: "Drawing from her experiences as a mother, daughter, spouse, friend, and First Lady, she shares the habits and principles she has developed to successfully adapt to change and overcome various obstacles - the earned wisdom that helps her continue to 'become' [...] encouraging others to work through fear, find strength in community, and live with boldness."

Something else I like about this book is the fact that you can very easily fit in reading just a page or two during a busy day, say, in your lunch break, and return to it later without losing track of the line of thought or wider idea explored in each chapter.

Until reading the jacket (I am one of those people who always read all the information before starting on the book itself), I had not known that Michelle Obama has written a third book, "American Grown". It is most likely going to find its way on my wish list for next Christmas.

Sunday 21 May 2023

Read in 2023 - 11: Still Time to Wonder

Still Time to Wonder

by Joe Cornish

Although considered a "coffee table book", i.e. one that is more about the pictures than reading material, "Still Time to Wonder" offers not just VERY good photos to look at, but also interesting, thought provoking and informative words to go with it.

Last year, visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, my sister and I came across an exhibition of stunning photographs, mounted on unusual wooden frames in the former mill. In this post I mentioned the exhibition only fleetingly in one sentence, but it really left us deeply impressed.

In 2019, Northallerton-based photographer Joe Cornish started on a project for the National Trust in the grounds of Fountains and Studley. Then the pandemic came along, but instead of stopping the project, lockdown periods added a new dimension to it, making images possible that would otherwise never have come about, at various times of day (and night), in all sorts of weather and throughout the seasons, without any visitors around.

I remember that I felt as if I could just walk into some of the pictures when I stood in front of them in Fountains Mill. My sister and I have loved the large old trees in the deer park and elsewhere on the estate from the first time we came here many years ago, and it is really no exaggeration when I keep naming Fountains as one of my favourite places on this whole planet (not that I have seen all that many).

Imagine my surprise when, just before I left for my May break, my sister said she had something for me - "just so", for no particular reason. On the Friday before I left for O.K.'s (and my May Break started), my sister and I spent our lunch break together in my kitchen, and she handed me her present: This wonderful book!

My sister had managed to get hold of a signed copy, and not just signed - Joe Cornish also drew a smiling camera next to his name! I did not look at it there and then, saving it for a day when I would really have time to enjoy it properly. 

That day came this week, when I have been housebound with Covid and felt a little sorry for myself. I made myself a mug of Yorkshire tea, using my Fountains Abbey mug, and settled in my yellow armchair, covering myself with my National Trust blanket - can't get a more fitting scenario than that without actually being there, can you :-)

As I said, the photographs are stunning, wonderful, great, thought-provoking - and have made me want to walk there right away, especially in Seven Bridges Valley, a part of the park I have not been to properly in years.

The words by the author himself as well as by other contributors to the book explain not only how the project came about, what its challenges were, but also how photography at Fountains has developed historically, the context of man-made and natural landscape and architecture, light, weather... it's all in there, and well worth reading.

It took me through an entire afternoon, and I am sure this was not the last time I have opened this fantastic book.

Thank you, sister!

I recommend visiting Joe Cornish's website, and especially look at the pictures under "Homeland", there under "North York Moors", "North East Coast" and "Dales" - they will fill anyone who has ever been to Yorkshire with a deep longing for the place. More info about him can be found on wikipedia, and on his gallery's website, you can find the book here.

Saturday 20 May 2023

May Break: Saturday and Sunday

My late husband always corrected me when, before a long weekend such as Easter, I would say that I was having four days off. He said that I was not having four days off, only two (Good Friday and Easter Monday, for example); the Saturday and Sunday were the regular weekend anyway. Technically, he was of course right. But what I meant (and still do) was that I was looking forward to a certain number of days without work.

And therefore, although the previous Saturday and Sunday (May 13 and 14) were "just the regular weekend" and not days taken off work, I still consider them part of my May Break - its last part.

Saturday was chilly and cloudy but mostly dry, with the sun coming out when the day was nearly over. 

O.K. and I went for a late breakfast (as is so often the case with us on weekends, closer to lunch time than anything else) at "Bubbles", one of our favourite cafés. A little, somewhat aimless, stroll in town followed, as sometimes happens when we know it's not worth starting anything like a longer walk, and we don't actually want anything from the shops, either.

Shortly before 2:00 pm, O.K. left for home. We both needed the rest of the weekend to sort out things and get ready for work on Monday. Also, O.K. intended to spend much of Sunday (Mother's Day in Germany) with his family.

I went for a quick food shop and spent the next two hours at home before I set off for a walk at about half past four.

When I have been away from home for a while, like these past two weeks, one of the things I love to do to make me feel really "welcome back" is walking my most familiar paths. I did just that on this afternoon, walking to Benningen as I have done so many times. It felt really good.

View from my kitchen window around 7:30 pm
In the evening, I watched an episode of Shakespeare & Hathaway, and read for a while before bedtime.

Sunday was sunny and beautiful - but first thing in the morning was a message from my Mum: She had been unwell all Saturday (nothing to do with the Indian food on Friday evening), and this morning's self-test revealed that she was COV-19 positive. Oh no!! 

Over the past months, my Mum has been looking after herself much better than what was possible for her while she was caring for my Dad 24/7. But she is going to be 79 this August and has several health issues to deal with; she certainly did not need that virus on top! My sister and I were worried but there was not much either of us could do other than urge Mum to take things easy (which she did) and drink plenty of tea and water and eat at least a little bit (which she did, too). 

With my sister being in Berlin for a break, my Mum and I had originally intended to spend the afternoon together, maybe walking to the cemetery, having coffee on Mum's balcony in the sun or similar. Of course, this was now completely out of the question.

Instead, I went out on the fields on my own, and from one of my favourite spots picked a small bunch of wild flowers. Together with a little souvenir from our stay in Limpach, I brought them to my Mum. We only met in the stair case; Mum was wearing an FFP2 mask, and we neither hugged or came nearer each other than 2 m. I put the bag with my little gifts on the floor and left.

On the outskirts of Pflugfelden, near the cemetery
Back home, I had a quiet rest of afternoon and evening ; blogging, reading, playing, watching TV and talking to O.K. on the phone.

This year's May Break was over.

Friday 19 May 2023

May Break: Thursday and Friday

Our last full day in Limpach was here - Thursday, the 11th of May. Yesterday's downwards trend for the thermometer continued, and it never got any warmer than 12 Celsius (as opposed to the 22 we'd had only two days earlier). There was also some rain, but we still managed a decent walk, if not overly long at about 7 km.

It is beautiful there, no matter the weather!

A glimpse of Lake Constance

Mowing had begun on some of the wonderful meadows in bloom - we were glad that we'd had the chance to see them in all their glory.

The afternoon was lazily divided between resting and having coffee in our room and a turn in the spa, which was fuller than what we'd seen it like before but still not as crowded as to be really unpleasant.
Dinner was suitably delicious for our last evening here, based on venison from the area.

For the first time in 1 1/2 weeks, we set an alarm for Friday (May 12), since we were required to vacate our flat by 11:00 am and certainly did not want to have to rush through getting up, bathroom, packing and breakfast.

As is often the case when we have something planned, however, we did not need the alarm but woke up on our own well before that.

In front of our door shortly after 10:00 on the morning of our departure

Nothing took particularly long, and we had one last sumptuous, leisurely breakfast in the cosy breakfast area before loading the car and paying our hotel bill.

The drive home was on very busy roads, with traffic occasionally coming to a standstill for a little, but we arrived in Ludwigsburg at around a quarter past 1:00 pm nonetheless.

Unpacking followed, and guess what - Ellen was right when she said in her comment on this post that maybe my washing machine would be working again after my return - it did!!
I was (and still am) very glad about that, and instantly made use of it, hardly trusting my luck. For now, I won't need to buy a new one, but I am aware of the machine's age and that it can be necessary to say good-bye anytime soon.

Shortly after 5:00 pm, O.K. and i walked to the train station. My volunteer group had been invited to the official opening to the second year of making the industrial estate next to the railway tracks accessible to the public (click here for my post about the opening last year), and even though it was windy and a bit nippy, it didn't look like rain. We met another member of the volunteer group and chatted a little, then listened to the opening words of Ludwigsburg's mayor and a few other dignitaries. A look round followed to check out what has changed this year (new food truck - quality test still pending; same bar), but we could not stay long, as we had arranged meeting for a meal at a nearby Indian restaurant with my Mum and my sister.

The food was excellent, as always at that place, but service left a lot to be desired. Not in terms of friendliness, but if you need to remind a waiter of your order of a glass of wine three times, you end up not wanting it anymore. In our case, we simply decided to end the evening at our Mum's place, where we opened a bottle of sparkling wine to toast our reunion after two weeks.

PS: I have just been to the basement to put besheets and towels through the wash. *Groan* - the washing machine shows exactly the same behaviour as on the day I left for my May Break :-(

Thursday 18 May 2023

May Break: Wednesday

The following day, Wednesday (May 10), was very different from Tuesday.

It was much cooler, and the grey sky was in line with the forecast for a wet day. (It turned out to remain dry until the evening, but we could not know that.)

Because we were expecting rain any minute and had no intention to repeat yesterday's muddiness on another walk, after breakfast we decided to walk each and every street in the small hamlet that is Limpach. If you look at it on a map, you can easily tell that there are only a handful of streets, and the whole place is quickly covered. Still, we always find it interesting to look at people's houses and gardens, and I always try to imagine what it would be like to live there every day, and if I had the choice of any house in the village, which one it would be.

Arriving at the last house of the village, we walked further along the street with no particular aim; we just wanted to walk and agreed that we'd turn around when rain would set in.

There was hardly any traffic on the road, and so it was no problem. We passed farmsteads, fields and (you knew it) meadows and woods, and then this tiny roadside chapel which seemed somewhat neglected, unlike the well cared-for places we have seen many times during our walks.

After about 6 km altogether, we were back at the hotel and had coffee in the cosy breakfast room, accessible to house guests almost all day. There are comfy settees and armchairs dotted around, and shelves of books. We each grabbed a coffee table book to look at and settled for a while in one of the cosy corners.

Before dinner, we spent a couple of hours at our flat; I used part of that time for writing my post about the days between the May Fest and our arrival here.

Somehow, neither of us felt much inclined to visit the spa that afternoon.

After dinner, we watched the news on TV and then a documentary about a lady who, at 69 years, made her personal dream come true and travelled to the Himalaya, much of it on her own, by car. Definitely not something I would ever attempt!

Wednesday 17 May 2023

May Break: Tuesday

As usual, I am rather slow catching up with my posts. We have now arrived at Tuesday, the 9th of May

On that day in 1962, Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) was born. In 1805, German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller died, half a year before his 46th birthday. In 2023, here in Deggenhausertal about 20 km from Lake Constance, it was a beautiful day - at 22 Celsius (71.6 F), warmer than we've sometimes had in July. 

We were up for a good long walk, but since we did not want to use the car, choice was relatively limited, and so we ended up walking the Höchsten-Tour again. Still, it was not exactly the same as on the Saturday. For one thing, we walked it in reverse order. Those of you who are regular walkers know how very different the same path can feel when walked in the opposite direction, and this one was no exception. Also, this time we took better care of following the sign posts and did not miss the one turn we had missed the first time.

Are you ready for even MORE pictures of meadows and trees in bloom, spring woodland and fluffy clouds in blue skies?

Just like on the Saturday, we stopped for a shandy at the Höchsten beer garden. It was lovely to sit there with a view of the countryside, with Lake Constance shimmering in the distance and the snow-capped mountains rising behind it.

View from the beer garden at the Höchsten

Afterwards, we covered that part of the route we had missed the first time, and came through the village of Homberg (less than 800 inhabitants) with an unusual church: It is of late Gothic origin but sports a 1960s interior. I quite liked the contrast, but see for yourselves.

Coming up towards St. Johannes, Oberhomberg

Clear lines, stylish lamps and typical 1960s stairs leading up to the organ

Not exactly my taste, but then religious art can be tricky.

A rather muddy part in the woods followed. Yesterday's rain had left its mark; enough water is of course essential for the survival of woodland, and we were wearing our sturdy hiking boots, but at some points we had to find alternatives to the actual path in order not to sink knee-deep into mud.

Our hotel has a hiking boots cleaning stop outside the front door, complete with good brushes and a short hose pipe attached to a stone basin. A metal door leads to a drying room, where the freshly cleaned, wet boots can be stuck on heated metal rods and left to dry. We made good use of that before going to the spa.

Dinner was excellent again, this time with green asparagus (my favourite) and a lovely creamy soup of wild garlic. A dry white made for the perfect companion.

With having been walking in the sun for much longer than what had been possible since winter, I was very tired afterwards - but you know the kind of "good tired", when you've been out in the fresh air for most of the day. The tour itself was just short of 19 km.

Monday 15 May 2023

May Break: Monday

The forecast for Monday, the 8th of May (and actually, for most of the week) was not exactly walk-friendly with plenty of rain and lower temperatures.
And the day was indeed on the wet side - but we wouldn't be avid walkers if we were deterred by a bit of rain, would we!

After breakfast, we went for a walk in what was rarely more than a fine drizzle, sometimes even allowing us to pull back the hoods of our rain coats. It was not cold, but the paths across fields and meadows and in the woods were very muddy, making us return to our clean and dry flat after only about 5 km.

A picture O.K. took on the Sunday and which I forgot to add to that post.

View from our dining table (never used for dining while we were there) on Monday morning.


Bright colours under a grey sky

Still, the walk did us good, and everything looked all the fresher for the rain.

The afternoon was spent largely in the spa, followed by dinner and then a quiet evening in our flat.