Thursday, 28 March 2013

Some More About My Birthday - And Happy Easter!

When it comes to occasions such as my birthday, or Easter, or Christmas - in short: any event that implies presents, good food and being surrounded by loved ones -, I just can't seem to get enough of them. Take my birthday, for instance. It is almost a week ago that I turned 45, and I have already posted about my party. But I have not taken the streamers down yet, and almost all the presents are still on the desk where I put them on display, and all the flowers are still beautiful.
That way, and by taking pictures and writing about the event on here, I mentally go over such special events again, and sharing those good times with my readers somehow increases the happiness I can draw from them.
Therefore, please bear with me - or, if you're sick and tired of hearing about flowers, presents and the weather, simply skip today's entry and wait for the next.

For everyone else, here is an assortment of pictures taken this week.

After a more or less sunny weekend, this sight greeted me when I got up on Monday morning:

But indoors, I had plenty to be happy about! Look at the beautiful flowers people brought for my birthday:

Yellow tulips and blue forget-me-nots - the perfect bouquet for me, since yellow is my favourite colour and forget-me-nots are my favourite flowers! The orange and white tulips match the colour scheme of my living room so well, it'll be a shame when I'll have to let them go some time this weekend.

All my presents in one picture:
See the yellow socks with the crocheted flowers on top in the front? You can probably guess who made those :-) Speaking of which, the March giveaway is still running.
The red with white polka-dots is a pair of trousers - can't wait to wear them, but it will have to be MUCH warmer for that! Whereas I have already been wearing the blue cardi in two different combinations, one to the office and the other one to an event called "IT-Brunch", which is held regularly in my town and where I usually go when I do not have other appointments that day:

It is raining right now, which means the snow is being washed away. Good! Tuesday still looked like this:

No matter. I am looking forward to this weekend, which is FOUR days long instead of two, because of Easter. Happy Easter to all of you!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Read in 2013 - 10: Sea and Sardinia

D. H. Lawrence, probably best known for his (back then considered pornographic) novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover", also wrote several travel books, something I had not known until I found and read "Sea and Sardinia" as a free kindle edition.

The trip described in the book in much detail took place in January 1921, and the book was published later the same year. Here is a picture of the original cover:

I was captured by the beauty of its language from the start. Have a look at just a few lines from one of the first paragraphs, describing the Etna and the surroundings of Taormina, where David Herbert Lawrence and his wife Frieda von Richthofen (named Queen-Bee, or Q-B, throughout the book) lived at the time:
Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction. A double necessity then: to get on the move, and to know whither.
Why can't one sit still? Here in Sicily it is so pleasant: the sunny Ionian sea, the changing jewel of Calabria, like a fire-opal moved in the light; Italy and the panorama of Christmas clouds, night with the dog-star laying a long, luminous gleam across the sea, as if baying at us, Orion marching above; how the dog-star Sirius looks at one, looks at one! he is the hound of heaven, green, glamorous and fierce!—and then oh regal evening star, hung westward flaring over the jagged dark precipices of tall Sicily: then Etna, that wicked witch, resting her thick white snow under heaven, and slowly, slowly rolling her orange-coloured smoke. They called her the Pillar of Heaven, the Greeks. It seems wrong at first, for she trails up in a long, magical, flexible line from the sea's edge to her blunt cone, and does not seem tall. She seems rather low, under heaven. But as one knows her better, oh awe and wizardy! Remote under heaven, aloof, so near, yet never with us. The painters try to paint her, and the photographers to photograph her, in vain.
Lawrence and his wife travel  to and from Sardinia by train and ship, and while on the island, they use the motor bus, still a novelty at that time. The people, the landscape, the villages and towns as well as the interior of the inns and hotels they stay at are described in a way that definitely makes you glad to live almost a century later, with all the comfort we have gotten used to. Most of the humble places where they stay are bitterly cold, no cleaner than a cow shed, offer too little food to make up for the lack of other comforts, and so the Lawrences never stay very long in one place.

The author is fascinated by local costume and the rather archaic, simple way of life and character he finds in the village people. It helps that both he and Frieda are fluent in Italian, and he reports many a conversation with inn-keepers, bus drivers and fellow passengers.

I enjoyed this read, and also enjoyed reading up about the couple on wikipedia, where I found their pictures. Frieda von Richthofen was German, six years older than David Herbert Lawrence, who became her lover while she was still married to an English professor and he was his student. They eloped to Germany (leaving her three children behind) and married after her divorce came through. They stayed together for the rest of Lawrence's life, which ended early: he died in 1930, aged 44, from tuberculosis. Frieda married again and lived until 1956.

Times have changed, and I guess most Sardinians wear their traditional costume only for touristy events and maybe a national holiday or patron saint feast, but I'd like to know how much of what the author describes of Nuoro, Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono and Terranova still is recognizable today.

Monday, 25 March 2013

It Was My Party

Don't say you weren't warned - I told you last week I was getting everything ready for my birthday party, and here's the party post - sadly, without pictures of the ladies' pretty dresses, because some of said ladies usually do not like a) having their picture taken in the first place and b) do not wish to see themselves displayed on the internet. Therefore, you'll have to rely on my descriptions of the classic, above-knee-length black dress my sister wore, elegant lacey midnight-blue number my Mum had bought for the occasion, dark green taffetta overlaid with black lace (done after a vintage 1950s cut) one of my friends had chosen and the very pretty blue dress with mandarin collar and full skirt another one of my friends was wearing. Some of my male guests looked very dapper in elegant suits and ties, as befitted the occasion. But of course I was happy about ALL my guests - no matter what their outfit was!

Here are some pictures of the preparations - none of the party in full swing, for the aforementioned reasons:

Until about half an hour before the party, I was torn between the new dress (the one with the polka dots) and the lilac one (the same one I wore for my birthday last year). In the end, I went for lilac again, it seemed more cheerful. And is it just me or do my totally average-sized feet look HUGE in those shoes?!

Getting the living room ready with extra chairs and streamers across the ceiling.

 Yep, that's the same one again, just like last year, in my tiny hallway.

Next, the "cocktail bar" was set up in the kitchen. The empty space on the table was later taken up by my biggest salad bowl, filled with crushed ice for the drinks.

Doesn't it all look really appetizing? All those dainty little sandwiches and nibbles were made by my Mum, while I was putting up the streamers, answering the phone and trying to decide on my dress :-) Honestly, she deserves a HUGE thankyou!

Some cards had arrived, most of these are from England, but there are also some from as far away from where I live as possible without leaving the planet:

And flowers, and presents!!! 
Stupidly enough, I accidentally deleted the picture I took of the whole array of flowers and presents I got, but here are some glimpses:

I do hope that each of my guests enjoyed themselves as much as I did!
RJ and I spent part of the Saturday eating and drinking leftovers - but there's still so much booze left in the cellar I could host another party. And maybe I am going to do just that!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

It's My Party

Well, not quite yet, and I won't "cry if I want to"; instead, I expect tomorrow night to be as much fun as last year's party in occasion of my birthday.
Preparations started about two weeks ago when I sent out the invitations, but begun in earnest when RJ helped me buy the booze on Monday night after work. It's nearly impossible for me to get bottled drinks on foot; my carrying capacity is rather limited and certainly not sufficient for what you need when you want to serve cocktails and other drinks for 12 guests and yourself. Therefore, I was most grateful for the possibility to do this particular once-a-year kind of shopping by car.

Tuesday after work, one of my friends dropped by for a cup of tea (for her) and coffee (for me). She collects 1950s stuff and lent me a whole array of little dishes and oddly-shaped thingies that were meant for serving all the little nibbles on that usually go with cocktails.

Today, while I was out working, my Mum and Dad delivered whatever else I need to complete my own inventory of kitchen things, such as small forks (for the cake - I only own a set of six) and the beautiful long-stemmed glasses we prefer to drink Aperol Spritz and Hugo from, plus a whole bunch of prettily wrapped presents.

Tomorrow, I have the day off and can prepare everything at leisure. There'll be a last spot of shopping (can't get the fresh stuff days ahead, can you), putting up of garlands and arranging of chairs.

Eventually, I'll have to decide on what to wear, and then - let the party begin!

PS: The March giveaway is still on, by the way.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Read in 2013 - 9: Susan Clegg and Her Love Affairs

Sounds promising, doesn't it! And yet this was one of the books I was tempted more than once to put aside, and as soon as I have finished writing this review, I am going to delete it from my kinde.

What was wrong with it? Everything: there were no love affairs, and Susan Clegg is a most annoying character, non-stop talking and so full of self-righteousness you would certainly avoid her company if she was someone you know in real life.
To do the book at least some justice: it was meant to be humorous, and probably was seen as that when it was first published.

The author, Anne Warner, lived from 1869 to 1913. and I did not manage to find out much more about her; there is the first paragraph of a biographical sketch on BookRags, telling us that "in her day Anne Warner was considered one of the best American humorists. Although her humor is less subtle, she was compared to New England writer Mary E. Wilkins Freeman [equally unknown to me]. Warner's character Susan Clegg was compared to Alice Hegan Rice's Mrs. Wiggs [never heard of her], and she also has much in common with Marietta Holley's Samantha [Samantha? Marietta? Huh?]. Warner's reputation is based on her Susan Clegg stories, which are almost entirely written in the form of anecdotes told by Susan Clegg to her neighbor and friend Mrs. Lathrop, who rarely says anything but is a wonderful listener. Warner's greatest wit [if that was her greatest wit, I'm afraid I won't waste time on her less witty moments] is displayed when Susan shares her opinions on men, many of which remain as fresh as when they were first written." 

The biographical sketch is right in that the book is made up almost entirely by what Susan Clegg tells Mrs. Lathrop, with very little of the storyline happening while the reader is reading it. It sounds an interesting concept, and I am sure much more could have been made of the original idea, but I'm afraid I was mostly annoyed by Susan Clegg's endless chatter. Still, somehow I did care enough to want to find out what was going to happen, because there IS a story, which has obviously started in one of the previous books:

Mrs. Lathrop and Susan Clegg are neighbours and friends. The son of the former has left the small town years ago for the Klondike, and now comes back a millionaire, much to Susan Clegg's and his mother's delight. Susan thinks they are going to get married but is in for a big shock when she goes to meet Jathrop (yep, that's his name) at the station.
Nevertheless, the millionaire lavishes huge sums of money on his dear mother and her best friend, even having both their houses completely rebuilt, which results in the two of them having to stay with various other inhabitants of the small town over the summer.
Susan, true to her way of never being in the wrong and nobody else ever being quite up to her lofty level of doing things exactly as they should be done, is not the most welcome of guests (understandably!) and makes quite the round of the small community. To top it all off, a cyclone destroys several houses and delays the work on the rebuilding of Susan's and Mrs. Lathrop's houses.

Eventually, though, the two ladies can move back in, and the millionaire son returns from a long yacht trip with his millionaire buddies.

There is a wedding in the end, although not quite as imagined at first.

All this sounds like it could make quite an entertaining story, and it possibly is for some, just not for me, I'm afraid.

Just to give you an idea of what about 95% of the book is like, here is one of the very first paragraphs:

"We was talking about dreams," Susan was saying; "it's a very curious thing about dreams. Do you know, Mrs. Lathrop," wrinkling her brow and regarding her friend with that look of friendship which is not blind to any faults, "do you know, Mrs. Lathrop, they said down there that dreams always go by contraries. We was discussing it for a long time, and they ended up by making me believe in it. You see, it all began by my saying how I dreamed last night that Jathrop was back, and he was a cat and your cat, too, and he did something he wasn't let to, and you made one jump at him, and out of the window he went. Now that was a very strange dream for me to have dreamed, Mrs. Lathrop, and Mrs. Lupey, who's staying with Mrs. Macy to-day and maybe to-morrow, too, says she's sure it's a sign. She says if dreams go by contraries, mine ought to be a sign as Jathrop is coming back, for the contraries is all there: Jathrop wasn't a cat, and he never done nothing that he shouldn't—nor that he should, neither—and you never jump—I don't believe you've jumped in years, have you?"
Had I known there and then that this kind of paragraph was here to stay, I would have given up on the book.  My advice: don't read it, unless you find that type of humour hilarious.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Shallow Yellow

Yes, it's shallow old me again, thinking of nothing but superficial stuff such as clothes and colours and how to mix and match the three new items I added to my wardrobe last week :-)

Those of you who have been readers of my blog for a while probably have heard it before: I love yellow. It has been my favourite colour ever since I was a little girl, and there are bits and pieces of yellow dotted all around my flat. The kettle in the kitchen is vanilla-yellow, my watering can for kitchen herbs is yellow, the towels in my bathroom are yellow, three of the four walls in my bedroom are vanilla, whereas there is as good as no yellow to be seen in my living room (different colour scheme altogether), and rarely in the Third Room.

But in my wardrobe, oh! There, you can find my favourite yellow dress, a vanilla skirt, several tops with yellow in them, my beloved yellow zip-up and, since last week, a daffodil-yellow striped blouse and yellow cardigan.

In fact, I bought two blouses, the one with the yellow stripes and the same model in grey. They are exactly the same as the ones I bought in preparation for my new job, and I am already looking forward to mixing and matching the many items I have now in my business wardrobe (just in case you haven't guessed it by now: I love dressing for different occasions, whether it is business or just cleaning the house, a party or going for a run. Must be all that Barbie-playing I did as a girl.)

Now I have talked so much about those new things; do you want to see them? Here you are:
 New cardigan and shirt, old trousers, socks, shoes and handbag.

 Again, new cardigan and shirt, old skirt, tights and shoes.

Assorted items from my wardrobe which I will use for the yellow-grey combinations I have in mind. Sadly, for most of them, it is still way too cold outside, but spring WILL be here eventually, I am sure of that - and I'll be ready :-)

(PS: I am one of those people who contribute to the market for cheap clothes thriving, with all the sad consequences this has for the poor people in Bangladesh and elsewhere who waste their lives away in the factories and sweat shops. The cardigan was 7 Euros from H&M, the shirts were 14,95 Euro each, also from H&M, as were the grey trousers and some of the items in the last picture. While I am not proud of that, I tend to shut it out, also knowing that all the big, expensive brands have their clothes made at the same factories and sweat shops as the cheap ones, only that they make a lot more money from them.)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

More Spring, Inside and Out!

Only the other day, I was telling you about our wonderful sunny weekend, the first sunny days in weeks. Well, it kept until today, and I made the most of it:

On Thursday, I left work half an hour earlier, changed into my thermal running pants and went for my first run since some time last October. It felt GREAT, and I was amazed at how fit I still am after months of not running at all, and not going to the gym as often as I used to, what with the new job just having started and the very cold weather setting in more or less around the same time.

The very next day, I was back on our old familiar well-beaten running track on the fields; this time with my faithful running companion and friend. It was the first time we met in months, even though we live only two streets apart, and so there was plenty to catch up on - which is no problem when you don't run too fast ;-)

We're now in for another cold spell and probably more snow next week, but I - like countless others - am hoping this will be only a brief relapse, and then spring will come to stay.

Yesterday was another beautiful day. While I was going about my weekly cleaning with all the windows wide open to let the air and sun in, I heard the noise of a small aircraft, something I always associate with lazy sunny summery afternoons spent on the fields or at the park. It was something I had not seen in an long time: a small plane pulling a banner. It was an advertisement for a local radio station, and it had such a charming old-fashioned feel about it.

Inside, I put some Easter/spring-themed decoration up; not much, as you can see:

The desk where I usually put Christmas cards under the glass top and where I now have some particularly pretty spring-like cards from last year...

...and the sideboard in my living room where the vase that usually is on there had to make room for this bright green one, the matching candle holder and the "egg".

Oh, and there's a small yellow wooden Easter bunny dangling from the bathroom cabinet door, but I forgot to take a picture of it.

That's all for now; I'm not looking forward to the cold of next week, but there's plenty to look forward to: a congress about IT security on Monday, a dinner invitation from a former colleague on Tuesday, and a fashion show to attend with my Mum on Thursday, plus dancing with RJ on Saturday. Life is good!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Read in 2013 - 8: Anglo-Saxon Britain

It was the year 1881 when this book by Grant Allen was first published. By that time, the author was only a few years into his writing career, which would eventually span the rest of his life (1848-1899) and yield an output of about 30 novels and numerous works of non-fiction.

Grant Allen (full name Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen) was born in Canada to Irish parents, spent part of his life in the U.S., on Jamaica (teaching there at a college for black women) and most of it in England, where he received his education at King Edward's school in Birmingham and graduated from Merton College in Oxford. (He does look rather like an old man there, doesn't he, in spite of him not reaching more than 51 years.)

His father was a protestant minister, but young Grant had different ideas: he became an agnostic and socialist. Being very much interested in psychology and evolution (and writing about both subjects), he even introduced some rather revolutionary concepts in his novels. One of his books, "The Woman Who Did", caused a scandal when it was published in 1895: it portrayed an independent unmarried woman who has a child. He even wrote some novels under a female pseudonym, and a few science fiction books.

In "Anglo-Saxon Britain", however, he was still pretty much a writer of science and history, and the book is compiled in a thorough and accurate manner, with many footnotes and always naming his sources, both contemporary and historical.

In the preface, he writes:
This little book is an attempt to give a brief sketch of Britain under the early English conquerors, rather from the social than from the political point of view. For that purpose not much has been said about the doings of kings and statesmen; but attention has been mainly directed towards the less obvious evidence afforded us by existing monuments as to the life and mode of thought of the people themselves. The principal object throughout has been to estimate the importance of those elements in modern British life which are chiefly due to purely English or Low-Dutch influences.
He goes on to explain how the Anglo-Saxon names are pronounced, a subject which is picked up again later in the book in an extra chapter about the development of the language (very interesting!).

Then he proceeds to outline the origin of the Anglo-Saxons, how the tribes lived on the Baltic coast, and their progress across the North Sea to the south-eastern part of Britannia, and spreading throughout what today is England.
A lot of what the author sees in his fellow Englishmen he traces back to characteristics - physical ones as well as socio-cultural ones - already firmly established with the first settlers originally from Sleswick and Friesland.
He contradicts some of the apparently popular theories of the time about the almost complete wiping out of the Celtic population, and does so with arguments brought forward in a logical manner.

The Anglo-Saxons are portrayed as a savage people, made up of warriors whose whole (often rather short) lives centred around warfare, constantly engaged in one fight or other, often against their nearest neighbours and only rarely fighting with them against a common enemy. 
What I found remarkable (because I had never thought about it that way before) was how Allen describes the essential role the first monasteries had in the development of anything worth being called civilization: they really were the only places a less blood-thirsty man could turn to if he wanted to learn about things and live in (relative) peace; they were practically islands of peace and learning, of culture and science, of reading and perfecting methods of agriculture, husbandry and much more, amidst a tumultous sea of permanent warfare. Monasteries and churches were accepted as being neutral in conflicts by most parties, and left in peace, which allowed them to grow and prosper in a manner impossible to any other community, continuously under threat of being burnt and plundered.

The history of the many small Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, later forming three main kingdoms until, at last, there was but one king of England, is well mapped out. Speaking of maps - a map would have been very useful to trace the movements of the various tribes, but my free kindle edition only contains the text of the book.

It was a good and interesting read, and would have been even better with some illustrations. If I'll come across another free ebook by this author, I think I'll download it. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Felt Like Heaven

Ok, I am exaggerating, I admit it.
But it really felt wonderful to finally see the sun again last weekend after what was the darkest, dullest, greyest (or grayest?) February I have ever seen (and this was not just my imagination, as you can read here).

Saturday morning when I got up, there was still something of a milky haze across the sky, but by the time we sat down for breakfast, the sun came through. So we made sure to tidy the kitchen quickly, and then out we went for the first nice long walk of this year, across the sunlit fields.

What a difference to only a few days ago! This was Saturday morning.

Many others - but not too many - had the same idea; those we met all had a look of relief on their faces. It was still cold enough to require padded winter coats, scarves and gloves, but every time the wind dropped, the sun really made itself felt. And when we were on our way back, we heard and saw two bussards! They were circling overhead, and I like to think that they, too, were happy that the long spell of grey cold was finally broken.

I don't really know how long buzzards live, but I wonder whether there is a possibility that these two were the same ones that I wrote about here.

Anyway, it was a lovely weekend, and according to the forecast, we're to expect 15 Celsius by Thursday. I shall make that day my personal official opening of the running season!

In case you have not seen it yet, there is a giveaway connected with my blog throughout this month. Just click on "Older Post" and you're there.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Three Reasons to Celebrate: Giveaway!

Dear Readers,

This month, I have three reasons to celebrate (apart from my birthday which is only 3 weeks away).
All three are to do with my blog, and so it seems right to celebrate right here, on my blog, with all of you.

1. My very first blog entry was written and published on the 26th of March in 2009 - which means my Four Year Blogoversary is coming up.
Originally, I started blogging because I needed to vent thoughts and feelings I found sometimes hard to cope with by their sheer number and contrast. It was through a close friend of mine that I discovered blogging as the perfect outlet, and although the topics and the aim of my blog have shifted somewhat over the years, it has never ceased to be an important part of my (almost daily) life.

2. The number of followers to my blog shows 99 - just one more to go to make the 100 complete!
While at the beginning I did not really have any readers in mind, soon I felt part of a community of people who blog for very different reasons and about very different topics, allowing me glimpses into their lives and commenting on the glimpses I was giving them in return. I don't want to miss this friendly exchange anymore, and with some of you, a friendship far beyond "just blogging" has developed. All of you matter to me, and I treasure each comment.

3. My Mum, who is responsible for some of the most popular posts on my blog, has sold the first 20 articles on her Etsy shop - largely thanks to you!
She is the only member of my family who actively contributes to my blog, and we both have had plenty of fun in the past hosting giveaways.

Speaking of which...
...this time, the giveaway consists of two parts:

- The winner will receive the book "The Shop on Blossom Street", which I have reviewed here.

- Everyone who reads this - no matter whether they are already following my blog or not - can buy one item from my Mum's Etsy shop at half price during the entire month of March 2013.
(Note: this applies only to items that are in the shop "as is", not for items made on request.) Simply make sure to let my Mum know that you are making your purchase in connection with my blog.
If you make your purchase after March 31st (Central Europe Time), the regular prices as shown in the shop apply. Also, if you buy more than one item, only one of them is at half price.

You don't have to participate in the drawing for the book to buy at the shop at half price, and you do not have to buy anything from the shop in order to take part at the book giveaway.
If you do want to have a chance on winning the book, here is what to do:
1. Leave a comment on this post telling me that you want to be included - this gives you one entry in the drawing.
2. Follow my blog - this gives you a second entry.
3. Tell your readers on your own blog about our triple celebration - and you'll get another entry.

The winner will be drawn on the 31st of March.

Good luck, and have fun!

Meike & Meike's Mum

- - - And a personal message from my Mum to all of you:

I have to thank...
...all those followers of Meike's blog who encouraged me to have my own ETSY-Shop. I never heard about it before, and I first had to search for that faboulous thing! It took me a while to create the page, but al last it worked.
And - amazingly - I sold!! Mostly I sold to you, Meike's followers, and I shipped my items to the U.S., to the U.K., Australia, Sweden. But never to an address here in Germany, although I always post my offers in two languages.  I also knitted some items on request, the customers could choose  colour, size and shape (those are not shown in my shop).
At the end of May my Etsy-shop will have its first anniversary, and then, my dears, I will surprise you again with a special offer!