Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

To all of you who have been reading my blog during 2014 and enriched my posts with your comments, here's wishing you a very Happy New Year!

Let me be selfish for a change (? am I not always?) and just consider what a good year 2014 has been for me altogether. If this was anything to go by, 2015 will be just as good, although different - with new things to learn, new people to meet, new books to read, new posts to write, new places to see and new songs to sing. I will hold on to the good "old" things and embrace the good new things that undoubtedly will come into my life over the next 12 months.

And I wish the same to you.

Christmas Eve

- - - 

Some pictures, taking during the past few days from - you guessed it - my kitchen window:




It has become a bit warmer again, just above freezing point today. Some of the snow that was there yesterday is already gone, but I guess there is more to come soon.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Read in 2014 - 46: The Circle

This novel by Dave Eggers is a book I deem so important I really wish everyone would read it - or at least everyone who leads a considerable portion of their lives online, such as many bloggers (myself included), all facebook members, ebay and Amazon shoppers, google profile owners and many more.

Early on this year, I read about "The Circle" in my weekly paper and thought it sounds like something I should read - but then I didn't do anything about it, until the other day my sister mentioned that she'd bought it. So once she finished it, she lent me her copy, and I must say while Chris Hadfield's "An Astronaut's Guide to Life On Earth" was the book I loved most out of the 46 I have read this year, "The Circle" was probably the most gripping one.

In short, Dave Eggers shows with this novel what could happen (and, on a smaller scale, is already happening - kind of) if one company took over ALL online services for banking, shopping, cloud computing, messaging, and so on. That fictitious company is "The Circle", and its goal is to be complete - something someone wants to prevent at all cost.

Mae Holland is a young woman who lands one of the coveted jobs at The Circle, much envied by her contemporaries for what everybody deems a fantastic opportunity. She soon starts letting The Circle take over more and more of her life, and feels good about it - in fact, whenever she does not share something with the entire community (which encompasses nearly all the world), she is made to feel guilty with arguments so convincing you can really imagine this sort of brain-washing taking place.

A mysterious man, wonderfully described as "calligraphic", becomes Mae's lover, but she can't find out anything about him on the Circle's network, something that greatly irritates her. When she finally learns his true identity (the reader of course guessed it long before that), it is too late for her to be saved - and save the world from the omnipresent tentacles of this giant data-collecting octopus The Circle has become.

The novel ends not quite the way I expected, or was hoping for. It is thought-provoking and very well written, quite a nice change to some of the badly (or not at all) edited ebooks I have been reading. I have just found out that The Circle is going to be turned into a film. That is one I definitely want to see.

Please read this, if you have the chance. There is only one negative thing I can say about the book: the print is VERY small, which is why it took me relatively long to complete it - I could not read very long before my eyes grew too tired.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Read in 2014 - 45: The Christmas Tree

It had to be a Holiday Read - the last book I have read on my kindle in 2014. I started it while still travelling to and from work on the train and finished it on the evening of the 26th. 

"The Christmas Tree" by Rick Amburgey follows the boy Charles from when he is 10 years old until he comes home for Christmas during his first year at college. Every year, the holiday season is what Charles looks most forward to, starting off with Thanksgiving. He loves everything about the holidays - helping his Mom preparing the food, eating the Turkey dinner (and then living on turkey salad sandwiches for weeks afterwards), putting up the Christmas tree and its ornaments (each of which has its own story), going to the Black Friday sales with his Mom, finding the perfect Christmas gifts for everyone, and then celebrating Christmas itself.

He meets a girl and falls in love with her when they are in their teens, and the two of them know from the start they want to stay together for good. Her family is very welcoming, and Charles' family accept Shelly as if she was their daughter soon, too.

For a while, Charles struggles with his desire to do something about his faith and his spirituality, knowing full well that his Dad is totally against it (to him, all churches are sects and dangerous to young minds), and sadly, that potential conflict is not picked up again after a few chapters when I really expected this development to be described in more detail.

Speaking of detail - the author sometimes has the tendency to over-explain a conversation or a situation, making his characters repeat the same stories to each other over and over again, and describing unnecessary things such as that they opened the car doors, got out of the car and walked across the parking lot to the big doors of the supermarket, when it would have been enough to say that they went to the supermarket.

Also, grammar is clearly not Mr. Amburgey's forte; some editing would have been good for the book, which in itself is an interesting and sometimes touching read, just right for the season. I am pretty sure that Charles is the author's alter ego; the way he writes about what happens in those years sounds very much as if he is writing down the memories of his own youth.

The holiday traditions that are probably very familiar to most American readers but somewhat exotic for me (Black Friday - I never understood that one, and most likely never really will!) are set against the background of Charles growing up in the 1980s; the last chapter ends with the winter of 1987/88. Charles was born the same year as I, 1968, and so I can relate to most of his references to music and films of those years.
I liked the "30 days Friendship Cake" his mother makes, and has Charles deliver to people dotted around the communiy to show them they are not forgotten, such as Old Man Rodriguez and Widow Bennington.

All in all, the story would have greatly benefited of proof-reading and editing. As it was a free ebook (what else!), I can't complain.

Saturday, 27 December 2014


...but true: Christmas is already over! Just like I found it hard to get my head round the fact that last Monday was the last time I could go to the Christmas Market and will have to wait a whole year before I can do that again, I can't believe Christmas is already over. I loved every minute of it; not just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but also the weeks leading up to it.

The (real) tree at my parents' with the (real) candles lit on Christmas Eve:

Its shape is a bit... unusual, but we like it! And it being a bit shorter than what we usually have means that the gold star on the top could be attached without much difficulty, and sit really straight this time ;-)

On the morning of Christmas Day, I opened my presents from England after having already received many presents on Christmas Eve. It amazes me every year how much there is! And with the exception of one scarf that is simply not my style (when it comes to pattern and colour), everything is either useful (such as the curry-coloured scarf my sister knitted for me, or the legwarmers my Mum made for me), or can be eaten (look at how much chocolate I got!) or is simply beautiful, such as the wonderful items of jewellery I got this year. In this picture you can see only their elegant little boxes, but they deserve their own post, and you know I won't pass on the opportunity to show them to you!

I hope nobody was too disappointed with what I chose as gifts for them. I was - disappointed, I mean - when we found out that the perfume I bought for my mother was not the one I intended it to be. At the shop where I bought it, I had specifically asked for a scent my Mum used to love, and had not had in years. The lady at the shop had assured me that this was the one, and I trusted her, but she gave me the wrong one. It is as much my fault as hers, and I offered to take it back to the shop, but my Mum said she'll keep it. Still, it is disappointing, because I meant to give her this special gift and now it is not special at all.

And while up until now, our month was more like March than December, look what view I woke up to this morning:

It is the 27th today, and the shops will be bursting I guess, but I still have to go and get some groceries in. Never mind; I'll just wear my new scarf and the warm wellies I bought a few years ago, and I'll be fine.

Hope you are all enjoying this "in between" time of the year.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

In Less Than Three Hours...

...I will shut the door to my flat behind me and walk the 10 or so minutes to where my parents live, to spend Christmas Eve there. 
I wrote a very similar post last year, one that contained a "First" in 2012, snowy pictures in the one for 2011, another snowy post in 2010, but none of the kind in 2009 (which was the year I started blogging, and my husband died less than two months before Christmas).

Sunset a few days ago, seen from my bedroom
Today was, pretty much like every day since last Saturday, a quiet day. The few things on my to-do list were done by early afternoon (ironing, wrapping Christmas presents, going to the gym, posting Christmas greetings for my local XING group which I organise), and I then sat down to read part of my weekly paper. I've also been in touch with one of my sisters-in-law in Yorkshire, to make sure I ring at a convenient time tomorrow, while my mother-in-law is there and we can have a little chat and I can thank her for all the presents (which I am, of course, not going to open until tomorrow morning).

This year, I enjoyed the four weeks leading up to Christmas very much. Actually, I always do, but it was much milder than usual, and so I did not suffer the cold so much. Seven times altogether I've been to our beautiful Christmas market, most of the time to eat and only a few times to actually buy something. Twice I've been to the "Living Advent Calendar" which is held in my part of town every year, and really liked it both times. With my Mum, I attended the informal Christmas party held by a group of people who write an intercultural literature blog together; that was a very interesting afternoon indeed, and I am definitely going to stay in touch with some of them.

Tonight, there will be our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of Frankfurters and spuds salad, followed by the exchanging of gifts. Maybe we'll even sing a song or two; I'd very much like that. The (real) candles on the tree will be lit, everyone will be dressed more less festively, and I hope each of the six people there besides myself will like what I chose for them as a present.

Tomorrow afternoon, RJ will join me for a few days, and we'll have dinner at my parents' again, this time with a slightly different (and larger) group of friends. I am looking forward to all of it, and more!

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate, and a good evening to those who don't.

My parcels are ready, my heart and mind have been for much longer!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Cats Or Kangaroos?

Just like fellow Blogland resident Yorkshire Pudding did the other day on this post, I have decided to address one of the really serious issues and pressing problems humanity are facing these days. I don't mean the continuing threat of Ebola, the troubled relationship (not really a strong enough term, I know) between the police and African Americans in the US, the increasing numbers of people joining the Pegida movement in Germany, the struggle for survival of millions and millions of refugees all over the world, or any of the other big issues brought to our attention daily by the news.
No, I mean the really serious questions such as this one:
Are there cats or kangaroos on my new top?

The photos on my previous posts showed me wearing a new top with a pattern that I firmly believed to be cats. My sister thought the same when we found it browsing a clothes shop together.

After someone asked in their comment to my previous post whether these were kangaroos, my sister zoomed in on the pictures and is now convinced that they are, indeed, kangaroos. This was the subject of a telephone conversation we had yesterday morning, and since I still insist on them being cats (look at the ears! the shape of the head! the length and shape of the tail! the running motion suggested by the silhouette instead of the skipping/jumping way a kangaroo moves!), she suggested I hold an opinion poll right here on my blog, and let my readers decide.
(No matter the outcome of the poll, I am still going to be convinced they are cats.)

Here is a close up of the fabric. I even looked at the shop's website, hoping maybe to find the item described in detail as "short dress/tunic top with cat pattern print in black and white, 100 % cotton", but it doesn't say a word about the pattern, just gives general information about the item.

To prove my point, here are pictures of cat and kangaroo silhouettes I found on the internet (guess which is which):

Now, tell me what you think is the pattern on my top: Cats or kangaroos?

Addendum 24.12.2014:
Someone who does not wish to appar on this blog sent me this picture of a cheetah for comparison:

It's very obvious now, isn't it?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

An Annual Tradition

One of my favourites, actually, and one we - the group of friends I regularly meet with - have created ourselves: the annual Schrottwichteln before Christmas.
You can find out what Schrottwichteln is here in this older blog post. I did not write one specifically last year, but rest assured we did not neglect this fun tradition in 2013.

This year was special, since our friend who moved to the north of Germany some years ago joined us. We don't get to see her very often, but stay in touch mostly by email. Nici stayed with me, as before.

We also had two "new" girls join our group this year; one is the sister of one of the "old" girls, and the other one is my running partner and wife of one of my pub quiz team mates (that is how I originally got to know her).

As always, my living room was ready very quickly. This is how it normally looks these days:

And here it was set up for the small party of seven:

The presents are getting bigger every year:

The one I ended up with... oh dear! Who designs such things? And, even worse, who goes and buys them?!

But, as you can see, much fun was had. By all - even if you can't see the others. I have not asked their permission to use their pictures on my blog, and therefore can't post them. (So, who knows, maybe I was having a party with six imaginary friends... and ate 20 Hawaii toasts and drank two bottles of champagne all on my own!)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Read in 2014 - 44 a) and b)

Why a) and b) ? Because these were two books I do not want to count as two, but one. The reason is simple: I did not read all of the first one, and I hesitate to call the second one a book.

a) The Birth-Time of the World and Other Scientific Essays
by John Joly
A collection of 12 scientific essays on various (sometimes related) subjects, originally published in scientific reviews or held as lectures in the years leading up to 1915, when this book was first put together.
The subjects range from trying to determine the age of Earth by calculating the deposits of sediments in our oceans and the chemical make-up of minerals to why alpine flowers are so much brighter in colours than their counterparts in lower regions, from explanations of photographic technology to pleochroic haloes and from the use of radium in medicine to why we can skate on ice but not on glass.

The essay I found most interesting was the one under the headline "Other Minds Than Ours", dealing with the famous "channels" seen on the surface of Mars for decades and thought to be the work of an ancient civilazation on our neighbour planet. Interestingly enough, John Joly was not one of those who would accept no other explanation for those "channels" (which we now know have never existed), but instead sought and gave a logic reason for them having formed naturally.

I did not read the essays about the technology of photography and only skimmed the surface of the one about pleochroic haloes. Also, I must admit to have given some of the other essays a quick-scan instead of properly reading them. But altogether, this book gave me an insight into where science stood 100 years ago. The one about the use of radioactive substances in medicine was also very interesting, as was the one about skating (as banal as that may sound).
The author's style is clear and concise, but personal; you can imagine this gentleman very well to speak to you as part of an interested audience in some lecture hall or other.

Wikipedia says that John Joly was an Irish physicist, famous for developing radiotherapy as part of cancer treatment, and for having developed the techniques described in this book for determining the ages of geological periods.
He lived from 1857 to 1933. The wikipedia entry does not give any information about his personal life. In 1973, a crater on Mars was named in his honour.

b) Love is What I Need - A Christmas Love Story
by Ben Brocard

Two good things I can say about this "book": 1. it is short and 2. it is free.
Everything else? Oh dear, where do I start...
Shall I tell you about the way too foreseeable story line? Or the unconvincing characters (all of them, of course, totally beautiful inside and - what's more important - out)? Do you want to know of the many grammar errors that maybe a 6th-former would make? Or how about the title saying "A Christmas Love Story", and the actual story setting in AFTER Christmas? I guess I better stop here.
It wasn't as much a waste of time as you'd think, since I only read this on the train to work (where there isn't anything else for me to do anyway), and it really was very short.
So NOT recommended.
Maybe Ben Brocard does have some ideas for romantic stories, but he definitely needs to work much harder on them before he should attempt to publish another "book".

I do like seasonal reading, and this was my supposed to be my first Christmassy read of this year. The other ones will hopefully be less disappointing.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


When I was in my mid-twenties, I had several dark green items in my wardrobe. It was a colour I then liked very much. One was a cashmere jumper I loved to wear, and I had a Laura Ashley skirt with matching jacket made of a bottle green velvet.
Some years later, I somehow "came off" the whole Laura Ashley thing, and my wardrobe exploded in light blue and yellow and pink. Of course, I could go on about the psychological reasons for all that, but that would bore you to tears. Suffice to say that last year in winter, I saw a lady at our biggest client's office dressed in dark green and looking so good in that outfit that it brought green back to my attention. During last winter, I did look at a few green things but didn't find anything I really wanted. Then, when I went to Ripon in the summer, I found the green wool dress at a vintage shop, the dress I showed you for the first time here.

Now that it is colder, I won't be comfortable in short sleeves, so I have been wearing a shirt underneath the dress. It makes for a nearly non-existant waist with all that fabric, but it is still a beautiful dress, I think. It will also work well with a black shirt (I have this same type of shirt in six different colours).

On home office days or weekends, this top (it looks blueish there but it really is a dark green) has become one of my favourites this autumn. I found it at Aldi's, and you can imagine it came at a very low price. It is not warm enough on really cold days, but so far, we have not had any of these.
Oh, and I'll get a hair cut again some time. I promise!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

November Sun

All of last month was unusually mild, and also the first week of December was not as cold as I feared. At 3 Celsius (that's 3 degrees above the freezing point of water), it has not snowed here yet, and as far as I am concerned, there is no need for snow until a few days before Christmas. On the 2nd of January, I want all snow (if there should be any) to be gone, and spring to start :-)

To show you what many days were like last month in my area, here are some pictures taken on the 23rd of November during a very pleasant Sunday afternoon walk down by the river Neckar, maybe a 15-minute-drive from where I live:

The village of Poppenweiler (administratively, it belongs to Ludwigsburg) on the other side of the Neckar.

This part of the river bank has seen some change for the better in recent years. After in the last century the river was straightened in order to facilitate the traffic of freight barges and ships, a few years ago efforts have been made to re-naturalize the original meandering banks. There are now some tiny islets between the shallower arms of the river, where people are not allowed. They serve as important and welcome retreats for all kinds of birds.

From this mini-nature reserve, a path leads along the river to the huge lock. The lock was built in the mid-1950s and consists of a double lock, a small water power station on one side and a weir in the middle.

The huge gates, the endless rush of masses of water down the steep walls and the churning at the bottom of the lock hold a strange fascination for me. I could watch and listen for hours; it almost has a meditative effect.

But we did not stay there longer than it took me to walk across the bridge and back, and stop for these pictures.
To get back to the car, we used a different route across fields that were still surprisingly green, in the sun that was warm enough to carry my coat instead of wearing it.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Read in 2014 - 43: The Secret House of Death

"The Secret House of Death" is, as you can tell both from the author's name and the title, crime fiction. It is nowhere near as gruesome as it may sound. Instead, it is a quiet book (thank you, Nan, for using that term - I hope it is alright that I have nicked it from your blog), if that can be said about crime fiction at all.

This novel was first published in 1968, the year I was born, and four years after Ruth Rendell's first novel. While it is clearly set in the time it was written, it is still a story that could take place more or less like that in our time.

The setting is a quiet London suburb, a place where during the day, only the housewives and small children are home, while the men are out to work and the older children are at school. It is a neighbourhood with identical looking houses, some of which are alreay outfitted with central heating, while others are still a bit behind in terms of mod cons. The housewives know each other, they take turns in picking up each other's children from school, meet for a cup of tea at each other's houses, have the same cleaner (a particularly unpleasant woman, who has good words only for her own husband) and go to the same shops.

Susan is regarded with a mixture of curiosity and compassion by most of her neigbhours - she is the only divorcee and single mother around. Her husband left her and remarried, and in order to have something to do, get a bit of money in and be able to look after her little boy at the same time, she types authors' manuscripts in her sitting room.

Of the family next door, the wife is the closest she has to a friend; Doris is always cold, always up for some gossip but always helpful, and her son is the same age as Susan's and his best friend. The Winters have a dog, and that dog plays an important role in the book: he goes bonkers when a stranger approaches any of the houses nearby, but doesn't make a sound when it is someone he knows to live there.
On the other side of Susan's house live a couple without children. They mostly keep to themselves, and the windows of their house are always firmly shut.

The car of a stranger has been seen several times parked in front of the house of that couple, always when the very good looking husband was away. Soon, rumours are high about the wife having an affair. Susan is not at all interested in the goings-on next door, and when one day the wife, Louise, pays her a tearful surprise visit, urging her to come to her place the next morning because she desperately needs to talk to someone, Susan feels very uncomfortable.
Still, she promises to come. When she does so the next day, to her horror she finds Louise and her alleged lover dead on the marital bed.

The inquest soon closes with the verdict "murder and suicide" (by the alleged lover), and Susan feels very sorry for Bob, Louise's husband. He starts calling on her, obviously finding comfort in his gentle neighbour.

But is all as it seems? Will Susan and Bob be able to comfort each other? And what role do the three construction workers from the road work site at the end of the road play?

I'm afraid it did not take me awfully long to guess the "whodunnit", but just like the detective (who, sadly, remains a pale figure), I wanted to know how the crime had been done.
So far, there wasn't a book by Ruth Rendell I did not enjoy reading. This one was over too soon - I grew to care about some of the characters, and would have liked to learn more about them.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Little Things

...mean a lot to me; always, and even more so this time of the year. It is - apart from when I am hosting a party - the only time I really want ornaments and other decorative items in my flat. Last Saturday, I put up the first Christmassy things in time for the 1st of the four Advent Sundays.

You can see what I did in the past years in these older posts:
Advent 2010
Advent 2012
Advent 2013
As you can see, I did not do a specific Advent post in 2011, but my flat looked pretty much the same then as in the other years.
If you look closely, you will recognize a few items, and you'll see how the collection of cards under the glass plate on the desk in the Third Room is growing year after year. Maybe you'll even spot a card you sent to me :-)

From one of my aunts in Yorkshire, I've already received the first card and present of this year. Usually, it was always my Auntie Vonnie; this time, Auntie Jean was quicker. My cards are going to be written this coming weekend, and I will then also put together the parcel with the presents for the family in England.

But until then, there are two more work days ahead, and I better get started!