Monday, 31 December 2012

Two Paintings

This, post # 401, is my last blog post for 2012. I did not do a Fashion Calendar post for December, but I guess you can all live with that :-)
Maybe I'll do one in January, to show you what I will be wearing later tonight when RJ and I will be joining my parents and my sister for a glass of champagne to welcome 2013 in style. But for now, let me show you these two beautiful paintings:

They were done by my great-grandfather. He died when my Mum was still a little girl, so I had no chance of ever meeting him. He came originally from Silesia and settled in what eventually became our family's hometown, Ludwigsburg. I don't know neither what year he came here, nor what was the actual reason for the move, but I know what he did once he arrived: he worked as a porcelain painter at Ludwigsburg's own bone china manufactory. The manufactory is still working, still selling, still training artists, and my great-grandfather was one of them.
His art was, as you can see, not limited to working on china; he painted on canvas, on cardboard, on wood - whatever was available to him. If I remember correctly, my Mum once told me that sometimes he would pay for goods or services with a painting instead of money, so I assume there are several houses in Ludwigsburg where one can find a painting by my great-grandfather.

These two paintings were, as long as I can remember (and much longer than that), in my grandparents' house. They were beautifully displayed in a wall niche in the living room, and I've always known and loved them. Can't you smell the scent of the peaches in the one painting, and the roses in the other? Don't you want to pick one of the grapes and let its sweet juice tickle your mouth as you eat it?

When our grandmother died in January of 2001 and it was decided that my Mum and her brother would be selling the house, emptying it was a monumental task, which took our family almost a year. Among many other things (such as the furniture that is now in my living room - as you can see here -, or the cream china with the gold rim I eat off every day), the two paintings were given to me.
I was very happy to have them, and they were on the wall in our Third Room until my late husband decided to redecorate the flat in October 2009. He washed the last paint off his paint brushes on the morning of the day of his death. I never put the pictures back up, and they remained in the cellar where he had stored them before redecorating.

Last week, our relatives from France came visiting - I mentioned that in my previous post. My cousins spent many a summer holiday at our grandparents' house when they were children, and they, too, have fond memories of the place. Only now, during this visit, I learnt from my cousin that he and his siblings had not known about the sale of the house and distribution of its contents - their father had, sadly, not told them anything. Therefore, neither of my cousins received any tangible memory after our grandmother died. This touched me very much, and I instantly thought of those paintings.
When we were back at my place an hour or so later, I offered them to my cousins. At first, they did not want to take them, although I could tell they loved them; they ended up taking the paintings when they came to say good-bye the next day. My cousin said he already knows exactly where they will go at their house, and he has promised to send me a picture.

I feel better for having done this; the paintings still remain in the family, and I already have so much from my grandparents, and they had nothing.

The last picture shows the full moon, seen from my kitchen window on Saturday night.
Happy New Year to everyone!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Post # 400: Guest Post With Recipe

It's been a while since my Mum's last guestpost here, and since several of you were asking for the recipe for my Dad's spuds salad and I was nearing the 400th post of my blog, I find it only fitting that this post combines both - another guest post by my Mum and my Dad's recipe :-)
By the way, I didn't even have to ask for it - my Mum read your comments and my replies to them, wrote up the guest post and the recipe and sent it to me yesterday afternoon, shortly before our relatives arrived.
And now, without further ado, I am handing over to my Mum:

"Now Christmas is over, but we expect some more relations from Paris/France today, three teenagers and three adults. We haven't seen them for ages, the one boy I even do not know yet. So I am looking forward to our getting together, and my daughters both as well, I guess.
I want to thank all those who admired my table-setting, our Christmas tree and also those of you who bought socks and hats from my Etsy shop this year!
I read that some of Meike's followers are very interested in the potato salad my husband makes. So I will show you the recipe now here. It is a bit difficult to write up the recipe, because he never takes any measures or scales, he "feels" the right quantities. But I'll try for you:

1 kg of hard-boiling potatoes, the best over here are coming from northern Germany from the heath landscape with sandy soil
1 onion, minced in smal cubes
1 cup of hot broth

1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil (sunflower or something, NOT olive oil)
2 tablespoons vinegar (not balsamico, better from wine or apples)
some freshly ground pepper
a pinch of sugar

Boil the potatoes, peel them and let them sit to cool. Cover the bowl, so that the potatoes don't get hard on the surface. You best do this in the morning if you need the salad for the evening.
Cut the potatoes into thin slices and spice them. Then pour the broth over them. The potatoes will absorb the broth entirely. Then add the oil and vinegar to it, and last the minced onion. 

The salad has to rest now for at least an hour, better two, not too cold, never in the fridge!

And now I wish you all a very happy New Year, good health to everyone, good luck, 365 good days!

Those flowers are called here "Christrosen", they only blossom at wintertime. In our garden we have a lot of them, and amazingly, there were bees flying around, in the month of December!!! We have temperatures like spring-time now. And the smaller flowers in the bowl are called "Schneeheide", that means "snow-heather", we also have a lot of them, so I could make this bunch for decorating my brunch table on boxing day."

- - - End of guest post - - -

Thank you very much, Mum & Dad, for sharing the recipe!
One question from me: do you stir the spuds every time you add something to the mix, or do you just let it rest and only stir it after an hour or so? 

As for the relatives visiting, I had never seen my cousin's son before; he was born in 1998, and I had last seen my cousin in 1985 or so. My other cousin, his wife and their two daughters had been here 8 years ago for my Mum's 60th birthday. Now the little girls from back then are young ladies wih trendy finger nails :-) It was lovely to see them again, and I think for my Mum, it was something of a Christmas wish come true. On Christmas Eve, she had been talking about wanting to see her family, and a day or two later, they rang and said they were coming over for a few days.
I am not sure yet what is on the cards today, but I think we'll all meet up again later.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Read in 2012 - 45: Christmas at Valley Rise

Another free ebook from the Amazon Kindle store, I downloaded this one because a) it was free and b) I was in the mood for a christmassy read, and this one sounded cosy without much challenge, just what I wanted. And on both accounts (cosiness & not challenging), I was not disappointed.
The Moss family are rich and famous; almost all of them are active musicians and travel around the world most of the time. But they all come together to the farm house at Valley Rise to celebrate Christmas - a large group of people of all ages.

As most families, the Moss' are not without problems: there is the new wife of a widowed father who is not accepted by his grown-up son; a young woman who always had her future neatly mapped out in front of her suddenly begins to think there might be something else waiting for her; a single mother finds her job both challenging and rewarding at the same time, and is too proud to accept anyone's help; and there is a romance between one of the Moss boys with the girl living at the caretaker's cottage.
That romance began very promising on Thanksgiving, but now, several weeks later, when the two of them meet again for the first time since that one kiss they shared, they are both unsure of their mutual feelings, and behave rather awkwardly.

These two young people are the main characters of this short book (172 pages, it says on the product page at Amazon), and a lot of space is dedicated to the emails they send to each other.

The general atmosphere of the place is depicted nicely, the family members are unique characters (although many of them are not described at depth, since the book is so short), and all ends well - as expected.

So, if you want obstacles for the romantic hero and heroine to overcome, if you like mystery and secrets, or if you have a thing for character development, this is not the book for you.
But if you are only looking for a cosy, light read before falling asleep at night, something that does not hold your attention overly long or challenges your mind, then I think you will like this one.

The author, Karen Welch, has written several installments about the Moss family at Valley Rise, but I doubt I'll be looking into them anytime soon.

By the way - this is my 399th post!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Merry Christmas Indeed!

Christmas is probably for most people the most traditional celebration of the year, when they try to recapture some of what Christmas felt like when they were children. It is no different for me, and I am very glad that my parents keep sticking to the traditional way of decorating the Christmas tree (with real candles instead of electric ones) and to the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of spuds salad and Wiener sausages (that was traditional already for them, when they were children).

The sideboard in my living room looked like this on the 24th:

Here are some pictures to give you an incling of the atmosphere of Christmas Eve over here:
The parcels I had prepared to take over to my parents'.

The dinner table all ready for us to enjoy my Dad's home made spuds salad.

The tree, decorated in the afternoon by my Mum and my sister. I was too lazy to help and came over only when it was time for dinner and presents :-)

My sister gave me these silver creoles.

On Christmas Day, I opened my presents from England - look at how much I got!!! (Actually, this shows all my presents combined, not just the ones from the family in England.) 

For a look at my Christmas posts from 2011 and 2010, click here and here. I wonder if any of you is going to spot the three presents that appear in this year's picture as well as in one of the previous two Christmases :-) 

Today, we were once again at my parents' for a large Christmas brunch and a board game afterwards, and tomorrow, we are expecting relatives who we have not seen in many years. I am very much looking forward to that, and hope that everyone had a Merry Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas, and a First!

Nothing puzzling about wishing everyone who reads this Merry Christmas, but what is the "First"?


A picture of my sister! It is the first time she's given her permission to me showing a photo on my blog with her on it. I am really glad she allowed me to use this one, as it gives such a good impression of how I used to feel about Christmas when I was a kid (and still do!).
On that Christmas Eve in 1973, I was five years old with three months to go until I'd be six, and my sister was six, almost seven.
Our parents really didn't have much money to spend on presents that year, but we were never made to realise that and were truly happy about the dolls (and, undoubtedly, many other things we got). 

There's a funny story connected with those dolls:
We had moved to this place only about a year before, and at our former home, my sister and I had been attending kindergarten together. We had made friends there, and, as children are intrigued by anything out of the ordinary, were particularly fond of two girls who were identical twins. For us, it had been for the first time in our lives to come across twins, and we were deeply impressed.
The names of the two sisters were Marion and Martina, and that were the names we gave our dolls. Mine was the blonde one, Martina, and my sister's the brunette one, Marion.

Here is a picture of the group of children we were friends with back then (this was taken in 1971 or 1972, I guess), with the twins on it.

(Before anyone wonders: no, I did not ask for permission to show this picture from any of those on it, but since I don't know who some of them are, not even their names, and none of them will be recognisable more than 40 years later, I assume nobody is going to cause any trouble over it.)

That is not the end of the story, though:
Some months ago, completely out of the blue I received an email from - Marion!!!
She had stumbled across my blog while searching for information about her home village, which is mentioned here in one of my mum's guest posts. Marion was by no means sure she was writing to the right person, but she was! Many emails have gone back and forth since then, and I am glad my blog served to get such old friends from long ago back in touch again :-)

I am, in fact, going to send an email to Marion now, wishing her and her family 

Merry Christmas!

And the same to you, dear readers!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Hours of Fun!

That's precisely what was had by all who were there at my place on Friday night.

About the regular evenings with my friends I have written before; several years ago, we have started to have the December meeting at one of our houses instead of going to a restaurant, and make it an evening with games. The most important game of that particular evening is the swapping of trash gifts. Yes, you read that right: trash gifts.
Think of the numerous things everyone has at their home: the especially ugly vase given to you by Aunt Hilda for your wedding; the well-meant but never needed hot water bottle (your fifth one already); the vintage item you discovered at the jumble sale and thought you really had to have at the time; the decorative object that is so totally NOT your style but somehow never found its way into the bin... you get the idea, don't you? (I am sure Frances could come up with a list of scented candles, bath salts, diaries and lots more!)

Everyone chooses one of those things (it has to be clean and intact, no real rubbish) and wraps it up nicely as a Christmas present to bring along to the December meeting.
Once we're all settled and have had something to eat and drink, the fun begins:
Each of us places their own parcel in front of them on the table. A timer is set (10 minutes is plenty), and dice are thrown. The numbers rolled don't matter; with each rolling, the parcels are moved one place further on around the table, clockwise. When someone rolls a double, the rotation changes to anti-clockwise. When a double of six is rolled, the person whose turn it was gets to choose who to exchange their current parcel with. Of course nobody wants to end up with their own parcel, and you won't believe how hysterical we all get as the 10 minutes are drawing to a close, with everyone trying to move the parcels as quickly as possible!

Then the parcels are opened, and usually, much mirth ensues. Often, the "gifts" really ARE so ugly and/or useless the recipient is not going to keep it. But every time we play this, there is at least one of us who is really happy about what they find in their parcel. (I have just realised that I have already described the game here and here - the gift I ended up with in 2011 went to one of my Mum's friends, who truly loves it!)

Everything you need for Toast Hawaii.

The untoasted bread is buttered (or marged), the ham goes on it, then a slice of pineapple, and the hole is filled with ketchup.

One slice of cheese on top of each toast, and they go into the oven.

I never set a timer for these but simply take them out as soon as the cheese is melting, after an estimated 10 minutes.

The same food as last year - Toast Hawaii - was on the menue this time. There were only five of us, but as you can see, that did not diminuish the fun :-) 

Only five sets to prepare this year, and no Pukky to hang around the kitchen while I was making the toast :-(
The parcels waiting for us while we eat.
A vintage set for coffee and sugar! I really love it, this is no "trash" for me!
Two tiny snowglobes. Not sure yet what I'll do with them.
A game of Memory was played afterwards.
And now, I am looking forward to spending today mostly at home, and tomorrow night at my parents' for Christmas Eve.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Read in 2012 - 44: The Shuttle

No, this is not a book about the space shuttle's history (and, sadly, it IS history now). When the author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, was born (in 1849), it was still over a 100 years until the first man would cross the threshold of our planet's atmosphere and actually reach space. No, the title refers to a weaving shuttle, and it is used to describe how travelling across the ocean between England and the US brought the two countries closer to each other, on a cultural level, with American heiresses marrying English aristocrats.

The book was first published in 1907, at a time when an estimated more than five hundred American women had married titled foreigners and some $220 million had gone with them to Europe. That money was badly needed, and used to renovate many a great house. This makes for a realistic background of the story, which centers around Bettina Vanderpoel, the beautiful, kind and intelligent daughter of an American multi-millionaire.

Her sister Rosalie, several years her senior, married Sir Nigel Anstruthers when Bettina was but a child. Right after the marriage, Rosalie finds out that her husband was ever only after her money, and when law restricts his access to that money, his plan of making his wife succumb to his authority includes cutting her off almost entirely from all contact with her own family. Rosalie's life turns into a miserable existence; she is not strong and intelligent enough to confront Nigel, and her family hear nothing from her for a long time.

Twelve years later, Bettina is old enough to finally put her plan into action: she had been suspecting from the start that Nigel was not going to be good to her older sister, and that her silence meant something bad was going on. She decided back then that one day she would find Rosalie and rescue her, and that she does.

How she does it, how she manages to turn not only Rosalie's life around but also that of the entire village where the Anstruthers have been ruling for centuries, and in the process, her own life as well, is described in much detail. It is mostly credible; the psychological war between Bettina and her brother-in-law; all that managing a great house with its vast gardens and village entails; the way others react to the changes made there; how she comes very close to almost losing not only the love of her life but even her own life - all that and much more is in this book, which was a delightful read, full of suspense (especially towards the end), and written in an elegant, descriptive style I very much enjoyed.

If there is one negative thing to say about the story, it is that the characters are so black and white. There is not one good molecule in all of Nigel Anstruthers, and not one shadow of a less-than-perfectly good trace in Bettina's character. Real people are not like that, but this did not take away my pleasure of reading this book, since the story in itself was credible enough.

There is some more info about the author here in another review I wrote about one of her books; it seems that American-British relationships are a recurring theme with Mrs. Burnett, who herself travelled back and forth between the two countries more than 30 times.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

All Things December

Where I live, December means winter, snow, Christmas cookies, cards, presents, woolly hats, scarves and gloves, family gatherings and a lot more.

Cookies, cookies, cookies!!! These were made by my Mum and by a family friend of ours. The ones in the bag from my Mum were all gone within two or three evenings, and the contents of the tin have been greatly reduced already :-)
My Mum made this woolly hat for me! I wanted it to be grey and yellow, to go with my grey winter coat, and yellow being my favourite colour. She made a matching scarf, too. If you want one, you can have a look at her Etsy shop (the link is to the left of my blog).
The contents of the parcel I was getting ready to send to my relatives in Yorkshire. It should be there by now.

I've already received some presents from England, but of course they will sit there unopened until Christmas Day.

While winter will always remain my least favourite season (for the very simple reason that I detest the cold and find it quite hard to keep warm most of the time), all the Christmassy things help to reconcile me with it - at least for the first part of it.
When Christmas and New Year are gone and winter shows no sign of retreating but instead drags out well into March, sometimes even April, that is when I suffer most, and I dare say I am not alone in that.

So far, I can not complain - we've had several days of temperatures as low as -10C (14F) during the night and -7C during the day, but on Thursday evening, in the space of only a few hours, there was a quick rise of almost 10 degrees, which resulted in a dangerous sheet of quick ice (in German, we call this phenomenon Blitzeis) on the roads and pavements.

RJ and I had been meeting up with his parents for a pre-Christmas dinner in town, and on our way back to the car, we - as everybody else - could walk only very slowly and carefully.

Last night, I worked at the Christmas market again with my friend; drizzling rain meant less visitors to the market than what would have been good for business, but the hours until official closing time at 9.00 pm went by quickly nonetheless - we see each other maybe twice a year, in spite of living less than a mile apart, and had lots to talk about. Last year, I wrote about this annual event here, and you can see a picture of our stall there.
December 7th, early afternoon

December 7th, about two hours later

December 8th, around 8.00 in the morning

December 8th, two hours later

December 8th, lunch time

The drizzle also meant that by now, all the snow is gone. It looked beautiful while it lasted, and there is still enough time for it to come back - but for the next few days, I am glad to get a break from the below-zero-cold and enjoy the comparatively mild weather.

A happy 3rd Advent Sunday to all of you!

PS: Several of you have mentioned the Sandy Hook shooting on your blogs. Had it not been for you, I wouldn't have known about it, as I have not been watching the news for a few nights in a row. It is very sad, a real tragedy, and all I can say is that I can not even begin to imagine how hard it must be for those families who have lost their little ones in it. Their Christmas will be anything but merry.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Old Year, New Job

It came as quite a surprise to ourselves when the idea first popped up: me working for and with RJ.
For ten years, I have been working in the point of sale hardware industry, and I liked my job, my customers, (most of) my colleagues and (some of) my bosses. I was not planning on quitting the job I told you about here and on some other posts; and yet the idea to start something entirely new so strongly appealed to me that we went through with it.
And here I am, with my first week on the new job already under my belt!

But let me tell you how this began:
RJ has (or is!) his own company. He works in data protection and IT security. When he started his own business a bit more than two years ago, he had of course no idea whether he was going to be successful or not, and where it was all headed. When we first met, he was still looking for customers. Only a few months later, he had so much work that he had to turn down inquiries from potential customers, and often had to work on weekends in order to finish tasks for his existing customers.
This meant that I got a glimpse of what his work was like more than once; sometimes I was able to help him a bit, and sometimes we both worked from my home, I in my regular office (i.e. the living room) and he in the Third Room, which has a desk and internet connection ready to use as well.
It is RJ's habit to ring me when he is in the car on his way home from work; we talk about how his day has been, what I've been doing, and so on.
One late afternoon in August, he rang as usual, and told me of a conversation he'd had with his biggest customer. The man had suggested to him that they get another external consultant in addition to him, so that all the work could be done without overloading him; he also said something like "Don't you think it is time for you to expand your business?".

RJ then went on to think aloud and started listing the kind of skills and characteristics he'd be looking for in a potential employee; all of a sudden, we were both quiet for a second, and then exclaimed at the same time "That sounds like you!" (RJ) and "That sounds like me!" (I). Thus the idea was born - but we laughed it off at first. After all, I had a job and was not looking for anything else, plus I came from a different industry and had no expertise in what RJ was working on.

But the more we thought about and talked about it, the more logical it seemed.
When we spent a week together on Majorca in September, we had plenty of time to think and talk things through - of course not neglecting the factor "business v. private", either. 

After much deliberation and soul-searching on both sides, we went ahead with it, and made a proper contract in October. I handed in my notice - much to the shock of my boss, who truly had not seen it coming. And then I said good-bye to those of my customers I had come closest with over the past ten years, my boss came to pick up the company's laptop and had one last coffee with me, and next thing I knew, I was dressed in a new business outfit and all ready to go to work on my first day!

At our biggest customer's, we have our own office. With our smaller customers where we are not expected to be present for most of the week, we usually go there for a day or half a day, have our meetings with them, and then do the actual work from the home office.

Most weeks, I will have at least one day working from home. Right now, these home office days mean studying the relevant laws and other information about our particular subjects of data protection and IT security. It is a lot to learn and take in, but I am very much ready for it and truly enjoy learning all those new things.

Of course, it is still early days, but after our first week of working together, RJ and I have not yet had any reason to regret our decision :-)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Sweet Memories...

...are made of this: chocolate!

Earlier this week, my Mum, my sister and I went to a one-evening course about how to make your own pralinés. It was held at my old school (yes, the same complex of buildings I visited not long ago) in the school's kitchen.

The lady who held the course works as a cook in a rather posh restaurant near Stuttgart. She was expecting 16 participants, but there ended up being only twelve of us, which was alright as far as I was concerned - because said lady, nice as she was and certainly good at cooking and baking and all things food, was of the extremely disorganised and erratic kind who never do one thing after the other but try to be everywhere at the same time and do everything at the same time - and fail.

You could already tell from a look at the print-outs with the recipes she gave everyone; there was first a list of ingredients for each recipe and then the description of what to do in which order. Sounds good? Yes... in theory. In reality, though, there suddenly appeared ingredients in the description that had not been part of the list, and some of what you were supposed to be doing was worded unclearly and didn't sound logical at all.
At one point, while our teacher happened to be in our corner, my Mum asked her whether the nuts should be added to the mixture now; she said "yes" and so my Mum did that, only to hear five seconds later that, no, the nuts were actually meant only for decoration and not as part of the mixture... 

Never mind! Everyone had fun, and we ended up with so many different kinds of VERY delicious pralinés and truffles and sweets that it is hard to say which one I liked best!
I made these.

The round chocolate hollows were the only ready-made thing we had; various fillings were made for them.

Caramelised almonds. Quite easy to make, and all you need is sugar and almonds.

These were filled with home-made marzipan (the only sweets I do not care for).

Don't these look fantastic? I'd never be able to make them like this!

A close-up of the ones I made.

My Mum had a temporary adoptive daughter for that evening; when we split into smaller groups, a very pretty girl asked us whether she could join the three of us in our corner. And of course we had nothing against it - meeting new people is part of the fun of taking such a course, isn't it! 

The results of our work were sisterly shared among our group of twelve women, and I am not ashamed to admit that the entire contents of the tin I took home with me was gone by last night :-) 

PS: Correction - the teacher of this course does not work at a posh restaurant, but at the academy's cafeteria sharing the same location. Thanks goes to my sister for pointing out my misinterpretation of what the teacher had said at the beginning.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Cluttering Up... (mostly) empty surfaces at this time of the year is what I have been doing last Saturday, getting my flat ready for the Christmas season. This is the only time when I feel comfortable with and actually WANT decorative objects on my chests of drawers, sideboards, tables and so on - I don't even shy away from putting up a garland above the kitchen window! 

And there have to be candles.

Every year, I keep the most beautiful of the Christmas cards I receive, and the following year, I put them under the glass plate on the desk in what used to be Steve's room.

The advent calendar (filled with choccies, of course!) and the advent wreath were given to me by my parents. 


This children's picture book about Christmas has been a firm favourite of mine since earliest childhood, and I do intend to keep it for many more decades. It was old already when my sister and I first saw it in the early 1970s; I believe it is originally from the 1950s. Inside, it has been clumsily taped by either my sister or myself at some stage when we were kids, and it could really do with some re-taping.

Apart from what you can see in the pictures, there are some little ornaments dangling from the doorknobs on my kitchen cabinets and on the bathroom cabinet, plus a snowflake mobile in my bedroom and another one in my tiny hallway.

And soon, I'll have a large tin full of Christmas cookies, too - not made by me, but by a family friend who makes the best and most beautiful cookies for miles around! 

On the first of the four Advent Sundays, we even had some snow, as you can see from my kitchen window (not the garland-festooned one, obviously):