Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Big House On The Hill

Towards the end of this post, I showed you a view across the river Neckar valley of a beautiful big house on the hill. I mentioned that I was going to do an extra post about it, and here it is.

That big house on the hill is the Schiller Nationalmuseum. Friedrich Schiller was a poet and playwright, and like many of his kind, he was also politically active and often used his writing to accuse (openly or veiled) the misdeeds of the ruling class, namely the then Duke of Wuerttemberg (Wuerttemberg wasn't a kingdom yet at the time). This got him into trouble more than once, but did not stop him.
Schiller lived from 1759 to 1805. He was born in the small town of Marbach, situated near my hometown. Here, in Ludwigsburg, he spent most of his childhood and youth. I won't tell you the whole story of his life here - you can read a lot about him on wikipedia. Let it suffice to say that he became famous and to this day continues to be considered one of Germany's most important poets and playwrights. You all know the "Ode to Joy", don't you? The music is from Ludwig van Beethoven, but the lyrics were Schiller's, written when he was 26 years old.

Back to the main topic of this post now:
90 years after Schiller's death, in 1895, it was decided that a museum dedicated to the works of this great son of Marbach was to be built there. In 1901, work began on the building you can see today.
In 1955, the Deutsche Literaturarchiv (German Literature Archive) was founded there. The necessity of more space soon became apparent. Other buildings were added on the top of the hill above Marbach, and nowadays, it is almost a small town in its own right, with the beautiful white building at its centre.

To the left (not really visible in my photo) is the 1970s-built complex of the actual archives and offices (there are more offices in the attic of the museum). To the right is the "Literaturmuseum der Moderne", opened in 2006 (click here for the English wikipedia entry). A bit further down the hill, to the right of the museum, is a hostel where students, authors and professors can stay while doing research work in the archives, sometimes for months.
Inside the hill, underground, is a maze of archive storage rooms, vaults and walkways, connecting all the buildings except for the hostel.

It is a fascinating world, and a changing one, too. The times when literature largely happened in print are long gone. Nowadays, no museum or institution about literature can give a comprehensive overview without a multimedial approach, and Marbach is no exception. Not everybody is happy about this, but we can't stop or reverse the  development. Still, I think the archive and museum people are doing a good job of incorporating the new with the old, without allowing the new to completely take over at the risk of losing the old.

Monday, 25 January 2016


Remember what I said at the end of this post? "I definitely need a haircut."

I wanted short hair again, as I've had for most of my life anyway, and short is what I got:

(Maybe one or two centimeters more will have to go so that the fringe is not over my specs all the time. But I'm still getting used to it, and have not yet started to "do" anything with my hair, other than wash and brush it.)

As a little girl, I nearly always had short hair. It was just that much easier to take care of, and my hair has never been good for wearing it long; it is too thin, there is not enough of it, and it's as straight as a bunch of chives. Therefore, my Mum usually made sure it was cut before it could reach any considerable length. A few times, we experimented with me having it grow a bit longer, and I was immensely pleased with myself when it was long enough to wear a little ribbon or barette in them, but then I always played with whatever hair accessory my Mum had given me, until I lost said accessory, which usually ensured my haircut was back to short.

I was a rather wild kid, too; I suppose what you'd call a tomboy. But I HATED it when people thought I was a boy, and spoke to me accordingly. I so wanted to be a beautiful girl with long curly hair, a princess! But it wasn't to be, and I guess I wouldn't have half as much fun as I did have back then if I had been the princess-type of girl I so admired.

Nowadays, I am so completely at home in myself, my hair doesn't matter that much anymore. In 2 years and 2 months, when I'll be 50, I'll try and stop having it dyed. If I like what I look like with grey hair (which first started for me before I was 30), I'll keep it. Watch this space :-D

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Fox Promenade

Maybe you remember that I suddenly fell in love with all things "foxy" (I really mean the animal!) last summer. So far, this has resulted in me getting a Christmas fox ornament from my sister and buying a fox mug for myself.

This morning, sitting down with my habitual mug of hot, strong, sweet coffee (no milk) in front of my computer to start the round through emails and blogs, a notice from Mozilla FireFox (which is my preferred browser) caught my eye: new themes were available.

Now, I am not one of those people who faff and tweak their browsers and other interfaces on their computers beyond recognition. Many of the addons and plugins available I don't need; just as I love my empty, smooth surfaces at home, I like my computer to be as clutter-free as possible (my favourite games do NOT count as clutter).

But today, I made an exception and added a new theme to my browser. It is called "Fox Promenade", and the top of my browser window now sports this relative of Fred Fox.

If you use FireFox and feel like a change of theme would be fun, you can find them all here.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Read in 2016 - 2: Up With The Larks

Back in the summer, my mother-in-law gave me a pile of books to take home with me, as is her habit when I come visiting. This one, "Up with the Larks" by Tessa Hainsworth, is the first of a series of three books about a woman who starts over as a postwoman in Cornwall.

Tessa (the author) works for The Body Shop. Her London-based life is extremely busy and rather high profile. Her husband and two children matter a lot to her, but there never seem to be enough hours to a day and days to a week to see as much of them as she wants to.

After a particularly relaxing holiday in Cornwall (not their first one there), the family decide to up sticks and move there permanently, to finally live the life they dream of, with plenty of time and space for every family member, and without the day-to-day stress and pressures of life in the big city.

As tends to happen with the best plans, this one doesn't exactly work out the way they imagine: The house needs a lot of work, and much more money than anticipated. Work is scarce in this beautiful region, and soon Tessa's husband finds himself doing two or three part-time jobs just to be able to pay the bills.
Tessa's search for a suitable job is not successful. Eventually, as a last resort, she applies for the job of postwoman - and nobody is more surprised than herself when she actually gets it.

She starts at the hardest imaginable time: November, the weeks leading up to Christmas. But maybe that sink or swim approach is the secret: After some initial (and rather funny - for the reader, at least) difficulties, she really takes to the job, and the book ends with happiness all around.

I liked this true story, told by the main protagonist herself. The language is fine; nothing over the top, but no vulgarities, either. The book is neatly divided into a chapter for each month of the family's first year in Cornwall.
We meet the family, their friends from London who come visiting, their new neighbours and colleagues and Tessa's customers on her post rounds. People, places, the weather and Tessa's moods are described well without being verbose.
What Tessa and those she writes about experience ranges from the funny to the serious, from silly to dramatic - just how real life is.

My next two reads will be books I borrowed from my sister, but I am looking forward to returning to more of Tessa's adventures.

Read in 2016 - 1: How To Sell Brilliantly

The full title of this book by Nicholas Bate is "How to sell brilliantly in good times and bad". I found it as a free ebook on Amazon's kindle shop.

When you look at books about selling, you quickly get the impression that everything there is to know about the subject has been written at some stage. And it's true - none of the (self-styled or otherwise so-called) "Sales Gurus" have re-invented the wheel, so to speak.
But some give more practical tips than others, and this book is definitely a most practicable approach. The tips and ideas laid out here are valuable and can be applied, no matter whether you run your own one-man window cleaning business, have a consultancy firm with a dozen employees or are part of the sales team in a large insurance company.

My first impulse on reading the first few sentences was, I must admit, rejection. I disliked the "sell, sell, sell" spirit that seemed to leap from the  page on my kindle. You know the kind of sales person who, like a cartoon character, has $ signs in their eyes? Exactly!

For well over 10 years, I was actively selling point of sale hardware in a business to business environment. I liked my job and was good at it. It is no exaggeration to say that I truly liked most of my customers, and knew them and their business and their customers, their fears and sorrows, well.
But I did not measure each and every action in relation to my work in terms of profit. That is simply not my attitude - neither in my private life nor at work. Therefore, I never was a typical sales person, and didn't try to become one.

To get back to the book, I soon understood that much of what the tips and ideas are about confirm my personal experience in selling. There weren't any big surprises, but I did feel that my initial reaction was a misconception, and Nicholas Bates is probably a really decent guy who has not much in common with the unpleasant "sell, sell, sell" type.

There is quite a bit of humour in the way he presents his suggestions. And he never fails to make sure the reader understands that selling is WORK - there is no magic formula that will turn you into a millionaire over night. And there aren't any tricks in sales that won't fall back on the trickster eventually.

Instead, a healthy work-life balance is seen just as important as getting down to business and not wasting time in meetings. The author never claims to have "the sole truth", but advises his readers to learn more by reading other books as well - but most of all by DOING things instead of just reading or talking about them. The advice he invariably gives at the end of each chapter is: Start Today!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Snowflakes, in- and outdoors

Doesn't everyone have a shape or pattern they are especially fond of? Take Kay, for instance, the author of "Georgia Girl With An English Heart": she has a thing for anything heart-shaped. 
One of my favourites are snowflakes. They are not so much a Christmas ornament for me as something that usually fits in all winter. I say "usually", because there had been no winter to speak of here so far - until last weekend, when I woke up on the morning of the 15th to a light dusting of snow and grey skies suggesting there could be more:

There were a handful of flakes coming down during the rest of the day, but nothing really stayed on the roads.

On the Saturday, the sun was back...

...for a while before it started snowing once more:

But again, it didn't stay on the roads, and the weather presented no problem for us when we drove to a friend's birthday party on Saturday night.

It was a different story on Sunday, though, and I am glad we had been so lucky driving back home after the party when the roads were still entirely dry:

I did not put even one foot outside my front door all of yesterday. There'll be plenty of that today and all week, when I'll have to face the cold on my way to and from work. Not keen on it, but it can't be helped, and I rather have some snow now in January than for winter to stick around all the way into March and April, when I long for flowers and sunshine, birdsong and butterflies.

Eating well, with plenty of vitamins etc., is important all year round, but even more so in these conditions. I made sure of giving myself a proper boost of all that's good with my TV dinner last night (watching an episode of "Midsomer Murders"):

Tomatoes and (uncooked) cabbage turnip (is that the right word for it?) with a bowl of hummus. Lovely! Tomatoes don't taste of much this time of the year, at least not the ones I find in the organic section at Aldi's, but they are alright when you dip them in the hummus.

The azalea is a gift from my kind neighbour, the elderly lady who lives in the house with the beautiful garden I can see from my kitchen window. We are on very good terms, but not of the kind where people visit each other all the time and exchange gifts and so on. Therefore, she was very surprised when I gave her something for Christmas: A calendar I had ordered to be printed with photos of my view of her garden over the last year, fitting each month and season (lilac in May, cherry blossoms in June, autumn leaves in October, and so on).
Her garden gives me joy every day when I look at it first thing in the morning. I wanted to give her back some of that joy, and was successful in that. She told me she's been showing the calendar to all her neighbours (some of which I know only by sight).

Anyway, the flowers add a splash of colour and a hint of spring to my kitchen.

And for the snowflakes indoors (see the headline of this post): I came across this cushion at the supermarket some time in December, and couldn't resist, even though strictly speaking I didn't "need" it. But it looks nice on my bed, doesn't it?

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Christmas Jumper?

Yes, I know - Christmas is already 3 weeks past, and some of you wish to completely forget about it for the next 11 months. Unlike me! I did enjoy the weeks leading up to it, the three days of Christmas itself, and the nice, long holiday period (I had 2 1/2 weeks off!).

On Monday, work has started again for me. Today is my first day working from home, and I am not going out for lunch but use my break to write this post instead.

Every country, and every region in a country, has special Christmas traditions. One that is definitely British is to don specific Christmas jumpers. At least I have not noticed that in other countries (certainly not in Germany) - please correct me if I am wrong.

Christmas jumpers even feature on British TV series, such as Midsomer Murders (my favourite series and one I hardly ever miss):

This year, among the many lovely Christmas presents I got from my Yorkshire family, there was a jumper I find so... so... how shall I put it? It's so weird it is actually quite funky! See for yourself:

It was probably not intended to be a Christmas jumper, and I do wear it often now, not just for the holiday season. 

At first, the pattern was puzzling. Why would anyone send me a jumper with Chihuahuas on it? I like most animals, including dogs, but have never been a dog person as such, never had a dog myself. And even if I chose a dog as my four-legged friend, it would definitely not be a Chihuahua or any other type of "toy dog", but a "proper" dog (you know what I mean, I hope).
Then I thought that maybe the sender mistook the tiny dogs for cats... which would make more sense, as it is well known in the family that I love cats. My sister thinks the same, and so I am convinced now that this was actually meant to be a cat lover's dream jumper.
Anyway, I really like it (but will never wear it when working at a customer's office)! 

And I definitely need a haircut. Appointment made for next week!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Getting Emotional

Do you get emotional over movies/films? I sometimes do, but it is hard to predict what will "get" me and what won't.

Last night, I was on my own and watched "Peggy Sue Got Married" on TV. I'd not seen the film before and was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it, and how it brought tears to my eyes.

The bit that made me so emotional was when Peggy Sue, after her trip through time 25 years back, arrives back at her childhood home for the first time. She goes in, meets her mother (and later, her younger sister and her father) and when she goes upstairs to her bedroom, she looks at everything, touching things like her record player, and is clearly overwhelmed by this unexpected chance to seeing it all again just like it was.

That scene in her bedroom made me think of my room when I was a girl, and although of course I wasn't always happy (like every teenager, I had my share of ups and downs during puberty!), altogether my childhood and youth were very good years, something to be truly grateful for, thanks to my parents.

I know it is inevitable that we age, and change, and so do our physical surroundings and the people in our lives. There's nothing bad or scary about that, but sometimes - just sometimes - a chance to see it all again as it was, having the knowledge and experience of today, would be nice.
And if there really existed such a chance, would I use it? Would I do anything different, trying to influence my own future history? I honestly don't know, and it is of course futile to ponder the question, since it is entirely impossible.

What "gets" you in movies/films or books?

PS: This is my blog post # 800! Actually, I would have reached that number already some posts ago, but I deleted a handful of posts (the whole "The Hummus Hunters" series, to be precise).

Monday, 4 January 2016

New Year's Walk

As mentioned on my previous post, I am now going to show you the pictures I took during our walk on New Year's Day.

We drove a short distance to one of the lakes. Our friends, who spend a lot of time in this region, told us how during the summer it is impossible to find a space for the car on the big parking lot, and equally difficult to find a spot near the lake where to spread a blanket and enjoy the sun and maybe a picnic, for the crowds of people.
That day, there were some cars and small groups of people walking, but of course there was nobody on or in the water except for the ducks and other waterfowl you'd expect to see in this kind of enviroment.

Many becks and rivulets come down from the surrounding mountains and feed the lakes:

That's Hector, one of the best behaved dogs I've ever met, and that's not because he's been brutally disciplined. His people are very kind gentlemen who take their responsibility as dog owners seriously. 

Wide open spaces!

A beekeeper's hut. Of course, no bees were out in this weather.

More wide open spaces, and some mountain views:

 Getting closer to the lake:

To walk back, we took a slightly different route, closer to the woods. We came through a tiny village with old farm houses, a small chapel and a friendly cat:

Another cat, but this one was not interested in talking to strangers:

Back along the woods:

A last view of the the valley, before we took our muddy walking shoes back to the car and started the 2 1/2 hour drive home.

It was a great way to start into 2016 - lots of fresh (really fresh!) air, beautiful landscape, and friends.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

New Year's Eve and the New Year

In recent years, I've always been in Ludwigsburg for New Year's Eve, either at a restaurant for a posh dinner (and dance) or at my parents', my sister's or my own home.
This time, we did something different and went visiting friends at their holiday home in a region of southern Germany called Allgäu. It is a beautiful area of mountains and lakes, green pastures and picturesque villages, and many people go there all year round: in the summer, they go hiking or enjoy water sports on one of the many lakes, and in winter, the region is popular for skiing.
No snow there yet this winter, so we did not need to prepare as if for a polar expedition (suits me!).

On the last day of 2015, I woke up to this beautiful sunrise, seen from my kitchen window:

We arrived at our destination after a 2 1/2 hours drive, still early enough to catch some daylight. Our friends have a (VERY well-behaved) dog, and so we all went out for a walk before it became too dark.
The rest of the afternoon and the evening we spent having coffee, playing a board game, eating a delicious cheese fondue and playing cards. There were five of us there plus the dog. Just before midnight, all of us (except for the dog) took a glass of champagne and stepped on the balcony. The flat is on the 8th floor and offers fantastic views of mountain panorama - during the day.
Now, in the dark and with a thick fog covering most of the valley below, we could not see as much of the fireworks as we would have liked to. But there was still lots going on, and for a good half hour, the relatively small population of the town did their best to entertain us tourists :-)

The next morning, we enjoyed the spectacular view from the breakfast table. It is amazing how the sky there changes from one moment to the next! The following pictures were taken within a few minutes:

After all five us had been through our bathroom sessions, and the breakfast things and kitchen had been cleaned up, the sky looked friendly enough to allow for a longer walk:

I'll take you along on that walk in my next post.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Post-Christmas Family Meal

Precisely one year ago, on January 1st 2015, I posted here about a family meal which, for a change, was hosted by me and not my parents. Easy to do, too, as I only invited the "inner circle" - meaning my parents and my sister, unlike the meals at Mum and Dad's place where there are rarely less than twice as many of family and close friends gathering.
My kitchen as it looks every day. Two always fit at the table in the corner.
The table moved out of the corner and two more chairs added, just comfortable enough for four.

The meal was not held today, though. It was the Monday after Christmas, the 28th. While I hardly ever cook for just myself, I do enjoy cooking and baking when I have a reason to do so, i.e. when I know the food will be shared with and appreciated by others.

This certainly was the case on Monday, when the menue was as follows:

Salad of field lettuce, radicchio, tomatoes, spring onions 
and bits of Wensleydale cheese with cranberries
* * *
Venison steaks with Yorkshire puddings, carrots, brussel sprouts and a creamy sauce
* * *
Star-shaped vanilla icecream on dark chocolate base 
topped with cinnamon and cocoa powder (same as last year)

I did cheat on the sauce (that was a ready-made one) and the dessert (bought at Aldi's), but I made the Yorkshire puds and everything else myself. And it really was good, with exactly one portion (the plate you can see in the picture) left over. That made a nice lunch for me on Tuesday.

Last time I made Yorkshire puds, there were more left. Not because they weren't as good then - they were just as good as they look here, both times. But this time, I was a little more clever and did not offer roast spuds with them, as they are so filling without the additional carbs from the Yorkshire puds.

It was a nice few hours spent with my family, and my Dad was so sweet - he brought me this bunch of yellow freesia! Freesia always remind me of spring, since they were the flowers (only white ones, not yellow ones) I wore on my little black taffeta jacket for my Confirmation in 1982, when I was 14 years old.

Spring is still a long time off, we haven't even had snow yet, but it will be there eventually, I promise!