Friday, 23 March 2018

The Fun Has Begun!

The two weeks I was talking about here are over. I have now been around for half a century plus one day. 
The fun has begun yesterday and will extend all through Monday - if you count the week off that O.K. and I will enjoy together next week, even longer. And if you count Easter, which will be spent partly with my folks and partly with O.K.'s, there is no end in sight to celebrating!

I worked all day yesterday, spending the day on the 9th floor of my client's office building (I've showed you the view from there before). At 6:00 sharply, my last meeting for the day was over, and I rushed home. At 6:23 I arrived at my flat, hair wet from the sleety rain that had surprised me on the 20-minute walk home.
At 6:30, the doorbell rang and my first guest arrived.

As the Big Birthday Bash is going to happen on Sunday, I kept things deliberately modest yesterday. I only asked my immediate family over so that we could clink glasses on me. My sister and my parents brought flowers and savoury snacks while I provided the champagne.
The doorbell rang again, and a couple of neighbours brought flowers. Of course I asked them in for a glass of champagne, too. And then, the best of all possible birthday surprises happened when the doorbell rang once more to reveal O.K., who had spent more than 2 hours on the very busy motorway just to celebrate my birthday with me!

I had really had no idea that he was coming; we both knew it was a week night and he'd be here for the weekend. More flowers!

We were all happily chatting away, drinking champagne and nibbling snacks, occasionally interrupted by a phone call. All day already at work, every time I came back to my desk I found that my (private) mobile phone showed new messages of people who had been trying to reach me, thinking I was having the day off.

The flowers, the cards, the presents, the lovely, lovely people - it was rather overwhelming. Every year I am surprised and immensely grateful for having so many people in my life who like me and show their friendship and appreciation by being in touch, sending cards, ringing or visiting. Some of you, my dear friends here in blogland, have sent me cards and presents, too - that is so wonderful! Thank you, all of you!

Today, I left work earlier than usual to do some badly needed window cleaning. Much as I like all sorts of house work (and I really do like ironing), I detest window cleaning. The reason is that they never turn out as good as I want them, and with my eyesight going from bad to worse, it is even more difficult to make a proper job of it. Anyway, it is done now, and I have time to write this post before I'll meet my Mum at the Music Hall for a concert. We are going to see our favourite live band, three men from Vienna who play only their own compositions on two guitars and a violin. I told you about them before and have posted a video of them playing, for instance here. I am looking forward to an evening of great live music.

Tomorrow, my relatives from Yorkshire (and elsewhere in England) will be arriving, as well as O.K. We are going to meet them at the airport and spend the rest of the day with them. Then there is the Big Birthday Bash on Sunday - more on that after the event :-)

Let me end this post with a picture of the prize I have prepared for the winning team of my very own pub quiz: six piccolo bottles of champagne, decorated with hearts cut out of the same paper used for my invitation cards.

As I have said, The Fun Has Begun!!!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Read in 2018 - 5: Date With Death

Date With Death
Julia Chapman

I bought this at The Little Ripon Bookshop, I think - anyway, I brought it home with me from last year's Yorkshire Holiday in the summer, and only now got round to reading it.

"Date With Death" is the first book in the "Dales Detective Series" by Julia Chapman. I had not heard of her until I bought this book, but will definitely look for more of the series - even though it took me a while to get into the story.

"Date With Death" introduces the reader to the (fictitious) small town of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales. Other places mentioned in the book are real, and the atmosphere in Bruncliffe reminds me of small market towns such as Helmsley, Leyburn or Richmond. 

The main characters are called Samson and Delilah - and in a rather predictable way, after they are off to a bad start at their first encounter, circumstances force them to work together, and chances are they will eventually renew their old friendship.
Old friendship, because Samson was born in Bruncliffe but went away to work with the police force in London, while Delilah never left. Throughout the book, there are hints (and bits and pieces come to light as the story moves on) of dark days in Samson's past as well as the reasons for his return to Bruncliffe.

Anyway, now he is back in his hometown and looking to make a living as a detective. At the same time, Delilah is working hard to overcome the emotional and financial impact of her recent divorce, trying to keep two businesses running to make ends meet. One of those businesses is a dating agency.

When Samson is asked to investigate into the death of a man whose mother can not believe it was suicide, and the man turns out to have been signed up with Delilah's agency, working together to solve the mystery becomes unavoidable. Two more men die under suspicious circumstances, and the lives of others are threatened - all of them connected to the dating agency.
Someone both Samson and Delilah care for becomes a suspect in the cases. Will they be able to clear their friend's name, overcome their own difficulties with each other and keep Delilah's business from failing?

As I said, it took me a while to get into the story. I liked the place, but I found the family issues (real or imagined) of Delilah left me cold, as did Samson's behaviour towards some of his old friends. I did like Delilah's dog, though, and Samson's Dad. My favourite character was Seth Thistlethwaite - last but not least for the sound of his name -, and elderly resident of Bruncliffe and the most sensible person in the book.

When I go back to Yorkshire this year, I will look for the next two books in the series.

Julia Chapman is Julia Stagg. You can find out more here on her official website.

Friday, 9 March 2018

In Two Weeks...

...I shall be 50 years and 1 day old!

This is the invitation O.K. made for me after my ideas. Maybe you will recognise the flower pattern :-)

He made two versions of it; this is the one I sent via email. I also had cards printed and bought matching light blue envelopes to send by mail.

You know how much I like going to the pub quiz with my friends, and so I am very happy (and lucky!) to have lease of my local, the Irish pub, for the Sunday after my birthday.

Last year just before Christmas, my sister, a friend and I were enoying mugs of mulled wine at my place when the question came up where I could hold my big birthday bash. Originally, I had meant to use the venue where my Mum had her 70th birthday a few years ago (pictures of which you can see here). But it wasn't clear whether they would already be open so early in the season, and even if so, it would be very different in the palace grounds in March, not like the gorgeous day in August when my Mum was celebrating. Also, I'd heard from friends and acquaintances who'd had weddings and other celebrations there, and weren't happy with a few things. Mistakes can happen, but the way they were dealt with wasn't good, apparently.

So, where to go? Suddenly, the question was there: Why don't you have it at the pub? At first, I didn't think it was possible, as the landlord usually does not offer the pub as a venue for private occasions. But I talked to him a few days later, and a plan was hatched. It is only the second time in the pub's history that he closes it for the public, so that we can have our party in private, and I am very happy that he made this possible for me!

The pub has seating for 100 people, if you count every chair and bar stool, but I have not invited that many. Some of my friends won't be able to make it, but so far, I have just a over 50 who have said yes, and maybe 10 or so more pending.

Even my family from Yorkshire are coming! They will stay for the weekend, so that we can spend some additional time together, and I am especially happy about that.

Of course, a party at the pub needs a pub quiz, right? And you can be sure there will be one! My sister and I have made up a set of about 15 questions, all about me :-D 
It won't be an all-evening quiz; I want people to just have a great time, to enjoy food and drink without having to think about the bill, catch up with others they have met at my previous parties or make new friends.

In short, I am very, very much looking forward to the event, and hope everyone who said they will be there will be indeed able to make it, unhindered by health issues or weather or any other reason.

By the way, if any of you is thinking about a quick trip to Ludwigsburg around the 25th of March, you will be VERY welcome to join the party - and I mean it!
Yes, I am serious. If anybody would like to be part of the fun, I can provide hotel information etc. Just contact me through my profile here; my email address is there, if you do not have it already anyway.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Read in 2018 - 4: The Two Sides of the Shield

The Two Sides of the Shield
Charlotte Mary Yonge

This is the fifth book I read by this author, and as before, I enjoyed it although I had to keep reminding myself of reading it in the context of time and place, not measuring it against modern ideas. It was published in 1885.

You can find the other four reviews by typing "Yonge" in the search box in the upper left corner of my blog. There is also some information about the author.

In "The Two Sides of the Shield", we are thrown right in the middle of a very large family which has been the subject of an earlier book. Whether one has read the earlier story or not does not matter for this story. Doing a bit of research, I found indeed that I had read it; it is "The Stokesley Secret", which I have reviewed here.

In "The Two Sides of the Shield", 14-year-old Dolores is sent to live with the large family of one of her aunts who has - I think - 8 children (I must admit I lost count!). Until the death of her mother, Dolores and her parents lead the fascinating lives of rather high-flying intellectuals in London. Now her father has been offered a position on a scientific mission in the South Sea (or something like that) and decides it is best for him to go, but not good for his daughter to come along.

From intellectual city life, surrounded almost always by adults who let her choose her own reading material and pursuits, to a country house filled with children of all ages, pets, a strict nursery and school room regime and regular prayers - it is no wonder Dolores does not fit in and hates every minute of it.

All efforts from her cousins to befriend her fail; the girl does not even know how to play the way other children do, and hates all "romping". The younger children resort to teasing her, the older ones ignore her as much as possible, and only the one closest to her in age does not give up on her, as hard as it is.

Eventually, Dolores finds a like-minded friend in a young woman living in the village. The young lady is much older than Dolores, but the two of them share romantic notions about literature, and when Dolores makes her new friend believe that she is ill-used and unloved at the home of her aunt, the two hatch a sneaky plan to go behind the aunt's back and let Dolores act against the wishes of both her father and her aunt.

Money is involved, and a mysterious "uncle" of Dolores', and of course the inevitable happens: All comes to light. As bad as the situation seems at first, it proves to be the turning point for Dolores, who finally understands that her new family only meant well, and the love of her aunt and cousin is genuine and can be trusted.

As before, there were some funny bits that made me laugh, but also parts when I thought "oh, please!!", when morals and feelings were too sweet, too tender, too... Victorian.

Read in 2018 - 3: In den Schatten der Vergangenheit

In den Schatten der Vergangenheit
Ricarda Konrad

A German book, for a change, by an author I'd never heard of before. The book I found for free at Amazon's Kindle shop is the 1st (so far) 7 books by Ricarda Konrad. The link to the author's homepage I found by a quick research leads nowhere; it looks as if she was rather active in the years from 2014 to 2016 but has stopped participating on platforms such as lovelybooks, goodreads and facebook.

The title means "In the Shadows of the Past". The story sounds interesting enough: 40-something Caroline, newly divorced, accepts the unexpected inheritance from her Irish great-aunt, a lady she hardly knew. She decides to up sticks and say good-bye to her old life in Germany, moving to the cottage in an Irish village she suddenly owns.

There, not only does she make new friends (and an enemy), she also comes across a bundle of old letters that hint to a terrible tragedy in the past of her late great-aunt. 
With the help of her new friends and neighbours, she manages to unearth the truth about the events of decades ago, not without some danger to herself.

As I said, this could have been a good story, rather gripping. Well, it had its moments, but to be honest, the writing simply did not pull me into the story well enough. I did try to imagine the places, people and events, but the mental cinema seemed like an incomplete, rough collection of woody images with not enough depth to really care about the characters.

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a particularly bad book (I've read worse!) but not one I can recommend, either. Still, it kept me entertained for a few train journeys, and that means it was not a waste of time.

According to Amazon's author info, Ricarda Konrad is 2 years older than I (born 1966) and wrote her first short books while still at school. Education, work and family life put a stop to her ambitions as a writer until in 2014 she had the opportunity to follow through with her idea for a novel and write this book. She is married and has a daughter.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Last Month

As I know from your blogs, February was more winter than December and January in many places. I have already told you about the return of winter here in my area, with very low temperatures and some snow. 

Yesterday was finally milder, and for today, around 10C is forecast - that feels almost sub-tropical compared to the -12 we had this week!
The sun is already out, and I plan to go for a run later; I haven't been running for weeks and really miss it.

But back to winter for a little bit. Here are the pictures O.K. took on Sunday, the 18th of February.

View from my kitchen window at breakfast time:

Palace grounds:

At the deer park:

As you can see, we had bits of blue sky and glimpses of the sun. After the deer park, we walked down to the lake, where it was still sunny at first. But then the sky took on a more dramatic look:

By the time we arrived back home, we were both very ready for the warmth of my kitchen, mugs of hot coffee and later a substantial meal. Thankfully, the roads were clear for O.K.'s drive home later that evening.

It is now March, and although I know it will be a while before it gets really warm enough to put winter coats and boots aside, the sun definitely feels different when it is out. Looking at pictures on my blog from this time last year, spring was much further on that it is this year, but we paid for that when icy rain hit in April and destroyed up to 80 % of crops in vineyards and orchards in my part of Germany. Therefore, I much rather wait and let winter stay on a little bit, if it wants to, before giving way to spring properly.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Hot Food for Cold Days

Many of you have been experiencing very wintry weather over the last weeks, and my small part of the globe was no exception. We've had nights as cold as -12 Celsius (around 10 F) and days not getting above freezing point. Icy gusts of wind were biting your face whenever you dared to (or had to) venture outdoors. There were beautiful sunny days, too, but still bitterly cold. I have not been running for ages as I tend to get nose bleeds when the air is very cold, and I am one of those "just for fun" runners who really do it just for fun and so I won't torture myself by running when it is too wet, too cold or too windy for my liking.

What to do to keep warm? I usually opt for the dual approach: Warm from the outside and the inside! That means of course warm clothes and making good use of hot showers and central heating for the outside part, and drinking copious amounts of hot drinks (tea and coffee, with the occasional mug of vegetable broth spiced with ginger) and eating hot food for the inside part.

A few weeks ago, I took all the remaining spuds and carrots from another meal and turned them into a thick soup, generously adding ground ginger, nutmeg and pepper for a bit of extra heat, and served it with home-made croutons and freshly chopped chives from the windowsill. O.K. and I had this soup for our evening meal when he arrived at my place for the weekend one Friday night.

The "recipe", if you can call it that, goes like this:

Take whatever you find in terms of potatoes and carrots. Oh, and I added an apple. It does not give off a noticeable apple aroma later on, but it complements the other ingredients well.

Start with the spuds, as they take the longest. Peel and chop them, then put them in a pot of water to boil.

In the meantime, peel and chop the carrots. Do the same with the apple.

Add to the boiling potatoes and close the lid. Now go away and do something else for about half an hour. You may want to stir the vegetables occasionally. 

Once the vegetables have been simmering away long enough to be soft-ish, mash them up with your spuds masher.

Add salt, pepper, ground ginger and nutmeg (careful there - too much nutmeg can easily result in a slightly musty taste) and butter. 
Serve with croutons and freshly chopped chives on top. Fried bacon bits or sausages would also make nice additions.

On the Sunday, I made another warm-up meal by using a ready-made Thai red curry paste for a sort of stir-fry with bits of turkey and vegetables fried in the wok. We ate that with mie noodles. It was very welcome after a nice long walk in winter wonderland - more about that in my next post.

We did not neglect the intake of fresh food for vitamins, having fresh fruit with our mueslis and a big bowl of salad with the soup. So far, our immune systems have been successfully fighting all the flu viruses around us. Let's hope it stays that way.

The forecast here is for milder temperatures this weekend. We'll see. For now, keep warm and well, wherever you are!