Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Biggest: Advent Wreath and Calendar

My hometown sometimes aspires to more or less questionable achievements such as "The biggest piggy-bank in the world" (a house-sized pig named Luise, with a small exhibition about money inside, aimed at children), or 10.000 Easter eggs on one single tree (as shown on my blog here).

This year, they have been aiming to display the biggest Advent wreath of... I don't know, all Germany? All the world? Anyway, it is large with a diameter of over 40 m, and last Sunday, O.K. and I went to have a look:

I'd read in the paper that the round straw bales used to form the base of the wreath will be re-used in the spring for the "Straw Festival" (something I truly wonder about - does my town need a Straw Festival?). The branches were donated from a community in the Black Forest.

The whole point of the "Biggest Advent Wreath" is charity: People can buy the cards with the hearts from 2 euros upwards, sign them and put them on the wreath. Proceeds from the cards go to a specific charity.

We didn't buy a card, but enjoyed the walk in the sun.

The day before, O.K. had given me the biggest Advent calendar I have ever had - an entire village:

It covers the whole surface of one of my sideboards in the living room, and each house is filled with delicious treats or a small gift (a pair of running socks, for instance)! When O.K. arrived on Saturday, he said I was not to enter the living room until he said so. I stayed in the bedroom and heard the mysterious rustling, and when I was finally allowed to come in, I jumped up and down with delight and surprise!

You can imagine that I look forward to opening another house every morning now until the 24th, when I will have TWO - the church nave and the bell tower.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Wintery Things

Here is a mix of wintery things that make up my daily life these days - some food, some Christmassy deco and some warm clothes.

I made my own version of Shepherd's Pie a few weekends ago when O.K. was here. 
First, I boiled sweet potatoes and parsnip until they were soft enough to be mashed.
 At the same time, I fried up half a pound of minced meat (a mix of beef and pork).
 For the mash, I used the yolk of one egg, some butter and some grated cheese.
 The mash looked and smelled nice - I spiced it with a bit of ginger and freshly ground nutmeg.
 The minced meat went in the baking tray first, then I spread the mash on top.
 I baked it in the oven until the top started to show a bit of a crust.
We ate this with a large bowl of salad. Not only was it nice and filling, it also made the kitchen the warmest place to be in my flat.

You know that I love my empty surfaces and don't want to live in cluttery surroundings. But at Christmas time, I really enjoy getting out decorative stuff. Some of it is the same every year and is welcomed like an old friend. Other things are new this year, since it is the first time I am doing this in my "new" rooms with the new colour scheme:

The knit dress on the left is one of three (yes, three!) I bought at Aldi's some months ago. This one is my favourite of the bunch. It is very soft, and I like the collar; it is not scratchy at all.
The dress looks better when worn with proper boots.

The dress on the right needs of course a cardigan to be warm enough this time of year. It is one I wear mostly to work, while the knit dress will never see the inside of my office.

Well, this was my small glimpse at "Winter With the Librarian" - time to get ready for work now.

PS: Want more wintery things? Look at the left sidebar of my blog - the link to my Mum's Etsy Shop is at the top. She has added a whole bunch of new socks, mittens, wristwarmers, woolly hats and so on.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Read in 2016 - 43: I love Charlotte Bronte

"I love Charlotte Bronte" by Michelle Daly was light entertainment, and I liked the book well enough, although
it had its weaknesses.

First, the story: Colette lives in Liverpool and works as a nurse at a home for the elderly. She likes most of her patients, but one elderly lady in particular becomes her friend: Maisie, who is originally  from Ireland. After a stroke, she has lost the ability to speak, but Colette keeps talking to her. The two women share a love of Charlotte Bronte´s work, in particular of "Jane Eyre".
A few days before Maisie dies, she gives Colette her old diary, and the young nurse learns things about her old friend she never knew. Much to Colette's surprise, Maisie, who did not have children, has left her cottage in Ireland to her.
Colette and her best friend (also a nurse at the home) pack up and move there, without having seen the cottage before. The trip there, the village and its inhabitants, the cottage, the customs and traditions in a world that is very much unlike the Liverpool city life the two young women have been used to - it all makes for some funny incidents, but there is also seriousness in the book.
Colette meets people and sees places from Maisie's past, and manages to connect past and present events.
Of course, two young ladies on their own also means there are romantic interests, but although they are important to the women, this part of the story is not overplayed.

The weaknesses I found were mostly due to careless editing. There weren't many typos at all, but there were a few incidents when I thought "what? who? how? when?", because something was suddenly stated as if it
had been mentioned before, when it clearly had not.
For instance, still at the beginning of the book, all of a sudden we hear that Christmas is over, but the reader never learnt at the start that we enter the story at Christmas time. Also, it is never properly explained why Colette splits up with her boyfriend.

The other (few) things I was not too happy with were simply questions of personal taste: I don't like smoking, and although I do like champagne and cocktails, I don't drink myself into a stupor or do silly things because of the drink (I do enough silly things without!).
The two nurses smoke, and they drink a lot - as seems to be the norm in Ireland. Is this cliché really true, I wonder?
I like things neat and tidy; Colette takes pride in being so chaotic she has to pick up clothes off the floor before anyone can enter the sitting room at the cottage.
So, Colette and I would probably never become close friends in real life, but as I said, it still was a good read.
I like stories where people start over from scratch, and how they handle a new chapter in their lives.

The story covers a full year, ending at Christmas - this time at the cottage in Ireland, and as I finished it just around the time our Christmas Market opened, it could be called my first seasonal read of this year.

I had not heard of this author before, but have since found out that
Michelle Daly is also here on blogger:

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Ludwigsburg Christmas Market and Schrottwichteln

Every year, my hometown Ludwigsburg holds a Christmas market that spans a full four weeks. In recent years, it has opened on the Tuesday before the first Advent Sunday. This year, this meant the 22nd of November - a rather early start, but eagerly awaited nonetheless.
I've already told you that my Mum and I went to the opening, and my previous post shows a picture of me having the first of many Holzofen-Dinnede - my preferred Christmas market food.

Last year, I showed you pictures of the opening ceremony here. It was almost exactly the same this year, and therefore, I took no new pictures.

The market itself looks pretty much the same every year, too, but we want it that way, because we really like the lights and angels and stars. I took a few pictures with my mobile phone this year:

Wednesday night this week, I met up with my Mum and sister after work for another stroll across the market. Much to my delight, my Dad was there, too - it is rare these days that the four of us do something like that together, mainly due to my Dad's health.

Thursday night after work I spent baking (I'll show you what I made in another post) and speaking to O.K. on the phone, and last night (Friday), I hosted the annual Schrottwichteln - a tradition with my girlfriends, firmly established since 2007 or 2008. What Schrottwichteln is and how it works is explained in this post.
This time, there were six of us; our friend who left Baden-Wuerttemberg some years ago to move up North to be with her love couldn't make it. But we had a new guest: One of the two ladies I know from Librarian School (our friendship dates back to 1986) and who I went to Bad Wimpfen with a couple of times.

For the first time, I hosted the event in my "new" living room. Here is how the room looked - compare with the old post, if you like:

Again, we had tons of fun; this year's presents were a selection of the good, the bad and the ugly - what I got was this:

Four Glühwein mugs (mulled wine is a "must" at every German Christmas market, and at most markets, you can either keep the mug or return it to the booth and get a small amount of money back)! They will probably be put to good use this weekend :-)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Last of November

Can you believe tomorrow we're already entering the last month of this year? Where did this year go? Wasn't it just the other day that we celebrated New Year's Eve?
And yet, when I look back at the events of the first 11 months of 2016, it does feel like a full year. In fact, so much has happened that you could make several years out of it!

Generally, November has a bad image - it is often dubbed "the saddest month" and, statistically, the one with the most suicides. I find that image unjustified; for me, November wasn't a bad month at all.

There was of course the very sad anniversary of my husband's sudden death 7 years ago, only 5 days after his 41st birthday. And of course I am not enthusiastic about the rapidly dwindling hours of daylight; getting up at dark and coming home from the office when it is dark again is not as nice as when I know there are hours of sunshine left after work.

But, all things considered, November is not worse than any other month. We had sunny days (in fact, a little more rain would have been welcome), beautiful autumn colours in the woods, orchards, vineyards and gardens everywhere, and surprisingly mild temperatures most of the time.
I had work to keep me pleasantly busy, but not too much so as not to feel stressed out. My weekends were spent either at O.K.'s place or he was here with me, and we always did nice things such as going for walks and seeing friends and family, enjoying delicious meals and each other's company.

The one good thing about the shorter daylight time is that I get to see sunrises - something that rarely happens from springtime onwards; I simply get up too late for that at 7:00 most mornings. Here are two particularly good examples, as seen from my kitchen window in November:

On November 14, some of my friends in the blogosphere were looking for the Super Moon. I knew it wasn't worth looking, as it was completely overcast in my area, and therefore I was happy when I was able to show you the Super Moon above Ripon Market Square, courtesy of George Pickles.
Now let me show you what the Super Moon looked like about 90 km east of my home town, where my uncle lives; the place where my sister and I spent a snowy weekend in January 2015. My uncle sent me this picture by email, and I have his permission to use it:

It is usually a bit colder where my aunt and uncle live than here in Ludwigsburg, and the way some of you have recently mentioned "Jack Frost" not painting flowers on the window panes anymore how he used to do in pre-central heating times made me want to use this picture, too:

My uncle took this photo of a window in his attic room, and again, I have his permission to use it.

Definitely something to look forward to in November was - at least for me and my Mum - the opening of our beautiful Christmas Market. You have seen several pictures of it in past years; here is one from the opening night, taken by my Mum:

That was my November. December has even more to look forward to, but that's another post for another day.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Guest Post by my Mum: Almost 103!

My Mum wrote this for my blog the other day. I hope you'll like it as much as I do!
- - -

Such is life.

Recently I emptied my postbox, and it contained two extremely different letters:

The one was a birth announcement for a little baby girl named Annika Sophie, with cute fotos and very happy parents.

The other one was quite the opposite, a cousin of mine telling me that her mother Berta had passed away at the age of nearly 103 years!

She was born when in Germany we still had Kaiser Wilhelm, she was already alive in World War I, though a little child, then lost brothers in World War II, her husband was missing for a long time, and all the time she lived in a small village near my hometown, from birth to death. 
You can imagine how many people came to the funeral.

I remembered, when I was a child, we often went so see the family, I played with my cousins, my aunt was a good cook and very good host. Later my mother and I visited her from time to time and always got a pretty good cup of coffee and cake or cookie, homemade, of course.

The last 13 years her mind vanished, at last she didn't even recognize her own daughter and son. So sad.

But- such is life, the little baby arrived, and the old aunt died.

When I told my brother, he said: So it makes me thinking, that now we are next. Before, there have been always the older ones "before" us, but now... Well, I don't want to complain, I want to stay around much longer!!! But I will enjoy every good day, and that is what I want to recommend to eveybody.

- - - end of guest post - - -

I do not remember my great-aunt Berta, but one of her granddaughters. We weren't close but knew each other through school; we did not attend the same family gatherings.
Of course I want my Mum and Dad to stay around for many more years to come, too! And like her, I enjoy every good day - I know very well how sudden our days can end. Thankfully, nearly every day for me is indeed a good day. I am very lucky at that, and I know it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Read in 2016 - 42: The Life of Herman Melville

There are books and names of authors "everybody" knows, even if maybe we have never actually read the book. "Moby Dick" is one of those books, with probably a large percentage of (not only) the English-speaking world having come across the author's name at some stage.
But how many of us have actually read "Moby Dick" or know something about Herman Melville? Admittedly, I am one of those who'd have to answer "not me".

I knew the author's name, of course, but of Moby Dick I only know the film starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. I found the story gruesome and the film not at all entertaining, and so was never really induced to find out more about the author and his work.

Still, I was interested enough to download this free ebook about him. It is part of a series of books aiming to "provide superior editing and original writing services, with the expertise to create digital content for publishers across a vast range of subject matters".

Anyway, I did enjoy reading this brief account of Herman Melville's life and work. It is neatly presented in 8 chapters and comes with a handful of illustrations. Until now, I did not have the slightest idea that Mr Melville had such a tragic life; his career as a famous author was solely based on his first two books, and "Moby Dick" was published many years later, when he had already pretty much disappeared into obscurity. The story was only properly discovered in the 1920s and has since then risen to become one of the best regarded classics of American literature.
Melville died in relative poverty, almost completely unnoticed by the literary world, a forgotten genius who seems to have enjoyed only brief periods of happiness in his life.
His wife, only briefly mentioned in this biography, must have been exceptionally kind, loving and generous. She battled alongside her husband against his alcoholism and frequent bouts of depression, apparently being instrumental in several victories. It was also thanks to her skill and intelligence that the family, although veering on the brink of bankruptcy a few times, recovered enough to allow the ageing couple a level of financial security.

I think I'll look for a few more books in this series. They are not much longer than a special feature in a magazine would be, and are really perfect for my trips to and from work.