Tuesday Tidbits

Yesterday I tried to go on Curious Dog’s afternoon walk twice and each time we had to turn back because of rain. The second time it even started thundering. We are in Bavaria, and the weather has been very changeable. I hoped it would clear up later in the afternoon, as I was planning to take Curious Dog to his dog school for the first time since October. But it didn’t. We got quite wet, as dog school is outdoors. But it was still fun. Otherwise, we’ve had some very pleasant walks in the woods, where all the beech trees are covered in bright shining new green leaves.

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We drove down last week on Thursday, which was a public holiday, Christ’s Ascension. Nice, because there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I didn’t have to work on Friday to make up for Thursday. That made for a weekend long and lovely. The drive was a bit of a pain, though. I’d know from last time that our normal exit off the Autobahn was closed for roadworks, and that the diversion was also going to be closed (with yet another diversion). I thought I’d leave the Autobahn at an entirely different exit and approach my usual route by other roads from a different direction. That was the plan, but there were roadworks on that route as well. I was diverted to the diversion from last time, which diverted to very small and winding country roads. Very scenic, but slow. Luckily, almost no traffic, but it probably would have been dire on a normal workday, because you had to slow down to 30 km/h in all the small villages, and they all had temporary pedestrian crossings with traffic lights installed in their main through roads. We’ll be driving back next Sunday, so that should also be fine, but I’ll have to think of a better route for June’s drive.

Our neighbours with Corona came through it and are now recuperating. The husband got pneumonia to go with it and had to go to hospital for 10 days. They have to take it easy but are doing well. Mum and I are very relieved and thankful.

Our garden is very green and very overgrown. The lawn is terrible – lots of tall grasses on the sides, lots of dandelion stalks and other stuff that I’ll have to cut by hand, because the lawnmower will only bend all the stalks and not cut them. I should have started doing this on the weekend when we had quite a few sunny hours in among the showers. As usual, I was too lazy. I’m hoping to get started during my lunch breaks this week, if it isn’t raining (but so far, no go). If I do a bit every day, it won’t be such a pain. All the bushes we planted last year, the Juneberry and the small red hedge bushes, have survived and grown lots of new leaves. And the small apple tree actually has blossoms. It’ll be interesting to see if it will already grow apples. If it does, I’ll have to prop up the skinny branches, as they don’t look strong enough to bear the weight. The small Korean fir tree is still looking rather sickly and loosing needles, although some (but not many) new buds are also sprouting. Not sure if it will survive. It was too dry in the last few summers. Our huge rosemary bush definitively didn’t survive the freezing winter. We’re planning a trip to a garden centre this week, as they are open (Corona counts are improving again). Maybe we’ll get some new plants. Hardy ones, that survive not being regularly watered in Summer.

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I took a few of the books I’m currently reading with me, Arabian Nights, The Tale of Genji, The Beet Queen… all literary ones that I want get ahead with, but when we arrived after lunch on Thursday, I was too tired from the drive and needed something easier on my brain. I found an old Ellery Queen Penguin Crime novel that belonged to my brother. I spent the rest of the day reading it: The Glass Village. One of the few standalone crime novels by the authors. “Ellery Queen” is both the pseudonym of the authors, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, and the name of one of their main characters. This used to confuse me as a teenager, when I remember reading some of the Ellery Queen books. However, this one doesn’t feature Ellery Queen as a character. The main protagonist is one Johnny Shinn, a cynical and bored ex-soldier who worked for Military Intelligence in the Korean War and doesn’t know what to do with himself after the war. He’s visiting his uncle, a judge, in their ancestral New England village. The village in the 1950s is very run-down and only a handful of families remain. Most of them are quite nasty and definitively not welcoming to strangers, although Johnny is accepted, because of his uncle and his family’s roots in the village. During their stay, the nicest character in the village, Aunt Fanny Adams, a well-to-do famous painter, is brutally murdered and the only suspect (in the eyes of the villagers) is a tramp, a poor Polish immigrant. The villagers first hunt him down, mistreat him, and then refuse to give him up to the law. They think they won’t get justice if they don’t try the “foreigner” themselves. To prevent bloodshed and gain time, the judge sets up a fake court, complete with jury, prosecution, and defense. Johnny has to join the jury, as otherwise there aren’t enough jurors. During the fake court case, the alibis of all the villagers are scrutinized and eventually, the truth is found out.

The novel really gripped me. I thought it would be mildly amusing, but it’s very well made and thought-provoking. The great majority of the villagers were a closed-minded, bigoted, violent lot, very reminiscent of the extremists we see in our modern political landscape. Not inclined to adhere to any laws except those they bent to their purposes, not interested in listening to other points of view, definitively not inclined to be merciful. Only at the end, when it became indisputable that the tramp wasn’t the murderer, did they show any remorse (at least they did show remorse – that’s something that’s uncommon with modern bigots). I think the novel is called The Glass Village, because all the hidden lives of the villagers come to light during the fake court case. Or maybe it’s also about not throwing stones when one is living in a glass house – meaning it wasn’t the tramp, but rather one of their own who was the murderer.

I spent a lot of time reading on the weekend, including some of the Tale of Genji, but mostly other crime novels. That’s a post for another day.

Keep safe, world.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 3

This is my third post about my project to read the entire Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, which I used to be keen on, but then lost track of. Previous posts:
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 1
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 2

I’ve now read the next three installments in the series, books 5, 6 and 7:

O Jerusalem

Although this is the fifth book in the series. It takes place during the first book and tells of Russell’s and Holmes’ sojourn in Palestine. This was just mentioned in passing in the first book and is here a tale told in full.
Russell and Holmes had to leave the country to hide from their opponent. They use the time to spy for Holmes’ brother Mycroft in Palestine. An important peace-keeping event held by General Edmund Allenby in Jerusalem is threatened by terrorists and there is a leak in the British intelligence headquarters. Russell and Holmes enter the country in secret and travel around searching for clues and the traitor. They travel with a pair of brothers, Mahmoud Hazr and Ali Hazr, who work as traveling scribes, as a cover for their roles as British spies who have completely immersed themselves in their alter egos. Ali is very skeptical of Russell, who is disguised as a Bedouin lad, but she proves herself during their adventures.

Although they travel in secret and have only a short meeting with General Allenby and his spymaster, they nevertheless are betrayed, and Holmes is abducted and tortured. After they (Russell and the Hazrs) have rescued Holmes, they must foil the terrorist attack on the peace talks in Jerusalem.

I like the novel a lot. It’s full of adventure and mayhem. Another good look at Russell’s and Holmes’ relationship before they were married and lots of local colour. They interact with many different people, Christian priest and monks, and Arabs. They also mix with the British high society in Jerusalem, it’s all very varied and exciting.

Many chapters are prefaced with quotes from Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Islamic scholar – very interesting. I’m considering reading some of his work, except that I have so many other books to read.

There’s the usual conceit that the novels were written by Russell and edited by the author (which is the case for all the novels).

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Justice Hall

The sixth book in the series starts off where the fourth book left off, in November 1923. Russell and Holmes have just returned home from their adventures in The Moor, when they are suddenly visited by Ali Hazr, one of the Hazr brothers they met during their travels in Palestine in book five (which took place in 1918). It turns out that Mahmoud and Ali are cousins and members of the English aristocracy. Mahmoud, or rather, Lord Maurice Hughenfort has just inherited a duchy. Ali wants Russell and Holmes to persuade Mahmoud to give up his title and lands and return with him to Palestine, where they were happy (England no longer suits them). The problem is that Maurice (nicknamed “Marsh”) feels duty-bound to care for his ancient family holdings, because there doesn’t seem to be any other suitable heir. The last heir, Gabriel Hughenfort, was killed during WW1 under strange circumstances. It is now Russell and Holmes task to find out if there are any heirs that could liberate Marsh.

The family history of the Hughenforts turns out to be quite convoluted, but Russell and Holmes, of course, bring to light a lot of shocking truths. It soon appears obvious that one the family has been systematically trying to get rid of all the heirs so that they can become the next duke. The question is, who? In the end, the killer is foiled and brought to a peculiar kind of justice, and Mahmoud and Ali return to Palestine. It was nice meeting them again although they were quite different in the English setting.

The historical point of interest in this book hinges on the many soldiers that were executed during WW1 for cowardice or for not following useless and deadly orders. They were often executed without any legal support to prevent others from following their lead. It’s a very dark part of British history (and I’m sure this also happened on the German side). The book inspired me to read poetry of WW1 which I’m finding very intense (in places; not all the poems in the anthology I’m reading are great, some are too patriotic for my taste, but I guess that was the mood of the times).

R_H_Timeline

The Game

The seventh book takes Russell and Holmes undercover as spies to India, again to clear up some questions for Mycroft. It seems that one Kimball O’Hara, a spy for the British, has been missing for a few years and other British spies have turned up dead. The fun part is that O’Hara is the character known as “Kim” in Rudyard Kipling’s novel of the same name (which I’ve read sometime during or before my university years, but can’t remember much of). It seems that there is a concern that O’Hara may have turned traitor to the British (if he isn’t dead). Holmes had dealings with him before Russell was even born and doesn’t believe it. So, Russell and Holmes travel to India, disguise themselves as itinerant magicians, and clear up the mystery, which involves a power-hungry maharaja from one of the minor Indian princedoms (a fictive place). Again, a lot of local colour, a lot of adventure and mayhem.

Come to think of it, I guess it kind of beggars belief that Holmes is an expert at Arab culture and languages as well as on Hindi and Indian culture. I guess it’s due to his being a genius, and Russell picks up all the languages and skills extremely quickly because she is also a genius. The series are super enjoyable, but with some things the reader has to suspend their disbelief. Fortunately, I’m quite expert at this skill.  😉

I enjoyed these three installments, as I’ve enjoyed the previous ones. So far, all the books have been rereads. The next two I’ve also read before but then I’ll be entering unknow territory. I’m looking forward to the next books.

I’ve also started a timeline, to keep track of the chronology of the novels. I’ll keep adding to it, as I read the next books.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

May is already one third gone and I’ve only managed one post so far. Work is still very stressful and chaotic. New tasks keep popping up, there’s millions of synch meetings, and preparations for meetings, and rollouts and whatnot. All on top of the usual stuff that has been accelerated so that my team and I have to do one third more of it than last year. This tires me out on weekdays, so that I don’t have enough energy to write a blog post. At the beginning of the weekend (and my weekends are long ones, as I don’t work on Fridays) I always plan to do a post per day and what happens? I do the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the doing things with my partner, the dog walking, a lot of reading, but I can’t bring myself to turn on my notebook. At the end of the weekend, I regret not having written a thing. So, today I’ve decided that come what may, I’m writing a post. I’m worried that if I don’t get back into a groove of regular writing, I’ll stop writing entirely which I really don’t want to happen, because I do enjoy it and I like the idea of having a record of my doings and readings. And maybe some readers will get some enjoyment, too.

What have I been doing? Only the usual. We returned from Bavaria on April 25 and this Thursday, which is a public holiday in Germany (Christ’s Ascension), we will be driving back again. April and May have been mostly still quite cold and wet. I’m still wearing a woolen hat on my morning walks with Curious Dog, even today, although we had 26°C yesterday afternoon (and it felt warmer). I’m quite enjoying the cool spring, but maybe it was sometimes too cold for the birds with their newborn chicks. It looks like the next week is going to have temperatures somewhere between 15 and 20° in the afternoons and between 7 and 9°C in the nights. At last, no more frost.

In Bavaria, last time we were there, it turned out that our next-door neighbours had caught Corona, just a few days before their vaccination appointment. They are in their 60s and I fervently hope they will have come though it without any complications. We will find out on Thursday. We also learnt that another neighbour, an older lady originally from Portugal, with whom we used to share our local newspaper, had passed away in Portugal. Not, I believe, from Corona. But it was shocking news and Mum and I were sad to hear it. Though marked by bad news, our last stay in Bavaria was in other respects quite as usual. We had some good weather; Curious Dog and I had a lot of pleasant walks in the woods and he picked up a few ticks. They don’t seem to mind the inclement conditions – it was in the second half of April, and we still had frost.

Zami

In the first week back from Bavaria, I had a spontaneous day off work and used it to set up a bookshelf that had been stored in pieces behind my wardrobe since my move (almost three years ago) because I didn’t have anywhere to put it. Because I was missing this entire bookshelf, some of my books were stacked against the short attic wall of my bedroom (as my bedroom is basically a large attic room with the sloping roof all along one side). I had originally wanted to get rid of those books, and I did get rid of some, but couldn’t bring myself to do it for all of them. Also, a lot of the new books I got last year were stacked on the floor around my meditation mat (not sure why I didn’t put them somewhere out of the way). Anyway, I came up with the idea to set up my old bookshelf with the short side screwed to the wall next to the door of my room and the long side (85 cm) jutting out into the room. This is quite useful, because it means that I can stack my books on two sides of the shelf (it is just wooden shelves with endpieces, no back). I put all my crime books on one side (with space left over) and all my old sci-fi paperbacks that I had stacked against the wall on the other side. And then I had an empty shelf where the crime novels used to be. So, on the following weekend, I removed all my books from my largest set of shelves, dusted them off, and rearranged them. It was fun. I’ve now got my poetry collection all on one shelf (it’s a small collection) and the books I’m currently reading and planning to read on other shelves, and even some empty shelves which I’m going to use to store my office supplies, which are currently thrown haphazardly into a cardboard box that lives in the corner next to my desk. Amazingly, I only took about three hours to dust and rearrange my bookshelves. I felt very accomplished afterwards (those shelves really needed dusting – I hadn’t noticed quite how dusty they’d gotten).

After all this work, I’ve now got a nice reading nook between the newly put-up shelf and the other ones. The only drawback is that I can’t have Curious Dog up here in my bedroom, because the wall-to-wall carpet would get dirty and he’s scared of the stairs. So, I do most of my reading in the living room, where Curious Dog likes to interrupt (when he’s not sleeping at my feet). But occasionally I do lounge in my reading corner on the bean bag in the attic bedroom. And it’s nice to look at while I’m sitting at my desk all day on workdays.

I still have some other “clean-up and organize” projects to get started on. One of them concerns a couple of moving boxes with odds and ends that I’ve stacked in a corner and hidden underneath a colourful quilt. They need to get unpacked. I think one of them is from my next-to-last move which was 13 year ago. It contains a lot of old hand-knitted socks that my grandma used to make for me. I don’t wear them anymore, but I can’t get rid of them. But this weekend, I lazed around reading and didn’t do anything except for the most necessary housework. I read some of The Tale of Genji and ought to be almost caught up with my reading buddy. I also read the next Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes novel and Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde (very good, needs its own post). Also started a new poetry collection of WWI poetry (prompted by the Russell & Holmes books, because they (at least the early ones) mention WWI a lot. I also got ahead with the Arabian Nights’. A very productive reading weekend. The coming weekend will be a long one, since Thursday is a public holiday. We’ll be driving to Bavaria, but once we have arrived, I’ll probably have lots of time for reading. Looking forward to that!

I’m still not vaccinated, but hope Partner and I will get there in June.

Keep safe, world!

April Reading

A lot earlier than last month, my monthly reading report.

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I didn’t manage to read any of this in April either, but I’ve pulled myself together and got started again now, in May. So, I should have a better progress soon. I do enjoy it, so I’m not sure why I didn’t get round to this book in the last couple of months.

Poetry:

Adrienne Rich, Selected Poems 1952 – 2012.
I started and finished this book in April. I enjoyed it, but I’m sure I haven’t understood everything. If I pondered each poem I read (especially the modern ones) until I understand it completely, I’d never get ahead. I’m sure I’ll be rereading this one sometime in future and then I may get more and other things out of it that I did with this first reading.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. I’m making progress, night by night.

Non-Fiction:

  • Samuel Johnson and David Womersley (ed), Selected Writings.
    Essays and letters and other miscellaneous stuff. Very interesting. I finished the last half, and especially liked Rasselas (a kind of fable about finding the right way to life – it’s apparently impossible, there’s always something to complain about) and A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland – now I want to read James Boswell’s report of the same journey. It would be interesting to see how the two accounts differ. I also read some of Johnson’s short biographies from Lives of the Poets. These didn’t do much for me, because I haven’t read many of the works he discusses (Johnson gives an overview of the poets’ works), and those that I have read I’ve mostly forgotten. Except for Milton. I might reread those biographies if I ever give those poets a go. I still kind of liked the biographies because I like Johnson’s style.
  • Patrick King, The Science of Getting Started: How to Beat Procrastination, Summon Productivity, and Stop Self-Sabotage.
    This was a cheap Kindle edition that I found by chance and bought to see if it had any bright ideas on how to organize my work load more effectively. I didn’t have high hopes, but I was positively surprised. It was a quick read and had some good ideas (not all of them new to me, but also a good reminder of the things I already knew). If you want some pointers about dealing with a high workload and working productively, I recommend this book. I like that it is science-based, not just somebody’s pet ideas without any scientific backing. I always get my task at work done (if sometimes last minute), but this year there’s a lot of chaos at work and I needed some ideas to get things back under control and stop feeling overwhelmed. It’s still chaos, but I’m dealing with it and the book helped.

Novels:

  • Robert Dugoni, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.
    A book club read that I didn’t care much about. I wrote about it here.
  • David Weber, In Fury Born.
    This one I read one weekend in April because I needed some light space opera escapism. I wrote about it here.

April wasn’t a great reading month. Work was rather hellish and as a result, I was sometimes too tired to read. Quite annoying really. Things aren’t really looking up. I think the work situation is going to continue being a pain at least until fall. Therefore, I need to pull myself together and find a modus vivendi in which the work situation doesn’t carry over so much into my private life. I think I’m getting there, but some days are better than others.

Keep safe, world.

March Reading

Considering that I’ve been and still am very busy at work and sometimes felt too tired to read, I did manage to read quite a bit in March. Here’s the list:

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I didn’t manage to read any of this in March – probably what made me feel that I’m in a slump. I was too tired to immerse myself into this complicated Japanese society. I’m falling behind, my reading buddy is at least 200 pages further along. I need to catch up, so we can continue discussing it. I haven’t read a single page in April yet, either…

Poetry:

  • Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.
    Finished! A very good anthology.
  • Emily Dickinson and Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), Final Harvest.
    Also finished – I love Emily Dickinson’s poems (even if I don’t always understand them). This was only a selection. One of these days I will get her entire collected poems.

Short Stories:

  • J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Green Tea and Other Weird Stories.
    Old-fashioned ghost and horror stories. Some of the stories were more like novellas. I enjoyed them, but I prefer the short stories by M. R. James, which are in the same vein and which I read last year. I’m never going to feel the same way about green tea again – apparently it can make you susceptible to harassment by supernatural creepy monkeys who are terrible for your life expectancy. 😉
  • Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
    This Oxford Worlds Classic paperback has been on my shelves for years and I’ve only ever browsed in it a little. I’m reading it all through this time. Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. Sinbad the sailor sure wasn’t scrupulous about killing other people to further his own survival on his adventures!

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Non-Fiction:

  • Samuel Johnson and David Womersley (ed), Selected Writings.
    Essays and letters and other miscellaneous stuff. Very interesting. I got to the half-way mark in March, about 600 pages.
  • May Sarton, The Fur Person.
    Absolutely delightful story of a cat’s life, written from the point of view of the cat and with a few fabulous “cat song” poems in it. I stumbled across it, because I was looking for another poet to read after Emily Dickinson, and Sarton is a poet that I was considering (actually, I’m reading Adrienne Rich at the moment, but Sarton is an option for another day). Very short and quick read, but lovely.
  • Peter Martin, A Dog Called Perth: The Voyage of a Beagle.
    Another interesting story of a pet’s life. This time a dog. Also shortish and a quick read. The dog had a very eventful life, and I loved her, but her owner was a sometimes arrogant person who did quite a few idiotic things with poor Perth that I wouldn’t do with mine. It was pure luck that things turned out fine. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot.

Novels:

  • Laurie R. King, O Jerusalem.
    Installment 5 of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Another reread, and very enjoyable. Russell and Holmes doing undercover spy stuff in Palestine during WWI.
  • Sally Wright, Pursuit and Persuasion and Out of the Ruins.
    Books 3 and 4 in the Ben Reese crime series I stared in February. Anti-stress (for me) crime novel. Kind of dark academia in that the protagonist works as an archivist for a university. I’m still planning to write a more detailed review of the series. There’s only one more book to go.

Two pet stories and three crime novels. A fun reading month!

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Mum and I are once again at our place in Bavaria. We drove here last Thursday afternoon, again amid flurries of snow on the way. Real April weather. It’s quite cool and not really pleasant to work in the garden, which is a pity, because we’ve got lots of dead stuff from last year to tidy up. Our large rosemary bush hasn’t survived the harsh winter, which is a pity. The small apple tree and the Juneberry bush we planted have survived and are starting to grow new leaves. The three tiny hedge bushes I planted had a mixed result. One is looking healthy, one is middling and one seems to be ailing. We’ve also got tons of daisies and even more dandelions in our lawn. The peonies are coming up nicely and the lilacs are also growing new leaves. At my place in Baden-Württemberg, where it is warmer, the lilacs are already showing emerging buds.

Curious Dog is back to his usual state. The last couple of weeks he’d been very much driven by hormones. Some bitches around my place must have been in heat, or something, because CD spent all his time on our walks sniffing everywhere like a crazy dog and pulling worse than ever on the leash. He also whined and even howled a few times in the house, which he otherwise only does when he hears emergency sirens. It was quite strange. He’s never been so lovesick before. He’s also losing his winter fur and spreading it evenly around the house. He always sheds a bit, but currently it’s shedding season. I wanted to go to dog school with him, but it is closed again due to Corona lockdown. We haven’t been since sometime last fall. We don’t really need it, but it’s fun and sometimes we do learn something new.

Work is insane. I have my usual tasks, which have multiplied, because tasks we used to do every 6 or 7 weeks we are now doing once a month. There’s also the special project that I’m coordinating, which I can’t wait to be over, but it’ll run for some months yet. Then I have to do a presentation and demonstration of something next week, which is driving me crazy. I hate presentations. At least I hope things will be more manageable once the presentation is done. I spoke with my manager about that other task I complained about in my last life update post, and he couldn’t answer my questions. Turned out, he hadn’t thought the thing through very well. He’s now gone off to think about it a bit and in the meantime, I’m not doing anything about it. Haven’t got time anyway.

I spent some time on the weekend reading The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni. It’s told in the first person by Sam, who has a rare condition called ocular albinism which means that he has red eyes (that is, the colour of his eyes is red). He is born into a Catholic family and is sent to Catholic schools where the students tease and bully him for being “the devil child”, but his parents are very supportive. He tells the story of his life as a grown-up looking back and comments on it. He makes friends with a couple of other misfits, has a run-in with a terrible bully who also turns up to harass him when he’s grown up. He makes it through challenges and tragedies and grows rich, gets the girl, has a son… It’s like a modern fairy tale in which the hero forges alliances, struggles through adversity, grows wiser, gets the treasure, marries the princess and is set up for living “happily ever after”. It was not bad but not exactly memorable. Angle of Repose, about which I posted a review yesterday, was memorable, this novel wasn’t. Everything was explained and tied up neatly, no ambiguity, no open ends, hardly anything to mull over and ponder.

It didn’t do much for me and I wouldn’t have read it except that it’s the book that my book club is currently reading. The book club selections are always very hit and miss, but at least it wasn’t as bad some of the others I’ve had to read. Although I admit that the book club members quite often don’t like the books I suggest – sometimes even I don’t like the book I proposed. The person whose turn it is to select the book is supposed to choose one they haven’t read yet, so you never know what you will get. Our reading tastes are also quite different. Sometime there’s a real gem, but mostly it’s so-so or even quite terrible. But we do enjoy discussing the books and gossiping about life in general. We usually end up gossiping more than we discuss the book. We’ve been doing Zoom calls during Corona which isn’t as much fun as meeting in person, but better than nothing. We are meeting this week, I’m looking forward to it. Also anticipating the next book – it could be a hit.

Keep safe, world.

Angle of Repose

By Wallace Stegner. I read this novel back in February and loved it. It was a re-read. I’d read it years ago in the 1990s, at university. I couldn’t remember many of the details, but I did remember that I loved it even then. On re-reading, what did I enjoy? Its complexity, its ambiguity, the poetic and sometimes thrilling descriptions of nature and life on the frontier, the contrast between culture and nature, the complex human relationships, the open ending.

The novel has two levels of plot. We have the life lived by the first-person narrator, Lyman Ward, who is researching and narrating the lives of his grandparents, Oliver Ward and Susan Burling Ward. Oliver was a mining engineer and Susan a famous illustrator and novelist. They lived in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Lyman is writing in the 1970s. He’s a retired professor of History, suffering from a degenerative disorder that makes it hard for him to move or care for himself. He focuses specially on Susan, because she has left a large collection of letters. As the novel progresses, the reader learns that Lyman is interested in his grandparents’ relationship, because his own has fallen apart:

What interests me in all these papers is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them.

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose. Penguin, 2000, p 227

Lyman and his wife Ellen divorced after 25 years of marriage under circumstances that Lyman judged to be a horrendous betrayal (well, it was, pretty much). He very much resents her but is being pushed towards a reconciliation by his son who still has a relationship with his mother.

Oliver and Susan also had a complicated and difficult relationship and once a great crisis but remained together. As a young woman, Susan was friends with Augusta Drake and Thomas Hudson. They lived on the East coast and lived for culture. Thomas became a well-known editor and married Augusta. Lyman believes that Susan would also have liked to marry Thomas or might even have lived as one of a ménage à trois with them. But she came to know Oliver and after a long engagement they were married. Augusta and Thomas didn’t approve of Oliver, he was too uncultured for them. He also didn’t try to ingratiate himself for which there wasn’t really much opportunity as his realm as geological engineer was in the West of America. Susan and he moved from one mining camp to another, but he always tried to build nice homes for her. Susan was ambitious for him, but she also held him back, as she didn’t want to follow him to some of the more uncivilized places that might have been good to grow his career. Sometimes, Oliver was unemployed, because he had a mind of his own and had strong ethics that caused conflicts with his superiors.

Eventually, a second relationship triangle formed. Oliver collaborated a lot with his friend and colleague Frank Sargent, who flirted with and perhaps fell in love with Susan. Susan started unfavourably comparing Oliver not only with Thomas, but also with Frank. Oliver’s career stagnated while Susan, with her connections back East to Thomas, turned into a famous illustrator and novelist. Sometimes the family lived off her income. Oliver occasionally turned to drink, which Susan resented. Eventually, when they were in their forties, with three children, a boy, Ollie, and two girls, Betsy and Agnes, a tragedy happened, which was Susan’s fault, that caused Oliver to leave Susan for a couple of years and also created a break between Ollie (the son) and Susan that was apparently never completely reconciled. Ollie was Lyman’s father.

Lyman presents all this to the reader from Susan’s letters to Augusta and from some old newspaper articles. Susan, however, didn’t write anything in her letters about the crisis (which I don’t want to mention, so as not to spoil the crux of the novel for anyone), so Lyman, is basically speculating:

All I know is the what, and not all of that; the how and the why are all speculation.

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose. Penguin, 2000, p 582.

Lyman was a History professor; he’s used to interpreting texts. The reader can’t be sure whether the tale he tells about Susan’s and Oliver’s motivations are any kind of truth. The letters aren’t shown to the reader, only the narrative that Lyman creates from them. And isn’t his name “lie man” kind of telling? Lyman believes that his grandparents never made up and lived next to each other for the rest of their long lives in a kind of petrified marriage. But I, as the reader, think that this may not be true. For one, Susan and Oliver may not have indulged in public displays of affection, seeing that they grew up in the 19th century. For another, I think that the rose garden that Oliver planted for Susan at the cottage that Lyman is now living in (and to which they only moved to after the crisis in their marriage) may have been a sign that he had forgiven her after all. Directly after the tragedy, before leaving for a couple of years, Oliver had destroyed an earlier rose garden in a fit of despair and rage. That’s why I think that the second half of their marriage wasn’t as loveless as Lyman seems to think.

It’s Lyman who is debating with himself if he should stay unforgiving towards his ex-wife in the same way he believes his grandparents to have remained estranged. He is pressured by his son to reconcile with his ex-wife, who had left him when he first became ill and who now, after a strange tragedy of her own, would like to see him again. It appears that, due to his analysis of his grandparents’ life (regardless of whether he is right about them, which he may well be) he has begun to question his refusal to forgive his wife. He’s wondering whether unforgiving harshness is really healthy, and whether he was a good husband during their marriage. Or maybe he thinks that a reconciliation would solve his caretaker problem – she could look after him and he could stay in his home instead of needing to move into a care facility, as his son urges him to do throughout the novel. The latter would be a rather self-serving act, which I don’t think is in character for him, but who knows? It would certainly suit his son.

I love the ambiguity of the novel. You think you know everything about Oliver and Susan, but more and more you come to see that you are only following Lyman’s interpretation of their lives. In addition to the relationship issues, I also like the novel because of the great description of nature and life in the American West. It’s not about the Wild West from cowboy movies, but about exploration and cartography and building a life in remote places. The contrast between the civilized East and untamed West is very well shown. There are also other characters and their stories that I haven’t touched on in this review, but which are also vividly realized. Have I said I love this novel? I really do and highly recommend it. I’m sure I’ll be rereading it and finding things I’ve missed. I also would like to read more of Stegner.

“Angle of repose”, by the way, is geological terminology meaning the “angle at which dirt and pebbles stop rolling downhill.”

Keep safe, world.

Wednesday Waffling

So, I had a quite stressful week before Easter, a lovely relaxed lazy Easter weekend (from Friday to Monday, as both days are public holidays in Germany), and now I’m at the end of another stressful work week. I still haven’t quite managed to optimally organize my increased workload.

The week before Easter was lovely and warm, going up to 24°C but now we’re back down to just around 2°C with snow, sleet, snow pellets and a nasty cold wind. It started on Monday; the rest of Easter was cool but sunny. Monday afternoon I was caught on my walk with Curious Dog in a shower of sleet. We got sopping wet, but CD didn’t seem to care much. I was freezing, especially my wet hands on his leash, while he was unconcernedly sniffing various clumps of grass for ages. But I let him because I am a sucker. I like for him to enjoy his time outside on our walks. Yesterday was also nasty and today our afternoon walk took place during snowfall (at least we didn’t get wet). The forecast does indicate that temperatures will go up again on Friday. I much prefer this weather to its being too warm too early in the year, though. The precipitation will be good for the woods and fields, I hope.

I had tons of things to do at work before and after Easter. I got annoyed at my manager, because in last week’s team meeting he blithely announced another task that I am supposed to be the owner of (well, actually two similar tasks). I haven’t been responsible for this particular thing for quite a number of years, but it involves new software tools and new regulations that I have to familiarize myself with. As I’m so busy, I didn’t appreciate having this new task dumped on me without warning and with the training that’s required… – I don’t mind training, but this month I’ve got tons of deadlines already and my calendar is full. I don’t know when exactly I have to start with the new responsibility, but I’ve had a rotten experience with the same thing in the past. It involved interacting with aggressive customers in escalation mode due to no fault of mine. So, I definitively don’t want to go into this without proper up-to-date training. And I will need support by other colleagues and there’s all sorts of other framing conditions that my manager doesn’t seem to have considered. I was mad as hell but haven’t had a chance to talk with them about it. Probably for the best. Now I’ve had a few days to cool down and come up with all points that need to be clarified. I’ve got my jour fixe with them tomorrow and will try to get a better understanding of what this thing entails.

This week is a short week, what with only three workdays for me. There’s a deadline that had me hounding people to improve the quality of their content for the last couple of weeks as well as a lot of other quality checks. The new schedule where we publish our documents monthly instead of every six weeks seems to make quite a difference in workload which I had underestimated. That, in addition to the new project I took on a couple of months ago, is proving a challenge. Maybe I’ll get used to it in a few more weeks.

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Easter was great, because of the relaxation. Nothing but cooking, eating, sleeping, reading, watching films or series, walking with Curious Dog, meditating, playing games…I’d done all the meal-planning beforehand and bought all the groceries we needed on the Wednesday before Easter (except for some odds and ends which I forgot and picked up on Thursday) thus avoiding the Easter rush. We had traditional “green sauce” with potatoes on Thursday. Green sauce consists (in our case) of soy yoghurt with a mix of chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. A very simple but tasty meal. On Friday we had home-made pizza, with homemade cashew mozzarella. Saturday, we had mashed potatoes with glazed apple pieces, fried onions and fried smoked tofu (the non-vegan recipe calls for German blood sausage instead of tofu). Very nice although it sounds weird. It’s called “heaven and earth” (“heaven” for the apples, “earth” for the potatoes). On Sunday we had cauliflower in tomato-caper sauce with polenta and on Monday we had a carrot, leek, date, and rice curry cooked in my clay pot in the oven at 200° for 1.5 hours. Partner made a lovely poppy seed cake with a sweet soy yoghurt and berry topping for Sunday and Monday, and a sweet yeast loaf for Friday and Saturday. If I can’t think of what to cook next Easter, I’ll look up this post for inspiration.

I didn’t read any of the books I’m currently in the middle of during the Easter weekend. Somehow, I got side-tracked and picked up an 840 page space opera by David Weber: In Fury Born. I picked it up off my shelves for a reread, but I couldn’t remember a thing about it. Did I maybe not read it before? A bit mystifying. Usually I do recognize bits and pieces, even if I can’t remember everything, but with this one, I remembered almost nothing. It was a good, escapist read. Similar to all the David Weber books I’ve read, it is about a courageous elite soldier, who is disillusioned and leaves the military. Later she experiences a horrific personal tragedy and kind of teams up with an ancient Greek Fury, Tisiphone, (this is the plot element that sets the book apart from others by Weber) and an AI spaceship named Megaira. They communicate telepathically and Tisiphone inhabits her mind. I like reading about stuff like that. Otherwise, the novel is too full of military stuff, and too many people get killed. There’s also lots of politics. These are all things I don’t like that much, but somehow there are times when I enjoy David Weber’s books a lot. I’ve read most of his Honorverse novels, which are about a heroic member of a space navy, Honor Harrington. They are also full of military life, politics and terribly evil antagonists that have to be overcome, but they are very thrilling and sometimes I just feel like reading such a tale.

I did continue reading Emily Dickinson’s poetry in the mornings and at night I’ve started reading the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments instead of short stories. I’ve had this Oxford World’s Classics paperback for a long time and have never yet read all of it. I’m enjoying it a lot so far (and I remember quite a few of the stories, as I have read some of them before). My new book light is very helpful for reading books (instead of ebooks) in bed at night, as it doesn’t bother Partner as much as my bed-side lamp. It’s one of those clip-on rechargeable LED lights that you can adjust to different levels of brightness. A very useful gadget.

During the Easter weekend we watched parts two and three of Matrix, which I’m sure I didn’t watch when they came out. The plot is odd and somewhat esoteric, but it’s mostly a lot of extended action scenes. Fun, but nothing to rave about. We watched the Narnia film Voyage of the Dawn Treader on Disney+. Not exactly like the book (I don’t remember the plotline about the seven swords), but I liked it anyway. On Monday night we watched the Tatort (crime scene) episode 1162 Der Herr des Waldes (The Lord of the Woods) set in the town of Saarbrücken. Not bad, with a rather surreal scene between two psychopaths, but it suffers because all the main protagonists are not very likeable (at least, I don’t care much for them). It also ended on a bit of cliffhanger, which is a pain because Tatort episodes set in Saarbrücken only run once a year. We’ll have to wait until next year to see what happens next.

We also watched the first three episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, also on Disney+. Not bad, except for all that rubbish about needing heroes. People shouldn’t place others on pedestals and worship them as heroes. I don’t care about that aspect of the Marvel Universe at all. The new Captain America starts off as quite a nice person, but then morphs into an arse. The ones against whom the Falcon and the Winter Soldier are fighting may turn out to be not as bad as they seem. They are angry, because they have been dispossessed by the returned humans who had been missing for five years (as was told in the Avengers arc of films). An interesting plot, but the series isn’t as quirky as WandaVision.

So that’s the gist of what I’ve been doing since last I posted.

Keep safe, world.

Spring Workday

Today started off as a lovely frosty and sunny day in Spring. I had my usual breakfast of porridge with raisins, apple pieces, banana pieces, roughly ground flaxseed with a pinch of cinnamon. No pomegranate seeds, as I’ve run out of those. I love pomegranate seeds and I quite like picking them out of the fruit; it’s meditative and I’m practiced at it and mostly don’t make a mess anymore. As usual, Curious Dog got his share of the fresh apple pieces and a bit of the plain left-over porridge, which he, for whatever reasons, absolutely loves. We took our usual morning walk through the woods, and it was quite lovely. Lots of purple “Leberblümchen” (English “liverleaf”) and violets are growing enthusiastically on the southern side of the hill behind our house, peeking out of the dry leaves.

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When we got out of the woods and were walking along the bike path in the valley, I spied Curious Dog’s worst enemy in the distance. It’s a terrier, maybe a Jack Russell. They’ve hated each other since they first met, which was when CD was only about six months old. Whenever they meet, they both make a huge fuss, barking and pulling at the leash. Usually both the terrier’s owner and I try to avoid meetups. Last time they had turned back, so this time I did and took the way along the main road through the village instead. Usually CD is good about other dogs, but the fuss he makes with this one is amazing. It’s also kind of embarrassing, so I prefer taking another route.

I also had a very productive workday, although I didn’t work on the stuff I should have been working on. Well, “should have” is relative. I’ll do the other things next week. I had a look at my project that has an upcoming deadline a couple of days after Easter and wrote mails to lots of people to check their content and ensure that everything is correct. As I hadn’t looked at the project for a few weeks, there were quite a lot of issues. I planned all the quality steps that I need to do next week because all the checks have to be done before Easter as there’s no time afterwards and, who knows, the responsible colleagues may be on vacation. Next, I had a look at a colleague’s specific problem and decided on what to do about it. We’ve scheduled a meeting for Monday to implement the fix. The poor colleague was being sent from one person to another and no-one felt responsible. Coming up with that fix made me feel virtuous and accomplished although it wasn’t such a big deal. It’s nice to be able to help. A nice change from (figuratively) stomping on people’s toes for not doing their quality checks properly. I’m glad that today was my last workday for the week. I’ve got lots of stuff to do before Easter and I still need to come up with my meticulous new work plan, but first I’m going to enjoy the weekend.

We’ll be returning to my place on Sunday. Saturday is supposed to be rainy, a good day for staying indoors (apart from Curious Dog’s walks) and doing a bit of cleaning. During the night from Saturday to Sunday we’ll have the change to Summer time. One hour less of sleep – I guess it’ll be hard getting up next Monday morning.

Tomorrow I’ll be grocery shopping and hopefully setting up some appointments I’ve been meaning to do the whole week. I need to get the windscreen of my car looked at. It’s got two chipped places due to the impact of small stones thrown up by other vehicles. When that is fixed (or maybe the windscreen needs to be replaced), I’ve got to get the car’s new roadworthiness certificate. It will fail the inspection with the damaged windscreen (although the chipped places are small and not in my field of vision), so that has to be done first and I’ve been procrastinating.

I’ve had Curious Dog out in the yard for a few minutes with his muzzle, which I’m trying to get him to tolerate so that he can wear it on public transport if we ever need it. Baby steps – he doesn’t like it much. He got lots of treats as a reward and to make him consider the muzzle in a positive light. It might also come in useful at the vet’s if he ever has to undergo some unusual treatment. He doesn’t need a muzzle for his yearly vaccinations, but I always have to hold his head in a tight grip. I bet he wouldn’t let the vet look into his ears, for instance. So, it’s good to be prepared. I should have started muzzle training earlier, but it seems to be going quite well now.

Keep safe, world.

Wednesday Waffling


Last week on Thursday we drove to our place in Bavaria once again. We had sunshine followed by sleet, followed by sunshine, followed by snow pellets, followed by snowfall… all the way. The roads were clear, because the snow melted straight away, but my car got very dirty and muddy. No snow when we arrived but it snowed again on Friday and we had about 4cm of soggy snow. Most of it melted away during the day, but I still got a quite nice walk in the snow with Curious Dog. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had snow in the middle of March. Over the weekend it was mostly overcast but today it’s all lovely sunshine (and frost in the morning). All in all, quite nice weather for walking. Lots of birds warbling and cheeping in the fields and woods, welcoming spring.

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I took last Thursday off. Usually when we drive to Bavaria, I take Thursday afternoon or morning off, and work instead on Friday morning so that I don’t have to use up a precious vacation day for the trip. This time my mother had her second Corona vaccination appointment on Friday afternoon, so I wanted to go grocery shopping on Friday morning. No time for work on Friday, so Thursday had to be a vacation day. It all worked very well. At the vaccination centre, there was a computer outage and all the people with their first appointments were sent back home without getting their jab, because their data couldn’t be accessed, but luckily they didn’t do that with the people that had their second appointment. So Mum was duly vaccinated. She had similar side effects as last time for a few days, a bit of general weakness, a bit of a headache, itching and soreness at the site of the injection, some joint pain. But most of that is gone now. She’s got to be careful for the next few days until her immune system has recovered from the vaccination and then she will be safe from Corona. I’m so happy about that.

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I’m currently very busy at work. The additional project that I took on recently has really made an impact on my workload and I haven’t come up with a good organization yet to mitigate the stress. It feels as if I’m jumping from one task to the next with my task list getting longer all the time. Not very motivating. As a result, I’ve been quite tired and not up to blogging or reading anything that’s just the least bit challenging. I haven’t been keeping up with my Samuel Johnson collection or with my short stories at night. Only poetry in the morning is still going strong. Mostly I’ve been reading mysteries and going to bed early. I’ve also ramped up my meditation, as otherwise I find myself thinking about work all the time, which is super annoying. I’m firmly of the opinion that work concerns should not take up my thoughts outside of work hours. I need my brain for other things in my free time. I hope to get a proper reset with Easter. I’ve strongly resolved to set up an efficient work plan before Easter and then stick to it after Easter. Hopefully, four days off over Easter will be a nice mini-vacation and recharging opportunity.

I’m teaching Curious Dog to wear a muzzle. He’s going to need it if we use public transport on our vacation in October. Still lots of time. I’m going slowly, he’s only worn it for about a minute so far. Poor guy, he doesn’t like it. Who would? Maybe I should try it on in the woods and see how he does with it for a short time on our walk. Or at night in the house when he’s tired and usually cooperative.

Last Saturday, Mum was watching a show on TV where a 10-year-old gifted boy and an actress who had trained for six weeks managed to memorize the random sorting of three packs of playing cards (156 cards) in quite a short time. Both of them only misremembered two cards of the 156. Amazing! Last year I had the goal to learn 12 poems off by heart, one for each months of the year, but I only managed one measly poem. So, this year, from the start I decided to only learn one poem (with the aim of an easy goal maybe inciting me to learn more than one). That feat of memory shown on TV has motivated me to get started with the poems. Last year I learnt “On His Blindness” (and still know it off by heart – I have to keep at it, otherwise I forget it again). The second poem will be one by Emily Dickinson.

Keep safe, world.