Whitsun Monday

On today’s public holiday, we had a lazy, pleasant, sunny spring day. I did some gardening – pulled up the wood garlic that proliferates in spring but has stopped flowering by now. There seems to be more of this stuff springing up every year in my garden, against the back wall. I could use it to make wild garlic butter or something but somehow, I never get around to it. I also removed the yellow washing line fence extension and replaced it with the brown fibre rope which really looks much better. I also cut some of the grass verges and then decided that that was enough gardening for one day. Still haven’t decided what to plant in the free corner, but as we’ll be in Bavaria for at least a couple of weeks by next Sunday there’s not really any point in planting anything yet. It’ll only dry up if there isn’t any rain now that Summer is on the way. If I decide on a rosebush, the proper time for planting it will be in autumn, so there’s no hurry.


Partner made a vegan paella for lunch. We recently watched something about cooking paella on TV and Partner was inspired to cook this dish. He even went so far as to order special paella rice on the internet (it’s like risotto rice, but with smaller grains). We’ve had it twice so far with different vegetables and it’s been a great success. It’s all cooked in one pan and at the end when all the liquid has evaporated, you’re supposed to turn up the heat for a few minutes so that a crust forms on the bottom of the pan. This has worked amazingly well. This time round we had some artichokes in it (preserved in oil, from the supermarket). They weren’t bad but we didn’t like them enough to repeat the experiment. We use fried tofu instead of meat (we fry it separately in cubes, deglaze it with soy sauce, and then add it to the paella).

Tomorrow, on my additional day off, I will pull myself together and do some of the stuff I’ve been putting off all weekend (at least that is the plan). Pay bills, make some appointments for Mum, order oil for our furnace in Bavaria (I hope I can get it delivered in June as our tanks are very low by now), clean the inside of the car (I’m getting my summer tires on Wednesday and don’t want it to look like a dump), go grocery shopping…

Since nothing of any import happened today, here’s a story from a few weeks ago: At work, once or twice a year, I meet up with a few colleagues from years for a meal out and a good gossip. We used to be in one department but are now dispersed all over the company. At the end of April, we planned a meal at an Italian restaurant in one of the nearby big cities. I live at the edge of a major metropolitan area, but I hate driving into big cities where I don’t know my way around. Usually in those cases, I team up with someone else. This time, that wasn’t possible. So, I gave myself a pep talk, decided that I needed to get out of my comfort zone (haha), had a look at google maps and saw that the route from my place to the restaurant was pretty straightforward. So far, so good. I said I’d come. Then I remembered that the meeting was on a Friday evening before a long weekend and almost chickened out because I thought that traffic would be terrible and parking worse.

On the day in question, it rained all day, even poured sometimes. Late in the afternoon, Partner suddenly said to me “Do you think we’ll get water in our cellar?” And I’m like “What?”. A big puddle had formed in the garden and was only about 50 cm away from dripping into the window well of our cellar window. It didn’t, thankfully. It stopped raining as I was leaving for my meeting but on the way, I had to drive through five or so places where water had or was still pouring over the road. Not very high, but still very unusual. There was a police car parked in the woods on the way, but the policemen weren’t doing anything. Once up on the hill, I thought that the downhill drive into the valley would be fine, but it was even more flooded. At one point, someone had stalled their car in the deep part of a flooded area on the road. I think they must have driven though the water too fast and swamped their motor (it was a small car). I almost turned back, but by then I was stuck in a queue and there wasn’t any space to turn around. Everyone else made it, so I thought it would be all right and it was, but still… It was the first time in Germany that I had to drive through creeks on the road (floods happened all the time when we lived in the tropics years ago, but my dad did the driving then). Crazy weather.


Once I got down into the valley there was no more flooding (at least none that I saw). I found a place to park (always my biggest bugbear) and had a nice evening with the colleagues. On the way back, the flooding had disappeared. I guess it was a kind of flashflood. The next morning, we walked with Curious Dog through the town and saw that the river (which is normally quite small) was still very high and had apparently flowed over one of the bridges. The road was still being cleared of debris, but the water had gone. I don’t know if anybody’s house got flooded, but I think not. There have been more serious flood hereabouts, though. There are markers on the houses by the river showing the high-water levels of previous floods. Maybe we were lucky that we didn’t get a flooded cellar. If it floods after only one day of continuous rain, I don’t know what would happen if it rained for several days in a row. Although it did rain a lot in March and April; the ground must have been saturated. We are not very near the river, but we are also not very high up above river level. Some of the houses near the river have small walls with slots for steel bulkheads to keep out the water but I have never seen them installed. Well, it would be a pain to have a flooded cellar. We’ve got our food stock down there, as well as our small freezer, the washing machine, and the furnace and a lot of rubbish that we should take to the recycling plant. I should ask the neighbours if our neighbourhood has ever been under water.

That was a little excitement at the end of April.

Whitsun Sunday

It’s been a very relaxing long weekend so far. Reading, watching films or series, walking Curious Dog, poking about in the garden, cooking, baking, and eating, shopping (but not today, as shops are closed on Sundays and on public holidays in Germany). A bit of housework (a tiny bit).

Yesterday we managed to convince Curious Dog to visit the stork nest. We used to walk by the meadow with the stork nest on its pole almost every morning but since CD bumped his nose on an electric fence sometime last year, it’s been almost impossible to convince him to take that path. He just sits down and refuses to go on. We’ve missed seeing all the cows and calves in the fields back there. Anyway, sometimes we can persuade him to take another path which, while it initially goes in the same direction, doesn’t lead by the place with the fence in question (plenty of other electric fences, though – but at least he hasn’t shocked himself on one of them yet). But yesterday it was for naught, because the storks weren’t home (the photo is from early May). We’ve been watching these storks since we moved here five years ago but they’ve never produced offspring. Doesn’t look like it this year, either, but it’s hard to be sure. Maybe stork chicks hide in the nest when their parents are away? I’m totally clueless.


Today it was still a little fresh early in the morning at around 8 o’clock. We took the walk through the woods and by the time we’d arrived at the top of the hill, where the woods start, we were all warmed up and it was a pleasant walk. We were back at home just after 9, so the whole morning was still before us. I did a bit of reading and later a bit of cleaning while Partner cooked. We had white asparagus for lunch, with potatoes and a yoghurt sauce. I also made some hummus for tonight and Partner baked some bread, so we are all set for dinner. For afternoon coffee, we had a rhubarb streusel cake (a kind of rhubarb crumble on top of a plain yeast tray bake). We made it yesterday and we’ve still got some left over for tomorrow.


During the last few days, we watched Star Wars: Visions, a short series of short Star-Wars inspired animated films made by different studios. Quite nice. Last night we watched a German movie Ich bin dann mal weg (English: I’m Off Then) which is about a German comedian hiking the Camino de Santiago (or the Way of St James). The comedian, Hape Kerkeling, walked the Camino in 2001 and wrote a book about it that was a bestseller in Germany. The film version was quite nice, but Partner said that the book was better. I’ve never read it. I keep wondering if I would like to do a long hike or pilgrimage like the Camino but I’m not too keen on the heat in Spain. And who knows if I would be fit enough? I think Partner and I would prefer hiking a coastal path, or somewhere in the woods. In the meantime, we quite like watching films or documentaries about stuff like that. Living vicariously through other people’s experiences.

Surfing on Amazon Prime, we remembered that we want to watch the second season of Carnival Row, but since the first season was five years ago, we’ve forgotten most of it and need to re-watch it first. Maybe we’ll start tomorrow.

I’m still reading Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge and liking it very much on the reread, maybe more than I initially liked it. I just really like the titular Barnaby character with his raven. In his simple-mindedness he really shows up the evilness of some of the other characters and the faults of society. Also, the riot scenes are pretty thrilling and there are many other interesting characters in the novel. I hope to get it finished by the end of the weekend, but there’s not really any hurry.

I wanted to go through my wardrobe this weekend and sort out all the clothes that I never wear anymore or that have become totally threadbare. So far, I haven’t started. I also need to pay some bills and do a bit more than just potter about in the garden. It’s just a small garden, but I want to clear out some overgrown patches along the back wall and maybe put in some new plants. And do something about the fence – when we moved in, we added a small fence in front of / underneath the hedge so that CD couldn’t go into the neighbours’ garden, but the green fencing mesh wasn’t long enough. I bridged the gap (of about a metre) with a home-made net of yellow washing line (which was what I had at hand at the time). It used to be mostly hidden by the hedge, but last autumn we cut back the hedge a lot and now it’s very visible and quite ugly. I want to replace it with some rough brown fiber rope that I found at the garden centre which should blend in better. And then plant something in that corner. Just not sure about what to plant there. A second red or black currant bush? Another rosebush? Something else entirely? We’ll see…

Vacations and Other Tales

Last year during the time I wasn’t blogging, we had a week’s vacation in October in Denmark on the North Sea. It started off with my normal home office week in Bavaria. My godchild, that is, Cousin 2, accompanied us and first she visited Mum and me at our place in Bavaria for a couple of days. She came up by train and I fetched her from the train station at a nearby small town. The last time I had picked someone up there was more than 10 years ago and I managed to get lost in that town and needed three tries to get to the station despite my SAT nav. I kept missing the correct access road. But it was otherwise a very nice trip in bright late summer weather. The leaves were glorious in yellows and reds. I’d forgotten how picturesque the road along the river was. Cousin 2 had just finished her uni studies and hadn’t yet started her two-year teacher’s training (in German: Referendariat) as a primary school teacher, so she had some time to kill. She hadn’t been to Bavaria since she was a toddler and she enjoyed seeing our place. Mum liked having her, too, and Curious Dog adores her, so everything was great.

By the way, Cousin 1, Cousin 2’s slightly older sister, (who accompanied us on our vacation in 2021 to the South Tyrol) just finished her 2nd year of teacher’s training and is now a fully fledged teacher for special needs kids. She did very well, and she’ll be working at the school where she did her training, which is where she wants to be. It’s in the next town over from her family home in the German state of Hessia. Amazing! She was 11 when we first started taking the two of them on vacation once a year. They are now in their twenties.


We had booked a little vacation house right behind the dunes on the coast of Denmark, up near Harboøre, on the west coast opposite Scotland (well, with the North Sea in between). The little house was really cute, and we had nice weather for October (quite windy, often sunny, around 12°C). Mostly we spent our days walking on the beach with Curious Dog (who loved getting to run free), reading, watching DVDs that we’d brought along, and cooking. The house was pretty freezing except when we fired up the wood burner which we did every evening and sometimes during the day (we had one rainy day). Luckily, in my last apartment we had one of those and so we knew how to get it to burn. There were a few stories in the guest book where other vacationers complained of not getting it to work. We had no trouble. The bathroom was absolutely icy though, and it got cold at night in the small bedrooms too, because we didn’t use the electric heaters. They looked a little iffy, we didn’t want to burn the place down. It didn’t matter, there were enough blankets.


Once we went off to look at a lighthouse. Partner and Cousin 2 also went off to check out some of the nearby towns (I stayed home or at the beach with Curious Dog, as he gets totally over-excited in strange towns, in fact, in all towns). Once I went to a small town with Cousin 2, too, Lemvig, to see the sights. It was lovely and we picked up some tasty cheese (apparently Denmark is known for its cheese – that was news to me) and some cakes for our afternoon tea. All the Danes seem to speak German or English. I’d done a bit of Danish on Duolingo, but that hadn’t really stuck.

It was a relaxed vacation, and I would love to stay there again except that the drive was really long. On the way to Denmark, Cousin 2 and I stopped over for a night at my place (we drove there with Curious Dog from Bavaria) and it took at least 10 hours to get from there to our vacation house. Cousin 2 is a good driver, so we took turns at the wheel. Near the end the SAT nav took us along very small roads and I thought we might be lost… but we did arrive safely. At the start of our vacation, I didn’t mind the long drive so much. Somehow the seaside is immediately invigorating. But on the way back, I dropped Cousin 2 off at her place in Hessia and then drove up to Bavaria and the whole trip (without counting our stops) took about 12 hours (although Cousin 2 did a lot of the driving until I dropped her off). I was totally tired for the next couple of days. Partner came in his car and returned to his place, which wasn’t quite that long a trip, but was still long enough.


During our stopover in Hessia, I stayed for about an hour at my aunt and uncle’s place, where Cousin 2 also lives (that aunt and uncle of mine are the grandparents of the cousins, who brought them up after their mother’s death). I was glad to see them, because my aunt was quite ill and passed away just a few weeks later. She was my Mum’s youngest sister and she’d been declining for about two years ever since she had a botched hip replacement during the height of the pandemic. She could hardly walk last October, but she insisted on getting up to fetch some money for me to have a coffee on the trip back to Bavaria. That was sweet of her. My parents and this aunt and uncle have always been very close, and we saw a lot of them during my childhood (and later, too). It’s no coincidence that I was asked to be Cousin 2’ godparent all those years ago. Her mother was my favourite cousin.

Last November we actually had two deaths in the family: my aunt, at 79, and a different uncle at 92 (who had been ill for 7 years). Mum and I had to go to two funerals in the same week. Partner stayed home and looked after Curious Dog. Despite the sad occasions, it was comforting to meet all the relatives.

About six weeks ago my uncle (the Cousins’ grandfather) had a multiple bypass that needed two follow-up operations and then, when he was in rehab, he got Corona. He’s back at home now, still recuperating, and being lovingly looked after by the Cousins. We all hope that he has a good many healthy years still ahead of him, once he has recovered. All my aunts and uncles are in their 80s now and fortunately most of them are doing reasonably well but they are at an age when things can go wrong quickly. Such is life, I suppose.

A Friday in May

Today is the first day of a very long weekend (since I don’t work on Fridays). It’s the Whitsun weekend, meaning there’s a public holiday on Monday in Germany and I’ve tacked on the Tuesday as another day off. We’re having a lovely spring. It’s not been more than 26°C on any day so far (I think) and those days have been few. It’s been raining quite often, and temperatures were mostly around 20°C, sometimes less and sometimes a bit more. Everything is lovely and green or flowering.

This morning we got up almost as early as on a normal workday. We had breakfast and then went on a pleasant morning walk with Curious Dog through the fields and back along the river. The chestnut trees have already bloomed and are now starting small spikey chestnuts. Swallows are flitting here and there feeding their young. Sometimes we hear a cuckoo calling and the farmers have already harvested the first lot of hay. The grass in those fields that haven’t been mown comes up almost to my chest and Partner needs his allergy meds. There were hardly any clouds in the sky today and in the afternoon, it was too sunny for Curious Dog. With his black fur he feels the heat and, as it’s supposed to get warmer on the weekend, it’s time to move his afternoon walk back into the early evening.

After our walk, I went grocery shopping. Despite it’s being a Friday before a long weekend, the supermarket was very empty, as it was still so early. I was done at 10:00, which left some time in the morning for reading – I’m currently re-reading Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge. I want to finish it on the weekend. Partner prepared some tomato salad with garlic, olive oil, and basil from the garden. Very tasty, although the tomatoes weren’t yet as aromatic as they will hopefully be in summer. Having had lunch, we made enough pasta salad for two days: 500g of small pasta in a soy yoghurt sauce, with tinned peas, small fried smoked tofu cubes, and capers. Sound strange but is actually very nice. The pasta absorbs the moisture of the sauce so that on the second day you need to add a bit of broth to get it smooth again. All our cooking done for two days!


Last week Mum and I were at our place in Bavaria. In April, I had done a bit of gardening, but after three weeks away, it was a jungle. Also, we had an invasion of ants in the house. Apparently, there are a lot of ants around this year. My boss has an ant problem and so does one of my colleagues. Well, we laid down some poison in the house when we left. I was sorry about it, but it wouldn’t do to have them establish themselves inside. According to Mum, this has happened before and only poison got them out again that time. In previous summers, we laid peppermint leaves in the doorways and that kept them out, but this year that’s not working, unfortunately.

In addition, we had a problem with the furnace. We’ve been having loss of pressure in the heating circuit, and I had to call our technician. Before they turned up, I was a bit panicked, as I feared the furnace might be done for and we’d need to install a new one. I couldn’t sleep, so I spent about an hour in the middle of the night googling heat pumps and checking if one could be installed in an old house and how much it would cost… I decided that it was probably possible and probably affordable (as the state pays for parts of the cost when one replaces a fossil fuel furnace with something climate friendly and I do have some savings). But it turned out that it was only a broken surge tank. It’ll be replaced next time we are in Bavaria. So, thankfully, no need for a new heating system yet.

Weirdly, when we were in Bavaria in April, we also had an infrastructure problem (so to speak). When we arrived, ready for a cuppa and a rest after our three-hour drive, we found that the fridge had broken down while we were away. Although we only kept a few condiments and longer lasting food in it, as well as some frozen foods, it was a moldy and smelly mess. We spent the next hour cleaning it. It was still running, so once we had cleaned it, I switched it back on. We thought that maybe we hadn’t closed the door of the freezer compartment properly or something and that had caused it to malfunction. After a few hours, when I checked, it was getting warm inside instead of cold. A reversal – it had turned into a hot box. I don’t know what was wrong with it, but since it was older than 20 years, it wasn’t worth the trouble to get it repaired. I had to buy another one (actually the same model) and it wasn’t delivered until the day before we returned to my place. And then it had a little defect from transportation – I made them give us a slight discount and we kept it anyway (it was just a little damage to the door on the inside).


I hope we aren’t going to find anything else broken anytime soon.

Next time, Mum will be going into hospital for the operation that was planned for March or April, when Covid19 spiked those plans. It’s the removal of a couple of cancerous lymph nodes, a flare-up of her breast cancer from 2019. It’s supposed to be a very small operation and I hope she’ll tolerate it well. She’s only supposed to be in the hospital for a few days. Unfortunately, she’s still struggling with the aftermath of Covid. She still has days when she feels nauseous and in general, she’s still often totally fatigued. Covid really did a number on her. She’s quite a lot frailer than before and when I’m not worrying about broken furnaces, I worry about her. Sometimes she has a couple of days that she feels well, but then they are followed by some days of not doing well at all. It’s a constant up and down. I hope that it will be more of an up in the next months.

Tina Turner passed away this week. I was sorry to hear it. She was amazing.

I’m planning to blog a bit every day of the Whitsun weekend, to get back into the habit. I keep wanting to post, but I have a lot to do at work, then there’s the garden, and the house problems, and walking with Curious Dog, and whatnot. I’ve managed to read some good books and want to post about them, but that may just end up being another reading wrap-up post for May (well, it is almost the end of May).

April Reading

We’re having a lovely spring (not too hot) and I was too busy enjoying it to post more than one blog entry in April. As usual, I kept meaning to post but didn’t, so I’m using the reading log to get back into the swing of posting this month (hopefully). So here goes, these are the books I read in April:

The Sagas of the Icelanders (Penguin Deluxe Edition)
To be honest, I didn’t get much further in with Egil’s Saga in April but finished it at the beginning of May. I’ve now started the next saga in the collection. Egil’s Saga left me with a strong impression of the titular hero, from his childhood (during which he killed at least one of his peers) to his raids and tendency to bear grudges (especially in property disputes) and to annoy kings; his poetry (quoted in the saga) and loyalty to his friends and his complaints about old age. The saga contains some startling acts of violence – Egil was quite the berserker at times. There was this one guy whom Egil defeated by throwing him down and biting his throat!?!

Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics
I read a couple more of these weird and wonderful stories. They are like no others that I’ve ever read, but hard to describe, so I won’t. Try them, they are great.

Thomas Mann, Joseph und seine Brüder (Joseph and His Brothers)
I read the first book of the tetralogy, Die Geschichten Jaakobs (The Stories of Jacob). It starts in what I think is the present of the series, when Joseph is around 17, but then turns into a retrospective of his father Jacob’s life. It’s all about how Jacob stole Isaac’s blessing which should have gone to his brother Esau, how he had to flee and ended up working for his uncle to gain the hand of Rachel, but was deceived with Lea. It’s the well-known biblical story, but very much more detailed, with a lot of insights into the characters’ motivations, their self-deceptions, their familial conflicts, Jacob’s relationship with God (or how he saw and lived it, as well as how other’s saw it). It is not at all a religious book, though.

The omniscient narrator jumps from character to character to show their points-of-view, but also uses a slightly distanced ironic voice, well-intentioned towards the characters but with a clear view of their faults. There’s a lot of parallelism. The things that Jakob did to Esau are reflected in how his uncle treats him. Jacob’s wooing of Rachel is mirrored but twisted in what happens to his daughter Dina. Jakob’s and Esau’s relationship foreshadow that between Joseph and his brothers. There’s a lot of foreshadowing or seeds sown that will lead to later events (especially if one is familiar with the story as it is told in the Bible). There’s also a lot of discussion of how events in being told and retold turn into a heightened type of sacred story or myth where the nuances of lived experience and very human motivations are lost (but not lost to the reader, because of the gently ironic commentary of the narrator). It’s great. I love it as much as I remember loving it when I first read it in my early twenties (or late teenage years, I can’t remember). I’m definitively continuing but am not sure if I will get to the next book in May.

Title page of The Secrets of Hartwood Hall
The Secrets of Hartwood Hall – title page

Katie Lumsden, The Secrets of Hartwood Hall
This is a historical novel set in Victorian times written by Katie of Books and Things on YouTube. It’s her first novel, about a governess who has recently been widowed and starts working at a remote manor where things are not as they seem. The plot had some twists that I saw coming but some that surprised me. Could maybe have done with fewer subplots and some of the characterization struck me as a bit hard to believe. It was fun and enjoyable but not extraordinary. Still, I’ll be keeping an eye on Katie Lumsden’s work.

Tara M. Stringfellow, Memphis
A novel about the lives and troubles of three generations of African-American women of a Memphis family from the 1920s to the early 2000s. It’s very episodic and jumps back and forth in the timeline of the lives of the main characters: Hazel, her daughters Miriam and August, and Miriam’s daughters Joan and Myra. It shows events during segregation and the Civil Rights movement and goes right up to 9/11 (but it only covers those events in showing the impact on the characters). Due to the episodic and non-linear structure, the full picture of the characters’ lives and secrets is only revealed bit by bit. Daily life is hardly shown, it’s more of a spotlight on important defining events. I really enjoyed this book and will keep a look-out for the author’s next works.

Tiffany McDaniel, On the Savage Side
This novel is about twin girls who grow up on the wrong side of the tracks in Chillicothe, Ohio. They are the daughters of a couple of drug addicts. The novel shows how their childhood has islands of hope and joy but horrific abuse and hardship, too, due to their parents’ heroin addiction. Bit by bit, their story grows darker. It is really a hard read in places because of the abuse the girls suffer and their inevitable slide into addiction because nobody cares about them, and they don’t have options or support. The story is told against the backdrop of unsolved murders of real women – these real murders inspired it and in part the novel reads like a thriller (but that’s playing with readers’ expectations and with genres). Most of the characters are flawed but relatable and human. They grow and gain self-awareness, but their circumstances make life very, very hard.

Title page of On the Savage Side
Title page

The novel had a strange twist at the end that I didn’t see coming (no surprise, I often don’t see things coming). I loved it and it blew me away, but I feel it would have worked without the twist. The twist even annoyed me because I felt it was unnecessary. Nevertheless, this is my favourite read of this year so far. I’m definitively going to read the author’s backlist.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword
The second novel of the Imperial Radch series, a reread. I read the first one earlier this year. It’s a sci-fi trilogy and this one feels very much like a second part, a bridge between parts one and two. It continues the adventures of Breq, the ex-ancillary, who is now the captain of a ship, but who still misses being part of her collective AI (that was destroyed as was explained in the first book). In this book Breq again outwits the Lord of the Radch, (another mind with many bodies, but divided against itself). Breq is involved in political intrigue on one of the planets of the empire and its space station. The novel is a good read, but it seems a bit unclear on where the trilogy is heading, and what is happening within the empire (regarding the civil war that was started in the first book). Still, I really like the world-building and Breq, as well as the secondary characters, so I’m looking forward to part three. I don’t remember much of what happened, despite having read it before (also not unusual for me).

Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Being interested in ancient history and having studied Roman history at uni, I’ve had my eye on this book for a while. It’s fascinating and well written. It doesn’t just give a chronological narrative of events, but it focusses on important events and discusses the sources, both written and archeological. It puts things in perspective and has decided but argued opinions. Quite unusual in my experience and a good read.

Laura Dockrill, What Have I Done? Motherhood, Mental Illness and Me
I found this memoir by chance and thought it sounded interesting. It’s about what it’s like to have a very serious case of post-partum depression, a post-partum psychosis. It’s a harrowing read but at least it has a happy end in that the author gets over her psychosis (not a spoiler, as otherwise she couldn’t have written the memoir). A rather terrifying insight into what mental illness may feel like.

Claire Weekes, Self-Help for Your Nerves
I read this book after I read Dockrill’s memoir, because she mentioned it as having been very useful in her recovery. It’s not long and very cheep as an e-book and I found it worth a read. It explains how nervous breakdowns and panic attacks work physically and how to deal with them. The terminology may be a bit dated (though I’m no expert). It was interesting in that some of it reminded me of mindfulness and meditation techniques. It does seem useful. I’m currently anxious about my mum’s health (especially at night when I can’t sleep) and so I’m invested in keeping anxiety under control (I don’t have anything like panic attacks, but I do sometimes feel the need to defuse my fears). I especially liked the concept of “floating” through difficult situations instead of fighting through them.

B.J. Fogg, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything
This one I also found by chance. I thought that its concepts how to establish new habits were doable and the explanations about why habits sometimes (often?) don’t stick were interesting. I want to try to get back into a regular meditation mode and maybe this will help. Might also be helpful to reestablish my yoga practice.

I’m pleased with my reading in April. Some of it was really great and all of it was enjoyable or gave food for thought.

Monday Miscellanea

It rained almost all weekend (a nice country rain), so Partner and I caught up on all the series that we missed in March, especially Star Wars: Bad Batch. We hadn’t seen the last five or six episodes of the second season, and they were very good. A horrid cliffhanger ending, though. Now we have to wait for a year to find out what happens next (if there is a third season – I hope so). We also watched a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Picard, which were also good, except for all that emoting. First Picard and Ricker are all touchy-feely best friends with each other and next, it’s “leave the bridge, you’ve caused all our deaths” (as if). Kind of exhausting and we’ve still got three or four episodes to go, as well as all of the new Star Wars: Mandalorian episodes that have come out since the beginning of March, and I don’t know how many episodes of the second season of Carnival Row. So many things to watch – good thing there’s the long Easter weekend upcoming.

I started watching Buffy, the Vampire Slayer while I was ill, on my phone with Disney+. I used to celebrate this series with friends when it first came out. There were three of us, and we used to meet for dinner and then watch the episodes as they were aired on German TV (dubbed, of course). We also did it for various Star Trek series, Babylon 5 and The X-Files. I’ve got all of Buffy on DVD, but never managed to watch all of them, but it’s quite convenient to watch episodes on my phone – but I haven’t had any time for the last two weeks. It will probably take me ages to watch the entire series.

Sun rising over fields.
This morning’s sunrise

Mum is starting to recover at least a bit from her bout of Covid 19. At least she’s starting to eat more and sleep well. She’s lost a lot of weight, though, which she could ill afford, as she was anyway rather skinny. Before Corona, she was slight but active and now she’s frail and feels tired all the time. I hope she’ll get better as the weather improves and there’s more of an incentive to move around a bit outside or in the garden. It’s sunny now, but the wind is still cold – it may be warmer at Easter.

My landlady has changed her mind about exchanging the oil furnace for a gas furnace. First, she made a fuss about having to get things done by the end of March. Then I contacted the neighbours asking if they would like to buy my oil and now it’s “You can keep your oil because I’m planning to install a new oil furnace instead”. No apologies about all the hassle, either. I’m sure she changed her mind because getting gas installed would be more expensive than just replacing the oil furnace. Personally, I don’t think either gas or oil are future-proof, but since it’s not my house I don’t really care what she does, as long as it doesn’t cause a nuisance for me. I pay a lot of rent and if I wanted to be bothered with stuff like that, I wouldn’t be a renter (except that I can’t afford my own house hereabouts). It’s enough of an anxiety to ponder what to do about the heating in our old house in Bavaria. Apparently, there’s an oil furnace supply bottleneck and so she can’t say when the new one will be installed. “When it’s warm” she mailed when I asked. A very precise statement, perfect for planning. Whenever we interact, this woman manages to annoy me (but to be fair, it’s partly me, expecting to be annoyed).

Apart from watching all those episodes, I did a lot of house cleaning, so that I won’t have to do much next weekend, when it’s Easter. I even polished the bathroom door. That door, like all the other interior doors in the house, is cheaply wooden (somewhat flimsy), with a dark reddish-brown varnished veneer. The varnish, unfortunately, is old and porous, especially on the bathroom door (I suppose the water vapour is hard on it). I talked about it with the landlady, and she told me that she had this great stuff to fix the problem and then she sent me a link to a certain kind of paint (or maybe it’s a stain). Apparently, she thought I was going to paint or stain the doors. Well, of course, I’m not doing that. But I found a good polish, one that doesn’t contain wax or silicone and doesn’t smell. Now the bathroom door looks much better, it only took about 20 minutes, and I’ll probably polish some or all the other doors during this year. The door’s not perfect, but it no longer looks like it could do with a fresh coat of varnish. It was fun because it looked so much better afterwards.

I read The Secrets of Hartwood Hall, by Katie Lumsden in two sittings. She has a booktube channel that I follow more or less: Books and Things. She’s the one that inspired me to read all of Charles Dickens’ novels in 2020 and I’m doing a reread now with her “Mega Dickens’ Readalong”. Hartwood Hall is her first novel, and I was curious to see how it turned out. I found it interesting and engrossing, but it didn’t blow me away. If I gave stars, I’d give it a solid three stars.

The novel is about a young widow, Margaret Lennox, who accepts a position as a governess at an out-of-the way manor. The marriage doesn’t seem to have been a happy one. Mrs. Lennox (as she is mostly called) used to be a governess before her marriage. She is deaf in one ear and her letters of reference are out of date, because she didn’t work as a governess (or as anything) during her marriage, so she is glad to have the position. However, things at Hartwood Hall are strange. There are only a few servants, there are rumours that the house is haunted, and the villagers avoid the place. Mrs. Lennox builds up a good relationship with her young pupil and with her employer although the latter, Mrs. Eversham, is oddly anxious about her son’s well-being. He’s not allowed to be out of adult supervision at all. There are a lot of, I thought, unsubtle hints about what is going on – I felt that I knew what was up early on and I was partly right, but near the end of the book there’s a twist that I didn’t see coming, which I appreciated. I thought that there were a few too many subplots in the book. Margaret, for instance, becomes infatuated with a young man, the gardener, and has an affair. This was hard to believe, as she would have lost her position if it had been found out and she was anyway being blackmailed by one of the other inhabitants of the hall, who threatened her position and who had stolen one of her letters. This person was also blackmailing at least two other people. When the blackmailer rather drastically got what was coming to them, the other characters (including Mrs. Lennox) were rather unconvincingly sorry – if I had been blackmailed and it suddenly stopped, I’d have been not at all inclined to see extenuating circumstances for the blackmailer (especially since they were very vindictive). I did like that Margaret’s affair played out in an unconventional way. The story became rather exciting toward the end of the novel. I felt that the ending would have been a good beginning for a sequel, as the characters are left at an interesting point. All in all, an entertaining read, but not something that I would normally have picked up. But I will be reading Katie Lumsden next novel, too.

I also read a bit of the first volume of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers (in German). It’s all about how Jacob prefers Joseph to his other 11 sons, which we all know from the biblical story. What struck me about that, is that it’s well known (at least in Germany – the Mann family is famous) that Thomas Mann had three favourites among his six children. You’d think that someone who wrote about the negative consequences of parental preference would have avoided this with his own children. Well, you’d be wrong. By all accounts, the Mann’s family life was hard on some of the family members.

Reading this novel of Mann’s makes me feel sleepy (it’s all those long sentences) and reminds me of long boring summer holidays, but I’m strangely still enjoying it. I’m keeping a skeptical eye out for women protagonists, and how Mann deals with them. I can’t remember if Mann wrote believable women characters or if he had sexist opinions. Considering his own role as a family patriarch, I wouldn’t be surprised. So far, there have only been a few mentions of Jacob’s wives, hard to judge. But I’ve only read 70 pages.

March Reading

What else did I read in March, apart from all those children’s books that I wrote about in my last post?

Cover of The Last Report...
Last Report…

The Sagas of the Icelanders (Penguin Deluxe Edition)
I’m still on Egil’s Saga, and I didn’t get my 100 pages done this month. I’ll get them done on the weekend. Egil’s Saga is really interesting, but in parts confusing, because it covers a lot of time and deals with a lot of characters. With the next saga, I’m going to take some notes on the characters to keep the confusion down.

Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics
Even though I really enjoyed the stories that I read from this collection in February, this month I didn’t get around to reading any. I’ll pick it up again in April.

Thomas Mann, Joseph und seine Brüder
This is a German modern classic, Joseph and His Brothers, which I meant to read in March. I really liked it when I first read it in my early twenties and want to reread it. But Thomas Mann is quite heavy going. He writes a very convoluted style – Mark Twain would have loved to make fun of his sentences. In fact, the fourth paragraph in the first chapter is about a page long and I wanted to look up how it was translated into English but couldn’t find an English preview. I wasn’t up to it in March, what with being ill and looking after Mum while she was ill. I did, however, read the first chapter at the beginning of March. It’s a very weird, somewhat off-putting introduction to the book talking about the relationship of time and history and myth. I’m definitively going to continue with this tome, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to need longer than a month (I don’t remember how long I took when I read it the first time). Maybe I’ll manage one of the four volumes in April.

Annalee Newitz, The Terraformers
I found this sci-fi novel on the blog Necromancy Never Pays, thought it sounded intriguing, and picked it up. It’s the story, set 50 to 60 000 years in the future, of the terraforming of a planet, which takes thousands of years. It is about a political struggle between corporate terraforming companies that sort of own the planet and groups of citizens that want the planet to be self-governing and part of a league of planets. The terraforming takes a few thousand years, and the book is divided into three parts, with each part being at a different terraforming stage. These stages are hundreds of years apart, but some of the characters live long enough that they turn up in more than one part.

The characters that populate the novel are super interesting. They seem to be mostly constructed or genetically produced (nobody seems to be born in the usual way). A long time in the past, as a way to cope with Earth’s climate change and general planetary destruction, a technology was invented that allowed animals to be given human-like intelligence and language skills. At the time of the novel, there are sentient humans of all sorts (such as modern Neanderthals), robots, cyborgs, and animals. However, a lot of these beings belong to some company or other, who restrict their skills and keep them as slaves. Some of them can only, for instance, communicate about topics relating to their job – so they are intelligent, but they have a kind of block in their brains that prevents them from using their full potential. That’s horrific.

Everything in the book is in flux. Politics and outcomes change all the time. Things get better or worse like in real life – I think that the themes about politics and individual rights can also throw a light on similar themes in our times. Anyway, the world-building in this novel is stupendous and I really enjoyed the characters, too. Much recommended.

Cover of Red Sky at Sunrise
Red Sky at Sunrise

Laurie Lee, Red Sky at Sunrise
I found this one by chance on Amazon. It’s a three-part memoir by a British poet (of whom I had never heard). The first book describes his childhood in a Cotswold village at the turn of the last century. The second one is about his first years as a young man away from home – he walks to London and later goes on a tramp through Spain in the early years of the 20th century, just before the Spanish Civil War. The third book is about his strange and terrifying experiences in this War. I found these memoirs interesting, especially since the writer was from a working class or lower middle-class background. I don’t think I’ve read many memoirs from that time written by an author with that kind of background. He did a lot of things that I would never have dared to do. I like reading about experiences that are foreign to mine.

William Shakespeare, King John
I have a complete collection of Shakespeare’s works in an edition with tiny print and no footnotes that I got for Christmas in my late teenage years. I read all the plays and I also had some Shakespeare at university, but it’s been ages. I feel like revisiting Shakespeare’s plays and more or less at random chose this one to start with. I got myself a Kindle version of a Folger edition (with lots of interesting supplementary material) and really enjoyed it. I guess it’s one of Shakespeare’s lesser know plays, but it has some great scenes in it.

Patricia Wentworth, Danger Point and The Chinese Shawl
I’m reading my way through Wentworth’s Miss Silver series, which are mystery novels similar to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Miss Silver is a governess turned detective. There are a lot of them (32), so it will take me some time to read them all. They are fun easy reads. These two are books 4 and 5 in the series (but they are stand-alone). There’s usually a love story involved in each novel and murder seems to be done because of money or jealousy or both. Danger Point wasn’t that great. A lot of waffling in the first half and Miss Silver hardly appears. The heroine was a bit of an idiot. The Chinese Shawl was much better, with a spunky heroine, and Miss Silver was involved almost from the beginning.

Travis Baldree, Legends & Lattes
This one was also a fun easy read about an orc who used to be a mercenary, who sets up a coffee shop and gets herself a found family. I’ve been seeing this all over the internet and found it a lovely cozy read while I was ill. A cozy read for anytime!

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
This was a reread – I wrote a review here and basically had the same experience reading it this time around. Although I liked it slightly more this second time, because I was able to concentrate more on the characters and the settings instead of on the plot. It’s so deliciously grotesque in places. I enjoyed the subplots set in London more than the main plot with Little Nell and her grandfather. Little Nell is such a strange character. She’s supposed to be a child, but she doesn’t come across like a real child. She’s at once too old for her age (she’s 14) or too young, and very naïve. It seems strange that she remains so fond of her grandfather, although he’s responsible for their dismal plight. She’s awfully saintly.

Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
A reread and currently my favourite Erdrich novel. It’s the 6th novel in the eight-part Love Medicine series that I’ve been reading since 2021. In it, we meet many of the characters that populate the earlier novels, but the main character is Father Damien, who is the priest at the reservation where all the novels are set. But he is not only what he seems to be (no spoilers – ha) and has an absolutely fascinating story. Like all Erdrich’s novels that I’ve read so far, it has a very fragmented and non-linear structure. In fact, it’s probably the most structurally challenging novel of  Erdrich’s that I’ve read so far. There’s a bit of tongue-in cheek metafiction right at the end that I found unnecessary, but I still love the novel. Father Damien is a great character (and so are the characters he interacts with). Highly recommended (unless you can’t stand non-linear plots).

As you can see, I read a lot in March. This only happened because I was ill for a week and had tons of time for reading (and I couldn’t do much else except read for the two following weeks when Mum had Corona, too). The majority of the books I read where easy and enjoyable reads that didn’t require a great deal of brain power or perseverance. But sometimes (often?) one just needs fun reads.

The Penderwicks and Other Children’s Books

… that I read while I had Corona a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, while I was sick, I didn’t feel so terrible that I wasn’t up to reading, but I did feel very tired (at least at first) and needed something pleasant and easy to read – so I recollected that I had been wanting to read the Penderwick books by Jeanne Birdsall, which I found on the blog A Book Owl’s Corner (where I also found that delightful series about owls that I read during my Christmas vacation in 2021). So, I got myself a complete collection on Kindle:

  • The Penderwicks
  • The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
  • The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
  • The Penderwicks in Spring
  • The Penderwicks at Last
The title page of the Penderwicks collection
The Penderwicks collection

The novels tell the story of the Penderwick family, which at first consist of four girls, Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty, their initially single-parent father, and their dog, the Hound. In the first book, the family go on vacation to a lovely cottage in the country, where they meet and make friends with Jeffrey (rather to the displeasure of his uncongenial mother), who lives in a large stately home next door to their holiday cottage. The second book is all about the girls’ adventures at their own home, including their attempts to either prevent their widowed father from dating or to have him date a woman of their own choice. In the third book, three of the Penderwick sisters, as well as Jeffrey, go on holiday to the seaside, have adventures, and meet interesting new people. The third installment is again set at the family home and shines a spotlight on Batty, who goes through a bit of a crisis due to a misunderstanding with one of her sisters. Rosalind has gone away to college and there are complications with Rosalind and Skye’s boyfriends (or those who want to be their boyfriends). There are also new family members, Ben, who was already introduced in the second book, and Lydia, their half-sister. The fifth book focuses on Batty and Lydia, the two youngest sisters (although the older girls also make an appearance). They revisit the setting of the first book, but things have changed a lot…

I really enjoyed reading these books, they were perfect for my mood while I was ill. There’s a lot of normal family things going on in the books, with sibling rivalry and drama that resolves nicely. I especially liked the bits with the Hound, as they reminded me of my relationship with the dogs that were part of our family during my childhood (even, or in particular, the tragic bits). Some of the plot points, especially the relationship developments, I found quite predictable, but I still enjoyed how they were untangled. It was also nice to read about how the characters developed as they grew older throughout the series. At first it was a little jarring that the later books focus more on the development of the younger girls (while the older ones go off to college) but then it seems like a natural progression that keeps the books fresh and original.

After I had finished the series, it occurred to me that the books are in some of their themes like a modern retelling of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, especially in the family set-up and the relationship between the girls and Jeffrey. It’s a single parent family (at least at first) with four girls – Rosalind, the motherly one, rather like Meg in Little Women. Skye, the tomboyish one, like Jo (she’s also a science lover, which is a new aspect that’s not found in the earlier novel, as far as I remember). Jane, who is the would-be writer, also like Jo, but without the tomboy aspect. And Batty, who’s the baby of the family (at first), like Amy March, but who is also very musically gifted, rather like Beth. Then there’s Jeffrey, who has a relationship with the Penderwick girls very like Laurie does with the March girls. But there are also plot development that differ. For instance, the girls’ father marries again and so the family gains a brother, Ben, and a new sister, Lydia. Many other plot details differ from Little Women, but there are a lot of similar themes.

Title page of Counting by 7s
Counting by 7s

The series is lovely, and I recommend it for lovers of Little Women or wholesome family stories in general. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this series.

I devoured the series in a few days and still didn’t feel like reading anything for adult readers and so continued with a few more kid’s books:

Holly Goldberg Sloan, Counting by 7s
In this book Willow Chance, a nerdy outsider genius, who likes counting things in 7, loves gardening, and is very intellectually precocious while not having any friends at all (I guess she may be on the autism spectrum), loses her adoptive parents in an accident and finds a very unlikely new family. The story shows how circumstances can cause people to transform their lives beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s good read and a lovely uplifting story despite the tragedy at the beginning.

Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie
A very nice, low-key novel about 10-year-old Opal who adopts a stray dog, who then causes her to become more involved in the new community that she and her preacher father have just moved to. She learns things about the people she interacts with that helps her to understand them better and to build connections. It is set in the South of the US and has a very slight feel of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (but without the racial discrimination themes and also it’s set in an indefinite time that seems more modern – but without computers and social media, so it’s probably not quite contemporary). It’s apparently been made into a movie, which it might be interesting to see.

Title page of Spark

M. G. Leonard, The Twitchers series: Twitch and Spark
This is a series of three novels (but only two have been published so far) about Twitch, a young boy who loves birds, bird-watching, and nature. At the beginning of the first book, he has no friends and is bullied, but eventually events lead him to become friends with his erstwhile enemies and together they solve a crime. In the second book, Twitch and some of his friends have formed a bird-watching club and they band together to prevent criminals from harming a rare vulture. I love how these books marry the bird-watching theme with the crime plots. These books are definitively set in the present and social media plays a marginal but pivotal role, which I think is very well done. The third installment is coming out in April and I’m definitively going to read it as well.

I also read The Horse from Black Loch, an old favourite from my teenage years, which I mentioned here.

After having read and very much enjoyed these ten children’s books, my hunger for this genre was assuaged and I returned to adult novels, but that’s a topic for another post. In any case, I loved all these books and highly recommend them for those that like children’s lit or have children that might like to read them.

Monday Miscellanea

In my last post, I wrote: “I haven’t gotten through three years of Corona to pick it up now.” Famous last words: I did pick it up. Not sure if it was at work, on March 1, but the timing fits: I was ill by the weekend. At first, I thought it was just a cold and the test was negative – that was on Saturday, March 4, when Mum and I returned to Bavaria and Partner to his place in North Rhine-Westfalia. But by Sunday, I was positive. Just what I needed. It was like a bad cold, sniffles, cough, sore throat, and total fatigue. I called in sick on the following Monday and the next day I organized a sick note for the rest of the week. It was actually not that bad. I holed up in my room and spent all day dozing or reading. Got a lot of reading done. The worst thing was that I managed to infect Mum as well. By Friday, Mum was sicker than I was, because in addition to the cold symptoms she was (and still is) feeling nauseous a lot of the time. And she seems to be even more tired than I was. It’s been longer than a week for her, and she’s still very unwell. I’m rather worried about her, as she is doing so poorly.

I returned to work last Monday (home office, of course), and I’m doing fine, but I’ve still got a cough and the sniffles. By about 3 p.m. I start feeling tired (especially if there are lots of meetings). The cold symptoms seem to take a long time to clear up although I’m testing negative again. Of course, we couldn’t make Mum’s doctor’s appointment. I postponed it twice, but now I’ve postponed it indefinitively… Mum will need to get completely well again before having an operation (even if it is supposed to be a small one). It certainly won’t happen before Easter. Yesterday she still tested positive. By the end of this week, we will have been in Bavaria for three weeks and all for naught. At least my manager didn’t make a fuss about it (well, I couldn’t have come into the office that first week anyway because of being Covid positive and having a sick note, and I now can’t come in until Mum stops being positive).

The only one of us who escaped the plague was Partner. At least I didn’t infect him, too.

Paperback with picture of a horse in mist.
My old paperback

Before Mum grew ill, it could have been worse. I spend the first two days or so mostly snoozing all day, I didn’t lose my appetite or sense of taste and I only had to mess about with the sick note. According to information from my company, everything should have been processed electronically, but the doctor’s office told me that they hadn’t implemented the electronic process. I got three pink slips, one for myself, one for my employer and one for the health insurance office. Since I haven’t needed a sick note in ages (more than 10 years, I think) I didn’t have a clue what to do with all those bits of paper. I had to phone my health insurance company and I ended up sending the note to them per post – there’s an app where you can scan and upload it, but I didn’t have the required access. I’ve organized it now, for next time. I did manage to upload the one for my employer into the company portal. Later I heard from one of my colleagues who lives in a big city near work that their doctor’s office doesn’t support the electronic process yet either, so it wasn’t all due to the doctor’s office in Bavaria being in the middle of nowhere.

Despite being ill, I did go for a walk with Curious Dog each morning, because he’d have gone stir crazy without it and I thought that a bit of gentle exercise would be helpful. Except that walks with CD aren’t very gentle. Still, I usually felt better after the walks. I stayed in my room all day and Mum brought me food and drink to the door, but the seclusion didn’t help, she got infected anyway. It must have been the three hours together in the car before I knew I had Covid.

Curious Dog was pretty upset that he wasn’t allowed in my room (I didn’t want him carrying the virus to Mum) and tried to lie in front of my door all day.

As I said, I read a lot. At first, when I was still very tired, I read a lot of middle grade children’s books (as I prefer those over books for young adults – for some reason, I usually don’t like those very much). The first one I read was an old paperback that I got when I was about 13 and have kept since then: The Horse from Black Loch, by Patricia Leitch. I was horse crazy when I was a teenager and read innumerable horse books (most of which I wouldn’t want to read again), but this one is different from the usual fare. It is about a mystical black horse that lives at the bottom of a loch in a remote part of Scotland and sometimes emerges to communicate with members of a family that have been guarding it for centuries (this sounds strange but works well in the book). There’s always one guardian and one wise shaman-like person who supports the guardian. The book is about the next generation of the family being introduced to the horse to find out which one will be chosen. It’s also about a betrayal and a race to save the horse from hunters who want to sell it. So, the story is both mystical and adventurous and I liked re-reading it. It was first published in 1963, but my paperback is from 1983. I found that there’s now a cheap kindle version available on Amazon (but I only found it by googling the title – sometimes Amazon’s search doesn’t work very well).

Here’s an excerpt from the first page showing the mood and setting:

High above me a single swan flew like an unshriven ghost through the lucid lime-yellow glow of the Highland evening. Swiftly the beat of its powerful wings carried it from my sights as I hung out of the train window watching it.
On the far skyline mountains were clumbered together in massed greys and blacks and all around us stretched a wilderness of bracken and purple heather which flowed like the tide washing around the grey outcrops of rocks. The glow of the evening was gradually fading into the first cold coming of the night.

I read a lot of other children’s lit, until I felt better and had read my fill of that genre. Then I switched back to adult literature and read a sci-fi novel, some memoirs, a novel by Louise Erdrich, and now I’ve almost finished rereading The Old Curiosity Shop, but that’s material for another post (or two).

We’re planning to return to my place next Sunday, and I hope Mum will be negative by then, as otherwise I’m not sure what to do (but I guess, we’ll be returning anyway). I’m looking forward to seeing Partner again, it’s been a while.

Working at the Office

Yesterday was my first day back in the office after the pandemic. It felt quite strange. I was in a handful times during the pandemic, but at that time no-one else was from my team. That was strange, too.

Tuesday night, I was rushing around, packing up my notebook and docking station and other paraphernalia. Considering what to wear, I had a bit of a panic, because most of my winter jeans are really quite threadbare (we are very casual at our office about clothing, because we don’t have customer-facing job. Jeans and sweatshirts are fine, but they shouldn’t be falling apart). My summer clothing is in much better shape, but somehow the things I have for winter all seem to need replacing. Oh well, I wore my least ratty jeans, and nobody noticed. I do have to do something about this soon.

Then, when I drove in to work in the morning, I promptly forgot to take my purse with my driver’s license and ID – I’m no longer used to leaving the house. Traffic was about as bad as before the pandemic. Arriving at work, I found that my keycard wasn’t working, because it had been inactive too long – that’s when I noticed that I’d forgotten my purse. I feared that security would want to see some ID before reactivating my keycard. I had to hunt for a receptionist to get it reactivated. I’m in a different office building than the one I used to be in, because the old one is being renovated, so I don’t know my way around yet. The building I’m in now doesn’t have a reception. I found one in the lobby of the second office building I tried, and it wasn’t that far away. Luckily, nobody wanted to check if I was the real owner of my keycard, they just reactivated it. Pretty lax security, really. A few of my team colleagues had the same problem with their keycard. Others didn’t, because some of them have been coming in once a week or so for a while, as they enjoy working at the office. Weirdoes 😉

Snowdrops by the riverside.

What’s really nice about my new office is that it is equipped with height adjustable desks for everyone, so you can work standing up if you feel like it. Before the pandemic, I really wanted one of those but facility management hadn’t got around to getting them for everyone (probably it was also a budget issue). It’s cool. Also, the room gets sun in the morning and is shady in the afternoon – much better than the previous one, where we were baked in the afternoon. On the negative side, there’s a huge building site across the road, where the other office building is being renovated. And one of my two monitors can’t be plugged into my notebook anymore, or into the docking station. It’s got the wrong connectors, as it is quite old. I’m pretty sure that both of my monitors are old enough for me to be eligible for a new one. One of those huge, curved ones that some of my colleagues already use. But I think that if I’m only in once a week, it’s an unnecessary investment. I’m fine with the notebook monitor and the other monitor that can still be used. Maybe I can even hunt up an adapter for the oldest one. But one monitor and the notebook screen are the same setup as I have at home. It’s perfectly sufficient.

It was nice to meet my colleagues again and it was a pleasure to take a walk at lunch and revisit some of my favourite area of the campus. There are ponds full of lilies and frogs (in spring and summer; at the moment there’s not yet much to see), there’s the path next to the woods, and the orchard (with plum, apple and pear trees) in between some of the buildings. And lots of flowerbeds everywhere (also not yet much to see). I used to take a stroll every lunchtime before the pandemic (unless the weather was too bad).

But otherwise, the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time. The commute, the setting up of the computer with all its connections, the having to dress up (if only slightly), the lunch package I made for myself (two sandwiches, an apple, and two small home-made muffins plus my flask of tea) – you can get all sorts of things at work, but I like to bring my own. The canteen is too loud, and I don’t like wasting my lunchtime waiting in line. Also, the food isn’t that great. I used to go sometimes anyway, when there was a team workshop or something similar, but yesterday I really didn’t want to sit in a room with lots of others getting exposed to who-knows-what. I haven’t gotten through three years of Corona to pick it up now. But to get back to working at the office: there wasn’t even anything important on the agenda of our team meeting. Once a month of this hassle would be enough for me, but some of the colleagues like it. It could be worse, I suppose. At least we don’t have to come in every day.

Very surprisingly, as the day hadn’t been particularly stressful or tiring, I was absolutely exhausted when I got back home. Apparently, going to the office is something that I need to get used to again. I almost had to take a nap after dinner and went to bed early, at 9:30 p.m. Usually, when I go to bed that early, I read till 11 p.m., but yesterday, I was too knackered. Hopefully, once I get back into the swing of it, it’ll be less tiring.

I won’t be in next week, though, as Mum and I will be back in Bavaria after only one week away. Not a fun occasion. In 2019 my mother had breast cancer and now it seems some tumours returned, just when we’d thought the thing was done with. Actually, her doctor had already found one last year in autumn, and last week he found another small one. So, next week Mum has another appointment to finalize the planning for another operation to remove the new tumours. Mum, being 85, does not want to take any other measures (like radiation, or chemotherapy) because she fears losing her quality of life. She thinks that at her age, it’s not about living longer, but living well. After the operation in the summer of 2019, she didn’t have any issues, so the strategy has worked very well until now. Hopefully, removing the small tumours will halt the progress for another few years. It’s supposed to be a much smaller operation than the last one and she will probably only need to spend a couple of days in hospital, but of course, the whole thing is depressing and preys on all our minds.

While at the office yesterday, I had a discussion with my manager and he agreed that Mum’s situation is a valid reason for me to stay in Bavaria for next week and later for Mum’s operation (not sure when it will be scheduled, but it should be soon). It’s what I did in 2019, after all, so why shouldn’t it be possible now? It’s the same manager, the same team, mostly the same work. I’m planning to work half-days when Mum is in hospital, so that I can visit her in the afternoons. If my manager hadn’t agreed, I’d have taken time off, as I have a lot of saved-up vacation days from previous years and thousands of hours in my time account. Sure, Mum could get the operation done near my place, but she trusts the doctor in Bavaria, and he knows her case history. Finding a new one would be a pain. I explained to my manager in detail how I wasn’t trying to sneak off to Bavaria for the rest of my work life but just needed some time there for reasons… He seemed to accept it, and I’m hoping that this has also paved the way for resuming our regular weeks once-a-months in Bavaria. I wouldn’t want to be in Bavaria all the time because Partner isn’t there. He needs to be off for one week every month, too, to look after his property in North-Rhine Westfalia. It’s still up for debate where we will go once I retire (partner is self-employed and can work from anywhere). Maybe we’ll go somewhere else entirely. But that’s still a good few off.

Last week in Bavaria, we had lovely weather, dry and cold except for a bit of snow on the weekend. Good for walks with CD. But I was very busy because of some colleagues were on vacation. They had handed over a lot of work that had to be done by another colleague and myself. Due to our production schedule, it’s almost impossible to go on vacation without having to hand over work to colleagues (except over Christmas and the New Year when nothing much happens). It was a lot to do, but I quite enjoyed it, because I learned new things and had a chance to do stuff that I don’t normally do. There was a lot of complicated analysis of errors that I wasn’t familiar with but am now. At first, I was annoyed. Did people really have to come up with questions about these kinds of errors while colleague X, the expert, was on vacation? But since I managed to solve the issues with some help from another colleague, I ended up feeling quite accomplished and now I no longer dread the topic. But I was too busy to blog, and also a bit in the dumps on account of the still ongoing war in Ukraine (already a whole year…) and the situation with my mother.

This morning Partner and I had a lovely walk with Curious Dog along our local river. Lots of snowdrops. I missed the walks on Wednesday, when I was stuck in traffic while Partner and CD where ambling along (as much as CD ever ambles, that is).