Lazy Day

Today’s leap day was mostly a lazy one. I meant to do a lot of cleaning but didn’t manage anything (unless I pull myself together and do the bathroom before dinner). In the morning, while my partner and Curious Dog were out walking, I hung around on the sofa, reading. Days that start like that, I’m afraid, don’t often end up with a lot of housework in them. Afterwards I did a longish meditation session and then I went out grocery shopping (just a quick trip, but it was on foot and therefore not that quick) for some stuff that I’d forgotten yesterday.

Then, after lunch (made by my partner, who’s a dear and a good cook), I decided I should take Curious Dog on another long walk while the weather held, as it was supposed to rain in the afternoon. We did an hour-long tour through the fields and along the edge of the woods. The ground was a bit soggy. Otherwise it was nice. Not sunny, but warm and windy. There’s supposed to be another storm front hitting tonight (but only a short one). I actually got so hot I had to take off my beanie and muffler (in February!).

After the walk I felt quite knackered and had to sit down and recuperate with a bit of reading. Then it was time for coffee and afterwards another shortish, but not too short walk with Partner and Curious Dog. That was nice, but not exactly conducive to housework either. Housework is the bane of my life. I really enjoy having a clean house, but I have trouble getting down to the cleaning work. Also, it never stays clean and tidy for long. Sigh.

Still, here’s a picture of a lovely patch of snowdrops we passed on our midday walk:

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Friday Tasks

This morning I went shopping early. Really early, shortly past 8 a.m., and without writing a list. I hope I didn’t forget anything. I had to go shopping straight after breakfast, because Curious Dog currently won’t go walking with my partner when I’m home, but he does need to go out after breakfast. He goes on his walks with my partner without any problem when I’m off at work or otherwise not at home, but when I’m home, he wants to go with me. It’s a pain. I love Curious Dog, but I don’t want to go for walks three times a day on the weekend. I get enough of that when I’m in Bavaria. CD’s been doing this since New Year’s Day. He was scared, poor guy, as usual, by the fireworks and just seemed to feel safer with me. I hope he gets over this stupid habit and starts going out with my partner again as he used to. At the moment, when I want to stay at home, I go outside, hide in the car, and wait till CD and my partner have disappeared around the corner. Then I get back into the house. It’s a little ridiculous.

But I have to go grocery shopping on Fridays anyway, and if I go early, I get back home early. It’s nice to be done with the groceries at 10 a.m. and still have half the morning free for other things.

Today my partner made patties out of cooked brown rice, mashed potatoes, breadcrumbs, seasoning, and herbs. They were fried in peanut oil and I made a vegetable curry to go with them. Very nice – much tastier that I thought they would be. A good alternative for potato dumplings. We like trying out new dishes on the weekends.

Otherwise I hung around and read a bit, walked Curious Dog at lunch and in the afternoon (a nice long walk in the sunshine) and planned the housework I need to do tomorrow. It’s dire, lots of dog hair to be vacuumed, bathroom and kitchen to be cleaned. Ever since we got Curious Dog, I’ve had to ramp up my cleaning. Dogs do create a lot of dirt. The entry hall is the worst, especially when it’s wet and muddy outside. Dog hairs get absolutely everywhere. But I don’t mind much, CD is the best.

Tonight, we going to watch the next episode of Picard on Amazon Prime. I’m liking it, but it’s quite different from Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are also watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on DVD. We’re somewhere in the middle of season four and taking a longish time to get through the season, because there’s so much other stuff to watch that we don’t get around to watching our collections on DVD all that often.

Work Tales

Stayed up too late reading Pickwick Papers last night. Almost finished and am enjoying it a lot.

Published some documents at work today but couldn’t publish everything as the publishing tool is broken. It was already broken last time and I needed to ask the tool support colleagues to do the publication for me. I told them that I’d be publishing again today on schedule. They’ve been working on a fix, but did they ever get back to me with any status updates? Nope, I had to keep asking for updates (and I was doing it on behalf of all the other colleagues who also need to use the tool, not just for myself). And then they got annoyed, although I was polite and really needed to know what was happening so that I could inform my colleagues about how to deal with the situation. Why can’t people communicate professionally about work issues? When other people are depending on them? This lack of communication happens all the time with that team. It’s been addressed lots of times in the last few years via feedback and management, but it just remains dismal.

Anyway, the bug fix wasn’t ready (what a surprise!), so now they have to publish most of my content for me again. At least they volunteered to do it. Hopefully, the fix will be ready and deployed when the next round of content needs to be published in a few weeks.

Yesterday, I looked up the info my company provides about the COVID-19 virus outbreak. The company rules seem sensible and they keep updating the information as the situation develops. But, oh my, the comments under the post. Some very wacky conspiracy theories and other stupid opinions. I’d be ashamed of posting rubbish under a post that’s seen by lots of people in all our company locations. I’d also be worried about HR monitoring these crackpot posts and maybe initiating consequences. Some people seem to switch off their brains when they post things.

I sound crabby today. Must have missed out on sleep last night. Good thing I’m off work for the week tonight and will only have to deal with work-related stupidity again on Monday. Luckily, the majority of the colleagues I work with are sane and competent (makes the other ones stick out all the more by comparison, though).

I did have a very nice piece of cake for my afternoon break at home made by my partner. He’s really into baking lately and cakes, cookies, and dessert are delicious. Another highlight of my afternoons working at home.

Got wet on the walk with Curious Dog. It snowed, but it was very wet snow. Still, it’s always nice getting a bit of fresh air and spending time with CD. Reduces stress, good for one’s health and mindset!

Almost Weekend Wednesday

As I only work from Monday to Thursday, today is my penultimate working day. Phew – I’m glad it’s only one more day until the weekend. Work has been quite tedious this week. Lots of things to do, but most of them quite boring. I have to check and update four sets of documents in four different versions. Creates a feeling of sleepy confusion. Also of slight panic, as I thought all the versions were due in March. Luckily, I found I was mistaken, the due dates are in April and the beginning of May. No wonder my colleagues seemed so sanguine about it. It’s nice when problems dissolve into thin air. I still have to do it all, but now I can pace myself and don’t have to push to get it all done in the next couple of weeks.

We’ve also had a big reorganization of our organizational structure at work. Mostly involving teams being moved under other heads. I have to say, I really don’t care when my team gets moved under another top manager. Since nothing is changing on the lower levels and our work remains the same, it’s fine with me. I’ve seen it all, in my almost 20 years at my company. One year everything is decentralized, the next year everything is centralized again. Of course, I’ve also experienced reorgs when things really did change for my colleagues and me, but for the past five years or so reorgs only led to my manager’s getting a new manager which never had much of an effect on the team. I’m generally a wait-and-see kind of person with these things. It’s always about the same ideas: better customer support, breaking-down of silos, better collaboration. Glad we’re not losing our manager, though, as I really like them. No micro-management. I hate micro-management; I want to organize how I do my work myself.

I got home early today, working from home for the rest of the afternoon. That way, I avoided the evening rush hour and could take Curious Dog for his afternoon walk while it was still light outside (although the days are lengthening and soon this will no longer be a concern). Since last year, we’ve been allowed to work from home whenever we like as long as it doesn’t cause problems in the office. This is great – I’ve gone home early all winter and have hardly had to walk CD in the dark at all. I hate walking in the dark. All that fiddling with the headlamp gets on my nerves and CD doesn’t like it when people suddenly loom up out of the dark. I don’t either. They get barked at and I have to apologize, while I’m really thinking “Why don’t you carry a light, so we can see you coming?”.

It’s been raining a lot the last few days. The fields are half-drowned, and the normally almost empty creeks and dry ditches are full to bursting. Hope this means that there’s enough water for nature to revive from the last few dry and hot summers.

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Winter Storms

Or should it be, Spring storms? It is quite unseasonably warm for February. This month Europe has seen a succession of storms, starting with one called “Sabine” (it’s the year for women’s names for storm fronts – they alternate between women’s and men’s names each year in Germany). In the UK, it did more damage than here in Germany and was called Ciara. In Scandinavia it was called Elsa. Quite confusing.

Anyway, “Sabine” blew down a couple of trees across my favourite dirt track up into the woods that Curious Dog and I always use when we go for walks when we’re at my parents’ house in Bavaria. It’s short and steep and nobody much uses it apart from us. I’ve been panting my way up it for 30 years and now it’s blocked. I don’t think anyone will cut the fallen trees up and haul them away, as it’s fairly steep and most fallen trees on that hillside just stay there to rot.

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There’s an alternate track that branches off just below the blocked part, which I also sometimes use, but it’s muddy when it rains, and it takes longer to reach the flat part of the woods at the top of the hillside. I prefer the short but steep path.

I’ve been pushing my way through the undergrowth around the fallen trees (well, around one and over the other). I’m going to have to clear up a few of the squashed saplings so that it’s easier to get through. I’ve already started, but I’ll need to take a machete or axe to some of the branches. The growth is not very thick, luckily, so it should be doable. I’ll wait until Spring proper, though, before I start anything. And who knows, maybe someone will have removed the trees by then after all. Although the last time a big branch fell on that path, I had to find a way around that as well (it was too big to move by myself).

Fortunately, “Sabine” didn’t cause any damage other than a few fallen trees in our community. I’m always a little anxious that one of the beautiful huge pine trees on the hill above our house will fall on it, or that a storm might blow off the roof when we are away. Although, what could I do if I was there? Nothing – so there’s really no reason to fret about such things.

Squirrel

On my last walk in the woods with Curious Dog at my parent’s place in Bavaria last Saturday, before we drove back to my home in Baden-Württemberg, CD and I saw a squirrel. It was a black one, really cute, with a white belly – rather like CD himself, who’s black with just a tiny white bib (and some brown in among the black on his leg and paws). It was up a tree next to the path into the woods. We also get red ones in the area. Of course, CD wanted to chase it, but I didn’t let him. Not that he could have caught it!

Seeing squirrels always makes me think of the Bavarian term “Oachkatzlschwoaf” which means “squirrel tail” and is often used to bamboozle non-Bavarian German speakers, as it is such an odd word not readily understood if you’re unfamiliar with Bavarian (like I was, when we first moved to Bavaria when I was in my late teens). “Oach” means “oak” (as in the tree) and “Katzl” means “little cat”, so the “Schwoaf”-part means “bushy tail”. In standard German, the word for squirrel is “Eichhörnchen”, with “Eich” meaning, again, “oak” and “Hörnchen” being a small furry animal.

Incidentally, “Hörnchen” can also be a “croissant” – a French pastry. And all sorts of other things, which would go too far to list here. I just wanted to mention the “Oachkatzlschwoaf”, because it’s such an amusing word and I can’t help but think of it whenever I see a squirrel.

Poem No 1

One of my goals this year is to memorize one poem per months, so that I’ll know twelve off by heart at the end of the year.

The only poem I currently know by heart is “On His Blindness” by John Milton. So, this is my January poem (I didn’t have time to learn a new one). I can otherwise only quote a few bits and pieces of a few other poems. I don’t know why this one stuck in my mind – maybe I learnt it because of the famous last line. I probably first read it in high school and I definitively remember analyzing it in college in a course on Milton.

The reason I want to learn a few more poems off by heart is that when I repeat poems to myself a lot, I get deeper insights. Just reading a poem is usually too fleeting an experience to get a deeper understanding. I’ve memorized other poems in the past but forgot them again. When I was a student, I used to have a somewhat boring factory job during some of my semester holidays and at that job I secretly used to learn poems off by heart. But, alas, I forgot them again. I’d really like a repertoire of memorized poetry just for fun, no special reason.

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Just a couple of notes: the title of the poem “On His Blindness” was only added after Milton’s death. “Fondly” in this context means “foolishly”.

January Reading

As I had a long holiday over Christmas and the New Year, I had more time than usual for reading in January and I exceeded my monthly goals. These are the books I read (with some comments):

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for January. My edition has 1380 pages and I’m planning to finish in October, so that’s the number of pages per month). I’m liking it. The cast of characters is manageable (I thought it would be worse) and they are interesting. Some likeable, some less so, a good mix.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Ca. 125 pages – that was just the address to the reader, an explanation why the author felt he had to write this Anatomy (an exhaustive description of melancholy). He argues, if I understand it correctly, that everyone is to some degree mad (or melancholy) and that makes it of interest to all. The author has a very flowery language, using lists of words to describe everything. Takes some getting used to, but once you do, it’s surprisingly entertaining. Also somewhat satirical. I haven’t set a date by which I want to be done, I’m just letting it develop.

Poetry:

Ted Hughes, Collected Poems
I got this huge book last year and have been working my way through it in stops and starts. I read my quota of 31 poems (but actually read a lot more – I stopped counting). I find this collection challenging. At least three quarters of the time, I don’t understand the poems, but they still somehow keep me engaged. I’m hoping that reading more poetry will help with the understanding. Maybe poetry isn’t always meant to be understood, but rather felt?

Short stories:

M.R. James, Complete Ghost Stories
This is a Kindle edition that I bought last year, because I liked the looks of it, and it was cheap. I read a few of the stories last year but didn’t finish them. So, I made them my January project, since they are just a few more stories than January has days (although I didn’t read them daily). They have just the right amount of horror that I’m not scared witless. A kind of understated horror that leaves things open to the imagination. Very worthwhile.

Non-fiction:

Julie Yip-Williams, The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After
This autobiography is based on a blog. The author was an immigrant from Vietnam, who, despite disability (bad eyesight), managed to build a successful career and gain a lovely family, but was then faced with a cancer diagnosis. An interesting and moving read, but in places it has a fairly materialistic mindset. It’s sometimes it’s a bit obnoxious.

Most cancer memoirs seem to be written by well-off people (at least all the ones I have red). I suppose poor or working-class people don’t have the resources to write cancer memoirs. I’m fascinated by this type of memoir, because I want to know how people deal with such life-and-death scenarios and where they find hope. Some of these books are very thoughtful and inspiring — this one not so much, I’m afraid.

Graphic novel:

Una, Becoming Unbecoming
Autobiography of a young girl growing up in Yorkshire during the time of the Yorkshire Ripper. Shows how society and the police dealt with the crimes (victim-blaming) and the effect this had on Una. Very highly recommended.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, Hard Times
    A short novel compared with Dicken’s other door-stoppers. I choose it because I decided on my Dickens reading goal late in January and I wanted to finish the first novel. It’s set in fictitious Coketown, a town full of factories, focused on capitalism. It shows what happens when the only things that count are “facts” that is, materialism, profit, and self-interest without any tempering with humanity, religion, and culture. It is satirical in places (very funny) and critical of the exploitation of workers. Sometimes also sad and moving. A good read.
  • Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore and The Bookshop
    Offshore is about life on a barge on the Thames.
    In The Bookshop a widow starts a bookshop in a quiet sea-side town in England. She has some success but runs into unexpected obstacles. Some rather nasty small-town class conflicts and political manoeuvering. These were both very good, I think I’ll read more by Fitzgerald.
  • Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
    This was a gift, but I’d considered getting it for myself. I enjoyed it — it has lovely descriptions of nature and the story was engaging, with elements of suspense and romance. The ending was a surprise. I’ve seen reviews that argue that the premise of a small girl growing up mostly by herself in a swamp is farfetched and I kind of agree, but I’ve found out that the author also lived in unusual circumstances at times, so maybe those inspired the novel. I may want to read some of the other, autobiographical works of the author.
  • Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
    I’ve owned this book since it came out, because I really enjoyed the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicle series, The Name of the Wind. I don’t know why I didn’t read this sooner. The story continues with the adventures of Kvothe and is as well written as the precursor. I’m waiting (as many readers are) for the next volume. But I don’t mind waiting. Good books need time. I reread the first book in December and still loved it (although Kvothe, the main character, can be an absolute arrogant fool).
  • Margaret Atwood, The Testaments
    Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Not bad, but not great. It takes place after the events in Handmaid’s Tale and tells what happens to some of the characters from that novel. I think it ties up the narrative too much – everything is explained, nothing is left open. This is not very believable, as the conceit of the two novels is that the story is reconstructed from randomly found documents. One would think that not everything could be reconstructed. I think that The Handmaid’s Tale can stand very well on its own.

Bookish Goals for 2020

I had a lot of fun coming up with a interesting reading plan for the year. I’ve never done this before – usually I just read whatever I feel like. Let’s see what a structured reading experience will be like. Here are the goals:

  • Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace.
    I last read this as a teenager, but that’s aeons ago and I can’t remember anything. I’m doing a read-along with a friend, spaced out over the year. So far, I’m enjoying it a lot.
  • Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Melancholy.
    For some reason I’ve had a paperback of this tome on my shelves for years. It’s about time it got read. I’m reading it in short bits and think I’ll get it done this year. It’s absolutely fascinating. Very learned (good thing all the Latin quotes are translated), extravagant use of words, often funny and satirical.
  • Participate in the Toni Morrison challenge on Book Tube, which is basically reading all of Morrison’s novel in order of publication plus some additional works.
    I love Toni Morrison’s writing and was very sorry when I heard of her death last year. I’ve read about half of her novels, but it was years ago and I’m sure I’ll enjoy rereading them. Beloved is my favourite (so far). I’ve already read The Bluest Eye – it’s very powerful. I’m looking forward to the novels I haven’t read yet.
  • Read one Charles Dickens novel per month.
    A nice contrast to Morrison’s oeuvre. I’m reading these in no particular sequence. In January I read Hard Times, now I’m reading The Pickwick Papers.
  • Read one short story per day.
    Short stories are not a genre that I’ve read much in, except for Edgar Allan Poe or Arthur Conan Doyle. I would like to branch out a bit from novels. I’m not adhering strictly to the one-a-day rule, but I do plan to read one for each day of each month, although probably mostly bundled.
  • Read one poem per day.
    Same reason as above for the short stories and same modus operandi.
  • Read six works of non-fiction this year – one every two months.
    I’ve got a lot of unread nonfiction on my Kindle and on my shelves that I want to start making inroads on.
  • Read one graphic novel per month.
    I haven’t read that many graphic novels. I’d like to read some of the classics, like Persepolis and others that I’ve heard good things about.
  • Read unread books from my shelves and my Kindle.
    These can also be books from the goals above.
  • Read whatever else touches my fancy.

As I’m a real bookworm, I think I’ll be able to meet these goals without too much trouble. I’m on track at the moment, but of course it’s early in the year.

The Bluest Eye

Last year I discovered Book Tube – about twenty years after everybody else. It’s great. It’s reignited my love of literature.

Last weekend, I re-read The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. I first read the novel in the early 1990s when I was at University studying for my degree in American Literature. I loved it then, but I’d forgotten most of the details. I loved it despite the racism, rape and incest it depicts, because of the power of the insight it provides. Also, the novel, like all the novels by Toni Morrison that I’ve read, is just great writing, with great characters and instances of love that shine bright against the dark background, showing also the hopeful aspects of human life, not only the dreadful parts. Very moving.

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