Monday Miscellanea

I had a nicely relaxed weekend. Saturday, I went on a long walk with Curious Dog in the morning because during the last week the walks were mostly just half an hour or so because the weather was so fickle. It always looked like it would rain, or worse, like there’d be a thunderstorm. Both CD and I hate thunderstorms, so we shortened our walks. But the walk on Saturday morning was lovely. We walked through the fields, past the cattle (which CD is always slightly afraid of) and by the stork nest. The nest is up on an out-of-service power pole, in the middle of a field. Partner and I have seen one or two of the adult storks on the nest very often, but we’ve never seen a young one. Saturday, I definitively saw one baby stork, and we saw it again today. I hope to see it grow up and start trying out its wings (although I haven’t a clue how long it takes for stork chicks to mature).

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I spent a lot of Saturday morning vacuuming the house. I hadn’t done my bedroom / office for a while, so I was really thorough for once. Took ages. I also I moved my large palm-like plant outside for the summer. During the autumn, winter and spring it lives in front of the one floor-to-ceiling window in my bedroom, but in summer I put it on the patio. It gets a good dose of sun and I get to open my window properly. Win-win for plant and human!

Curious Dog in in full-on shedding mode. Our living room, Partner’s office (where CD sleeps at night and which is also the guest bedroom), the kitchen and the small hall: all were covered in drifts of dog hair. I vacuumed it all up and on Sunday I gave CD a good brushing session. He doesn’t like that much, but it had to be done. But he’s still shedding. He has only two settings: standard shedding and extreme shedding. At the moment it’s extreme.

Mum and I were having lunch on Saturday when Partner arrived. He’d said he’d probably turn up around 2 p.m. but was earlier because his vaccination was faster than planned. He had hardly any reactions to the first jab, just a sore arm for a couple of days. Hope it will be the same for me tomorrow when I’ll be getting my first vaccination. It was very nice having Partner back.

We watched a quite a few shows and a couple of films on the weekend: three episodes of Bad Batch. In one of them poor Omega was kidnapped by a bounty hunter) and two episodes of Loki. Loki has just recently started on Disney+ and I like it very much. Not sure what it’s all about yet, but it has something to do with time manipulation and some beings that watch over the time stream with the help of a huge administration. It has a lot of Loki being Loki moments and the other characters are fun, too. We also watched the new animated film by Disney and Pixar, Luca. It’s Italian-themed and super enjoyable (although I liked Raya and the Last Dragon maybe just a tad more). The visuals and characters in both films are great, but Raya’s plot is more complex and more intriguing. But both films are fun.

We haven’t managed to watch the last two episodes of The Underground Railroad yet, mostly because it was too hot for a serious show. As the temperatures are supposed to drop again after today (and after probably another set of thunderstorms), I guess we’ll get to these two episodes sometime later this week.

I also read a lot of my current book, The Illiad (translated by Caroline Alexander). I’m now quite near the end, only three chapters left to go. I’d quite forgotten from my first reading years ago that all the violence in it is so graphic. It’s definitively not an epic that glosses over the ugly side of war and only concentrates on the “glory”. There’s a lot of ugly stuff in it. The gods keep interfering and being unfair. Warriors who beg for mercy are slaughtered anyway. Warriors who get killed usually also get their armour and stuff stolen, and their corpse desecrated. It’s very bloody. But there are also a lot of interesting pictures of life during ancient times and short bits of the protagonists’ backgrounds and a lot of psychologically plausible motivation for their actions. I’m surprised at how much I am enjoying it. Since I liked the Odyssey more than the Iliad when I first read them both, I’m guessing I’ll be really wowed when I get round to rereading the Odyssey (only after Jane Austen July).

I was feeling quite happy with the temperatures and precipitation in June this year. There were hardly any days hotter than 25°C and quite a bit of rain, but it turns out that it was extremely hot and dry in the eastern parts of Germany, so that it will probably turn out to have been the third-hottest and driest June since this data has been collected. Not so great.

On another note: recently I saw a short documentary on TV about automatic lawn mowers. If you use one of those in your garden, and you’re located in Europe, please deactivate it from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. They are dangerous for hedgehogs. Hedgehogs don’t run away from danger; they roll themselves up. Then the automatic mower runs them over and they get killed or badly injured. These accidents are avoided if the mover is turned off late in the afternoons and during the night, as hedgehogs are only active during those hours. Apparently lots hedgehogs are currently being injured by these mowers and taken to animal shelters. I don’t have a mower like that (my patch of lawn is much too small), but if I had, I wouldn’t have known about this issue. So, I thought I’d mention it on the blog (not that I have that many readers, but you never know… it might be useful info for someone).

Work is as busy and chaotic as ever, but one of the most stressful projects has had its deadline moved for about four weeks, which will de-stress things for a little while. The downside is that the project will continue to bug me for longer, but I guess you can’t have everything. I hope it doesn’t get postponed again, because I would like for it to be finished and done with before my vacation in October.

Keep safe, world.

Dog Songs

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I listed this great little book by Mary Oliver (with illustrations by John Burgoyne) as one of my May readings, but I got it already in March. I can’t believe that I left it lying around unread until May. Did I read it already in April and forgot to list it? No matter. I keep taking it up to reread the poems and look at the drawings. I love them both. The poems are not mawkish or sentimental. They evoke the pleasures and griefs of living with dogs. They celebrate their lives by imagining how they might see the world. The pencil drawings of dogs that accompany the poems are also lovely. I don’t know if they are portraits of Oliver’s own dogs, because the poems are about the dogs in her life, but it doesn’t matter, they beautifully complement the poems.

Some excerpts to give you an impression of what the poems are like:

Where goes he now, that dark little dog
who used to come down the road barking and shining?
He’s gone now, from the world of particulars,
the singular, the visible.

From “Bazougey” in Mary Oliver, Dog Songs, Penguin 2015, p. 41.

“Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten
for days.”
What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.

From “The Wicked Smile”, p. 83

A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
He’s probably in a basket with a bunch
of other puppies.

From “How It Begins”, p. 1.

I’ve had dogs in my life since I was about 10 or 11 and I often think back on all of them – Cindy, Rolf, Rex, Liese, Rolf II, and Arwen (a rather strange name for a dog, but she already had it when we got her – she was a lovely dog, but didn’t exactly remind one of the daughter of Elrond. Even the colour of her fur was wrong. Arwen II (called Annie, when she came to us, but as one of our neighbours also had this name so we had to change it and somehow, my parents stuck with “Arwen”). And, of course, Curious Dog has been with us now already for more than 6 years. How time flies. What an independent puppy he was, and what a handful when he was in his teens! And now he’s all grown up… The “dog songs” sing to me.

For dog lovers or people who live with dogs and enjoy poems, the book is a small treasure.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep safe, world!

Tuesday Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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

Keep safe, world.

Spring Workday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep safe, world.

Wednesday Waffling


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

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

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

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

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

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

On the weekend, we watched WandaVision on Disney+. WandaVision is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the tale of what happened to Wanda and Vision after the events shown in the film Avengers: Endgame. It’s a miniseries consisting of 9 episodes. It’s very well made, with a strong meta-fictional element: Wanda and Vision seem to be living TV sitcom episodes through the decades, starting in the fifties in black and white. Odd things happen and later we also get an outside view of the situation, though the eyes of Agents of S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) and the FBI. Apparently S.W.O.R.D. is S.H.I.E.L.D. in space, who’d have known?!

We also watched the films Shoplifters and Paterson, both the complete opposite of the blockbuster Marvel Universe. Shoplifters is about a Japanese family of outcasts who shoplift to supplement the granny’s pension and wages from exploitative dead-end jobs. They love each other and take in a young girl who is neglected and abused by her parents. It all comes unraveled, though, when the granny dies. It has a softly tragic end. Paterson is about a bus driver named Paterson who lives with his creative and optimistic wife and their grumpy bulldog in the town of Paterson. Paterson the bus driver is also a poet. We follow a week in his life. Nothing much happens and yet a lot happens. It’s like a poetic version of normal life. The poems in the movie were written by a real poet, Ron Padgett. The film is just lovely, with humour and sadness. Both films are kind of warm and life-affirming.

The weather was kind of April-like, very changeable in the past few days. It was quite windy, occasionally rainy, sometimes sunny, but not very warm. Monday morning Curious Dog and I got drenched on our walk. Considering walks: I think I’m seeing some improvements with Curious Dog’s behaviour on the leash. I think he’s beginning to pull a bit less. I’m inspired by seeing a series on TV about a German dog whisperer. It runs every now and then on Sunday afternoons. The dogs shown in the show are much worse behaved than Curious Dog, but they still mostly improve (if they don’t, it’s the owner’s fault for not being consistent and assertive enough). Curious Dog’s pulling on the leash is annoying, but he doesn’t pull all the time, and he’s generally good with other dogs (except for some, especially male terriers, whom he really can’t stand). But it would be nice if he stopped pulling for more of the time, so I’m working on it. I also got a muzzle for him to wear on public transport where it is often required by law. He’s not keen on that at all (no wonder, who would be?). I hope I can get him used to it by the time we are planning on going on vacation in October, as we may need it on a cable car. I’m not convinced that taking Curious Dog on a cable car is a good idea, but we’ll see how the muzzle thing works out.

We had elections in my state of Baden-Württemberg on Sunday: the Green party won, which I’m happy about (but they will need a coalition, as is usual in German politics). I hope that they will really concentrate on politics to alleviate climate change during their turn in office. I’m also delighted because the AfD (a party of far-right, potentially if not actually anti-democratic bigots) lost 5% and fell to just under 10% of all votes – hope this decline continues in autumn, when we have the federal elections.

Work has been a pain in the last couple of weeks. There’s lots of things to do but our main content management software was on the blink. Unstable and horrifically slow. We had a few emergency downtimes for repairs that didn’t help much. At least this week things seem to have improved. I’m taking Thursday off and will therefore be only working three days which is great. We’re driving to Bavaria again on Thursday afternoon (probably, we may already leave on Wednesday after work – depends on the weather). Our three weeks at my place passed very quickly as usual.

Mum’s got her second vaccination appointment on Friday. She was a bit under the weather for a few days after the first jab. Hope it won’t be worse after the second. It will be great when she’s done with the vaccination and hopefully safe from Corona. Unfortunately, it looks like a third wave is slowly building up in Germany. Vaccination isn’t progressing fast enough. Very worrying again. Just as things were looking up, it seems that we may need to extend the lockdown again.

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Inspired by James Boswell’s Life of Johnson that I read in December and January, I’ve been reading Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings edited by David Womersley. It’s full of variety: some poems (not much my cup of tea, although I otherwise do like poetry), a couple of short biographies of people I’d never heard of but found diverting anyway, lots of short essays written for periodicals, the preface to his dictionary, a bit of literary criticism… He’s also written plays and novellas, but I haven’t got to them yet as I’m only halfway through the collection. I’m really enjoying it, but the style is so dense that it is taking me a lot longer to read than literature written more recently. But I do think I’m getting faster and reading more fluently. I’m enjoying it a lot; Johnson is an interesting writer and I like his style. Here’s a fascinating quote about the Seven Year’s War 1756 – 1763 part of which was carried out between England and France in their North American colonies:

It is allowed on both sides, that hostilities began in America, and that the French and English quarrelled about the boundaries of their settlements, about grounds and rivers to which, I am afraid, neither can shew any other right than that of power, and which neither can occupy but by usurpation, and the dispossession of the natural lords and original inhabitants. Such is the contest that no honest man can heartily wish success to either party.

“Observations on the present State of Affairs” in Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, ed. by David Womersley, p.536.

I guess that this opinion wasn’t shared by many in his time, otherwise American history might have turned out quite differently. He views colonization critically because the land was gained by immoral practices.

In one of his essays for The Adventurer, a periodical, he writes about readers and their motivations for reading as well as the influence books may have on the readers’ minds:

It is difficult to enumerate the several motives, which procure to books the honour of perusal: spite, vanity, and curiosity, hope and fear, love and hatred, every passion which incites to any other action, serves at one time or other to stimulate a reader.
[…]
Some read that they may embellish their conversation, or shine in dispute; some that they may not be detected in ignorance, or want the reputation of literary accomplishments: but the most general and prevalent reason of study, is the impossibility of finding another amusement equally cheap or constant, equally independent on the hour and the weather.
[…]
But, perhaps, it seldom happens, that study terminates in mere pastime. Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot at pleasure obliterate ideas; he that reads books of science, though without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that entertains himself with moral or religious treatises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them.

“No. 137 of The Adventurer. Tuesday, 26 February 1754” in Samuel Johnson: Selected Writings, ed. by David Womersley, p. 484f.

Myself, I’m not sure about the entertainment value of “moral or religious treatises”, but in the rest of the essay Johnson mentions that he isn’t totally against reading lighter fare for pure amusement. 😉

Johnson writes about all sorts of topics and most of his pieces are just a few pages long, so reading my way through this volume of collected works is entertaining. Even if I come across something that’s totally uninspired (and I haven’t yet), it’s soon done with and the next piece is a new start.

Keep safe, world.

Reading Habits

I felt like doing a tag today, so I found the Reading Habits tag on BookTube. It seems to have been around a long time and I couldn’t find the creator, so I unfortunately can’t include a link to their channel.

Here goes:

1 Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

Yes, I have a big purple comfy bean bag in front of one of my book shelves, but I don’t use it very often, because it’s in my bedroom which is not accessible to Curious Dog (he’s scared of the steep open staircase). Since I sit up in my bedroom at my desk during the work week all day without CD, I don’t want to sit away from him when I’m reading on my off days. So, I mostly read in the living room, with Curious Dog snoozing at my feet or next to me on the sofa. Very cozy. Every now and again he wants to be cuddled, but that’s also nice.

I also do a lot of reading at night in bed. Partner needs more sleep than I do and goes to bed early, and I use the time to read. Good for both of us.

2 Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Random piece of paper. Bookmarks are too organized for me. Also, I read a lot of e-books on Kindle and they don’t need a bookmark.

3 Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop at a certain point?

Depends. Sometimes I like to finish a chapter before stopping, but if I’m interrupted, or tired, I don’t mind stopping where-ever I happen to be in the book.

4 Do you eat or drink while reading?

Yes, I like good cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa with a book. I also like snacking on salty snacks but don’t do it very often. Only as a special treat. When I’m by myself, I also read while eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I also read while cooking (mostly when cooking soups, as they only use one pot and you can stir with one hand and hold a book in the other).

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5 Multitasking: music or TV while reading?

No music, but when we’re in Bavaria, I often sit in the evening with Mum in the living room. When she wants to watch something on TV that I’m not interested in, I read instead. The TV doesn’t bother me, I just tune it out.

6 One book at a time or several?

Several. I usually have three or four going on at the same time. A book of poetry, a short-story collection, something non-fiction, something fun, a classic… I guess poetry and short-stories don’t really count, because I usually just stop after reading one or two of them and that’s not really stopping in the middle of a book to turn to another one.

7 Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere. My smartphone has the Kindle app, so I can read my books anywhere. If I have to wait in a longish queue or am in the waiting room at the dentists or somewhere, I read. I also always take books on vacation, both as Kindle and as a paper copy (in case there a long blackout and my devices run down – no way am I risking being stranded somewhere without anything to read. The horror!).

8 Reading out loud or silently in your head?

I don’t read out loud except very occasionally to read a funny or interesting passage to Partner. Easy reads, like crime novels, I read fast and without subvocalizing, but with non-fiction and demanding fiction, I do subvocalize in my mind. That slows me down, but I don’t mind it. If I try to do without subvocalizing, I find I don’t grasp what I’m reading. Apparently, this just needs practice, but I’m not terribly motivated. I feel that reading slowly can increase enjoyment.

9 Do you read ahead or skip pages?

No. If I read ahead, I’m not motivated to continue with the unread bits and skipping pages feels like I haven’t read the book properly. That seems pointless to me. If I decided to DNF a book, I’d probably check up on the ending. My book selection process, however, is rather well honed and I hardly ever get books that I end up hating, so I haven’t done this in ages. Can’t remember the last time.

10 Breaking the spine or keeping it as new?

I try to keep the spine as unblemished as possible, but paperbacks that I love and read a lot get a creased spine anyway. Of course, not a problem with e-books.

11 Do you write in your books?

I never used to but have started in the last few years. I never read without a pencil anymore to mark passages or add comments. I can’t bring myself to use a pen and I also don’t use a highlighter. I do use the highlight and note function in my Kindle app. The only books I don’t write in are nice editions of graphic novels and some other special hardbacks. In general, I think that books are objects of daily use and don’t need to be specially revered. I used to have the opposite opinion: never write in books, what a sacrilege! But I changed my mind about it.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

We had a lovely 10 days in Bavaria. The weather was great, slightly freezing and foggy in the mornings until noon and bright, sunny and warm in the afternoons. It was perfect weather for walking with Curious Dog. I am again trying to teach him not to pull so much on the leash and after the first three days where our walks took ages because I kept stopping whenever he pulled and only started up again when he stopped (and came back a few steps), I fancy I’m seeing results. If I keep it up the entire next month, maybe it will stick.

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Otherwise it was a fairly quiet week. The only exciting thing that happened was that I got an SMS from the Bavarian Vaccination Centre (Bayrisches Impfzentrum) where I had registered my mother in preparation for getting a vaccination appointment. The SMS said that I could book an appointment, so I went online and got one for last Friday for Mum’s first vaccination. She’s now got the first shot of the BionTech-Pfizer vaccine. She felt a bit woozy and headachy for the first two days, the injection site on her arm also hurt for a couple of days and now she’s still feeling a bit weakish, but on the whole, it seems to have gone very well. Hope the weakness will fade quickly.

I was expecting this huge vaccination centre, sort of like those they’ve been showing in the news on TV, but ours was actually quite small (which is no wonder, since our county town isn’t very large either). Not sure what I was thinking. In reality it’s just a handful of containers set up at the fairground where the county and town summer fairs and festivals and usually take place (not much of that has been going on in the past twelve months as we all know). There was no queue and no waiting. We got there a bit early, and Mum was allowed to get her vaccination straight away. The only weird thing was that Mum was asked to hang around outside in the parking lot for ten minutes afterwards, to see if she would have an adverse reaction. That felt rather improvised. What if it had rained? You could wait in the car and there was a very small tent nearby so not too bad, but still, I’d expected a kind of waiting room.

The appointment for the second vaccination is next time we are going to be in Bavaria, so that worked out perfectly. I’d kind of expected that I’d have to take any random appointment at any time and would have to drop everything and take Mum to Bavaria for the shots, so it’s very nice that that’s not necessary. Mum still has her main residence at our old family home in Bavaria, that’s why she’s getting her shots there. For myself, I got a letter from the government of Baden-Württemberg that basically said that it will take an unspecified amount of time until it’s my turn and they will be in touch…

Last week I learned that the Winter in Germany was too warm, despite the very unusual cold spell we had in February, with -15°C to -20°C in places (it only got to -15°C at my place). And then, following the cold spell, we had a very warm spell that had the weather scientists worried. And then there was the report about Germany’s forests which said that 4 of 5 trees are damaged by drought and pests following the dry years of 2018 and 2019. I watched a documentary about the state of the forests on TV because I love the woods with the result that now I’m even more worried about climate change than before. When I walk in the woods, I keep checking for dead or sickly-looking trees. Well, we’ve got state and federal elections coming up this year – I will be having a good look at the various agendas.

Our next door neighbour is getting solar panels installed on his part of the roof. It wouldn’t make sense for my part of the roof because it has northern exposure (and anyway, I don’t think my landlady would want to invest). There are workmen clomping on the roof and drilling and whatever, making a lot of noise. Curious Dog is hiding out in Partner’s office. He is scared of the noise, poor guy. Pity it wasn’t done while we were away. At least it seems that it’s progressing quickly. As far as I can see, the work on the roof is almost finished. As the neighbour’s roof is only a quarter of the entire roof area, there isn’t a lot of space for his solar panels.

I’ve got tons of things to do at work this week, and not much time for it. Half of one day is reserved for another team workshop and another day seems to be reserved for some HR-required administrative stuff to do with goal setting and people development. We had two years’ of respite from formal goal setting (of course we had goals and we even did very well on them), but now they’ve decided that we have to return to documenting everything. Not sure why, except that HR likes to switch things up every now and then. Goal setting is the pits. First you have to come up with them, then you basically forget about them until it’s time for a review and then you spent ages painting yourself and your accomplishments in the best possible light so that you’ll get a glowing report from your manager which then hopefully translates into a substantial pay raise in the next year. A dreadful bore. We managed just fine in the last couple of years without the administrative overhead. We knew what we had to do, we did it, the company did fine and the raises were underwhelming as almost always… Still, I shouldn’t complain, as I do quite like my job and it has been safe during the pandemic.

Keep safe, world.