Monday Miscellanea

Sadly, I already broke my goal of posting once a day in November by not posting anything yesterday. I just didn’t feel like it because I was totally busy, as I always am on the days we travel from Bavaria to Baden-Württemberg or the other way round. I should have written a post in advance… I guess.

Anyway, yesterday I got up quite late and took Curious Dog on a slightly shorter walk than usual on Sunday mornings. I’d packed my office stuff and clothes the night before, but still needed to pack my books, all the left-over food, Curious Dog’s things (he’s got his own bag of toys, leashes, and towels). Then we had to check that everything was properly locked up and ship-shape and load all our bags into the car, so by the time we got started, it was almost noon.

The trip was fine. Almost no traffic, no traffic jam at the construction site on the Autobahn junction so that I didn’t need to take the alternate route I’d looked up on Google maps. There was a lot of rain on the way, but luckily it didn’t rain when we arrived, so that I could unload all our bags without getting wet. But it must have rained recently, because when Partner and I took Curious Dog on his afternoon walk, CD got totally muddy because all the paths through the fields were in a terribly muddy state (and still are – it was another mud-fest this morning). Fortunately, we have a lot of old towels which we use to clean and dry CD after our walks.

After the afternoon walks, I cooked a creamy soup made of potato and leek. It turned out very nice. Just some potatoes cooked with two stalks of leek in vegetable broth, some ginger, a small onion, and a few chili flakes, a bit of sweet paprika and curry powder, some fresh garlic. After the vegetables were done, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender, added some soy milk for creaminess and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for taste. It turned out very nice. I love soup anytime, but most of all on rainy autumn or winter nights.

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By then it was quite late and although I set up my home office again, in preparation for work today, I really wasn’t inclined to post anything.

Today has been the usual Monday mess. The usual lot of Monday meetings and in addition post-deadline quality stuff to deal with. People who should know better doing stupid stuff and mailing me about their problems. Their mails showed them to be super clueless – I like helping new hires, but if I have to explain elementary stuff to colleagues that have been working with our tools for years and still don’t know what they are doing… And it’s always the same colleagues. They always seem to think that the software is out to get them (it probably is, by now). When I see their particular names on e-mails in my inbox, it’s time to roll my eyes. Sometimes it’s quite funny.

There was no time for anything except meetings before lunch and after lunch I had to do some obligatory trainings. They were easy and only took about half an hour, about stuff which isn’t anything I need to deal with in my daily work (thankfully). Then another couple of meetings, a short coffee-break and the afternoon walk with Curious Dog. Nothing very exciting.

I finished reading Laurie R. King, Island of the Mad, the 15th novel in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes yesterday. That’s why I got up late on Sunday, I was reading in bed when I should have been packing. That hunch I had about why the missing person had gone missing (I talked about that in my last post) was correct and Mary Russell had apparently kind of known the reason all along but “had managed to squirm out from the unpleasant hypothesis” (p. 318 of my edition, a Bantam paperback from 2019). That was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever read in the series. Even if Russell had managed to ignore this hypothesis, what about Holmes? He should have caught it. That’s the problem with characters that are established to be a great deal more intelligent than normal people. It’s just not believable when they make normal-people mistakes. This novel is definitively not my favourite in the series, but I found other things in it to enjoy that made up for this silly plot device. These novels usually have interesting settings and in this case it’s 1925 asylums for the insane in London and Venice as well as life for rich expats in Venice. And the rise of fascism in Italy and, to a lesser degree, in Britain. That did make for interesting reading.

Keep safe, world.

Uneventful Friday

Today I enjoyed a bit of a lie-in, reading in bed, continuing on with From Dawn to Decadence and my anthology of 18th century women poets that I started during Jane Austen July. On normal days I don’t have much time to read in bed in the mornings. I just manage a few poems before having to get up. I do have time on the weekend but have to make sure that I don’t stay too long in bed, because then the whole morning is out of whack. Walking with Curious Dog before doing anything else takes time.

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CD and I were done with our later than usual morning walk by 10 a.m. Afterwards I set out on a grocery shopping trip to pick up some stuff in town that isn’t available in the supermarket in the next village. This time I also had to pick up a new little light bulb for the fridge, as the old one had expired suddenly a couple of days ago. Oh, what an exciting errand!

The rest of the day was just as uneventful. I got back from shopping around lunch time and after lunch I spent the early afternoon reading. I’m now done with the first part of From Dawn to Decadence and have found out that the “invisible college” mentioned in my Wednesday post was a group of 16th century scholars who were later involved in the founding of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, which still exists today. This first part of the book is all about the effects on Western culture of the Reformation and the Renaissance. There was an interesting short excursion that looked back at the Middle Ages and pointed out that the period between ca. 500 and 1500 had seen the growth of a new civilization from the ruins of the Roman empire and had had its own Renaissance from 1050 to 1250. So it wasn’t all “dark ages.” I’d know that already from my historical studies at college (I studied History as the minor part of my degree, with American Literature as the major), but it was nice to be reminded.

While I enjoy reading non-fiction, I usually find it harder going than fiction. Even when I’m really interested and engaged, non-fiction is kind of tiring for me. It needs more concentration. I tend to read slower and sometimes struggle not to nod off. Today was a cloudy, damp, and cold November day where my tendency to fall asleep over my tome was very strong. Before I could do so, I took Curious Dog for his afternoon walk. That woke me up again.

I should have done some gardening in the afternoon, but it was so wet outside from all that rain yesterday that I postponed it until tomorrow when hopefully it will be a bit dryer. The house also needs to be cleaned before we leave again on Sunday, so tomorrow I won’t have that much time for reading. Maybe I will start with the next Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novel as an antidote to all that non-fiction.

I’m currently watching Farscape on Amazon Prime. It’s an Australian-American sci-fi series from the turn of the century. I watched a few episodes when they were first aired on German TV but didn’t manage to keep it up. I’m rather liking it. It’s about an astronaut from Earth who is flung through a wormhole into a strange part of the galaxy where he teams up with a few alien ex-convicts on a living spaceship (a “Leviathan”) who are on the run from militaristic so-called “peacekeepers.” The series has a very distinctive look (one of the alien characters is an animated puppet). The first season is a series of mostly stand-alone episodes but later on a story-arc develops. I’m enjoying it a lot, but it’s going to take me ages to finish it, as I only manage an episode now and again. Partner didn’t seem particularly keen on it, so I’m watching it by myself.

Keep safe, world.

Rainy Day

It’s been a very wet day at my place in Bavaria. It rained in the morning when Curious Dog and I did our morning walk in the woods. It rained on our afternoon walk. I had to dry CD twice today (his towels got quite muddy). He doesn’t get very wet from on top, as the rain tends to just slide off his fur, but his legs and belly do get very wet because when he walks, his paws kind of fling water up from the wet ground. It’s quite strange, really. I enjoyed our walks despite the rain, as it was a soft kind of rain without wind to blow it into our faces. The woods are still colourful and autumnal as the leaves haven’t all fallen yet.

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My work week is done again (as I don’t work on Fridays), and so is our week in Bavaria (almost). It was a short one, because we only arrived last Sunday and will leave again this Sunday. Usually, Mum and I arrive on Thursday, so that we spend 10 days here, but this time Thursday didn’t work out. I quite enjoyed the drive, as there wasn’t much traffic last Sunday. When travelling on Thursdays, we often get stuck behind trucks on the country roads once we’ve existed the Autobahn. When we return on Sunday, I’ll be trying an alternate route to bypass a motorway junction that’s currently a huge construction site. Last time we returned to Baden-Württemberg, we were stuck in a 45-minute traffic jam because of that construction.

Tomorrow I wanted to take Mum on a shopping trip to one of the towns in our vicinity, but we’ve scrapped that idea, because the Corona numbers are rising again, and Mum hasn’t had a booster shot yet. She was already fully vaccinated in March (or April?) and that’s been six months. I’ll try to organize another vaccination next week.

Today I had a meeting with my manager and asked him if I could soon get rid of one of the projects that I volunteered for earlier this year. The first part of the project has ended and I think I’m not really needed anymore and anyway, I found that I have quite enough to do with my other tasks. And it wasn’t much fun. Happily, he thought that it was probably feasible that I could drop it at the end of the year. I hope that this will actually be the case, as it would be a real relief.

Otherwise, I spent quite some time today updating a document that was published three weeks ago because some colleagues had forgotten that their topic needed to be covered. It meant changing a few chapters as well as some graphics and I was slightly annoyed about it. But it always happens. You publish something (only online, fortunately) and a few days later someone sends an email “Can we add this and that to the latest document?” and I reply somewhat sarcastically “That latest document that was published three weeks ago?” and they say “Oops… yes, that document.” Next week I will publish that document again, with a note at the beginning listing the changes.

Partner and I have been to a cinema twice this autumn. Once before our vacation to see Dune, and once last Saturday to see the latest James Bond, No Time to Die. With masks and both of us vaccinated. That may have been the last outing until the Corona numbers drop again. I liked Dune but felt that it stopped when things were becoming really interesting (no wonder, since it’s only the first part). As far as I remember the film was fairly true to the novel. I read Dune while I was in college – borrowed the book from the college library and I can remember quite a bit of it (rather strange, since I’m usually not good at remembering details after such a long time). I didn’t even like it all that much. It was too esoteric, I thought, especially the sequels (of which I didn’t read all). I think I’m going to have another go at them as I believe I may like them better this time round. But I’m not starting before next year, because I still have a lot of books to read to achieve the goals that I set for myself this year. As for James Bond: I’ a great fan of the Daniel Craig films, but the ending of this last one was not at all Bond-like. It annoyed the hell out of Partner and me. No details, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Things have been terribly busy at work and I have been too tired at the end of the day to write anything. Last week was especially awful, with escalation meetings on Monday (at least we managed to solve the problem in question – at least for now though hopefully forever) on top of the usual Monday meetings. Then two colleagues called in sick and one was on vacation, so that only myself and another colleague remained to do the work usually done by the five of us. One of the sick colleagues was supposed to be the substitute for the one on vacation. There were a lot of tasks that had to be done, and after they had called in sick for the second day, I had a look at the list and found that things were quite off track. Stuff that should already have been done had been forgotten and of course the tasks for last week also hadn’t yet been done. I spent the rest of week working on those things (and I wasn’t impressed by the substitute – it’s bad luck to be sick, but if you are supposed to be doing a lot of stuff which you can’t do because you’re ill maybe a short mail pointing out that stuff needs doing might be in order). Also, I kind of expected some heartfelt thanks when they returned, but that didn’t materialize either. As I wasn’t as familiar with those tasks as with my usual ones, it took longer and was more tiring. My other two colleagues and I had more of a clue than official substitute, very odd. I’d always suspected that the colleague on vacation did most of the job, now I’m sure. At least this week the sick colleagues are back at work and next week the person on vacation will be back – phew, I’ll be relieved.

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I’ll be on vacation from end of September until the middle of October, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m feeling stressed and fed up with work. A few days away will be lovely. I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up my work as far as possible, so that my colleagues don’t have to do too many things on top of their usual work. Some can’t be avoided, because the tasks can only be done on certain dates during my vacation, but I’ll try to keep everything else down.

Last Friday, Partner and I went shopping for bed sheets and duvet covers at a large furniture store. Partner had a voucher and at the store we won another one, so in sum we had vouchers for € 100. We got three fitted sheets (two for us, one for Mum) and a double set of duvet and pillow covers. While we were there, we looked at the store’s entire selection of couches. Those couches were quite expensive, sometimes ugly, and most of them much too large for our modest-sized living room. We happened to find a set of couches, one for three people and one for two, in red leather (bright, but not too bright). Reduced to half-price because they were sample pieces. Well, while we were at the store, we couldn’t decide if we should buy them or not, but when we returned, we measured where they could go in our living-room and decided that it was an excellent match. Currently we have a three-seat couch and two armchairs. The set is 25 years old. The last seven years have been especially hard on them (otherwise they would still be in good shape), because of Curious Dog. In the end, we decided to buy the red set (our current one is a bright dark green – we like some color in our living-room). I returned to the shop and when I spoke to the salesperson, they gave us an additional discount (which I didn’t even ask for – I mean, the couches were already at half-price). In addition, the delivery is free of charge and our old couch and armchairs will also be removed at no expense. A very nice piece of good luck. The leather should be easier to clean than the weird material of the old couch set. I would have preferred couches not made of leather, but this was a case of a gift horse, so no quibbles. The delivery will be after my vacation in October. Can’t wait.

On the weekend, we watched the last episode of The Underground Railroad. It was a very striking series, really showing the horrors of slavery and how runaway slaves were not safe anywhere. It had an open end, but one could hope that things would improve for the main character. The acting was excellent. I’m very much inclined to read the novel one of these days. The only thing about the series that I disliked was that a lot of the action took place in darkness where you hardly saw anything. It’s just not that much fun watching shadowy shapes poking around in the dark. Maybe it was symbolic or verisimilitude, but still a dark TV screen is just not that great.

Poor Curious Dog has an eye irritation in both eyes. It started on Sunday and became quite pronounced yesterday. The eyes themselves are clear, but the lower lids are slightly swollen with a discharge. Last night, I bathed his eyes with weak black tea (I didn’t have any chamomile) and surprisingly today they are much improved. If they hadn’t improved, a trip to the vet’s would have been necessary. I think he’s been brushing through too much high grass and got seeds into his eyes or perhaps he got some dust into his eyes when I pruned our huge Buddleia bush on the weekend. A very dusty business which Partner can’t do because it causes his hay fever to flare. The Buddleia still needs a lot more pruning. Anyway, I’m glad that CD’s eyes are better and that he’s so good at letting me bathe them.

Next Saturday I have to see an aunt of mine in Düsseldorf, which is about (at least) 3.5 hours away (one way). She’s my last relative on my Dad’s side (his elder sister) and wants me to pick up some tableware from my grandmother. She asked me a few years ago if I wanted to inherit it and I said yes, but now she wants to get rid of it immediately. I’m not really looking forward to the drive, there and back on one day, sevenhours in the car, but it will be nice to see her. We’ve never been very close, because Dad’s relationship with her was rather contentious, but we’ve been keeping in touch by phone for years. Maybe Mum will come along (although she’s not too keen on such a long drive either).

I’ve been reading, but not too much, because of work and other things to do on the weekends. Maybe September will turn out to be a not-so-great reading months, but we shall see.

We’ve been having quite pleasant weather early fall weather. Sometimes already a bit cold, but no rain, and we haven’t had to turn on the furnace yet. The storks we used to watch on our morning walks with CD seem to have left.

Keep safe, world.

Strange Dreams

I planned to start my day as early as on a normal workday on this my free Friday, but the alarm woke me out of deep sleep and disrupted an interesting dream. Like most people (I guess) I only remember my dreams if wake up during the dream or straight afterwards. This dream was a sci-fi apocalypse. A weird explosion on a planet far away was mirrored in the sky of my own planet (could have been Earth, maybe Iceland – why Iceland? Beats me). The image in the sky was the signal for the end of the world. Society fell apart. In the dream I was a teenager, hiding from a mob of looters with a gang of children. We made it away from the looters into a prosperous neighbourhood where nobody had yet an inkling a horde of looters was about to engulf them. In the back of my dreaming mind was the thought that the explosion on the far-away planet could be undone, as there was a time manipulation element to the situation. Then, alas, the alarm woke me, and I don’t know how the dream would have played out. Maybe one of these nights it will resume.

Anyhow, I was still so sleepy that I reset the alarm to give me another 30 minutes, which grew to 45 minutes because I didn’t hear the second alarm. But it didn’t really matter because: Friday. No office on Friday.

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The morning walk with Curious Dog was very pleasant. It was cold, but sunny and promising real warmth later. We’re having beautiful early fall weather. But it was cold enough that I had my first experience of “frozen ears”. For some weird reason my ears are quite sensitive to cold. I’m going to try wearing a light woolen hat tomorrow morning (that will probably be overkill). Today it was only ca. 7°C. It’s cold in the mornings because the nights are clear, there’s no cloud cover.

I meant to get up early to have time to bring some old books and crockery to the Caritas Secondhand shop in the nearest bigger town and go grocery shopping and take the garden rubbish to the local collection point. But I changed my mind about the Secondhand shop. The old books are not in good enough shape, I think, and they are mostly nothing special. It’s probably better to throw most of them into the paper recycling bin. They are from my grandma and are quite musty and mildewy. Only a few are worth keeping or selling. And getting rid of the crockery isn’t urgent. Mum wants to have my cousin look at it when she visits in October. Maybe she’ll be happy to have some of it.

I spent a relaxed afternoon rereading Louise Erdrich’s Tracks. I finished the first read on Thursday, but it’s so good and so dense, I felt it needed another read before I can write a review. It’s only slightly longer than 200 pages but there’s a lot of plot and character development in those pages. Many passages with important info easy to miss on a first reading. Although I often reread books, I don’t usually reread straight after finishing one. This novel is still engrossing on the second read.

I made the mistake of looking at my work emails and found that an issue that was supposed to have been running smoothly has suddenly exploded into a gruesome mess requiring a horrid escalation meeting next Monday. Involving inter-departmental politics. Sigh. That particular issue was already escalated a month ago and should have been solved but has somehow popped up again. Not exactly a great start for next week. But at least there’s still the weekend between now and Monday.

Keep safe, world.

Last Workday

For a change, it was a pleasant sunshiny day. In the morning a light fog, harbinger of worse fogs to come in November. Cool enough to wear an old (very old) fleece jacket on my morning walk with Curious Dog. The path up into the woods was still muddy, the leaves dripping from the fog condensing on their leaves. Spiderwebs outlined with tiny droplets of water. A lovely morning for a walk and the best part of the day (except for the evening walk).

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Luckily, it’s the last day of my work week – I’m quite fed up. I spent half the morning hunting down an error using Excel comparisons which wouldn’t work because the downloaded data contained invisible tab spaces at the end of the strings. A new bug in the download. I think I’m specially fed up with work because I haven’t had a longer break for some time. When was my last vacation? Can’t remember. Good thing I’ve got one coming up in October, but it’s still four weeks until then. But then I still have to organize a lot of things: winter tires for the car, as we are going to the South Tyrolean Alps, road charges to be paid in advance for Austria, keeping an eye on Corona-related travel paperwork (online or otherwise), organizing a set of snow chains (to be on the safe side)… and what not. I can’t help feeling that it would have been simpler to travel to the North Sea or the Baltic as we usually do instead of into the Alps. I also wonder what the Corona situation will be like by October, what with rising numbers all around. Maybe we won’t even be able to go (hope this doesn’t happen).

If already checked that Curious Dog EU pet passport is up to date with all his vaccinations and that he will tolerate a muzzle. He’s very good about wearing one for a short time, but also very good at squirming out of it when he’s had enough. I’m hoping we won’t really need it, but it’s good to be prepared.

One of the cousins can’t join us, because she is working as a primary school teacher while also writing her thesis. So, we’ve invited the boyfriend of the other cousin to come along. Wow, our little cousins now have jobs and boyfriends and aren’t so little anymore. The first time we took the two of them to the seaside, the younger one spent all the trip barfing – it’s a joke now, but it wasn’t at the time. I was really worried about dehydration and such, as she was only 9. Probably it was the excitement of her first vacation with us. One the way back she only threw up once. Well, cousin number two will be travelling in her boyfriend’s car this time, which is quite useful, as otherwise we would have been three people plus one dog plus a lot of luggage in one car. The cousins are incapable of travelling light and we need some provisions, games, book and dog stuff as well. If both cousins had been able to join us, we would have used my car and Partner’s. We’ll meet up at our place in Bavaria first, as it’s a much shorter drive from Bavaria than from Baden-Württemberg or Hessia (which is the German state my cousins are from and, incidentally, where I was born).

This morning I chopped off some of my hair. I haven’t been to a hairdresser since last March, at the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s grown quite long now, but a bit scraggly. I’ve been thinking of making an appointment for getting the ends cut, but I never seem to get around to it. On the spur of the moment, I did it myself. Let’s just say, I wasn’t cut out to be a hairdresser. Fortunately, my hair is still long enough to pin up so that my dreadful cut isn’t noticeable. I’m planning on letting my hair grow until I can put it up in a proper bun and if I still like that style (which I last wore in my early twenties) I will keep it long. Otherwise, I’ll return to my pre-Corona short hair style.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

I’ve been too lazy to post anything for the last two weeks. It’s amazingly easy to get into the habit of not writing and therefore not posting. Today I decided to post something, even if it is only a few sentences, just to get the creative juices flowing again at the end of August, so that my procrastination doesn’t carry over into September.

I stopped posting with my rant about the book I had to read for my book club, Shari Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, so I feel I should let you know what the other book club members thought about it. We had to do an online meeting again, because our host in whose garden we would have met sadly had a terrible family emergency and had to cancel. Our gathering was rather small, only four people, as the other four (or so) couldn’t make it because of one thing or another (mostly, being on holiday). The four of us felt that the book was rather awful, even the person who suggested it (they had thought it would be like an Elizabeth George novel). As I predicted, we had fun slagging all the characters in the book. It wasn’t my turn, but since all the members whose turn it would have been were away, I got to choose the next book, which is Halldór Laxness Fish Can Sing, an Icelandic classic. I’ve been wanting to read something of Laxness’ for a while and I hope this will be a better read than the last few selections. The next club meeting is not until after my vacation in October, so I’m not planning to read it in September.

The weekend of August 21/22, Mum and I visited my aunt and uncle who live in the town where I was born. The aunt is my Mum’s youngest sister and my uncle turned 80 and had a smallish birthday party. So, we drove there on the Saturday and returned on Sunday. Partner stayed home with Curious Dog (it would have been too stressful with CD, although we considered it and Partner was quite happy to stay home, as he detests family parties – not sure why). Before going to our relatives’ house, we made a small detour to my grandmother’s grave (on my father’s side), which I haven’t seen in two years. It was in a rather bad shape – almost overgrown. I need to bribe my cousins to fix it up more often. We tidied it up a bit and later in autumn I’ll ask one of the cousins to check on it again and maybe plant a new plant.

The birthday party was nice. We saw our relatives in person after two years. There were lots of lovely cakes and a nice hot meal at night outside in their large garden in the middle of town. They own a huge timber-frame townhouse from the 18th century, which has an old timber-frame carpenter’s workshop in the backyard that my cousin has fixed up for hobbies or partying in. It could also be turned into another residence, but they don’t need it because the main house is so large. They’ve got a lovely garden with a huge tree and lots of space – amazing, for a town house. Anyway, my uncle was a founding member of one of the town’s marching bands, so the band turned up and played in his honour. It’s kind of cool having a private little concert like that (pretty loud – Curious Dog wouldn’t have liked it). The weather, luckily, was also good – no rain for once.

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After the weekend, Partner had an appointment at his place and left on Monday, so Mum and I decided to also leave early for Bavaria, also on Monday instead of Thursday, as would have been our normal schedule. I took Monday off and we’ve been in Bavaria again since then. We’ve had a couple of nice days, but it’s been raining on and off for at least the last 5 days. Fortunately, I never got caught in a shower on my walks with Curious Dog and tomorrow the weather is supposed to improve for a few days. It’s been rather cold – most of the time while I’m sitting doing home office, I’m wearing a thick woolen jacket. Very unusual for August.

Last Sunday (being now fully vaccinated) I met up with my two best friends in Bavaria. We hadn’t seen each other since late in 2019, so it was great to see each other again. We had spoken on the phone a few times, but that can’t compare with an in-person visit. We met at the house of one friend and had a good gossipy catch-up. We had the first pumpkin cream soup of the season, home-made and delicious (especially, as it was dark, wet and cold outside). My friend had acquired two Canary birds, a blue one (male) and a yellow one (female). They were very cute and flew free in her house. Mostly they perched on bird-sized swings in the window – apparently, they enjoy swinging a lot.

One of my friends is already retired and the other one will retire at the end of the year (they’ll be doing a bit of part-time work still, but mostly retired). Both are older than me. I still have a lot of time till I can retire (unless I win in the lottery). Work has been somewhat quiet as lots of people are on vacation, but also a bit of a pain as I keep having to do this or that for the colleagues on vacation. This year there’s a lot going on, so it’s not possible to just wait until the colleagues return. Still, my colleagues will reciprocate when it’s time for my vacation in early October.

I didn’t have that much time for reading, due to all that driving around and visiting people on the weekends, but I did manage to finish a couple Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels. I’m also reading the next Louise Erdrich novel (Tracks) and continuing with The Tale of Genji. I managed to leave my tablet and thus my Kindle reader at home, so I’m unable to continue with my ebooks (but it doesn’t matter, because I need to catch up on my Genji project).

That’s what the second half of August was like for me.

Keep safe, world.

Daily Rituals

On a mission to read all the books that I bought this year and haven’t read yet, I started with Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Curry. It’s about the working habits of 143 painters, authors, actors, designers, composers and other artists. I got it back in March and I think it was probably suggested to me by Amazon’s algorithm. As I’m interested in how creative people (or anyone really) organize their work and their lives I thought I might as well read it. It was cheap, and it started off with Octavia Butler, one of my favourite authors. So I bought it and then never got round to reading it.

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Well, when I initially started reading, I was irritated, because the profiles of each artist are very short and at first sight appear superficial. But then I got into it and found it interesting and congenial. Naturally, a book about 143 artists can’t go into depth (what was I thinking?), but it does what it set out to do: it gives the reader an insight into the working habits of these women. I read about a lot of creative women I’d never heard of and found their different work habits kind of inspiring for my own life. Some of these habits wouldn’t suit me at all and I’m not half as intense and driven as most of these women, but I can relate. The reports got me thinking about my own talents and how I want to continue to develop them.

What is my greatest talent? I’d say reading. It’s the one thing that I’ve been passionate about all my life. Is reading even a talent? It’s definitively a skill and one can get better at it through practice and challenging oneself. I like reading for pleasure and for a very long time during my working life that’s all I did. This side of my reading doesn’t need improvement (what would that even mean?). I certainly won’t stop reading books for pleasure but I also like reading to learn things and to participate in world culture – in my case with a focus on the humanities, on literature and history, biography and memoir and whatever else strikes my fancy. Sometimes I also read about scientific topics, rather seldom though. I’d like to not only read but get better at thinking critically about the things I read and retaining them. I started the blog to keep a record of the books I read and it also evolved into a kind of journal. The blog is a creative outlet and I’d like to improve my writing skills, too. I’m happy that I’ve managed to keep this blog going for almost two years and I hope to continue with it for a long time. This means, of course, making time for both reading and writing.

Making time for reading doesn’t seem to be terribly difficult for me, but there are some pitfalls. I read at least every morning and each evening in bed, before getting up or going to sleep. But reading at night in bed isn’t great for complicated topics, I’m too tired to concentrate. After work I usually do my blogging (although I usually start during my lunch break) and then from around 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 I hang out with Partner, which I don’t want to change that – my relationship with Partner is important. Also, Curious Dog needs to be walked and played with (also not negotiable). So most of my serious reading time is on the weekend and I’m not particularly well organized. Luckily, I have long weekends, because I don’t work on Fridays. But I still have to do everyday life stuff like cleaning the house, gardening, washing clothes, cooking… whatever. Also, I like just hanging around in a leisurely way on weekends, so I certainly don’t want to organize my weekends to the last minute or hour (sounds gruesome) – I am definitively not as passionate as some of those artists in Daily Rituals. Some of them wouldn’t bat an eye about sacrificing their weekends to their calling. Others got a lot done during short amounts of time.

Making time for writing, well, that could definitively be improved. Somehow, I only seem to manage it on workdays. On weekends and on vacation, other things seem to gobble up all my time. I’ll have to see if I can get myself to do at least some writing during my leisure time.

As you see, I found the book very thought-provoking. It also introduced me to many creative women I hadn’t heard off and reminded me about others. When I’m looking for a new biography or memoir to read, this book will be useful guide to find people with interesting lives.

Some quotes that I liked:

“It’s really all about establishing a flexible routine,” Zittel said in 2017. “Having a pattern helps ensure that you fit everything into a limited amount of time, but too much of a pattern and you get stuck.”

Andrea Zittel (an American artist) in Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 121.

“I enjoy people best if I can be alone much of the time,” Butler said in 1998. “I used to worry about it because my family worried about it. And I finally realized: This is the way I am. That’s that. We all have some weirdness, and this is mine.”

Octavia Butler (sci-fi author), in Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 4.

“The only thing that I do every day is I read something,” Giovanni said. “Even if it’s just the comics pages, I read something. And I say that to my students: I think it’s way more important to read something than it is to write.”

Nikki Giovanni (a poet), Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 180.

I also found Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea (which I haven’t read yet) intriguing. She had a difficult life and a difficult time writing, as I gather from her profile. Near the end of her life she wrote: “Isn’t the sadness of being alone much stressed and the compensations left out?” (Daily Rituals: Women at Work, p. 323).

Curry has written another Daily Rituals book focused on famous men with a smattering of women. I guess it would also be interesting, maybe I’ll check it out sometime.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Poor Curious Dog had to be content with just one walk yesterday, in the morning (the morning walk is the longest) and a bit of playing in the garden in the evening instead of another walk. After working until 5 p.m., I had to go grocery shopping. As we’d arrived on Sunday when the shops in Germany are usually all closed, we didn’t have any fresh food in the house. I don’t like grocery shopping on Mondays, because the produce section in the supermarket is usually still depleted from the preceding Saturday which a lot of people use for their weekly shopping trip. By the time I got back home, it was 6 p.m. I called Partner so we could check up on each other and then we had dinner and after dinner I was too tired for a walk. So, I just threw CD’s ball for him to chase a few times and I guess he was happy (at least he didn’t keep nudging me to take him for his walk).

We had a nice walk this morning, and a short walk in the late afternoon. The weather was very changeable, foggy and cool at 10°C in the morning, sunny later on, then some showers, then sunny again… Autumn-like in the morning, April-like the rest of the day.

It’s holiday time and colleagues are on vacation – the time of strange out-of-office replies. Yesterday I sent a mail to a few colleagues as a reminder that they needed to publish some documents later this week and promptly got an out-of-office reply from one of them. It just said “I’m on vacation, please expect a delay in my reply”. What a useless message: it didn’t say when they would be back or who would take over their tasks in their absence. I had to check their online calendar which told me that they wouldn’t be back in time and then I had to find out in the content management system who else was assigned to the document so that I could to delegate the publication task to someone else. Luckily that person was available. Once, a few years ago, someone wrote in their out-of-office reply that they were on vacation until such and such a time and that if the emails sent to them during their absence were still relevant on their return, the senders should resend them. Obviously, they planned to delete all the unread mails in their inbox once they were back in the office. This caused a bit of a scandal and we had a session in our team meeting on how to correctly maintain out-of-office replies (although that odd message wasn’t written by anyone in my direct team). Secretly, we probably all felt that it would be great to delete one’s unread emails after one’s vacation. Depending on the length of the vacation, there are usually hundreds to plow through (and quite a few of them are no longer relevant). The joys of office work!

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As for my restarted Yoga practice: I didn’t do any Yoga on the weekend, as I didn’t have time since we had visitors. On Sunday, I would’ve had time after we arrived in Bavaria, but I didn’t think of it. Monday was really tiring, and I didn’t have a suitable time (you can’t do Yoga after dinner on a full stomach, which was the only time I would’ve had). So today was the first time since Thursday. It went reasonably well. I think I remembered all the poses – after having lugged my Yoga instruction book to Bavaria every time for years, now that I’ve actually started doing it again, I promptly forgot to bring it. I’m still pretty stiff (no wonder, since I’ve only been doing the poses a few times so far), but I feel energized afterwards.

I had a very productive workday today. Only one meeting so lots of time to review those documents that have to be done this week. Only one more to go tomorrow and some fixes and follow-ups. Not a lot of meetings tomorrow either, so I might be able to get that last one crossed off, too. Then Thursday for a few left-over odds and ends and I’ll be finished a whole week before the deadline. It won’t matter if my second Corona vaccination takes me out of commission for a couple of days next week (which I sincerely hope it won’t). Partner is feeling tired but otherwise fine after his vaccination yesterday.

Keep safe, world.

Optimizing Health and Productivity

Have I mentioned that I’m a health freak and that I like optimizing my workday to get things done as efficiently as possible to avoid overwork and anxiety about work? I recently found a YouTube channel that talks about these types of topics. I’ve only watched one video (episode 28), a kind of summary of the videos shown since the channel started earlier this year. Having watched it, I believe I will follow up with the other episodes, to get a more in-depth view of the main ideas. The channel belongs to Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University: Huberman Lab.

Huberman has what he calls protocols to incorporate scientific insights into daily life, 17 of which he mentions in the contest of a day (because the circadian rhythm is crucial for a healthy and productive life). I’m going to list the gist of them and how I may or may not be able to integrate them into my life (some of them I’m doing already anyway and others would have to be tweaked – Huberman encourages personal tweaking). But the full video / podcast is very interesting, and I encourage you to watch it (it’s quite long but well worth your time).

1) Record your daily wake-up time to determine your temperature minimum.

What’s the temperature minimum? It’s the time in each 24 hours that the body temperature is lowest and typically occurs 2 hours before your wake-up time. The temperature itself is not important in this context.

This sounds interesting and I will do it (it’s also easy to do). I usually wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. but I’ve never taken note of it. This info will be needed for at least one of the later protocols.

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2) After waking up, take a walk.

When you walk (or move forward on a bike, for instance) you get something called optic flow. You see your surroundings moving past and you get lateral eye movements. The optic flow has a calming effect on your nervous system (specifically the amygdala).

I don’t walk straight after getting up, but I do walk with Curious Dog straight after breakfast. Huberman says 10 to 15 minutes is enough, but CD likes a longer walks so it’s usually around 45 minutes for me.

3) Get morning sunlight (basically, you already get if you follow protocol 2).

This is good for your circadian rhythm and specially needed to trigger a small but important rise in cortisol. It makes you alert.

Don’t use blue light filters in the morning, as blue light serves to wake you up if you can’t get sunlight (although sunlight is better).

4) Hydrate properly.

Huberman drinks 0.5 to 0.9 litres of water with a little salt straight off after returning from his morning walk. It’s supposed to improve cognitive performance.

Well, because I know that one gets dehydrated during the night, I drink a cup of herbal tea or water before I get up, but that’s only about 250 ml. I can try to up this and see how it works out, but I think I’ll stay with 0.5 litres.

5) Delay tea or coffee until 90 to 120 minutes after getting up.

This is to avoid a caffeine crash in the early afternoon that you may get if you drink black tea or coffee early in the day.

I usually have my first cup of black tea at breakfast. I guess I could try postponing it and see if it has any effect. I don’t usually have a pronounced afternoon slump.

6) Fast until noon.

This is supposed to make you alert, calm and focused, with a better learning experience. Huberman drinks Yerba Mate and Guayusa tea (whatever that is) and some kind of smoothie that I didn’t quite catch.

Definitively not going there. I have porridge with fruits and nuts for breakfast and would probably drop dead on the morning walk with Curious Dog if I didn’t eat anything beforehand. And I usually need a snack midmorning (I could try going without).

7) Facilitate “deep work” – a kind of flow state.

You should do 90-minute bouts of work because the brain goes through 90-minute so-called ultradian cycles. 90 minutes is about the normal length of time you can work in a focused way, although there are ups and downs in that time. It’s useful to set a timer and keep distractions to a minimum. Maybe use low-level white noise to get into the flow state. And here’s also where your temperature minimum comes in: Your best 90 minutes will come 4 to 6 hours after your temperature minimum.

Some of Huberman’s tips: looking up makes you more alert therefore you should place your monitor (if you are an office worker) so that you look up at it or at least straight at it, not down. I’ve gone and sat my monitor on a few large books to elevate it. Looking down all day is supposed to make you sleepy and the same goes for reclining: sit up instead.

In the afternoon you will be most alert during the time of steepest temperature rise (although I can’t remember if Huberman said how to find out when that is. I’m guessing it’s after lunch).

Huberman believes that we can only do two 90-minute cycles of real deep work each day. The rest of the workday can be spent on less taxing jobs (replying to emails, meetings, and such). I tend to agree with him from my work experience. The trick is to make sure that those 90-minute slots aren’t filled with busy work or annoying meetings (sometimes hard to do at work – people aren’t going to cater to my predilections). I’m going to try if I can do this at least some of the time (well, I kind of try it already, but sometimes lose sight of it). I’ve heard this theory about the 90-minute slots before.

8) Get optimal exercise.

This is apparently a ratio of 3:2 strength training to endurance training for 12 weeks and then the other way round for the next 12 weeks. You should exercise for about an hour every day for at least 5 days a week. Huberman talked a lot about the ins and outs of this protocol, but I’m not doing it.

Walking with Curious Dog twice a day is enough exercise for me. It’s more than an hour and I haven’t got time for more – and if I did try to do something else, I’d do yoga.

9) Have your first meal around noon.

And then don’t eat too much, especially not starchy carbohydrates, as that will make you sleepy in the early afternoon.

Lunch is my second meal of the day and it’s usually fairly light, because we cook dinner at night. As I mentioned above, I’m not dropping breakfast. Huberman mentions that a short walk after lunch is good for one’s metabolism. I used to do this when I still went to the office, but now that I walk with Curious Dog twice a day, I’ve dropped the after-lunch walk. I don’t think I’ll start it again.

10) Make sure your testosterone and estrogen are in balance.

I’ve no idea about the status of my hormones and am just going to assume that everything is fine (this was too complicated for me).

11) 10 minutes of non-sleep deep rest after lunch (good for everything).

With this Huberman means meditation, yoga nidra, or hypnosis. Apparently, hypnosis allows you to steer your brain towards specific outcomes, like gaining a greater ability to more focus. He mentioned a free-of charge app that you can use to do hypnosis. I’m into meditation already (and will not stop it) and I do think I may try out the hypnosis app (you can find details about it under his YouTube video linked above).

Update, July 14, 2021: The app didn’t work on my Android smartphone. Maybe my phone is too old…

12) Hydrate properly.

See protocol 4. I can’t remember how much one is supposed to drink after lunch, but just do as seems best.

13) View late afternoon and evening light to support sleep.

This help to balance your melatonin and serves as a buffer to mitigate bright light at night (which you should avoid according to Huberman).

I do this anyway on my afternoon walk with Curious Dog.

14) Eat a dinner that promotes calm sleep.

This means eating starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) with veggies and protein. The carbohydrates promote the creation of serotonin, which calms you right down.

We do that already. As we are vegan, we eat a lot of carbs. And we have dinner in the evening, so that works out.

15) Optimize falling and staying asleep.

A warm bath or shower (or sauna) helps you to fall asleep faster, as the body then works harder to cool down. Cooling down is a prerequisite for sleep. You should also keep you room dark and cool.

I don’t usually shower at night, but I may try it. My bedroom is dark, but pretty warm in summer (nothing I can do about that). Huberman also mentions a few supplements that one could take to facilitate sleep, but I’ve not noted them down. I don’t need them.

16) Prevent middle of the night waking.

I wake up once or twice each night, but usually don’t have a problem going back to sleep. I don’t think I can change this, so I didn’t take notes about this bit of advice.

17) Use your weekend correctly.

Here he says that you can use the weekend to catch up on rest and relaxation, but you should ideally wake up and go to sleep at the same time as during the week, so as not to disrupt your schedule too much.

I know about this, but I still tend to sleep longer during the weekend. By the end of it, I have trouble falling asleep at the usual time because I’m not at all tired. But I don’t feel that it’s particularly bad so therefore won’t change my behavior.

I’ve really shortened these points. If you are interested in detailed scientific explanations, you should look up Huberman’s channel. He’s got extra videos on each of the topics (or almost all of them, I didn’t check) as well as his summary video.

On another note, it’s been raining all afternoon and I’ve just had a pleasant late afternoon walk with Curious Dog (that’s no. 13 nailed for today). 🙂

Keep safe, world