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

The Beet Queen (and Stuff)

This novel is the second in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine series. There are eight novels in the series and one of my reading goals for 2021 is to read all of them. It’s already June and I’ve only read two – I’d better get a move on. I enjoyed this novel as much as I did the first one, Love Medicine.

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The Beet Queen is set in the same universe, with at least two characters who also appear in the first novel (Eli Kashpaw, a minor character in this novel, and Dot Adare). The novel tells the stories of the major characters from the 1930s until the early 1970s. You could say that there’s a trio of women at the heart of the novel, Mary Adare, Sita Kozka, and Celestine James. Mary and Sita are cousins, Celestine is their friend. The reader sees them from their own and other’s perspectives (this is also the case for other characters – the cast is again quite large, involving at least three families).

The novel starts out with the death of “Mr. Ober” with whom Adelaide Adare lives as his mistress. They have three children, Karl, Mary and Jude (who is born after Mr. Ober’s death). When Mr. Ober dies in a freak accident, Adelaide and her children lose their home and their provider. They try to keep their heads above water by selling their valuables, but that doesn’t work for long. Adelaide is unable to cope and weirdly leaves her children at a fairground. She flies off with a pilot, Omar, who’s giving rides in his small aeroplane. The baby is kidnapped by a young man who wants him for his wife, as they recently lost their baby. Mary and Karl are left behind and decide to find their aunt Fritzie, Adelaide’s sister. They ride on a freight train as hitchhikers to the town where Fritzie lives, but before they get to her house, Karl and Mary are separated.

Karl returns to the train and lives with various people for a time until he finally ends up in a Catholic school for orphans. Later he turns into an itinerant salesman. He has affairs with lots of people, both women and men.
Mary is taken in by her aunt and uncle who own a butcher’s shop. She makes herself indispensable and eventually takes over the shop. Her cousin Sita is jealous of Mary (although she is not interested in the shop). She introduces Mary to Celestine James, her best friend, and is then jealous again, when the two also become friends.

The novel is episodic, jumping in chronological order from one character’s story to the next. Their lives are sometimes mundane, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. Later in the novel, Celestine has a short affair and marriage with Karl (who, however, soon departs again) and has a daughter, Wallacette “Dot” Adare. Wallacette is named after Wallace Pfef, who saved Celestine’s life and helped with the birth during a snowstorm. Wallace also had an affair with Karl. Soon Mary’s and Celestine’s as well as Wallace’s lives revolve around Dot, whom they spoil rotten (at least, from their perspective). We only get one chapter, the last one, from Dot’s point-of-view, which, however, gives us a much more sympathetic view of her character.

The novel again creates a web of people and circumstances. I think it’s funnier than I remember Love Medicine being. Especially the last section that deals with the Sugar Beet Festival organized by Wallace Pfef, who manipulates the votes for the Sugar Beet Queen so that Dot, who otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance, is selected. He thinks this will build her self-confidence (talk about good intentions…). It turns into a terribly embarrassing (though quite funny) failure and Dot’s chapter explains all the horrific and funny circumstances from her point-of-view, which is quite different from the other characters’ view of her. All the main characters come together for the festival; one of them doesn’t survive – darkly funny.

As I said, I really enjoyed the novel, on the same level as Love Medicine, they are both very good.

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I wrote this post yesterday and finished the Word version (I always write my post ins Word first), but then never got around to posting. Work is currently totally stressful because everything is in panic mode as all sorts of things aren’t working. I spend half my days coming up with workarounds and analyzing issues with my colleagues and am then totally exhausted for the rest of my work hours (not to mention all the meetings the situation triggers).

My Partner is still at his place, trying to find out what to do about the optic fibre cable that his house is supposed to be hooked up to for improved internet access. The builders either turn up when he’s not home or say they will come around on a certain day and then never show up, and now apparently a new company is responsible, for which Partner hasn’t got any contact info (yet, hopefully). Now he’s trying to find someone responsible for the planning with local administration – good luck with that. He’s not here and I miss him. It also means that I have to do the cooking, grocery shopping and dog walks by myself in addition to work. Partner usually cooks on workdays and having to do it myself is a pain (though Mum helps). And yesterday I also had to clean up the basement room where the oil tank and furnace lives, as I got this year’s oil delivery today. I didn’t want the poor delivery guy to have to battle his way through lots of spider webs around the one window which is the entry point for the oil hose. I was finished with all that stuff by 9:00 p.m. yesterday but then couldn’t face any more time at my desk to post.

We’ve been having rather violent thunderstorms at night for the last couple of day. Mum and I left Bavaria for my place on Sunday morning, and luckily only had a bit of rain on the way. The storms and the rain have ended the heat wave and we are now back to a pleasant 20°C to 26°C for the next few days (as predicted, hope the prediction comes true). Much more to my taste, and better for Curious Dog too. Last week we went for our afternoon walk in the early evening when the sun had disappeared behind the hills on the horizon. It was much too hot earlier. I hope our place in Bavaria wasn’t too badly hit by the storms, but I guess if the roof had been blown off (or something else awful had happened) our neighbours would have called. It’s quite nerve-wracking watching the storm fronts on my weather app and wondering what’s happening in reality.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

We’re back at my place after having stayed at the family home in Bavaria last week. We drove back on Sunday, and it was a bit of a pain. First we had to drive the long diversion that has been in place for a few weeks on the country roads, and then, when we were on the Autobahn, we couldn’t cross from one to the other Autobahn, because the junction was closed for roadworks. We had to continue on the original Autobahn, till the next exit, then drive back in the other direction and then get on the motorway we needed to be on. If the junction remains closed, I will really have to take the longer route alternative route that doesn’t involve changing motorways. It can’t take longer than all these other diversions. At least it was Sunday, and not much traffic.

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The week in Bavaria was very wet and windy. Usually, it stayed dry in the mornings, so that Curious Dog and I could finish our long morning walk without getting wet. In the afternoons one shower followed another, but we usually managed to time a shorter walk in between the downpours. We also had thunderstorms and one extended hailstorm although the hailstones were smallish (between pea and chickpea size). I used the snow shovel to clear a doorway where the wind had piled them up.

I took Wednesday afternoon off work because I wanted to get some plants for our garden and worked on Friday morning instead (it worked out perfectly, as I had a task that needed to be done then). Mom stayed at home with Curious Dog, as we were worried about thunderstorms. We didn’t want him to be alone during one, because he hates them. It would have been a nice outing for Mum, the first for ages, but we’ll check out a garden centre here in Baden-Württemberg one of these days. I only meant to buy the plant we usually put on our family’s grave, but I got (slightly) carried away. I got the flowering plant for the graveyard, a red Mandevilla (also known as rocktrumpet according to Wikipedia). It’s only lasts for one summer since it doesn’t tolerate cold, but it survives without regular watering, has nice flowers, and it doesn’t get eaten by slugs (a big problem – lots of lovely plants are apparently the favourite food for slugs). I also got a couple of sweet potato plants for our garden, in the hope that they will survive without much supervision. A few years ago, we had a very respectable harvest from just two plants (but Mum was still living in Bavaria at the time and looking after the garden). I also bought a couple of lavender plants, one of which we also planted on the grave, in the hopes that it will keep the ants away. They keep building small ant heaps in one corner of the grave plot although they have the adjacent woods to colonize. It’s very annoying that they seem to prefer the grave plot. Then I got a small rosemary plant to replace the big bush that didn’t survive the winter. Removing the old rosemary bush was quite the chore. It had deep roots and was hard to pull and dig out. Lastly, I picked up a small hazelnut bush (only about 50 cm high) and a small Greek tea plant (it intrigued me and was described to need little water). Quite a few new plants and lots of clean-up to do in our garden, but it rained almost all the time and we didn’t get round to it during the week.

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We ended up planting the grave and new plants in the garden on Saturday morning, when it luckily didn’t rain. So, we spent until noon doing gardening, then had a longish lunch break and then I vacuumed the house and cleaned the bathroom while Mum baked a cake to take with us and did the kitchen. We were quite exhausted by the end of the day. When we return to Bavaria in June, I’m planning to take most of the week off, so that I can do some work helping Mum in the garden (before it gets completely out of hand). I’m too lazy to do it after work (and after two walks with Curious Dog) and it’s too much to do all of it on the weekends (certainly for me – I need my weekends at least partly for reading).

I had to pull myself together last Saturday. Spending all day gardening and cleaning the house wasn’t very appealing, but I didn’t want to spend all day in a bad mood. So, whenever I felt myself getting annoyed, I mentally talked myself out of it. It was quite effective, being mindful in that way. I actually had fun and felt accomplished at the end of the day. Also, I managed to do some reading during our lunch break and at night, aided by the fact that I hadn’t procrastinated on cleaning the bathroom until I had to do it in the evening. I hope I manage to keep this mindset about chores going now that we are back at my place. It’s weird how small things can derail my mood if I let them, but it’s also strange how I can stop myself from spiraling into a bad mood if I work at it. Mindfulness and meditation help me to control my mood, but they don’t do so automatically, unfortunately. I have to work at it. I don’t hate gardening or cleaning per se, but I dislike it when they take up most of the day. I often think that when I am retired, these tasks will no longer be a problem, I’ll just allocate a certain time each day to them and spend the rest of my time with whatever interests me, because I will have so much more time… But who knows what the future will bring? I have to live in the present. The present needs gardening and cleaning as well as more pleasurable things. I might as well like those chores and do them well and quickly, without procrastination and grumbling. Sooner said than done, though.

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Monday was a day off, Pentecost Monday (or Whitsun). It was lovely and relaxed. The weather was nice (for once). It started out sunny and soon became overcast but didn’t rain. It was very warm for our cold May, 20°C. Today it’s raining again, very windy (a level two storm warning), and cold for May, only about 12°C. I wore a thick long-sleeved T-shirt and my woolen shawl while working at my desk to keep me from shivering. At least we didn’t get wet during the walks with Curious Dog. I think I’ve worn a short-sleeved T-shirt only once this spring. Still, no doubt it will get warmer soon, and then I’ll be complaining about the heat. All that rain is beneficial for the soil (it was well wet when we were planting our new plants, not just a couple of centimeters at the top).

Yesterday we started watching The Underground Railroad on Amazon Prime. It’s based on Colson Whitehead’s novel of the same name about slaves escaping from their inhuman slaveholders in the American south using a real underground railroad. An escape from slavery narrative with fantasy elements. The series is very powerful (so far) and makes me want to read the novel. So far, I’ve only read The Intuitionist by Whitehead which I once proposed for my book club. It was good, but I think that I’d like The Underground Railroad even better.

On a lighter note, we continued watching The Bad Batch on Disney+ and The Clone Wars. Very entertaining in the usual Star Wars way. In the evening, we watched a Tatort (on Monday, instead of Sunday, because Monday was a public holiday). On Sunday they showed a rerun, which we didn’t watch. Anyway, the Tatort, episode “Neugeboren” (“Newborn”) was set in Bremen and introduced a new cast for that city, three police detectives: Mads Andersen (played by Dar Salim), Linda Selb (Luise Wolfram) and Liv Moormann (Jasna Fritzi Bauer). It was about a murder and a missing baby and how it all tied together. Not bad. The character of Linda Selb reminds me of a slightly down-toned version of Sherlock Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Not as zany and anti-social, but similar.

I did manage some reading on the long weekend. Not as much as I could have but for gardening and cleaning and driving places: C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism and John Bayley, Elegy for Iris. The latter describes the marriage of Bayley with Murdoch, the famous writer, and how he dealt with her decline into Alzheimer’s. Both books were excellent. I hope to write a review of them in a future post.

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.

Monday Miscellanea

Nothing much has been happening. It’s still lockdown, with no end in sight because of the danger of the new mutated virus strains. The numbers are falling, but there’s the concern that they will rise again quickly if the lockdown is opened too soon.

Work has been going on as usual so far, but the near future will see a sharp uptick in the frequency we have to publish updates to our document. We will be having a team workshop (online, of course) this week to consider all the projects and tasks we need to cover. It seems rather clear to me that we have too many projects and not enough people on my team for all the work. I’m afraid I’ll be saddled with something that I haven’t got much interest in and I also think that I have enough to do anyway, especially with the upcoming frequency increase. Maybe I should volunteer for something ahead of time so that at least it’ll be something I would like to work on, but I do think that I have enough on my plate without asking for more. Perhaps I should just sit tight and wait and see.

The weekend was pleasant with warm and mostly wet weather. All the walks and all the fields around here are soaked and muddy. The other day, while taking Curious Dog for his afternoon walk, we came up to a pedestrian underpass to the railway and found it flooded. Because I didn’t want to return the way we had come, I opted to go through a path in the fields. It was soggy and muddy and at one point, not sure if it was because CD was pulling on the leash as usual, I slipped and landed on my hands and knees. I didn’t hurt myself; it was a soft landing in the mud. But oh, the mess!

Today it is snowing and temperatures for the next ten days or so are to drop to 5-10°C (or lower, although I don’t believe that will happen here). The northern part of Germany is already covered in heaps of snow. There’s been an influx of freezing arctic air and conditions are chaotic. It’s snowing here too (we’re in southern Germany, nearer the middle than to the far south). Usually we don’t get much snow at all. If we are lucky, we’ll get 10 cm this time. It doesn’t seem to have snowed much at our place in Bavaria, which is lucky, because otherwise I’d have been worried. It did snow a lot at Partner’s place, but not as much as he feared. It’s very odd that after two years of hardly any Winter temperatures at all, suddenly, on top of Corona, we also get a colder Winter. I read an article today that explained that this weather was due to climate change in the arctic. Some airstream that keeps the cold artic air up North has weakened and allowed it to stream South, to us. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops in the next few days.

On Saturday, while it was still warm, with wind from the Mediterranean, we had lots of clouds and a weird, slightly yellowish light outside. It was a bit as though it was going to start snowing, except that it was too warm. During the night it rained, and the next morning everything outside was covered in a thin layer of yellow dust. My skylight is quite dirty with it, but it’s too cold to clean. The yellow dirt is dust from the Sahara. We do occasionally get dusty air from Africa, but this weekend it was quite noticeable. So, first a blast from the desert, and now a blast from the arctic.

Other than watching and pondering the weather escapades, I did a bit of reading and a bit of watching TV. Partner and I watched the last episode of The Expanse, which ended on a cliff-hanger. Looking forward to the next season. We also watched the Amazon production Bliss, with Selma Hayek. A waste of time. A very odd Matrix-like sci-fi film, not particularly diverting and not very logical.

Partner tried out a couple of new recipes which were a great success. A red cabbage dish where the chopped cabbage was cooked with red lentils and flavoured with a bit of vinegar and soy sauce (also salt, pepper, some sugar). The lentils seemed to disappear but gave a lovely silken texture to the cabbage dish. And a new type of tomato sauce with crumbled smoked tofu with rice, also very nice. On Sunday, I made my mushroom, carrot, and kidney bean stew in dark beer sauce, of which enough was left for today, which is always great. I also baked some oak cookies, but they turned out rather chewy.

Partner and I also played our Settlers of Catan card game again, which Partner won. That makes it twice in a row. But it doesn’t matter who wins, it’s a fun game. Anyway, that was our weekend. A lot of preoccupation with the weather and otherwise quite restful. I even managed to get some housekeeping done, without overdoing it.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

After a restful long vacation, I’m back at work. As I had checked my e-mails a few times during my vacation (although I didn’t answer any) I didn’t have an overflowing inbox. There weren’t many e-mails between the December 24 and January 6 as that is a quiet time when lots of people are out-of-office and the other ones I had read and filed or deleted. There were only about five e-mails that contained things to follow up on. I’ve already done that and have caught up on upcoming deadlines. Now I have an overview what needs doing in the next few weeks. Nothing extraordinary, the same old tasks as last year.

During my vacation, I did a lot of reading, walking with Curious Dog and Partner, and playing Settlers of Catan in a two-person version that we had been given for Christmas. It was fun. We haven’t tried out all the possible variants of the game yet, but the ones we have tried were very good. It seems that the game works in such a way that it’s a very even competition between the two players right up until the end. That’s nice, because one player can’t end up totally under the other one’s thumb – that would be boring for the loser. On Sunday, for instance, Partner won, but I would have won if I’d had another turn.

Walking with Curious Dog has been interesting. We’ve had a lot of wet and muddy but not very cold weather so that CD was covered in dirt after each walk. We’ve also had a couple of walks in snow or in freezing cold with the mud all frozen (and therefore a clean CD at the end of the walks). Last weekend we took our usual walk through the woods, where we hadn’t been for a few weeks as a lot of logging was going on before and after Christmas. That was a nightmare, as it turned out that the downhill path was totally covered in ice (frozen slush). We had a dreadful time until we got back on even, ice-free streets in the town. I guess we should have turned back at the beginning, but we thought it would get better. That walk is now out-of-bounds until the ice has melted.

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The news from the US has been shocking. I hope the inauguration of President Biden will go ahead peacefully and that things will improve. News from the Corona front is also awful, what with the new, even more contagious forms of the virus. I’m wondering what the German governments on state and federal level will decide today about new restrictions. Just as there was new hope with the availability of the vaccines, we now have the new evil of the mutated virus to contend with.

My aunt, who is in hospital getting a replacement hip, is also experiencing nasty setbacks. After her hip replacement surgery was done, she tore a ligament in that leg (which is apparently a fairly common adverse effect) and had to be operated on twice more. She’s now waiting to move from the hospital back into rehabilitation, which will hopefully happen next week. But if everything had gone well, she would have been able to go home next week. All this time (about four weeks), nobody has been allowed to visit her, which has been very difficult for my uncle and my cousins. However, my cousin has just let us know that by appealing to the hospital authorities’ humanity she has managed to get them to agree to a visit by my uncle. That’s great news. I’m sure that will cheer up my aunt and uncle. Hope it won’t be just one visit (but even one visit is heartening) and that my aunt will do well in rehab.

On Thursday this week Mum and I will be returning to Bavaria for our week at our house, while Partner is leaving to check up on his. Our usual practice. We keep in isolation in our old family homes just like we do here in Baden-Württemberg (where I rent a place, for work reasons). No changed lifestyle, no new contacts, so no greater risk of getting infected with Corona. I hope we won’t have to cancel our stay in Bavaria because of new restrictions, but I don’t really believe such travel will be prohibited. In Bavaria, one has to wear FFP2 masks (without a valve) when using public transport (which I’m not doing) or going shopping. Partner has already organized some. They are quite a snug fit and my glasses don’t fog up much when I’m wearing one of those which is a useful side-effect. However, they can only be reused a few times, which is a pain. I hate creating extra garbage. But I guess in this case it is necessary and, as I only go shopping about twice a week, I won’t be needing many (and you can reuse them a few times if you let them dry out for a few days or bake them at 80°C in the oven).

I need to check up when I can get an appointment for Mum’s vaccination. As she is 82, she is eligible for a vaccination, but as seniors in nursing homes are being vaccinated first and the vaccine is still in short supply, I’m guessing it will be a few weeks until she can receive it. I’m worried that she may have an adverse reaction, as she is very prone to experiencing those whenever she has to take medication.

Earlier in January, I posted that the Corona restrictions weren’t that much of an issue for my Partner, Mum and I, as we are all quite introverted and deal well with the restrictions, but currently, the situation is really depressing as the numbers of infected people and the deaths keep rising. I hope the lockdown here and in other countries will start showing some decided effects soon.

Keep safe, world

Monday Miscellanea

I’ve been in Bavaria with Mum and Curious Dog since the afternoon of December 10 and most of the time it has been foggy and dingy, with only about two afternoons when the sun managed to disperse the fog. But out I went every day anyway with Curious Dog for our walks and it was always quite pleasant. Rather unseasonably mild just a few degrees about 0°C. One afternoon, I saw three deer on a slope in the woods above our path. The deer and I looked at each other for some minutes before they leapt away. They blended in very well with the shades of brown of the trees and I only noticed them because CD was staring at them first. He didn’t bark and he didn’t try to chase them (well, as he was on leash he couldn’t have, but he didn’t even try). That was a nice experience.

A few weeks ago, when I was still at my place, I saw a grey heron in a field by the side of the road hunting for insects or frogs as I was driving by on my way to the shops. On the way back, it had been run over by a car and was dead. That was horrible and I’m still sad when I think about it today. I really hate that so many animals fall prey to traffic. Whenever I see such a tragedy, I always start musing about driving less, but it’s not practical. Here in the countryside in Bavaria, with spotty public transport, it would be a nightmare to do one’s grocery shopping per bus. You’d need half a day at least for one trip. Public transport tends to be good in cities, but rudimentary in the country in Germany. So, I have to continue using my car, but maybe when I retire and have more time, I’ll either move to a small town where I can do my shopping on foot or by public transport or perhaps I’ll get a freight bike. In the meantime, I try to drive carefully and am glad that I’ve not killed many animals myself (although a lot of luck is involved – a lot of times you just can’t help it). I once hit a blackbird who didn’t survive and once I had a close shave with a deer (that was years ago, and I still remember how shocked I was). The deer jumped into the fender of my car from the side, coming up out of a ditch. But I was driving very slowly through what was a dark and foggy night. I braked and swerved, and the deer ran off. There were no marks on the car which made me believe that the deer probably only got a bruise (if anything). But I was super shaky for a couple of hours afterwards.

On a more positive note, I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve finished all the novels by Dickens that I still wanted to read this year, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. I read a book for my book club and another non-fiction one for fun. I also read the two Toni Morrison novels still on my list (Home and God Help the Child). I want to write reviews for most of these and will hopefully manage to get started on them this week. Despite this progress I don’t think that I’ll get to all the books I mentioned in my End of the Year Book Tag post. I’ve been doing most of my reading at the weekends, when I was also baking some Christmas cookies, shopping and cleaning. So, I’m quite happy with what I’ve read so far in December, and I enjoyed it all.

I was incredibly busy last week with work. Lots of quality checks and end-of-the-year tasks. I was absolutely knackered at the end of each day and not up to blogging or even reading – I just nodded off in front of the TV. This week, I’m working today, tomorrow, and on Wednesday and then will be on vacation until January 17. So, lots of time for reading, watching films, playing games with Partner (once we are back at my place on December 31). I usually get lots of reading done in those weeks at the beginning of the year. After all, the weather will probably be wet and cold and this year there’s the lockdown. So, a good time to curl up with a good book, some hot tea and some left-over Christmas cookies. It’ll be great, I’m really looking forward to it. I love having a long break at the end of the year to wind down and get fresh energy for the new year and I usually save up my vacation days for it.

Corona infection numbers in Germany are still increasing despite the lockdown in place (it hasn’t been long enough). It seems that the first vaccines will be available at the end of December for residents of retirement or nursing homes. Mutti, at 82, will be eligible for a shot soon. I just hope that she will tolerate it well. She tends to have strange reactions to medications. I’m also not sure how it will work. I guess we’ll have to get the shot here in Bavaria as this is Mum’s main place of residence and so I expect her notification will be sent here. But it will take some weeks till all the elderly are vaccinated and I’m sure we’ll organize it somehow. Anyway, the vaccination is a ray of light in these times.

One of Mum’s sisters (my aunt) is in hospital, having just received an artificial hip. She’s spending Christmas in rehab and so far she’s not allowed any visitors. Mum calls her every day. She’s doing well, except for the loneliness and the boredom. Her husband is allowed to drop of things, but he’s not allowed to see her. That’s hard for them. I hope my aunt continues to do well and will be able to return home soon.

Brexit isn’t going well. There’s still no trade deal agreed on between the UK and Europe. Things remain interesting, but even with a deal it will be sad to see Britain leaving the EU at the end of the year. Without a deal, I can’t imagine the chaos. Worse than the current chaos at the borders because of the travel ban because of the mutated Corona virus in the UK? No doubt, we shall see.

Keep safe, world

Monday Miscellanea

Last week we had a bit of snow. About 10 cm Tuesday morning. It was rather wet and only lasted for a day or two (except for some traces here and there) but we did get one or two nice walks with Curious Dog in the snow. The first morning started with traffic chaos. A lorry had slid across the road up on the hill and all the traffic was backed up though the town. Good thing I’m doing home office and didn’t need to drive anywhere. A very common occurrence at the beginning of winter.

The rest of the week was dark and cloudy, wet and muddy. Curious Dog’s undercarriage (that is, his paws, legs, and belly) is always wet and muddy. After each outing, we mess up one of his towels. Good thing I washed them all the week before last and fortunately we have quite a lot. Whenever any of our towels start becoming threadbare, they are relegated to dog-towel-dom until they fall to pieces completely.

I got on with my end of the year book list and finished Ready Player One and Two and Oliver Twist. As always seems to happen when I read one of Dickens’ novels, I like Oliver Twist a lot more than I’d anticipated. I will write a review. I also managed to get some Christmas presents for Cousins 1 and 2 and one for Partner. This is entirely due to Partner putting pressure on me, because he’d already got his presents for Cousins 1 and 2 and wants to post the package as soon as possible, probably tomorrow. I taped up some reused Amazon cardboard boxes last night. Our packages are always covered in reams of masking tape, because that’s the only tape I’ve got at home. And I’m always scared that something will fall out of the package if I go easy on the tape. The tape is left over from when we painted our rooms two years ago (and didn’t paint as much as we meant to). But after having taped up these two packages, the masking tape stock is now almost gone, and I will have to remember to get some proper tape soon (the paper, not the plastic kind). Anyway, this will be the soonest we’ve ever managed to send off our Christmas packages. Usually, I send them off a couple of days before Christmas and hope that they’ll make it, but Partner thinks that that wouldn’t work this year, what with Corona and all. He’s probably right, and it is nice to have this off my to-do list. Now I just have to find a present for Mum and something else for Partner.

So, the weekend was soggy and muddy. We stayed in as much as possible, except for walking with Curious Dog and grocery shopping. Corona isn’t looking good at all in Germany. I think the lockdown is going to be intensified almost everywhere. This week on Thursday Mum and I are off to Bavaria to spend Christmas at our house (and check on everything, as usual). Partner’s off to his place in North-Rhine Westphalia and we will meet up again here in Baden-Württemberg as usual on December 31. I did ask Partner if we shouldn’t spend Christmas here together this year, but he wasn’t enthusiastic. He likes to hole up by himself over Christmas. I’m fine with it, but this year I’m worried that there will be a travel ban within Germany if the Corona numbers don’t improve. If there’s a ban that would prevent us from returning on December 31, I guess we may return earlier. I don’t want to spend longer than normal without Partner. But we’ll see what happens. Kind of odd, my little family dispersing over Christmas, but that’s our tradition.

Yesterday we watched the second part of last week’s Tatort (Crime Scene) episode “In der Familie, Teil 2” (In the Familie, Part 2). It was set in Munich six months after the first episode. It was mostly centered around what happened to the daughter of the half-Italian family. She didn’t know that in the last episode her father murdered her mother because she snitched on him to the police. He didn’t want to murder her, but otherwise the mafia would have murdered his entire family. Well, they didn’t do well in Munich either and the mafia still had them in their sights, so things go south again. The daughter turns into an avenging angel trying to find out who killed her mother. This transformation wasn’t really all that believable, in my opinion. The acting was great, though. We also had the Dortmund police detective visiting his colleagues in Munich and being an asshole there (he’s always kind of an idiot). I quite liked the scene were the assistant of the two Munich detectives tells him off. We also see the stolen BvB coffee cup in one scene, as nice reminder of the first episode. All in all, not bad, but not great. Next week’s Tatort will be one set in Münster, which I’m looking forward to, as that’s usually a fun episode.

Today started off with a wet drizzle on our walk with Curious Dog. We met one of his dog friends, and they had a bit of a romp across the muddy fields. That was another dirty towel, but CD had fun. Work was as usual on Mondays, lots of meetings and nothing much else got done. One of my colleagues is waiting for the result of their teenager’s Corona test. I hope that it turns out negative. The colleague is also feeling a bit under the weather and all the team is hoping that it’s just a cold. A stupid cold, something one usually never thinks about twice, is now cause for alarm.

Partner’s trying out a new dish tonight for dinner. A pumpkin risotto where the pumpkin is roasted in the oven and afterward mashed with some broth. The risotto rice is cooked with some leek and when it’s done the pumpkin mash is added and it’s served with some pumpkin seeds. Hope it turns out well.

Keep safe, world.