Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat and sealed pot challenge

I've started to feel a bit creaky by now after all my unusual activity yesterday. Gardening makes it presence felt. I thought it was going to be my knees that hurt the most but it's actually the backs of my legs that seem to be complaining the most. Oh well, it'll all be good for me in the end. I made sure to walk up all the stairs I came across when I was out today instead of taking the escalator in an attempt to gently stretch everything from time to time.

I really, seriously, absolutely must get my photos from my holiday last December sorted properly and up onto picasa or flickr so that I can share them with people I know and who, for the most part, have by now stopped asking to see them. Here's one of my favourites - a very young giraffe at Toronga Zoo in Sydney (you can see one of the adults just behind the fence pole, just to give you a sense of proportion)
What are you:
Nearly finished The Princess Bride. Have also picked up The Fast Diet - the official 5:2 diet. I'm not so much interested in actually fasting but some people's descriptions of what they were doing following this diet sounded awfully like what I've been doing this time round of trying to lose weight and eat healthily so I thought it would be interesting to at least read it and see what the science behind the idea says.

Listening to
Nothing much. Just the clock and an occasional car outside. I'm not long back from a concert where some friends were singing a Bach mass though - that was nice.

Going to watch an episode of Justified before bed, I think.

Not a thing. I have strawberries in the fridge that I bought on Wednesday and I'm supposed to have sliced them for the dehydrator today but I spent longer ironing than I thought and didn't get to them before leaving for the concert, which went on longer than I expected. And now I'm just too tired to think about it. Will try and rescue as many as possible tomorrow and perhaps puree them for a fruit leather.

Happy you accomplished this week
Had a very busy week so just getting through it was good. Had my annual review in work (and am now on the less formal "Du" terms with my boss). Went back to Biogarten and worked yesterday for a few hours and have told them I'll be aiming to be there every second week. Did the ironing. Filed all of my tax stuff away only three weeks after actually submitting my returns - I think that's a record.

Looking forward to next week
A week where I don't have something planned every day after work. Just choir on Wednesday and my first German lesson on Friday. Interested to see how that turns out. And then on Saturday, since it's the first of the month, I'll be heading to the chemist to step up on the scales and see whether just cutting out most snacking has been enough to get me started on a good weight loss followed by heading to get my second set of photos taken.

Thankful for today
A nice place to live in and a warm comfy bed waiting for me.

Bonus question: what was your very first real job
Well, I never did a huge amount of  babysitting. My first job was working for my dad in his garage (complete with mini-supermarket) - I started that the summer I was 12 (a year later than normal as my mum had died the year before so I ended up having to stay at home with my younger brother and sister). Worked most days during the summer and then every day after school for a couple of hours. Got away from it by claiming compulsory summer jobs abroad when I started college (it was only actually compulsory after second year) so that at least I had the summers off. First summer I worked as an ice-cream seller in a small village in the Bavarian Alps, then the second I had an internship at the Deutsche Post headquarters. During the college year I still worked in the garage every day though. I loved working outside on the forecourt the most but rarely got the chance since my dad seemed to think I was one of the best in the shop. Sigh. Too bloody polite and friendly for my own good. Anyway, I did learn a huge amount about business from working for my dad - family businesses can be like that. I know when I was doing my business classes in college I found that a lot of it was the kind of common sense that I'd learned in the garage anyway (like the day I had an argument with my accounting teacher because he wanted to use the pure mathematical answer, complete with fraction and I was of the opinion that since we were doing calculations on logistics and stock, you just wouldn't have a fraction, 'cos, you know, who orders 0.357 of a unit of something?).

If you fancy joining in with Sunday night chit-chat, post away and head over to Half-Dozen Daily to link up.

And finally...
Sealed pot challenge update
Not a lot gone into the pot this week but I did empty my purse of coins twice so at least something went in. I'd love to have a nearly no-spend week this week but we'll have to see how that goes. My goal has gone from one thing (something from etsy) to another (a freezer) and back again to nearly where I started but it's fixed now. In fact, despite still being in debt last month I just went ahead and booked myself flights to Dublin for a long weekend around the time of my birthday at the beginning of December, as well as a hotel for the three nights. I'm not planning on telling anyone I'll be there (except my brother) and will just be having a few chill-out days entirely for me. There are things I always want to do when I'm back and I never get to because I'm running around trying to visit everyone while I can so I'm going to stay strict with myself on not telling anyone. If all goes to plan, I will have no debt commitments left by the end of November and I have always planned to allow myself to spend as much as I please of my salary, even if it's the whole thing, for the first two months following debt-free. I've already bought myself a ticket for a lunchtime concert at the National Concert Hall the day I arrive, plan to book a flotation session, possibly get my hair done, have several lovely meals out and visit the National Crafts and Design Fair at the RDS. And so that's what my sealed pot money will be for: buying myself something gorgeous at that fair.

This and that

I went back to the garden to actually help out yesterday. It was lovely to be back, even if my body is letting me know today that it may not have appreciated the unusual exercise. Although given that I spent nearly two hours thinning carrots, I thought I'd hurt a lot more than I do. I did get up and stretch well from time to time, that must have helped. There were about half and half people I know and new people. Those I knew all remembered me and seemed pleased to see me. None could believe that it had been more than two years since I was there. While I had decided that in the beginning I'd just start off slowly and go once a month once I was there it was hard not to get enthusiastic again and start thinking that maybe I'll go next week after all. But I really don't want to get overwhelmed again so I have said that I'll be there every second week. I have several things that I already planned to do next Saturday and adding the garden on top of all that just doesn't make sense. It's just three hours but that means 35 minutes to get there, three hours work, one hour having tea, a chat and a light lunch (how light depends on who has brought what with them) and another 35 to 45 minutes getting back (connections aren't as good in the afternoon so I usually end up waiting ten or fifteen minutes for a tram). I wasn't home yesterday afternoon until quarter to three and I was, I will admit, shattered. The remnants of the last bout of bronchitis are still with me and it was a very busy week so adding in a couple of hours of physical work just about did me in. I went to bed shortly after getting home and slept deeply for a couple of hours.

At least I put a wash on before I went to bed so that when I got up that was finished and ready to be hung while the second wash went on. Which means that by now everything, except two pairs of socks, is dry and I spent nearly an hour and a half doing the ironing - both the stuff just washed and what has been accumulating over the last couple of weeks while I've been unwell. It's even all put away. Having cleaned the bathroom yesterday, emptied the bin and brought down all the recycling stuff, not to mention getting the washing up done, it feels like I've nearly gotten back to having the basic housekeeping stuff under control.

One of the best parts of having gone back to the garden is, of course, that you get stuff to bring home so I scored a couple of handfuls of the thinned out carrots, a bunch of marjoram, a bunch of chives and a lettuce as well as a few loose leaves from a lollo rosso.  (I do have a photo but am feeling much to lazy to get up and walk into the kitchen to get the camera at the moment)  Okay, edited to add photo of all but the majoram, which is hanging up to dry.

My savings totals are going down as I get close to my fifth anniversary of living in Germany and all of my annual bills, like insurance, start arriving. I have just about enough to cover them all so although it's going to be killing me to watch the total diminish to almost nothing by September, it feels great to actually have that money on hand and be able to pay the bills immediately.

That also means that I've now received the first of the documents that I'll need for my tax returns next year (liability insurance, one of the two insurances I am required to have under the terms of my rental lease and something that just about everyone in Germany has anyway, is something you can set off against taxes). So although the Table of Doom is still looking pretty terrible, I did spend a bit of time this morning making sure that all of the tax related stuff still lying around from a few weeks ago when I submitted my tax returns for 2011 and 2012 was properly filed. That way, the plastic envelope that I use to collect everything in one place was empty again and I can start collecting everything for next year's tax time easily. I am determined to get my returns in early next year and what with planning on doing some courses this year, I'll need to organised as it'll all be a bit more complicated next year.

And on that note, I found someone to do some German lessons with. Sometimes my not-so-subtle method of telling absolutely everybody I meet what I'm trying to do works and I got a recommendation from someone it would never have occurred to me to ask. Sent the woman an email and she phoned me back within a couple of hours and I've arranged to have my first lesson next Friday after work. At 35 euro per hour it's reasonably priced and once we've had our first couple of hours, I'll be able to decide a bit better how many hours I want/need to do. Just covering the basics again should be done in four or five hours but I might add another four or five just to get some extra practice. That would also bring me up to September and the start of the translator course quite nicely. Am interested to see how it goes.

Finally, since this is turning into a mammoth post for one that was just supposed to be a few bullet points, I had my annual review in work last week. I hate, loathe and despise this type of meeting more than I can ever describe. Even though I am pretty sure that my boss is up-front and lets me know immediately if I'm doing something she wants done differently and even though, rationally speaking, I know I'm very good at my job, the couple of weeks leading up to a review leave me a bit of a wreck, convinced I'm about to get fired for some obscure fault or other that I hadn't realised anyone had noticed. Self-esteem issues? Moi? At any rate, everything was fine and overwhelmingly positive even. Since they abolished bonuses for admin staff last year, that was the last time my review ranking made any difference but I still had to fill out the stupid form this year. I just copied over from last year (when I was cheeky enough to give myself the highest possible ranking and it was approved!) and it all went through without question. It might not make any difference, since there'll be no bonus this year, but at least when it comes time to move on, no matter what kind of a reference I get, I'll have my print-out of the annual reviews showing that year on year, they were happy with my work.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Another step closer to less worrisome financial times

Today I made what I hope will be the second last payment on my credit card. Outstanding balance on that card is now 489, which I should be able to manage next month. I won't quite be debt-free at that stage, as I still have a substantial overdraft on my Irish bank account to clear and have the balance on my German credit card still to clear fully (after using it last month to pay my brother's very high outstanding electricity bill in order to stop him being cut off), but the psychological boost of clearing my old credit card will be huge. I hope to get my tax refund sometime in August and that will hopefully take care of at least half of the overdraft, leaving me an amount I should be able to clear in a couple of months. And I'm on track to pay off the German credit card amount within the five months I gave myself (four more payments to make). All going well and barring any more unforeseen circumstances or emergencies, I should have everything cleared by October at the latest. Although it occurs to me that I will need to pay the fees for my course in September so saying by the end of October is probably more realistic.  Still two years later than planned and I'm getting nervous now that it finally really seems to be within reach since it feels like I've been here before but I just have to keep on plugging away and get through it.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat and sealed pot challenge

Here's another photo from the Biogarten.  You didn't think I'd be able to spend a couple of hours in a garden and not take any photos of roses, did you?  There was a fairly strong wind blowing though, so I had to use my hand to try and hold this just barely past rosebud stage rose steady for a photo.  Don't think this slight glimpse of flesh will blow my anonymity though :-)

What are you:
Can't get into the reading vibe yet again.  I think I just shouldn't bother trying anymore when I've been sick.  Have multiple books on the go still and just can't get interested in them for more than a page at a time.

Listening to
Not much, just an occasional car passing by outside.  And the tram, of course.

I've been watching Justified and also a teen/family drama called Switched at Birth.  I'm enjoying that because it's about two girls switched at birth who find out at sixteen that it happened and how their two families get to grips with it.  One of the girls is deaf and I really like that in the scenes where there are just deaf people, who are communicating through sign language, they don't try to drown out the silence by ramping up the music.

Second attempt at pulled pork today and although it's somehow very different than last time, it's still delicious.

Happy you accomplished this week
I didn't get much done due to being sick but I did change the bedclothes, which always feels fabulous.  And today I went back to the Biogarten to say hello (photo-heavy post of it here) and ease myself in to going back to actually work a couple of hours next week.  That was a huge step forward for me.  After a few days of eating junk, I've also just about gotten myself back on track for eating properly and have prepared enough to see me through the first few days of the week well.  And I wrote a meal plan.

Looking forward to next week
Getting my feet done on Tuesday, choir on Wednesday, book club on Thursday, garden on Saturday and going to a concert on Sunday.  Lots of lovely stuff going on, which will make up for having to have my annual review meeting in work at least.

Thankful for today
My mooncup (is it sad that that seems to appear, oh, about once a month?).  The mansize tissues I bought last time I was in Ireland (I don't use my cloth hankies when I'm sick - better to throw the germs out and also I don't own two hundred hankies, which is about how many I'd need).  Long evenings, nice chat with my brother and delicious food in my kitchen.

Bonus question: what was your least favourite part of last week and your most favourite part of the last week?
Least favourite has to have been the horrible bronchitis, especially missing singing in the concert last Sunday, not to mention missing our first rehearsal for The Creation.  Most favourite I think was having a lovely, just barely lukewarm shower on a very hot Wednesday evening before getting into a clean summer nightie and a bed made up with clean sheets and covers.

And that's nearly it for me.  If you want to join in with Sunday night chit-chat, post away and then head over to Half-Dozen Daily to link up.

But before I go...

Sealed pot challenge
I started this in February, managed to keep up with my commitment to add in the number of euro equivalent to the week for, oh, about five weeks (if that!) and then even forgot that I was supposed to be emptying my purse of change at the end of the month, too.  I have been throwing in bits and pieces of change from time to time - I've started to put my purse away as soon as I hand over money so that I can then just carry the loose change home in my hand, which means it goes straight into the pot when I get in the door.  Don't do it all the time but it works if I've just gone down to the bakery or one of the other shops on my street.  July and August are going to be pretty spendy months, with travelling and holidays going on but I need to really start putting an effort into this by September.  Going to add it to Sunday night chit-chat so that I don't forget about it (the sealed pot challenge updates on the originating blog, SFT, are on Sundays, too, if you fancy joining in with this challenge to save money by December, head on over there to see what nearly 100 other people are doing with their sealed pots).

Pulled pork and gardening - warning, photo-heavy post ahead

A few years ago, some of you may remember, I started spending my Saturday mornings working in an organic garden run by the local community college.  I really enjoyed it but when struggling with the bad work situation and the depression I fell into at that time, I stopped going.  In fact, that was only a month or so after I actually managed to remember to bring a camera with me and took some photos.  Late last year, I wrote them an email to apologise and explain my absence and to say that I hoped I would be able to start again this year.  All of a sudden it seems, it's nearly the end of June and I still hadn't found the right time to go back.  A week or so ago I bumped into one of the guys from the garden on the tram and he mentioned that today was a kind of open house day.  I thought that would be a good time to just pop in and say hello - ease myself into  it, so to speak.  So I did.  The weather isn't fantastic today and there weren't a lot of people around - just two or three from the garden itself and the rest visitors.  That suited me fine actually as a couple of minutes after I arrived I came over all emotional so it was nice to have a few minutes anonymous quiet sitting underneath the quince tree.  I did see one woman shortly afterwards who I was quite friendly with then and she remembered me and it was nice to catch up a bit.  I've said I'll go to join the "Arbeitskreis" (work circle) next Saturday and think I'll just try and do it once a month at first.  No point in letting myself get overwhelmed again.  It's taking me a long, long time to get back to doing all the things I used to do but I don't want to start anything and burn myself out within a couple of months either.

It was wonderful to spend a bit of time wandering through the garden and sitting by the pond listening to the frogs, though.  I took loads of photos but will just post a few here for now.  I didn't think to look at the ones I took in January 2011 before I left so I don't have exact positions but if you look at those old ones compared to know, you can see what a difference a few months can make (okay, a few years, but it would have looked very similar in January of this year I'm sure).
This apple tree (Goldparmäne) is the one you can see in the distance in the first picture of that old post
This is more or less the reverse of one of those old photos, instead of from the pavilion towards the pond, I took this from the pond looking towards the pavilion
In the third photo on that old post you can see these beds from the other side, completely bare - now there are carrots and leeks nearly about to break out of the coverings.  The tomato bed (with the plastic "roof") is in the background
Here's a close-up of the tomato bed.  The tomatoes are trained up along these metal  pole type things.  Later in the summer, pieces of rope will be tied to the tops of those poles and strung up to the "roof" to provide higher up support for the plants.  Normally there are basil plants among the tomatoes as well - I assume they'll be planted out soon.

And finally, some feverfew (called Mutterkraut or mother herb in German) - it's gone rampant in the garden this year and has self-seeded all over the place

After leaving the garden I took a short walk through the park but was getting very hungry so I came home to see how the pork was getting on in the slow cooker.  This morning, I fried up some onions and garlic, added them to the slow cooker with the meat and then heated up a jar of tomatoes, about 250ml white wine vinegar, a good splash of worcestershire sauce and some of last year's runny tomato ketchup.  Once I poured that in with the meat and onions, it looked like this.

And after cooking on high for two hours, then realising it still wasn't going to be ready before I had to leave and turning it down to low for another four hours, I came back to heavenly smells and this:

I didn't think to put the meat into the same bowl as yesterday for a size comparison, nor to weigh it, but this plate is just about the same size as the top of that white bowl (in fact I use one of these plates upside-down to cover that bowl if necessary).  You can see it's a bit smaller than yesterday, with the bones sticking out now


So then I "pulled" the pork, and removed the bones and very fatty bits.  There was what felt like a lot of fat but really, it wasn't that much.  I did weigh the bits I removed (in the bowl at the back of this next picture) and it was just about 175g, so getting a 1.2kg to end up with 1kg of meat was pretty good going.
I was supposed to be making myself a nice dinner with some rice and veg, too, but I was just too ravenous by the time I got home, since I ended up having a late breakfast and therefore no lunch.  So it was some of the lovely Greek country bread (i.e. with small chili peppers and feta baked into it) that I got yesterday with just a scraping of butter and a big pile of meat.  Delicious.  Although I have to admit not quite as delicious as the last time.  The addition of the tomatoes meant a lot more liquid so that the meat was more stewed than braised but mostly also meant that it's far less spicy, something the different vinegar undoubtedly contributed to.  So, it's delicious and I enjoy every bit of it over the next week but it's turned out very differently than last time.  I wonder how much the overnight instead of just a couple of hours resting of the meat in the spice rub had to do with it - must look that up.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Neck of pork

By the time I got to the market there was no shoulder of pork to be had so I asked them what they would recommend for long, slow cooking.  I had been eyeing a lovely slab of meat and that was exactly what she said I should use: neck of pork (a quick google when I got home found this blog post so I was reassured and good to go).  She offered to de-bone it but given that I want to braise it and give it that long, slow cooking, that seemed like it would be a pity.  So I asked her to leave it in and increase the weight a little bit.  Instead of the kilo I had asked for, I got 1.26kg.  At a price of 7.60 per kilo that meant 9.64.  I got four meals out of the 500g of pork I used when I made pulled pork the first time, so I should have more than enough for plenty of sandwiches this week as well as some for the freezer (if I can resist scoffing the lot!).  This isn't a great photo as it was already half-nine and getting dark outside but here's the meat just before I rubbed in the spices.

I used more of less the same spice mix as I did in January but doubled the quantities, so two teaspoons each of ground mace, cumin, coriander, cayenne, mustard powder, black pepper and salt.  I reduced the BBQ powder (love that I wrote follow-up notes on the blog as I wouldn't have remembered that) to just a bare teaspoon.  I also added some tumeric (about half a teaspoon) and some allspice (nearly two teaspoons).  And finished it up with eight teaspoons of sugar.  I've rubbed it in all over the meat and put it into the fridge to rest overnight.  First thing in the morning, I'll chop the onions and garlic and make the 'sauce'.  This time round I have no stock but wanted to use something slightly different anyway.  I'll use up another of my jars of runny tomato ketchup, a dash of worcestershire sauce, some white wine vinegar and a jar of tomatoes.  I decided to use white wine vinegar rather than cider vinegar this time around simply because I have some I want to use up.  I hope this works as well this time as it did before.  Really looking forward to tomorrow's lunch now!

Edited to add link to finished thing but warning that it's a very photo-heavy post.

Struggling to get going again

Being sick seems to suck the life energy out of me entirely.  Positives: spending most of five days sitting on my couch got me annoyed enough at the filth of the floor that by day three I decided I didn't care if I couldn't breathe properly and it was nearly thirty degrees, I just had to hoover.  And given the heat, the following day I did strip the bedclothes off the bed to wash and put a new set on - hard to believe that a week ago I was still using my winter duvet and it didn't feel too warm and now I just have a sheet to cover me and keep throwing it off.

Other than that, though, I am really struggling to get going.  I'm sure that's not helped by me having called into the supermarket on the way home from the doctor on Monday and bought a pile of junk food.  I had already slipped a little the last two days I had worked while this cold (actually bronchitis) was starting and not cooked properly so I need to make sure that I get some kind of plan in place for the next time I get sick.  Even though I did get out to the market last Saturday and bought salad and strawberries, for example, it took me until Monday evening to have the energy to wash the strawberries and until Wednesday evening to wash the lettuce.  So it's not the cooking, it's having to stand up and do anything.  But it was too hot to take soup out of the freezer and heat that up.  Pity I don't like gazpacho or that type of cold soup.  Meh.  I know, it's a serious case of first-world problems.  I have to be careful though, these are the kind of situations that can send me spiraling back down into a pit of despair, ridiculous though that might sound.

I'm going to force myself to get dressed soon and head to the market to buy a couple of things but first I need a meal plan.  I've totally lost the plot when it comes to food and yesterday had cheesy rolls from the bakery on the way to work and then ordered a pizza for lunch and finished the carbfest off by eating a large packet of salt and vinegar crisps for dinner.  No wonder I feel less than spectacular today.  It has only been a week but that's more than long enough to send me right back to a place that will leave me wondering in six months why I still haven't gotten around to losing more weight.  Need to get back on track.

Actually, the weather is not too hot today, only around 20 degrees so far (that's just a nice pleasant heat for me so long as I don't have to, you know, exercise or anything).  I'm thinking now that I might buy some meat and do something in the slow cooker.  Maybe another attempt at pulled pork or something with chicken.  That would give me something to make sandwiches with for lunches, too.

Meal plan
Bread and cheese
Courgette and cream cheese roll (like the one at the bottom of this post) - after being so excited to get a couple of courgettes last Saturday, I've done nothing with them.  Didn't even put them in the fridge so hopefully there'll be enough to rescue that I can make this. Also never finished the cream cheese I bought then too and it's supposed to be used within seven days so just want to use it up instead of having to dump it.

Courgette and cream cheese roll
Pulled pork with rice

Pulled pork in a sandwich
Scrambled eggs

Pulled pork in a sandwich
Pasta with tomato sauce of some kind

Pasta salad (i.e. last night's leftovers)
Pulled pork in a sandwich

Lettuce with something or other, dried tomatoes, pickled onions, cheese maybe.
Toast, butter, jam (who said dinner needs to be complicated?)

Lettuce etc.
Dinner out somewhere

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A request from a blogger for crowd-funding another blogger

Phelan from A Homesteading Neophyte posted yesterday about a friend of hers who has just found out that her abusive (and now subject of a restraining order) husband had not been working for some time and now her farm may be lost.  She has started a crowd-funding page to try and raise the four and a half thousand dollars she needs to make the farm payment and carry out some work that will allow her to expand the business.

You can read Phelan's post here:

The crowd-funder can be found here:

She already has pledges for over a thousand dollars, so if even just 300 more people were able to pledge 10 dollars (that's only about 7.50 euro), she'll nearly be there (I think - maths isn't my strong point!).  If you're not interested or able to pledge anything, please consider spreading the word via whatever social media you use.  I know there are hundreds of similar stories out there and we can't help every one but when something like this touches someone I've gotten to know via the blogosphere I like to get involved, even in just this very small way.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Random things you do when laid up sick and having played all the solitaire you can handle?  Why take the myers-briggs personality type test of course.  Apparently I'm an ISFJ or "conservator".  The little blurb that came with the result was interesting:
Service and work oriented - very loyal.  They are good nurses, teachers, secretaries, general practitioners, librarians, middle managers and housekeepers. 6% of the total population
What's particularly interesting is that in addition to the job I do, that list contains the next three on my list of things that I wanted to be when I was a kid (teacher, librarian and professional housekeeper in case anyone's interested).

I'm sure I've taken this test online before but can't remember what result I got.  Would be interesting to see if it's still the same.  I know that every time I've taken the political compass test I've ended up further left and down (I'm a leftie liberal well on the way to being a communist anarchist apparently) than the time before.  I did find more than one link to a myers-brigg type test and the second one also came back with ISFJ although this time with a breakdown as follows:

Introvert (67% - no huge surprise there), Sensing (25%), Feeling (12%), Judging (1% )

A third test tells me I'm ISFP, still pretty close to the other two, with the following breakdown:

Introverted (93%), Sensing (77%), Feeling (79%), Perceiving (68%)

I think I may need to take another dose of Night Nurse and head to bed to see if I can get this cold any more gone by morning.  It feels like it's another one that's intending to stay around for a while though.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pretty flowers

The slight sore throat that I started developing on Tuesday (and started treating immediately in the hopes of being fit to sing this weekend) has morphed into a full-blown cold.  Even if my voice didn't sound as terrible as it does at the moment, my lack of ability to breathe deeply without wheezing would mean I couldn't sing.  So disappointed to have had to cancel as I did make it to rehearsal on Wednesday and for the first time felt like it was going to be a really great concert.  Such is life, I suppose.  I'll go along tomorrow evening to at least listen and help out at the door a bit anyway.

Missing rehearsal today means that I feel like I should be doing a few bits around the house but just the five minutes walk to the market this morning to buy a few things left me exhausted.  And very annoyed that when I got up the stairs to my place, I realised that I'd left the ginger in the fruit shop on the corner that I called into especially to buy that and some lemons.  Took me an hour to persuade myself to go downstairs again.  Although I learned something new after meeting a neighbour and now know that the pollen that has been all over the place the last few days is that of the poplar or cottonwood tree.  Between that and the dust, I really do need to hoover soon.  I did do the washing up at least.  So glad I've been getting better at keeping on top of the housework so that there were only a few small things to wash.  I might go and throw some clothes into the washing machine now before taking a nap.

Since I was feeling so miserable at the market I didn't buy much.  I got some oak leaf lettuce, a few apples, strawberries, milk, cream cheese, Rotschimmel cheese and the first two courgettes of the year.  I do still have a few jars of tomatoes left so I'm thinking there may be a ratatouille or pasta bake of some kind in my near future.  And then to cheer me out of my misery a bit I, unusually for me, treated myself to some flowers.  I will admit that part of the reason I did is because I thought the bunches were much bigger than they actually were and what I thought was one bunch was actually five or six.  But still, sweet peas are so pretty.  And if my nose weren't so stuffed up I'm sure I'd be able to appreciate a lovely smell, too.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

Okay, it's not even very far into the afternoon but since I'll be leaving shortly I thought I'd throw a quick chit-chat up anyway.  Don't even have time to load a photo, which might not be a bad thing since after remembering to bring my camera to Frankfurt I proceeded to forget to actually bring it out with me almost every time we went anywhere.

Edited to add a photo of the opera house/theater I was at this evening (taken during the second interval, at around 20:15)
Stadttheater Duisburg

What are you:
A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

Nothing this evening since I'm heading to the opera to see The Valkyrie.  Can't wait!

I've just made myself a bowl of porridge.  Reckoned that would be a decently filling late lunch to get my through the evening.  Will take a bread roll and cheese with me.  It is a five and a half hour long performance after all.  My friend treated me to a huge breakfast at Cafe Siesmayer this morning.  So not really any proper cooking today at all.

Happy you accomplished this week
I finished my tax returns and am going to drop them in to the tax office shortly on my way out.  Stuck to my healthy eating despite a few instances where things felt a bit touch and go.  Had a nice weekend away with a good friend.  Got ALL the ironing done before I left to go away on Friday and got all the washing done, too (the last wash I took out of the machine just before leaving was towels and things that don't require ironing).  That's definitely my favourite accomplishment of this week!  And I put in train a plan I hatched quite a while ago to get proper photos taken every month during my weight loss.

Looking forward to next week
Lots of singing.  Our next concert is on next Sunday so we have a full day rehearsal on Saturday.  I'll also be popping along to the monthly meeting of the Deutsch-Irische Gesellschaft (German-Irish Association) on Friday evening.

Thankful for today
Good friends - especially the type who've know you for years and seen you through the best of times and the worst of times and always stuck around and how much fun it is to spend time with people who know you so well

Bonus question: when you're out and about and a homeless person asks you for money, do you give it?
Never.  There are a lot of professional gangs working where I live for starters and I refuse to support them.  There are also a lot of genuinely down on their luck people around and while I will chat with them and don't just walk by and ignore them, I prefer to use my money to support organisations that will help them.  I'm fairly strict on this one, an attitude that only hardened after someone close to me bought food for someone begging and had it thrown in his face.

If you fancy joining in with Sunday night chit-chat, post away then head over to Half-Daily Dozen to link up

Friday, June 07, 2013

So much to do...

Busy weekend ahead of me. I've rushed home from work to get my second wash on (did the first one last night) in time for it to be finished before I need to leave. It'll be a close thing -  I may have the slowest washing machine in the world. But when you go away for the weekend all the stuff that normally gets done at the weekend has to be done sometime during the week.

In a couple of hours, I'll head off to the train station and be on my way to Frankfurt, where my friend has a full program of stuff organised for us. This evening we'll head to Wiesbaden, where there is a festival (the Wilhelmstraßefest) happening. No idea really what's in store for me there.

Tomorrow we'll have a lazy morning and with a bit of luck her hubby will get up early and 'surprise' us with fresh bread from the bakery for breakfast. Then she wants to go swimming and in the late afternoon her hubby is heading off to Berlin and we'll have the evening for ourselves. At some stage we're going to go to the Rosen- und Lichterfest (festival of roses and lights) in the Palmengarten near her, too. And when we get together we most often end up dragging out the cookbooks and spending an hour or two in the kitchen trying out something new. Mind you, the temperatures are rising and cooking might be the last thing we want to do if it's 25c outside! I really must try and convince her to get a slow cooker.

Now, I have about an hour and a half to get a bit of ironing done, pack, do the few bits of washing up from today and try and get to the train station on time. I love traveling by train since it means that even if I turn up late, all I lose is my seat reservation and I can actually travel on the next train but on a Friday afternoon and evening the stretch between Dusseldorf and Frankfurt will be absolutely packed so I want to get to the train station early.

And then on Sunday morning it'll be up early-ish to get a train back here and grab some lunch before getting ready to go and see the Valkyrie - I swear those opening bars have been the soundtrack of my morning so I really feel like I'm in for an exciting weekend now.

Hope you all have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Anyone can look good under the right lights

I first had this idea last year when I was starting in on trying to eat properly, lose weight and get fitter. I never did anything about it but then my efforts to lose weight got derailed after a few weeks and between one thing and another I spent the next few months gaining and losing that same two or three kilos. Since I am now making a more serious effort to lose weight I thought it was time to take it out again and I went to a local photo studio last Saturday to find out if they would be able to put together some kind of a special package for me to go every month and have a quick photo taken, with a final full photo shoot at the end of a year. Unfortunately it was a chain studio and although they did do decent CV photos the time I went to them a couple of years ago, the woman I spoke to was totally unable (or unwilling) to deviate from their set price list of options. Then I remembered an independent place that I found last year. I took a slightly longer lunch on Tuesday and made it there to ask them if they could help.

What a difference in reception. They were interested and absolutely willing to just figure something out, although the guy explained that even though they do have a studio space with lights and all that set-up, their main business is more the printing side of things. He just really does the passport photos and otherwise they have a few photographers they work with who sometimes use the space. After tossing around a few different ideas we finally agreed that I would do the first session with a photographer and then, once we had found the right pose etc., we'd use that as a template for the following months, when I could go back and he would take photos of me in the same position, without doing a full-on photo shoot. He contacted one of the photographers he knows and amazingly she was going to be in town on Wednesday and could offer me a session at six o'clock. Amazing not just because of the short notice but also because my boss was going to be at a conference so it would be feasible for me to start at 8 and finish at 5 that day. So yesterday evening I left work earlier than usual and headed into town to have my picture taken.

The photographer was lovely and told me that she had lost a fair bit of weight with weightwatchers this year so I was immediately reassured that she would kind of understand where I was coming from. We chatted about what I wanted and just generally while she set up a coloured background and got the lights into position. What I was very impressed with is that it only took her a few minutes to cop on to how to get me to smile more naturally and how to make me laugh and that made things much easier since I didn't feel like I had a forced grin pasted on my face the whole time. I've been told I have a nice smile before but once I'm in front of a camera in that kind of artificial setting I do freeze up.

While it's not the most frugal plan in the world, I'm looking forward to doing it and it feels like the kind of motivation that will actually motivate me at the moment. And it's probably won't break the bank either.  Yesterday's session cost just 40 euro. We tried different outfits, lots of different poses and backgrounds and then spent a while going through the photos immediately on her laptop. It was incredibly difficult to decide, although everything with a white background was deleted immediately - far too harsh for my almost equally white skin. And the ones where I was supposed to be staring wistfully into the distance either looked like I was about to fall asleep or about to cry so they went too. I was supposed to be narrowing it down to one but in the end we settled on three different ones. One nearly full body shot with just the last couple of inches of my legs missing, one head shot and one sitting in a traditional I'm-so-cool pose (kind of like the second from the top on the left-hand side on this sheet but facing more towards and actually looking at the camera. I didn't plan to originally but I am going to get print-outs of those photos, which will be another 33 euro (11 each). Who can resist photos of themselves looking nice? When I go back at the beginning of each month we'll do photos of me in the same positions but I won't actually get print-outs. After twelve months, I'll get all of them at once, probably all on one big printout - we haven't quite worked out exactly what would be best and he's just going to give it some thought as we go along.  I'm quite excited about it now and it's certainly going to be a big motivation to be able to see at least a small difference every month.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sunday night chit-chat

Today has just flown by and it's hard to believe that it's nearly nine o'clock. I put dinner into the oven at twenty-five to eight and then started doing other things and forgot to add the rice half-an-hour later. Oh well, it's gone in now and I can just wait another twenty minutes to eat. Gives me an excuse to have a starter.

I took a few photos this afternoon and can't decide which one to use this evening, which means you're getting three or four. Makes up for last week having none.

This is the Oberlandesgericht or higher regional court in Dusseldorf. Walking past here last year I noticed that there was a Stolperstein outside it. These are small plaques set into the ground in memory of those who were shipped off to concentration camps. It's a project that started a few years ago, I believe, and now you can see these "stumble stones" in many towns. Some might think it a bit macabre but I think it's a nice, very real memorial for these people and don't think it does any harm at all to have a reminder of the past since the only way to learn from it is not to forget it.

Here's a close-up of the one in front of the court. These stones are just a couple of inches across but none the less informative (and chilling) for that.
It says:
Here worked the lawyer Dr. Leo Wolf Lichtigfeld
JD 1889
Victim of the pogrom of 1938
Deported 27.10.1938 to Lodz
Dead 29.7.1942

On a lighter note, walking further down the river I got to the Museum Kunstpalast, one of the big art museums in Dusseldorf. I will make it into the actual museum one day but for now here's a friendly looking fellow in the grounds outside that I sometimes sit near to read on a sunny day. The sculpture is actually quite wide and quite slippy and it's kind of funny sometimes to watch people trying to climb on its back to pose for photos.

And now for some chit-chat.

What are you
I've read almost nothing this week so this hasn't changed since last week

Am thinking of watching Wrath of Khan when dinner's ready. Seeing the new film last week left me wanting to watch or re-watch the older films.  I saw Star Trek The Motion Picture yesterday. Need to get my skates on if I'm going to have enough time to do it without having too late a night though.

Listening to
The dehydrator going in the kitchen and Dublin's Sunshine on the (internet) radio. Since Stephen Collins is in Star Trek The Motion Picture I have of course ended up with the theme song from 7th Heaven in my head all day. Trying to get rid of it with a bit of easy listening.  "Oh would you like to swing on a star...."  I think it's working.

Trying out a Chinese-inspired chicken casserole. Made up a marinade with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and honey and after marinating the chicken for a couple of hours I put a chopped up onion and a few carrots along with some vegetable stock, a couple of teaspoons of five-spice powder and a few dried tomatoes just for the hell of it into the pot and put it into the oven. I've added some rice to make it a one-pot dish but it's out-of-date rice so I'm hoping I haven't spoiled it! I also have strawberries in the dehydrator.

Happy you accomplished this week
I had two lovely nights out this week that were thoroughly enjoyable so I'm glad I didn't bow out just because I was a bit tired. I also made my first ever homemade pesto and my first ever homemade hummus, the former very successful, the latter not a huge success but nice enough to eat. Importantly, I finally managed to finish and submit the test translation I was sent for the translator's course I'm going to start in the autumn. And today I actually managed to nearly get my tax returns done. I thought I had everything I needed but I'm missing one thing (which is probably on the Table of Doom somewhere), realised I can submit for the charitable donations I make in Ireland so need to phone them to get a confirmation sent over and have one other question I need answered so need to ring the tax office tomorrow. But it feels fantastic to have gotten this far. And I stuck to my mini-detox all week and really didn't snack between meals, which is a huge deal for me. Oh, and I nearly forgot that I've kept pretty well on top of the basic housework the whole week long as well (except for the ironing but that's nothing new). And made further progress in decluttering a bit by getting all the stuff that has gathered on the kitchen table/sideboard over the last month or so cleared away.

Looking forward to next week
Looking forward to getting back my test translation and hearing what the guy has to say (but also a bit trepidatious). Will probably be going to Frankfurt to visit friends next weekend and then coming back early on Sunday so that I can go to see Wagner's Valkyrie. Very excited about that since it'll be my first time seeing a Wagner performance.

Thankful for today
Long evenings and good friends.

Bonus question: if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Has to be potatoes.  Love, love, love me some spuds.

And just for fun, I'm going to finish up with another photo I took this afternoon. We all know by now how much I love clouds, don't we?

The sun was blazing down and all of a sudden went behind a cloud so I had to whip out my camera to try and get a photo or two, even if the sun was still strong enough that I couldn't actually see what I was taking
And that's it. If you fancy joining in with Sunday night chit-chat, post away and head over to Half-dozen daily to link up.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Busy Saturday morning

I've had a busy morning after a late start.  Someone told me about the Channel 4 series Black Mirror (described as a mix between the Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected) recently and I watched the first episode yesterday evening.  I found it disturbing in the extreme, stomach-churningly so and then couldn't sleep properly and every time I did drop off, found myself having, well, if not exactly nightmares then very unsettling dreams.  So I ended up sleeping late.  I took the time to sit and drink a cup of hot water with lemon juice and read a few emails (and send one to the friend who recommended Black Mirror!) and after that was good to go.

Headed to the market and bought a good stock of stuff to see me through the next two weeks.  I'll most likely go to Frankfurt next weekend so won't have time to go shopping.  I didn't have a meal plan ready so will need to sit down and get something on paper to make sure I stick with some halfway healthy eating this week.  To make things easier on myself I bought some cold cuts and some cheese and will probably just have that with some bread for most evenings this week.  I put it all away before I thought to take a photo but here's what I got:

From the market

  • 2 litres milk (one is gone into freezer)
  • Half a Rotschimmel cheese (a soft mild cheese, sort of similar to brie)
  • 275g farmer's cheese (a hard cheese, similar to gouda)
  • 1 oak leaf lettuce
  • Couple of large handfuls of spinach
  • 9 apples
  • 2 punnets strawberries (they're not terribly sweet yet but I'll dry some of them for later in the year)
  • 5 large onions
  • 6 eggs
  • Variety of cold cuts (3 slices each onion and wild garlic Leberkäse, 100g honey mustard turkey, 100g turkey salami, 5 slices Kassler ham)
  • Half a chicken
From the supermarket
  • Refill pack of cotton buds
  • 2 Kerrygold garlic bread (gone into the freezer - they were on special offer)
  • 1 packet feta cheese
Once I'd finished at the market I dropped the stuff home, went to the bakery, stopped off at the chemist to weigh myself and then headed into town.  I went to the international library to see if I could get a copy of The Great Gatsby but it was already out.  I might just buy a cheap kindle copy as I'd like to read it before going to see the film and the film isn't likely to be on in English for much longer (oh how I hate the German fondness for dubbed films).  I did borrow This Side of Paradise though.  I read The Great Gatsby when I was a teenager but don't really remember it and have never read any other of his books so I figured I might as well.  I also spotted Fanny Hill, John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in the one euro box so I bought that, too.  

Then it was off to try and see if I could persuade the people at the chain photography studio I used a couple of years ago for some interview photos (every application for a job in Germany is usually accompanied by a fancy photo) to do a special series for me.  Since I'm at the beginning of a weight loss, I thought it would be an interesting idea to have a photo taken every month.  The before photos you see in before and after weight loss stories are always so terrible, usually some grainy holiday photo or something like that.  While I know I could look better, I also think that in a proper studio with proper lighting and a good camera, not to mention someone who knows what they're doing, it's entirely possible to take a decent photo of me, while still being careful not to "hide" the reality of how I look.  So I'd like to have a proper photo taken every month - just of me as I am, not with make-up done or after a trip to the hairdresser or anything like that.  And then at the end of say, a year, have a full session done where I have proper before and after photos done with hair and make-up and a nice outfit and the whole works.  Unfortunately the girl I spoke to was one of those people who seemed to be completely unable to do anything except parrot what they had on offer as set packages and was totally unwilling to even contemplate something outside the norm.  All she could offer was a basic full session with one photo, which costs thirty euro each time.  And taken as I am with the idea, that's rather a lot more than I was thinking off.  I left there quietly fuming and fought my way back through the crowds to the underground.  It was only just before I got home that I remembered another independently owned photo studio that I came in contact with last year.  I also got my passport photos done there and when I had to get them done a second time (because Irish biometric photos are not the same as biometric photos everywhere else!), they didn't charge me full price at all.  Very nice people and I'm nearly ashamed that I had forgotten about them, especially as I was only yesterday looking up details of the wine shop located beside them.  So I'll head there next weekend and see if I can arrange something with them.  

After that I stopped at the supermarket and then headed home.  Got in the door just in time to remember that I was also supposed to stop off at the other chemist to pick up a prescription.  Typical.  I went out half an hour later to get it only to realise that they actually shut at two o'clock on Saturdays so even if I had remembered earlier, I still would have missed them.  It'll just have to wait until next week.  

I haven't gotten very far with housework today at all.  I still have all the washing-up from yesterday to do as well but so far all I've managed to do is put on a wash and bring the bin out.  Hoping for a rush of energy in an hour or so.