Monday, April 17, 2017

A TEDtalk conversation about female friendship

Randomly came across this today and really enjoyed it. I've admired Jane Fonda for a long time, and Lily Tomlin, too and I've really enjoyed watching Frankie & Grace over the last couple of years. And this talk is very interesting. Funny chitchat at the beginning and then becoming more serious with some very informed and very interesting points.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Some photos of my (messy) place

I never really did ever post many photos of my new place after I moved. And now it has already been almost a year and I'm still not quite finished fixing things up. After the initial few months of unpacking, painting some of my old furniture, etc., I needed to be just living in my space. I got everything to the stage that there was just one pile of ten or twelve boxes to unpack, all stacked up on one side of my bedroom, in front of the cupboard that most of the stuff would go into. I want to paint and/or varnish that cupboard though and decided that if I just unpacked stuff into it, I'd never get around to it.

For the long weekend this week, I've basically decided to do nothing other than read, watch films and do nothing. Things have just been far too hectic for the last while and I've been getting overwhelmed so it was time to consciously spend time doing as close to nothing as possible and leaving all the other stuff behind. I did have a small burst of energy this morning however and so I spent a half an hour moving some furniture around. I've been thinking about doing this for a while and I wanted to see what it would look like.

'Scuse the mess in most of these photos - as this was a spontaneous rearranging of furniture the photos are honest to goodness candid ones. This level of mess may be very stressful for some of you to see but for me, it's such a big improvement on how I was in my old place (and getting better all the time, actually) that it feels pretty good. And excuse the quality of photos, some even blurrier than my usual.



This is the end of the living room beside the balcony with the couch (also guest bed) and my two armchairs. I really don't need two armchairs but one is the final one from the three-piece suite I took from my parents' house and although I hate the cover (I will get it recovered one day), I really love it to sit in. The other chair is one a friend gave to me when she was moving a few years ago and needed to downsize. I'd always admired it when I visited and couldn't bring myself to refuse it. Anyway, at some stage I thought it would be nice to have an armchair in my bedroom, to curl up in and read, and to free up a bit of space here.







Here are another two photos of the rest of this room. I deliberately took them in such a way that you can easily see where one bit ends and the next begins - it's a nicely sized but not huge room and although I could do with getting rid of some more stuff, I'm not quite there yet. One step at a time.
This is the far end of the room, where I have my dining area. The other big thing I gain from moving one of the armchairs is a feeling of slightly more space so that, whenever I find one I like and can afford, I can put in a proper table without making it feel too cramped. I think. The table that's currently there is 2'x3' (60x90cm), which is fine for just me but doesn't give a lot of space for ever entertaining (I might do, one day, you never know), or using it for anything other than eating.

The nice cabinet hasn't quite been finished either and stuff is a bit higgledy-piggledy in it. I plan to paint it red but got sick and tired of painting last year and put that on hold. Also started dithering between bright red or dark red. Opinions on that issue welcome. (It's actually a fairly flimsy, pretty damaged piece that I bought for 20 euro second hand so I'm not feeling any "painting would be such a mistake for this beautiful piece of furniture" issues at all.





And this is the middle part, which functions as my work space. You can see the table (the stuff on the table is mostly stuff I moved out of the way to be able to move the chair), and the edge of the will-someday-be-red cabinet. Next to that is my writing desk (with red floor protector for the chair to sit on), and beside that you can see the armchair. That should all give you an idea of the amount of space.







This is the corner of my bedroom that I decided to put the chair in. After my initial dreaming / getting carried away thoughts on doing this I did actually measure and realised that it would barely fit in that space.

However, since I was still toying with the idea several months later, I decided it was at least worth trying.




This is the still-unpacked side of the bedroom, on the other side of the bed. As happens, over the course of the last six months or so the neatly stacked moving boxes seem to have attracted a layer of stuff on top.






I know I'm going to be fairly busy for the next couple of weeks but I think once we get into May, with hopefully less rainy weather, I'm going to move these boxes out to the balcony and paint/varnish the cupboard before unpacking it all. There has been a bit of a change of plan though and it's one of those things that proves yet again how you sometimes have to live in a space for a while before making final decisions on things.
Did I ever post a photo of the lovely built-in cupboards here that I immediately designated as jar storage? Here's one (or three, actually) I took last year before I'd even unpacked all of my jars.
Over the winter, however, I realised that these cupboards back onto heating pipes of some kind next door. I put a thermometer in them for a while and they were regularly over 20C, which is just too hot for decent food storage. So, now I'm thinking the jars will go into the cupboard in the bedroom, and the material, yarn, and other crafting supplies, currently still in boxes, will go into these built-in cupboards in the hallway.


Even more reason to varnish or paint that cupboard really well - at the moment the wood is completely porous so if a jar ever leaked (it happens), I'd never get the stain or smell out of the wood. So, that's the plan for now. We'll see how it works out.


One final photo now, of the living room after moving the blue armchair into the bedroom. I'm not entirely happy yet and suspect I'll end up moving this chair around a bit until a find an angle that I like. Or maybe I'll give up on having the footstool there at all (although I do love to use it).




By the way, in case anyone is wondering, the couch could go lengthways along the wall rather than the window (I'd need to shift the desk an inch or so to the left to make space) but there is not enough room to have a chair opposite it without blocking the door out to the balcony. No "after" photos of the bedroom or the other end of the living room yet though. I want to wait, live with it a while and maybe even get photos of a neat and tidy space to show you. So that's it for now. Would love to hear what you think of it all.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Net worth - April 2017

It seems hard to believe that it has been almost two years since I did one of these posts (here's the one from May 2015). Then again, it doesn't seem possible that this time last year I had just been offered a new job and I was spending the weekend traipsing around Heidelberg viewing as many apartments as I could find. At any rate, one of the pension companies hadn't updated my address before the annual statement was sent out in January and then it seems to have gotten lost in limbo a little bit. However, after several phone calls and a couple of different people trying to figure out what happened, it finally arrived here last week. So here are my updated totals, not all from exactly this week but all from this year. It's kind of annoying that I can only get some of these once a year but at the same time it helps for me to not be stressing about the ups and downs of the markets.

Actually, I have checked these numbers a few times over the last couple of years so I'm going to go ahead and post each increase, rather than play around with my spreadsheet and having to add up increases to get one figure from May 2015 to now. And it nicely shows the couple of times the markets were definitely going down rather than up.

September 2015
Increase in net worth overall: -1.85%
Made up of:
Irish Pension: -6.74%
Irish Retirement Bond: -7.95%
German Riesterrente: +1.58% (actively paying in to this pension)
German BAV: +31.09% (I think I was usually just adding in what I was paying in to this pension)
Vodafone shares: -9.76%



February 2016 (three months after leaving work)
Increase in net worth overall: 4.12%
Made up of:
Irish Pension: -7.65%
Irish Retirement Bond: 0% no updated information
German Riesterrente: +17.36% (actively paying in to this pension, although at a substantially reduced rate since I was no longer working in a highly-paid job)
German BAV: +12.5% (I think I was usually just adding in what I was paying in to this pension and once I left that job, no more payments were made)
Vodafone shares: -8.02%


October 2016 (five months into new, part-time job)
Increase in net worth overall: 2.92%
Made up of:
Irish Pension: +12.80%
Irish Retirement Bond: 0% (no updated information)
German Riesterrente: 0% (actively paying in to this pension, although at a substantially reduced rate since no longer working in a highly-paid job but for whatever reason didn't update the number with payments made)
German BAV: 0% (no more payments being made into this pension and no updated information on value)
Vodafone shares: -8.30%


February 2017
Increase in net worth overall: 7.39%
Made up of:
Irish Pension: +8.21%
Irish Retirement Bond: 11.58% (annual statement received)
German Riesterrente: 0% (actively paying in to this pension, although at a substantially reduced rate since no longer working in a highly-paid job but for whatever reason didn't update the number with payments made)
German BAV: 12.58% (no more payments being made into this pension - this information is from a statement I received after I finally got around to phoning them to give them my new address)
Vodafone shares: -6.87%


April 2017
Increase in net worth overall: 2.45%
Made up of:
Irish Pension: +2.70%
Irish Retirement Bond: 0% (no updated information)
German Riesterrente: 5.91% (actively paying in to this pension, still reduced rate - I decided to leave this at lower rate and start investing in ETF. We'll see how that works out.)
German BAV: 0% (no updated information)
Vodafone shares: 0% (no updated information because I've forgotten my username and password for the online investor centre and keep forgetting to phone them to sort it out!)

ETF savings plan: no change yet as April is the first month. But nearly two years after setting up this online investment account I finally managed to set up one of their savings plans. It's only 50 euro a month, which will go to buying an MSCI World ETF but it's a start at investing at least.

It's nice to see I'm very close to tipping over to the next "-ty" number, i.e. forty rather than thirty. It doesn't feel like about 5,000 is a huge amount of an increase over two years but given that I wasn't working at all for seven months of that, and have been only working 20 hours a week for almost a year, maybe it's not that bad to have not substantially added to it. There'll be no early retirement for me, I think, as my current net worth is about a tenth of what it would need to be to finance my life.

But that's alright. I've been doing a bit of reading around what my state pension entitlements are. The university held a seminar for international employees on pensions and I think I'm finally starting to understand some of the complexities. I'm hoping to have an individual appointment to talk to someone but that probably won't happen until early next year. I did have one lined up for earlier this year but unfortunately had a very bad cold/flu-like illness/bronchitis and had to give it a miss. At least my boss was able to take my spot so it wasn't a complete waste. At any rate, if I have understood it correctly, based on the time that I worked in Ireland, I have an entitlement there to the second-lowest rate of state pension. That's currently about 150 euro per week. It remains to be seen whether there'll actually be any state pension to speak of by the time I make it to pensionable age, assuming I do make it that far, but let's be optimistic. If I was old enough to be collecting it today, that amount would cover my rent for the month. And I'll have whatever small amount coming from my private pensions and investments, as well as my German state pension. I may never be rich but at least there's a good chance that I'll be able to cover expenses and not have to work until I drop.

Starting at the beginning of April, my hours increased to 30 per week (this will mean net salary of about 1,350 instead 990 per month). I have also finally found a mini-job, which is paying me 400 per month, less just a small deduction for pension. I could have opted out of that but it's about 40 euro a month that I probably won't miss much now and will appreciate having in 25 years or so. That's the theory anyway. But apart from the pension deduction the rest of that 400 is tax and social insurance free. It's long hours (2.5-3 hours six days a week) but the tax-free status makes it a not as bad hourly rate as it seems at first. I'm just covering for someone who had to go and attend rehab for a month for a bad back. Her time there may be extended but probably not and then I'll finish up. It's a nice little amount of extra cash but I have to admit that I find the inflexibility of six early mornings every week is getting to me and I don't think I'd want to keep it up long-term. But now that I'm trained in, there might be the possibility of picking up occasional hours, which would probably suit me better.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Films I really should get around to watching sometime

Someone mentioned Donnie Darko on twitter the other day (it's fifteen years old), which reminded me that I haven't actually seen it yet. And this weekend I've been thinking about some other films that I've somehow never gotten around to watching. Many are classics, some are not. My brother and I made a list years ago when we were watching a program about the Top 100 Films and for a while we  worked our way through some of the classics we hadn't seen but when the list was lost, the idea fizzled out somehow. For those times when I'm pondering what to watch, however, I thought I'd start another list. And to jog my memory, I went looking for some top 100 lists on the internet. Wow, so many films I've yet to see.

  1. Donnie Darko
  2. Citizen Kane
  3. Goodfellas
  4. Lawrence of Arabia
  5. Tangled
  6. Tarzan (the Walt Disney cartoon)
  7. On the Waterfront
  8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  9. Apocalypse Now
  10. Blade Runner
  11. The Manchurian Candidate
  12. The French Connection
  13. Scarface
  14. The Shawshank Redemption
  15. Green Mile
  16. The Deer Hunter
  17. Rocky (I did go to see Rocky IV in the cinema for a friend's birthday but haven't seen the others)
  18. Easy Rider
  19. Kes
  20. The Crying Game
  21. My Beautiful Laundrette
  22. Rabbit-proof Fence
  23. Brief Encounter
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Stepford Wives
  26. Anything Goes
  27. Mad Max
  28. The Martian
  29. Brooklyn
  30. Room
  31. The Danish Girl
  32. Enigma
  33. The Theory of Everything
  34. 12 Years a Slave
  35. The Shining

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Holiday goals changed to doing nothing

Well, I made it to Halle and even managed to only miss one rehearsal. Although I have to admit that although I was at the Friday rehearsal my voice was not always quite as present. It was another great weekend and I really enjoyed the performance on Saturday night.

As always, it was fantastic to meet up with old friends as well as meeting new ones. This time round we even made the effort to participate in one of the non-singing activities, dragged ourselves out of bed early one morning and went off to see the State Museum of Prehistory. The few hours we spent there were not enough to do more than scratch the surface of what this amazing musuem has to offer. I'd highly recommend it if you are ever in Halle and will definitely be going back there.

Since the Happy Birthday Handel weekend coincided with Karneval this year, we even got to enjoy the parade on Monday before we had to leave. When I got back I was tired but happy, always the best way to come home from some time away, I think.
This year we also discovered the Irish pub in Halle, called Nante's (Nante is the nickname of the guy who owns it). We had a great night out there - they let us borrow one of their guitars and we started a really fun singalong session.
I now have the rest of the week off as I needed to use up some holiday time. I had planned to spend the time sorting out my balcony. The tiles badly need to be cleaned and then I wanted to buy some stones, soil and compost and get my pots filled and ready for planting a few things. If I got very adventurous I thought I might manage to finish painting my CD shelf. And maybe one or two other things as well. But instead of all that, I think I'm switching to just doing nothing at all. Well, that's about as much as I've done the last two days and it feels about the right speed so I'm just going with it. But even doing nothing I've still gotten one or two things done. Today, for example, I took out the documentation for the bank I opened up an investment account with and then never got around to actually setting up properly. I knew that had dragged on a bit and so when searching for tax-related stuff recently I had put anything I found dealing with that account into one place.

It took me several phone calls and resetting passwords etc. but today I finally got it set up. And I added in a current account as well as the investment account. This bank, ING-DIBA, does not have any charges associated with its current account. I've been happy with my current bank up to now but there are two reasons I've decided to bite the bullet and change. The first is that the selection of ATMs near me for my bank or any of its partner branches is really poor. The second is that I fell foul of their lodgement limit again this month. I thought it was 1,100 per month but it seems it's 1,200. I need to go back and check the last time this happened - I think they may have increased that amount and I didn't notice. At any rate, I was about 30 euro short of that last month, which means that I need to pay the 9.90 monthly charges. The current account, you see, is only free if you lodge at least 1,200 per month. This is the second or third time since I left my more-highly-paid job that this has happened. Since ING-DIBA doesn't attach those kind of conditions to their free current account, and offers free withdrawals from all ATMs, regardless of which bank, it just makes sense to switch. Even if I am kind of dreading having to trawl through everything to make sure I notify all of the places that I have direct debits set up with. In the meantime, I set up a savings plan to start investing in my first ETF fund. I'm excited. It's several years since reading something on Fiona's blog led me to Mr. Money Mustache and although my 50 euro a month savings might take quite a while to build up to anything substantial, it's a start. Or it will be, from the middle of April and then every month after that.

Tomorrow, I have to attend an organising meeting for the March for Science before running off to my choir rehearsal. And then all of a sudden it'll be Friday again and the weekend will be here. So, I'm not going to put myself under pressure to achieve anything else other than chilling out and trying to get rid of the rest of this cough. Yep, I'm still actually sick and totally fed up with coughing and sneezing. So a goal of doing nothing for the next few days is entirely appropriate!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Out of action

I had a feeling of almost having sniffles last Sunday but soldiered on through the day, got some work done, finished up my Coursera course (should have realised how lousy I was actually feeling when it took me three times to actually pass the final quiz though!), started dosing myself with vitamin C. And woke up on Monday feeling worse, definitely a cold coming on. Not a problem though. I don't work in the same place I used to, no pressure to feel like I have to go in no matter what so I just sent and email to my boss, told her I was sick and that I wouldn't be in and then took the day easy. Spent most of it on the couch, drank plenty of fluids, and went to bed early. Woke up on Tuesday feeling worse. And then even worse again on Wednesday, due to not getting to sleep until after five o'clock because of all the coughing. So off to the doctor I went. Typical answer, it's a flu-like infection. They seem to use that term here a lot, nobody ever just says you have a cold.

Anyway, he prescribed me some tablets to help loosen the phlegm to ease the cough, told me to take paracetemol or ibuprofen as well and gave me a sick note for the rest of the week. And here we are, it's Friday, I'm about to run out of tissues, feel just as bad if not worse than I did on Wednesday, and to top it all off, I'm feeling really, really sorry for myself. Like, alsmot in tears crying because I'm feeling so sorry for myself. I think I might actually have man-flu!

I'd better get better by Wednesday, that's all I can say. Thursday is the start of my annual trip to Halle to sing Messiah and meet up with friends from Ireland and I am not missing it!

Monday, February 06, 2017

Too much cheese

It seems like there couldn't possibly be such a thing as too much cheese, doesn't it? But today I met my limit. Totally my own fault, too, there just wasn't even a reason for me to keep on eating it. It all started with me getting confused about how to match up my meals with my schedule today. I should have had some scrambled eggs for breakfast before leaving the house, leaving me with soup in work in the late afternoon, an apple as a snack, and a smoothie to take with me this evening when I went to a lecture. But I really wasn't hungry this morning so I just left it and it wasn't until I was actually in work around half-ten that I realised I wouldn't be home for another 11 hours and only had the soup and smoothie with me.

Although there have been days in the past week when that ended up being more or less exactly what I ate, realising in advance somehow made me start getting that kind of fearful what-if-I-get-hungry worrying going on in my head. At the same time, I didn't want to leave eating so many of my daily caloires until after arriving home late in the evening. At lunchtime I went over to the small uni shop to see what they had that might fit in with the blood sugar diet and not require cooking. I ended up buying a tin of tuna (which I thought I'd be able to leave in my desk for future similar occasions), some cheddar cheese, and two boiled eggs. So I had three options and everything would be fine.

I ended up deciding to have the tuna with my soup and that was a huge lunch that left me almost too full. And yet over the course of the afternoon, I kept reaching for that goddamn cheese. I wasn't evening doing anything nice with it, like, oh you know, cutting it with a knife. Just tearing little chunks off the small block. I have to admit I really felt kind of sick by the end of the afternoon. So much so that I didn't even bother with the smoothie. It'll keep until tomorrow. I weighed the cheese when I got home and it looks like what I ate was just over 75g. That doesn't sound like a lot but I think it'll be a long while before I get any kind of a longing to eat cheese straight like that again!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Sunday 5th February 2017

Time is rushing by. I know they say that that happens more and more as you get older, I just didn't think I'd feel it or notice it quite this much. I'm trying hard not to overwhelm myself with doing things (especially since I already have so many things that it would be really good to get done, at home for example, or getting fit!) but it's actually kind of hard. For such an extreme introvert I end up wanting to do an awful lot of things that involve me interacting with an awful lot of people. Still, I'm trying to do my best to not volunteer for everything that comes my way.

As well as all of that stuff, I've been doing some online courses, as well as attending public lectures in the university here most weeks. There are so many interesting things to learn! The course I'm doing at the moment is on Greening the Economy and it's a five-week course. I've just sent off my week 4 assingment so it's just one week left now. I have to admit I have struggled with having deadlines and that much reading to do. And I was dreading this week's assignment but I managed to cobble something together in the end. The final week just has a quiz at the end so I'm not dreading next week at all. The quizzes are not that difficult really. Although I don't think I've managed to get full marks (10 out of 10) yet, I've usually only gotten one or two answers wrong. As usual, about half the time that's partly down to me slightly misinterpreting the question. I should work on that.

The assignments for each week were to write about something green from the point of view of an individual (week 1), a business (week 2), and a city (week 3). For week 2 I chose to write about a shop that sells loose products and you can bring your own containers to be filled.
I bought almonds, red lentils, and chickpeas, just to try it out
As most of the stuff is organic, it is more expensive than a standard supermarket but compared to an organic supermarket it's slightly less expensive. And wow, so fantastic to get home from the shops and not have to immediately throw out a ton of packaging. I really hope it stays around (it's only in its first year of business) and I'll do my best to shop there for the things they do sell. I spent some time chatting to the owner and she seems very passionate about local food, too, so where possible she tries to get stuff in from local sources and is building up a network of new sources all the time by going out and letting producers know what she's looking for. Forcing myself to go and find this shop also means I found one of the best parts of Heidelberg, where the weekly market has mostly organic and regional stuff on sale. Score!

This evening I am:
Reading
I have been reading course materials all afternoon but am finished now. This morning I read another chaper of Jonathan Bardon's Hallelujah, the story of a musical genius and the city that brought his masterpiece to life. For evenings I've got a Georgette Heyer romance on the go.
Listening to
I had Joe Dolan on earlier while I was in the kitchen, then listened to some of Messiah while I was studying, and currently I have a piece on in the background that we've just stared learning in choir. It's a fun piece from an opera called Zar und Zimmermann (Tsar and Carpenter).
Watching
I want to watch a film this evening but haven't decided what. I'm really not sure what I'm in the mood for though so may need to go through my small cupboard of DVDs to see if anything jumps out at me.
Cooking/baking
I'm still on a smoothies and soups kick and I started the blood sugar diet last Monday (planning to just do it for three weeks before switching to 5:2) so it has been a full week of cooking at home. Today I made a new soup, from my Low-Fat cookbook it's a spiced cauliflower soup. It involves turnip as well, which I really don't like much, and I wasn't sure if cauliflower soup might be a bit strong-tasting. It's not too bad actually, although I may put one or two portions in the freezer to spread it out a bit. I have other soups in there I can substitute, even if they do have potatoes in the them (not part of the blood sugar diet). While that was cooking I had lunch, which was a big salad, pickled onions (to finish off the jar), and lamb steak. It was sooo good. Dinner will be in a little while and will be the last of the spicy carrot and lentil soup from last week. I may treat myself to some fruit and nuts later, too. That will tip me over my calorie allowance for the day but I think a treat on a Sunday evening might be a good thing to incorporate. Still staying on plan and just exceeding the calories.
Happy I accomplished this week
I am really pleased that I have stuck with the blood sugar diet for a week already. I managed to work around times that I was going to be out and about for a bit longer by switching my smoothie to those times and having it with me. And I finally finished filing the stuff that was on my table. It's amazing what an incentive it was to want to get a couple of more things crossed off my January to-do list before I had to transfer them to February. I also remember to phone the electricity supplier to give a reading as I've been here eight months now and that's long enough to get a better estimate of how much I'm actually using (compared to the person who rented here before me). I contacted four more places to cancel subscriptions and/or change my address. And yesterday I went to an informal training afternoon hosted by the local chapter of the Translators' Association of Germany and learned about some software and apps that can be useful. Oh, and last week I also oiled my two wooden chopping boards. One was new and recommended doing this so I did the other smaller one I had at the same time. I bought that new one the week before christmas so I am glad I finally did it.
Looking forward to next week
Another lecture tomorrow evening, the last in this series. On Tuesday evening I'll go to a meeting to meet other who are organising the March for Science here. I've said I'll help out with that (see note up above about not getting involved in everything and feel free to laugh now). On Thursday I'm gonig to lunch with my boss and another colleague. We're going to a Thai place so although I won't stick to blood sugar diet that day, it's a relatively healthy choice. Must remember to ask them if they offer brown rice. I'm pretty sure they don't but if people don't ask, no-one will ever start to offer it.
Thinking of good things that happened this week
Lost weight, and more than I was expecting to. Had a good rehearsal at the smaller choir (larger choir is on a break between semesters and the smaller one is a pretty select group that you have to be invited to and I wasn't sure if I was really good enough). Found out that my current electricity consumption is very low apparently. So instead of paying 40 euro a month (they do a final reckoning once a year then, based on actual usage), I could be just paying closer to 10. I've left it at 20 for now, as I want to switch to a different tariff that uses only renewable energy and it'll be a bit more expensive.
Grateful for
Good friends. Good sleep. Waking up clear-headed (another benefit of the blood sugar diet).
Bonus question from the Occasional Nomad: Do you have a favourite flower?
I love carnations. Especially if they are a variety that hasn't had the scent bred out of them. It's such a lovely scent (they smell a bit like cloves) although even without a scent I still find them beautiful, just somehow simple and cheerful. I do also love peonies, although I only really remember becoming aware of them about six or seven years ago. In German they're called Whit Roses. Speaking of roses, I like them, too, although I'm not expert enough to be able to name any particular favourite. I have lots and lots of photos of roses that I've taken over the years though. I also love lilac. And finally, magnolia. In fact that reminds me that I should go and find a magnolia tree somewhere near where I live or work now. Watching the progress of a magnolia budding and flowering every spring is a real treat. The flowers are short-lived but when they're gone, the leaves that are left behind are an amazing colour green. Actually, in the sets of markers that I remember from when I was a kid (they held about 30 colours, if I remember correctly), my two favourites were a kind of a yellowy-lime green very similar to the colour of magnolia leaves, and a light purple, just the colour of the lilac tree we had in our garden. 

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Momentum

I've been wondering the last couple of days why it is I find it so difficult to keep up momentum on doing anything. All in all, the year has started off alright and slowly but surely I've been keeping up with and implementing some things that I really want to do. Normally, those small successes reinforce the desire to keep doing them, since feeling good feels, well, good. And yet I struggled somewhat at the weekend, yesterday was a mixed bag of just doing things and struggling. Today feels like it has been an exhausting struggle and even the fact that I've just had some of my homemade chicken and vegetable soup for dinner isn't feeling like any kind of a success at all.

I'm going to head to bed shortly and maybe read a few pages of something before sleeping. Perhaps tomorrow will be better. On the surface, there isn't much actually wrong. I'm beginning to suspect that I've just reached a place where dealing with the next level of issues is possible and so things are coming to the fore in my mind, even if they're still mostly in my sub-conscious and even if otherwise life is pretty good. I've been buying frozen fruit and making a smoothie to bring to work every day. This has meant that I've eaten almost no sweet things at work at all. That is huge for me. And I've been eating a lot of soup as well. So my intake of fruit and veg is way up and if most of it is in liquid form, that's actually suiting me at the moment. I almost feel like my digestive system has recovered from the excesses of December. Next week I'm going to start a few weeks of the blood-sugar diet and I'm looking forward to it and hoping I'll feel as good doing it as I did last year.

I even got some walking in over the weekend. The women's march in Heidelberg might have been a slow walk through town but it did mean that when it was over, I had to walk right back to the other side of town again. And I actually walked a bit further and crossed the bridge towards the tramstop before the very busy one in the centre of town. Then on Sunday it was back into town and a brisk walk to the church where my choir was singing. I didn't sing with them this time but went in to help out on the door and listen afterwards. Then I helped with dismantling the stage and rearranging chairs again and walked back down the town. I actually used my app that time and was surprised to see that it's just over 1km from that church to the centre - it feels like longer. Heidelberg, like many valley towns, always feels very long and getting anywhere seems to involve walking along the very long main street (or one of the parallel streets, which I have been trying to do recently in an effort to avoid crowds and get to know the town a bit better). The main street is 1.8km long in total, so it's not the shortest street I've ever know by any means. I just looked that up to be able to put a figure on it and will believe what Wikipedia says. Also interesting to note that the street was first built in 1220 (not quite as long as today thought) and although it has seen some changes, it still follows the same path. I've only ever known it in its current incarnation as a pedestrian zone (which it became in 1978). It's hard to believe it used to have cars and two-way tramlines on it all the time.

So, I've walked a bit. And my knees are only starting to hurt a little bit so I think if I go easy for the rest of the week, maybe I'll be able to go for a longer walk at the weekend. And I'm eating pretty well. I'm even studying a bit, as I started a five-week online course. And yet...things just feel like a struggle. The unrelenting, unremitting task that is life just keeps on going and that is just how I seem to feel at the moment. Here's hoping it won't take too long before life doesn't feel like so much of a task again. At this stage, I'd settle for this stupid coldsore going away. I think that may be what's bothering me more than anything really!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday 15th January 2017

It's too early to say that the dark days of winter are behind us but, after someone else commented on it a couple of weeks ago, I have to admit to having taken to checking the sunset and sunrise times on a weather app I have on my phone on an almost daily basis. It is definitely helping me to know there is a minute or so more daylight today than a few days ago, for example. Even if you can't really see the difference. Still, we are almost up to five o'clock before the sun sets and I think it is also helping me to remember to look out the window and enjoy the sunset - I have a tendency to be so firmly in my little world of hibernation that I nearly forget that it isn't actually just permanently dark out. And today's sunset was really beautiful.

This evening I am:
Reading
Course materials for an online course I've started. I actually signed up for this a few months ago but missed the starting few days for one reason and another and decided to give up before I even started and just wait for the next time round. It started again last week and so I've spent some time going through the introductory module yesterday and today and now am reading some of the extra materials they linked to. It's all about sustainability and the green economy and so far it's very interesting. The book I'm reading at the moment is one a friend bought for me recently by Jonathan Bardon. It's called Hallelujah, the story of a musical genius and the city that brought his masterpiece to life. As you might imagine, it's about Handel and the premiere of Messiah in Dublin and I'm really enjoying it. Especially as it'll only be another few weeks before I head off to sing Messiah in Halle again.
Listening to
When I haven't been listening to lecture videos for my course I've had Beethoven on in the background (5th and 6th Symphonies in case anyone was wondering).
Watching
I finished rewatching Jericho yesterday and really enjoyed that as I realised that I never got to see the last three episodes before. It has made me want to re-read Dies the Fire again, too. And maybe World Made by Hand as well. I'm planning on watching a film this evening but haven't decided what yet.
Cooking/baking
I made a huge pot of vegetable soup earlier, so I'll have some of that for dinner. I also made and tried chia pudding for the first time today. Well, I say made but really I just put some chia seeds into a cup of milk and left them in the fridge overnight and had that for breakfast this morning. Wasn't a huge fan of it. I think I'll try just adding a few to smoothies instead.
Happy I accomplished this week
I got my bullet journal started and have even made some progress on getting some things on my to-do list done. In order to do one of those things I cleared a space in the kitchen that became a kind of dumping ground just after I moved in. Once I had that cleared I could move the stuff that was stacked on the floor. Baby steps but sometimes I need to live with a mess for quite a while before I change it. And having lived with the mess I really appreciate the new non-mess an awful lot. I also brought back some DVDs to the library on time and handed over the book that I bought for them. They have a great scheme coming up to christmas where they put up a huge poster with details of books they'd like to have and you can tear off the little tag with the details and buy the book for them. You get a donation certificate from the town hall for your tax return and a small-town library gets to improve their selection of books a little. And I'm very happy that I've managed to keep on top of the washing-up again this week. I may leave things lying but it all gets done and cleared at least once a day.
Looking forward to next week
There's a lecture on in the university tomorrow evening that I'm going to try and get to. It's about citizen's rights for minorities in Europe so should be interesting. And next Saturday I'm going to join the Heidelberg version of the global women's march. Is anyone else joining in their local march?
Thinking of good things that happened this week
It snowed on Friday evening and night and things looked picture pretty. And then it had mostly melted from the streets and paths by morning, leaving just the pretty to look at white on the distant hills and on rooftops, while allowing everyone to walk around normally without slipping or sliding. And I had some good chats with my boss on a few different topics. We also got the paperwork started for extending my hours to 30 per week from April.
Grateful for
The fact that even though we might be close to the edge, the apocalypse hasn't actually happened yet and I get to live my life in warmth and relative security. Also, chocolate. I don't think there's ever really a week where I'm not grateful for chocolate. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Another recipe attempt and some brain unloading

Recipe first. This involves the pork fillet that I bought at the beginning of December and have had in the freezer. Inspired by Two and a Half Men's recent post and feeling like there's a good joke about how their loin was bigger than mine but not finding it, I decided to try to do something with it. I don't have a meat thermometer though and wasn't going to be able to use that method of timing the cooking. So I read through a couple of books, thinking I might do it in the slow cooker but rejected that in favour of amalgamating a few things from a few different places, memory included. And I've added meat thermometer to the list of things I need to buy.

So, I've lined a dish with some tinfoil, oiled it with a small amount of olive oil and put a good layer of sliced apples on the bottom (two fairly big Boskoop apples). I chopped and fried and onion in some butter and sprinkled that on top of the apple, adding five cloves of garlic that I roasted yesterday but didn't finish eating with the rest of the veg. Waste not, want not. Then I poured some olive oil into one of my little yellow bowls (probably about a tablespoon, maybe a bit less) and added herbes de provence, probably about the same amount. I rubbed that all over the pork and laid the pork on top of the apples, onion and garlic. I poured about a mugful of water over the apples and then wrapped the tinfoil loosely over the whole lot. Well, tightly sealed but not tightly packed, if you know what I mean. It has been in the oven at 190C for twenty minutes and I think I'll check it in ten minutes or so.

Since the oven was on anyway, I also roasted 200g of unblanched almonds for ten minutes. I bought a kilo of almonds months ago to try making almond butter and have slowly but surely been eating them but never actually making almond butter. Really want to try it out once and for all. Not least because it's one of the ingredients in these genious ginger cakes and they sound delicious.

Otherwise, I just really wanted to post something. I miss blogging (I first of all wrote writing there but that's not entirely accurate) and amn't sure why I've been so sporadic in doing it recently. I don't quite feel up to any kind of every-day-challenge but I want to try and make a bit of an effort to do things I enjoy more.

I had a very lazy break over the holidays and have done exactly the same this weekend, including on the bank holiday on Friday. It's a bit funny really. It's not the kind of lazy lying around that is just being lazy. I really feel like I need it to unwind. Even though it seems like there are probably better, more active ways to unwind. When I finished work just over a year ago I spent weeks not doing much  and wouldn't have done anything at all except that I had to (sorting out stuff with social welfare, tax office, and doing translation work that came in). It was March before I really started to feel like I was getting over work and starting to actually do something every day, like going for long walks and really looking for a new job. It almost feels like I found a job too soon now. I could have used another four or five months I think. Recovering from overwork and chronic overstress takes a long time. And having to go through an extremely stressful time like I had during the move just took so much out of me. If I hadn't had those few months inbetween, I don't think I would've managed it.

It was my guest from hell in July that really threw me for a loop and, since that visit was unfortunately timed for just before a really busy period in my new job, it took me a few months to get over it, even as I tried to really, consciously, fight it and not just let myself be dragged back down into a hole of depression. It's hard to explain really. I suppose the analogy of a piece of elastic fits to a certain extent. After years and years of being stretched too far, I just can't bounce back to where I was before. And I have less stretch in me now, too. My head is, for the most part, however, pretty clear. It's not quite the same overwhelming, grey cover on my brain feeling of depression - so I'm hopeful that I really have made strides forward and am now getting to a stage of needing to just look after myself a bit, cherish myself a bit and allow myself the time and space to realise and accept that in between depression, long-term overwork and stress, and being able to lead a more normal life, there's a whole lot of space and I can't just go from one to the other. I have to keep focusing on the amazing and positive changes I have made in my life in the past year and keep moving in that direction. Even if I'm not there yet, I'm much closer than I used to be so even though it feels like I'm letting time just slip past me, I need to be kind to myself and give myself this time that I obviously still so desperately need.

Monday, January 02, 2017

2016 year in books - the stats

A summary of what I read last year - see the same thing for 2015 here, 2014 here, 2013 here2012 here and 2011 here.

  • Books by male authors:21
  • Books by female authors:40 (15 of those were the "research" romances)
  • Fiction: 54
  • Non-fiction: 7
  • English books:71
  • German books: 0
  • Books re-read:22
  • Book club books:2


Fiona asked me in a comment on the previous post whether or not I used an app to keep track and I thought I'd just add in a bit about what I do here. Although it seems like the answer to anything you might possibly want to do is "there's an app for that", I really do just work better with pen and paper. The first year I did one of these lists, I cobbled it together from what I remembered, receipts from the library or from Amazon, emails arranging book club and so on. Nikki from bookpunks/clickclackgorilla mentioned that she kept a note in the back of her diary and since I thought that sounded like a good way to do it, I started doing that and have kept it up ever since. Like so:






It's nice to have it in the diary for each year, even if the only other things in the diary are appointments. I do still hang on to them and it's nice to look back. I'm just about to run out of space in the one box that I have designated for this purpose though, so will need to make a decision about whether or not to get rid of the earliest ones.

I did join goodreads when that came out but I'm not great at updating it and, after a few months of spending hours trying to add all the books I have ever read (an impossible task), I now mostly use it for making a note of books other people mention and that I might like to read sometime. Although I use an amazon wishlist for that, too, so I'm a bit all over the place really. Which proves yet again that if I want to actually do something, pen and paper will usually work better for me!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

2016 - the year in books

Still not posting a lot and living in my head a little bit too much, but it all feels right at the moment so I'm just going with it. Couldn't miss out on posting a list of books, though, even if it feels like 2016 has definitely been another lacklustre year for reading. With the stress of the move, however, I actually spend long periods of time essentially reading nothing at all. I should get myself some books of short stories for periods like that in the future. For times when I had a bit more time again but still not much in the way of mental capacity to take in anything new, I did a lot of re-reading in 2016.

Looking back at the new books on this list it really was all pretty forgettable. The stand-out was definitely Radical Homemakers. I had heard so many people raving about this book that I nearly didn't get it. So often when that happens, even if it's a good book, it just can't measure up to the hype. I may not agree with absolutely everything in it (mostly stemming from growing up in a more socialist than purely capitalist environment, I think) but I've marked about a gazillion pages to take notes from and just have to go ahead and join all of those who have raved about this book. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I'll be re-reading it in 2017 and trying to get some of my reactions down on paper.

I didn't manage to read even a single German book, although I did start one which I will finish soon (had to bring it back to the library before I was finished). Like last year, I also read quite a lot of romance novels - all part of the research/procrastination process as preparation for writing my own. I did actually write a few pages this year so there will be even more reading of romance novels in 2017 and hopefully a whole lot more writing, too. Just need to find some more euphemisms for penis, 'cos the internet is full of slang terms for penis but not so much euphemisms and there's only so many times you can say throbbing member.

If you're interested in seeing lists for previous years, click 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 or 2010. I haven't yet seen a bloghop-type thing started on bookpunks this year but if you're posting a list of books that you've read this year, or about your favourite book or similar, feel free to comment here. I love books and I love lists so the more the merrier.

(BC) = Book club books (barely got book club restarted in 2016 before I ended up moving away)
(RR) = something I've re-read - there are some books, such as by Georgette Heyer, that I invariably read every year when the escapism of new fiction isn't enough and I want to escape into familiar stories that always make me laugh or cry.


  1. Having the Cowboy's Baby - Judy Duarte
  2. How to Build a Girl - Caitlin Moran
  3. No Dress Rehearsal - Marian Keyes
  4. Seedless in Seattle - Ross O'Carroll Kelly as told to Paul Howard
  5. The Husband She'd Never Met - Barbara Hannay
  6. The Widow's Bachelor Bargain - Teresa Southwick
  7. Unlocking Her Boss's Heart - Christy McKellan
  8. This year it will be different - Maeve Binchy
  9. If you could see me now - Cecelia Ahern
  10. Steelheart - Brandon Sanderson
  11. The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson
  12. Tickling the English - Dara O'Briain
  13. Words of Radiance - Brandon Sanderson
  14. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson
  15. We are all completely beside ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler (BC)
  16. Firefight - Brandon Sanderson
  17. The 8-week blood sugar diet - Michael Mosley
  18. Out of the shelter - David Lodge
  19. Calamity - Brandon Sanderson
  20. Burial Rites - Hannah Kent (BC)
  21. Cooked - Michael Pollan
  22. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  23. A Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  24. A Storm of Swords Part 1, Steel & Snow - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  25. A Storm of Swords Part 2, Blood & Gold - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  26. A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  27. A Dance with Dragons Part 1, Dreams & Dust - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  28. A Dance with Dragons Part 2, After the Feast - George R.R. Martin (RR)
  29. Cinderella on his Doorstep - Rebecca Waters
  30. Mr. Right, Next Door! - Barbara Wallace
  31. Soldier on her Doorstep - Soraya Lane
  32. Words of Radiance - Brandon Sanderson
  33. Intense Blue - Lynn Wood
  34. Poison Study - Maria V. Synder
  35. Magic Study - Maria V. Synder
  36. Fire Study - Maria V. Synder
  37. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (RR)
  38. The Kerry Babies Case: A Woman to Blame - Nell McCafferty
  39. Do you know who's dead? - Paddy Duffy
  40. Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
  41. The Rowan - Anne McCaffrey (RR)
  42. Damia - Anne McCaffrey (RR)
  43. Regency Buck - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  44. The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  45. The Masqueraders - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  46. Lady of Quality - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  47. Unlocking her Boss's Heart - Christy McKellen (RR)
  48. The Fix-It Man - Vicki Lewis Thompson (RR)
  49. Serendipity - Judith McWilliams (RR)
  50. Hero at Heart - JoAnn Ross (RR)
  51. Bath Tangle - Georgette Heyer (RR)
  52. Radical Homemakers - Shannon Hayes
  53. Thirteen - Kelley Armstrong (RR)
  54. Otherworld Nights - Kelley Armstrong
  55. Otherworld Chills - Kelley Armstrong
  56. Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - Joanne Harris
  57. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Achidie
  58. Memories of Gold - Ali Olson (RR)
  59. Merely Players - Patricia Thompson
  60. Wild Rose - Betsy Talbot
  61. The One Kingdom - Sean Russell (RR)