On vegetable shopping

Train station, half past 6.

Smallish kid: “Mum! Mum! Mum! Can we stop and buy vegetables?!”

Kid’s brother: ” No!”

Smallish kid: “Mum! Can we buy vegetables, please!”

Kid’s mum: “No. We’re in a hurry to get to <Somewhere>. Wait, what?”

Smallish kid: “Can we buy vegetables?”

Kid’s mum: “What do you want to buy vegetables for?”

… And then they were out of earshot. They didn’t buy anything.

On making the most of being ill

Sometimes all you need is a sunny day off to fill with a 2 hour massage and a peanut butter and chocolate brownie ice cream..

A cycle ride through the autumn colours and along the canal into the sunset doesn’t hurt either.

🙂

Written yesterday but for some reason not posted properly.

On chainging my plans

Here we go again.

Jesska makes a plan and life makes it impossible to see it through.

***

At the end of August I bought new fish.

They were quite expensive as cheap fish go (nothing like as expensive as posh koi) and quite a luxury considering that I don’t “need” fish for anything. I decided to not spend any money on anything but proper food (no unnecessary/luxury food like icecream) throughout September to make up for it.

That decision lasted until about midday on the 1st when I got a message from the lady I’d agreed to buy water plants from, asking when she could expect me. I made a mental exception for things-agreed-to-before-the-decision and went to pick up the plants.

***

I did very well for the next couple of days until I remembered that I’d told people that I was going to be flying home soon and hadn’t booked any flights yet. Flights are obviously not food, but going home and seeing my family are necessary things, so I started looking at flights. They were cheaper than expected around my birthday so I booked them too. Two trips planned more than a few days in advance – way to go Jesska! Except you weren’t planning on spending money.. Ho-hum.

Then it became clear that my tyres couldn’t get much balder before the inner tubes started to show, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise.

I arranged an appointment at the bike shop.

***

It turns out you can’t get new tyres without new inner tubes (something about guarantees and warranties) and one of my tubes was thin enough to leak anyway. The brake pads were almost as bald as the tyres and the light bulb in my front light was dead. So far so good. I signed on the dotted line and went to work on the bus.

A couple of hours later, I got a call from the guy responsible for working on my bike. As he’d changed the tyres he’d noticed the chain was worn and the cassette (gears on the back wheel) could do with replacing… Me: yeah, go ahead. (I’d had the feeling the chain was getting old a couple of months ago, it wasn’t too much of a surprise to hear I needed a new one. Also, I’m going cycling in France next month and I need to know my bike will be up to the challenge. My French is very rusty and definitely not up to talking about bike problems.)

The next day I got the train (and a bus) to work.

***

I picked my bike up on the way to teach maths to one of my favourite 13 year olds.

Look at the shine!

Pedalling felt very odd but I couldn’t do anything about anything without being late for my lesson. I ignored the “crunchy vibrations” and rode on regardless.

***

The next morning I decided to go to work on the bike – if it was still weird when I got home I’d take it to the shop to be looked at again.

Those were almost famous last words.

There’s a very long bridge on the way to work, the only notable elevation change on a route that is otherwise almost entirely flat. My usual routine is struggle up to the top then change rapidly up through the gears so I can make the most of the decline.

1:6

Click

2:6

Click

2:7

Click

2:8

Click

3:8…

Click, slide, scrunch, scratch, click, scrape, squarrk, clickclickclick, screeetch, klapper, schhhhhhh, wrrr

KLUNK!

I didn’t make it into 3:8.

Instead I came to a crunchy, panicky, pedal-free halt just before one of my least favourite junctions. A tiny road joins the main road and for some reason a constant stream of lorries pulls across the tiny crossing, often without giving way to anyone, never mind cyclists on broken bicycles.

But, as I said, I stopped before the junction (lucky I had brand new brakes really ;)). Phew!

I got off to inspect the damage.

The chain, my beautiful, shiny, brand new chain, was broken and had wrapped itself between the gears, the ends hanging on the ground.. 🙁

I’d made it 2/3 of the way to work.

Yeah.

I walked the remaining few miles in the first rain in living memory (or at least in a couple of months) wondering what I’d done wrong (probably nothing) and what I should do differently in the future (also probably nothing).

***

The bike shop was incredibly kind to me on the phone. I almost definitely wasn’t as polite as I could have been but they were wonderful and arranged to meet me for at lunch and mend my chain. For free. Obviously.

***

The bicycle repair man arrived exactly when he said he would and mended the chain in a matter of minutes. It would have been seconds if the chain hadn’t squished itself so well between rings and chainguard and bike frame. And if it hadn’t been so freshly greased. Luckily for both of us it wasn’t exactly broken, it had just come undone and he’d brought a replacement link.

The chain shouldn’t be able to come apart while cycling. There’d been a series of unfortunate events leading to the exact and uncommon chain undo-al I’d experienced. Neither he nor my brother have ever had a chain undo itself while cycling and they cycle most out of the people I know. I Take that to mean the chance of it breaking/coming undone again is pretty slim – a very good thing because I don’t want it to happen again.

Quick release chain joint – a brilliant idea until it isn’t.

After that he went for a test ride, muttered, adjusted various limit screws and tested and checked and cycled and hmmed and arrred and said that I should probably change the chain rings (gears near the pedals) too.

He’d left them because they weren’t terribly worn, but he thought there must be a few damaged teeth on each ring, enough to make changing gear difficult with a new (unstretched) chain.

The bike is going back to the shop next week. Until then, I’ll be cycling slowly and carefully and walking across crossroads!

***

Okay, somehow it’s taken me a while to add pictures and press publish.

The bike went in yesterday morning and I’m on the way to pick it up now…

*Fingers crossed the crunching’s gone and the gears do what they’re told*

(Oh yeah, the month is halfway over and I could have already, or at least by the time I’ve paid for the new chain rings, bought my new fish nearly ten times over…. I do love plans..)

On turning pumpkins into food (and mostly failing)

Dear Internet,

I currently think carriages are the best thing to turn pumpkins into. Lanterns come a close second. The last thing I think they’re good for is eating.

On the other hand, a large population of the world goes wild about autumn because they can finally eat pumpkins again.

I think I’m missing something fundamental. Please provide inspiration and maybe some understanding of the crazy pumpkin lovers out there.

Thank you!

Jesska xx

***

I just produced this:

It is a reminder of why I don’t buy or eat pumpkins very often.

***

As part of a plan to eat more healthily and to expand my repertoire, I’ve been looking for (and buying) things I don’t usually eat and learning what to do with them. I always ate quite a lot of veggies, but I tended to stick to the same few sorts. I can now cook not only the basics (peas, sweetcorn, carrots, parsnips, (sweet) potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, garlics, leeks, beans, swede, sprouts) but also the slightly more weird stuff; aubergines and courgettes and fennel and kohlrabi and cabbage and spinach and I occasionally chop spring onions onto things before I serve eat them. I add chickpeas into currys and puffed quinoa into my müsli. Sweet potatoes have become my current [accessible] favourite [healthy] food (they very rarely sell parsnips here).

Recently I went shopping (to buy sweet potatoes 🙂 ) and found a rack of hokkaido pumpkins and butternut squashes. I bought one of each (as well as the potatoes).

Today was pumpkin day.

I don’t feel any urge to rush out and buy another one. Except maybe as a masochistic challenge to try again and maybe make it better next time (and risk failing).

I assumed I could cook/bake it by itself and eat it with butter and pepper – the easiest way I know to prepare anything, and the same way I enjoy eating pretty much every other vegetable. Yes, roast potatoes/carrots/parsnips/whatever are amazing but new potatoes/carrots/parsnips/whatever boiled/microwaved and smothered with melted butter* are a very fine thing. Although I add butter and pepper to all kinds of vegetables to enhance the taste, I will readily eat them unbuttered too.

Today I discovered that there is no amount of butter and pepper that can make anything exciting out of a pumpkin. I tried adding salt, paprika, curcuma, cinnamon, curry, caraway, Parmesan cheese and, by the end, a mixture of all of the above. I tried scooping it out of the skin and mashing it. I briefly thought about making soup before remembering that soup is only as good as the flavours you put in it and pumpkin doesn’t have any flavour worth mentioning. I gave up, leaving the skin and the bowl of mash on the sideboard, and consulted the wealth of online recipes Google has on offer.

The first thing that struck me was how many sweet things people make. I’d always imagined pumpkin pie like chicken pie – something dinnery. I thought pumpkin cookies were like cheese biscuits – savoury. I thought pumpkin-flavoured coffee was just bonkers but each to their own.

Turns out it’s hard to find anything to use a pumpkin for that places any value on the actual pumpkin. Using it to make cake or emptying the spice cabinet over it or adding it a spoonful at a time to other meals counts as cheating in my mind. It’s almost like an excuse to eat more of whatever you’re stretching by adding pumpkin, or as if you have to get rid of the pumpkin by any method possible, kind of like hiding carrots from fussy toddlers by grating it into spaghetti sauce. Maybe that’s just me being cynical. It’s just…, I mean, I like apples, and I like apple pie because it tastes like apples. I don’t make pie to disguise the apples or make them qualify as edible. I make apple pie as an alternative way to enjoy eating apples. I might add cinnamon or cloves but that’s to enhance the taste of the apples, not completely hide it. If you’re going for the spice-flavour you can do that without pretending anything else. You can make spiced cake without pumpkin or apples or any other unnecessary additions.

One of the first savoury recipes I found online suggested using it to fill tortellini. I figure it doesn’t make too much difference whether the filling is inside or outside the pasta and I had an open packet here so I cooked some and used the mashed pumpkin mess as a sauce.

It actually looks surprisingly good in the photo.. I am amazed 🙂

I ate it because it would be a waste not to. I didn’t eat it because it was in any way a culinary delight.

***

I buy a pumpkin approximately once every two years or so. I cook it, eat it and avoid buying them again. After a while I see them for sale, forget that I’m avoiding them, think they look pretty and take one home. Whereupon I cook it, eat it and remember why I don’t regularly buy them. This is a very foolish cycle.

If anyone has a recipe for something pumpkiny that will make me change my mind, feel free to let me know. I am open to suggestions. Especially at this time of year when pumpkins are cheaper than pretty much anything else by weight ;p.

Suggestions for other vegetables I should try are welcome too.

* I don’t eat butter on bread. I eat all my sandwiches “dry” and save the butter for drowning crumpets, muffins or vegetables instead.

On working and walking and retyring

I’ve been meaning to write all summer. And yet I haven’t. I haven’t walked much either. Why walk if you can cycle? Besides, it’s been far too hot and too still to walk. The air at least feels like it’s moving when you cycle through it.

The writing? Tja. Whatever it is that makes me write hasn’t been working.

I have tho. Mostly. I’ve been working at work and on my flat (pictures to follow) and on myself. Except when I haven’t. There have been days of doing nothing but being.

I’m working again today, which is more than I can say about my bike. It decided enough is enough and is having a retyrement party at the bike shop. Complete with celebratory cogs and a shiny chain for loyalservice and new brakes for good measure. It went in yesterday but it seems a proper celebration and recovery takes time. Especially allowing for all the breaks*..

Yesterday I walked home.

6 km (plus an hour on the sofa) of long overdue, easy flowing conversation with a friend I don’t see very often.

The world goes by more slowly when you walk but the ideas come faster when you have someone to share them with. All the happenings of the last few months, condensed into an hour, two if you count both tellings. The highlights and the lowlights. A lot of busyness contrasting with the slow steady plodding.

This morning I walked to the train station. I saw the litter in the newly cut and untypically dry grass on the banks at the side of the road and thought about how you don’t notice it so much on a bike. Or when the grass is longer and greener and lusher. Now would be a good time to go litter picking. Now, before the grass grows again or it snows on top of it all. I think I will at some point. It sounds therapeutic. Like weeding. Much easier than weeding and looking for litter in my life, although I know I should probably do that too, before it gets full again. The ground is dry too, the sand trickles out of the spaces between the roots – a perfect example of soil erosion. It’s about time it rained, the ground needs it even if I don’t want it.

***

Going to work on the train provides me with a few minutes of undisturbed writing time. So I’m writing. To prove I still can. To hopefully kickstart the idea that writing doesn’t need to be “special” or particularly interesting, it just needs to be written.

Tomorrow the bike will work again and I can go back to cycling to work.

I have no idea what my writing will do, but I hope it will stick around for a while. My mind could do with a good litter picking session. 😉

*Brakes and breaks are important. Breaking and being broken aren’t.

On furnishing adventures – the rocking computer chair

Once upon a time I bought a rocking stool at a jumble sale.

That was 2 moves ago and it’s still doing well. I love it. I love the thick padding and I love that it rocks. I love that it’s the right height for me to work at and I love that I’m short enough to have the choice of putting my knees or my feet on the knee pads. My brother ends up with his knees in his ears if he tries. I apparently have a problem with sitting in the same position for more than a few minutes so all the variations are very welcome.

I don’t so much love that sitting on it for long stretches of time hurts my back and occasionally my knees. Actually. I think it probably doesn’t hurt it in terms of ’cause it to hurt’. It probably just makes me notice where it already hurts. I should probably work on making it stop hurting rather than blaming the stool, but whatever.*

When I saw an adjustable rocking computer chair being given away for free on the local ads website I immediately wrote to ask if I could have it (and then went swimming for the first time in over a year).

Their original suggestion, a few hours later, to go and pick it up straight away, was thwarted by the time of evening and my lack of car and energy. An almost 3 hour round trip involving multiple buses and train seemed a bit over the top for a 7km journey (more than 3 sides of a square due to the way the train lines are set up) at 7pm on a work night. I suggested that the next day would be better and they agreed to look after it a little bit longer.

***

When I first said I wanted it, I’d been planning on asking H to pick it up in his car for me. He wasn’t there to ask, even after I got back from swimming, but it seemed like a thing he’d be willing to do. It’s not all that far away and he picked up a desk and skis for me before. However. I hadn’t planned on his friends having a wardrobe emergency resulting in needing his help well into the night, for several evenings**. When he got back from the first episode and told me about his plans to continue with it over the next few days, it was obvious that his free time to pick up chairs was so limited as to be non-existent. I didn’t ask or even tell him about the chair.

***

I cycled to work as usual in the morning, still wondering how best to bring it home. I was pretty sure that if I asked them to reschedule again it would be gone before I could get there.

I was still unsure when I left work. I almost left my bike there and got a bus to the chair family’s house but I remembered just in time that I can push my bike better than I can carry unwieldy furniture. I decided to use my bike like a trolley. The plan I made up in my head on the way to the chair family’s house was to push the bike-plus-chair combi to the station, take a handful of trains around an unnecessarily large part of Berlin and push it home from the station.

In the end (remember my track record of following through with any kind of plan?) I didn’t do that.

***

Instead, I pushed my bike all the way home. 🙂

It made the most sense of all my available options. After balancing the chair on the saddle and looking at train connections and remembering how much fun I’d had with the skis and the stereo on the train, I figured it was going to be easier to just walk than to fight the stations and lifts and train doors. It was also not going to take me any longer to do.

Luckily it was a fantastic day with no sign of rain or wind (or snow, although that would have been surprising in July) and a friend had some time free to spend on the phone, catching up and filling me in on her new job. I enjoyed the impromptu walk and phone call immensely.

***

This is what it looked like:

Notice the panier..

There was a very helpful saddle shaped hole in the base of the chair.

And that was the end of another successful trip.

* I expect it’s probably age-related because I don’t remember it being a problem before.. It’s also likely related to my sword-like bad posture, which is supposedly something the knee-stools are good at combating… Ho-hum.

** Germans have huge wardrobes. Like really huge wardrobes. Wall-to-wall wardrobes in houses many times bigger than the average Brit’s. I was in a posh furniture shop yesterday and the wardrobe section was very very scary. I think H said this one was nearly 4m long and 2½m tall. I have no idea what to fill almost 6m³ of wardrobe with, but it’s not my wardrobe and therefore not my problem.

On trying to post letters

Someone, at some point, told me that it was a good idea to keep stamps in the house so you can post letters without having to plan a trip to the post office. (This is Germany. You can’t buy stamps just anywhere, where would we end up?! It’s a huge improvement that they introduced stamp machines so you don’t have to queue up for them!)

I could definitely see the logic in that, especially when I lived far from the nearest post office, so I’ve bought a few more stamps than I need ever since.

What nobody told me was where to store them once I bought them. After a couple of occasions in which the stamps weren’t where I was, I took to keeping them in the inside pocket of my handbag.

This worked well..

..until it didn’t.

***

On Tuesday morning, before work, I finished addressing the second of two letters I needed to post ASAP.

I remembered that I had two stamps left from my last trip to the post office and went to find them. That sounds like I had to search for them but that’s not true. I went directly to the inside pocket of my handbag. Sure enough, there were the stamps.

However.

They were stuck together. Much more completely than in the picture. That shows how far I got with my thumbnails before I noticed that I was damaging them.

I didn’t want to go to work via the post office so I set to work unsticking them.

In all the little-kid books, they make steaming letters open and/or removing stamps from letters seem really easy.

They lied.

There’s nothing like sleepily holding your hand over an open kettle to wake you up in the morning.

Steam is hot. (well duh)

And, more annoyingly, stamps don’t just magically unstick themselves just because you sacrifice your hand for them. Even when you finally have two separate pieces of paper there’s a lot of fiddly scratching to remove the gluey remains and make them readable.

And then they aren’t sticky anymore and you have to find a gluestick. (I knew exactly where that was too, but knowing that it’s in a pencil case inside a satchel inside a drawer doesn’t save you the time it takes to fish it out).

It probably took longer to get the stamps apart and onto the envelopes than it would have taken me to go via the post office and buy new ones. ARGH.

Pro tip: don’t stack stamps on top of each other in your handbag. Especially if you are the sort of person who regularly gets caught in the rain.

On nail varnish – the best cover up (until it isn’t)

I often tell people I don’t wear (/use?) nail varnish. It’s not strictly true, but it’s as true as it needs to be for most purposes.

I used to once, but I haven’t regularly in years.

The following photo shows my not-empty tub of varnish removal pads. There were originally 30 in there, I haven’t counted, but I would estimate that there are at least 10 left. I bought it at a train station on the way to an oral exam in Hannover. That was in spring 2011. That’s how often I’ve taken it off.

(Totally irrelevant side story: I was in the sort of shop that sells nail varnish remover because I was trying to kill time so as not to have to hang round at the exam hall for too long before the exam. I wanted to be early but not so early that I could get too scared. There wasn’t a huge amount of choice of shops at the station, hence the nail varnish removal pad shop. I’d never seen them before and it saif they smelled fruity on the label. I am a sucker for good advertising ;).

When I finally sauntered into the exam centre expecting to find a crowd of people waiting, an examiner was the only person to be seen. “Jesska? Come on in. We were just wondering if you would turn up today. In 5 minutes you would have been confronted with a locked door..” Turns out my phone had not only automatically changed the clock to summer time, but also helpfully adjusted all the appointments in my calendar to match. Instead of being over an hour early, I was a couple of minutes short of missing the exam..(!!!) But… I got there just in time (they were only waiting for me because they’d been running early because this is Germany) and I sat it and I passed and the examination board said that I was good, so it all worked out in the end.. And at least I didn’t have time to get scared.. 😉 )

***

I went cycling at the weekend. It rained (obviously) but only a bit, and it was sunny in between the rain. As I was riding, my chain got stuck between my bike and the chain ring. Twice. Getting it out again was a bit of a challenge. (a bit of two challenges?)

Getting the oil off my fingers afterwards was even worse.

This was as good as I got before I got home.

The evidence was still very obvious after a couple of well planned attacks with soap and a nail brush.

Then I was invited out for dinner.

<insert mild panic>

Not only did I have to shower and find something appropriate to wear, I had to figure out how to make my hands marginally less grubby.

Nail varnish to the rescue.

I hate to admit it, but it did a fantastic job. 10 minutes concentration and a pot of dark purple polish painted over some of the oilier skin (cuticles?) and it wasn’t immediately apparent that I had been chain fighting.

Roll on this morning.

It seems nail varnish is not a very substantial decoration..

Oil-stained nails look even worse semi-covered with chipped nail varnish than just by themselves.

Which is why I found myself interrupting my breakfast to redo them.

See my cut off cycling gloves? That was a moment of genius forward planning – I could leave straight away instead of having to wait for it to dry before I could get ready. I am possibly also the only person who wears a cycling helmet to paint their nails.

On setting off

On a train. The last of 5. Next stop Wiesbaden, the capital of Hessen (central county in Germany).

My new saddle bags are being dropped in at the deep end 🙂 Packed to almost bursting point and still overflowing into my backpack.

The plan is to cycle for a couple of days with my folks who are cycling the length of the Rhein.

I’m hoping the weather is going to reasonable.. It’s been midsummer in Berlin, warm (/hot!) and sunny and lots of blue sky (with the occasional storm. Southern Germany has been rained on for months.

Anyway.

Off I go!