Gardenscaping: Where the Solution of one Problem Creates Three Equally Interesting Ones

Last time we saw the garden we had a new terrace and stairs, but were still far away from it being finished, which it still is. Since then I gave the old bench a new coat of paint and we got new garden furniture and somebody competent is working on a handrail. What we still need is a lamp. The easiest thing would be to screw one to the side of the house, but when has easy ever been an option? the plan is to put a lamp post in the upper corner of the slope, at the end of the terrace.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

In this pic that’s the upper right hand corner, basically where the wooden fence starts. This way it should give light to the small terrace, but also to the stairs. Also I want a small fountain there so we need electricity anyway. Therefore we spent most of Saturday doing what we’re good at: me telling Mr what he should do and him doing what I told him. Sounds pretty much like some sexist trope about the domineering wife and the poor hapless husband, but it links to the concept of the mental load: The fact that in heterosexual relationships the women are usually the ones who have to do the planning and coordination and sadly, our family is a poster child for this in most parts. Mr has gotten better over the years (often because I simply refused to to do it. If we agreed that it was his task then I would simply unburden myself. No more checking in, no more doing the thinking), but on the whole the mental load is still mine. It doesn’t help that he’s really not good at planning in several steps. He’s more of a Scrabble guy than a chess player and his plan was to start pouring a concrete base at the top where the lamp should go and worry about the slope later. Supposedly after the first heavy rain washed down the earth including the concrete base.

At my suggestion (haha) we started securing the upper part of the slope:


©Giliell, all rights reserved

What looks like just a couple of stones was the backbreaking work of several hours. The slope goes in two directions: into our garden and towards the neighbour’s garden. And we had to start somewhere in the middle, because that stone that looks like I had drunk the gin tonic before and not afterwards is turned over on purpose: It covers the drainage pipe from the terrace, making sure the water can exit freely. To prevent animals from getting in there we put in a tin with holes in the bottom. I’m curious at how this will work out, but it’s raining today so I’ll take a look later. This means that we had to start right there, that was our fixed point, and work our way up and to the sides and down as well. Every other stone has a steel bolt at least 30cm into the ground and a layer of concrete to secure it. And some drainage because I do want to plant something in those stones. The first row is always the hardest because it needs to be very level. Sure, the stones will always have their irregularities, they won’t all be the exact same height, but if you’re off there, you’ll be in a lot of trouble later. That means putting the stone (15kg) into position, checking, lifting it off, altering the ground, putting it back, checking… Yes, my arms are hurting, why do you ask? Especially since our ground is full of stones and pebbles that will just not give a millimetre, no matter how hard you push down.   And the worst part: because the whole terrain is helter skelter it looks like they’re all askew because all the other supposedly “straight lines” you’re looking at are, in fact, not straight, which is probably a metaphor or something for my life  but that’s off topic.

In the background you can see some boulders to further stabilize the slope. We still had these lying around, but we’ll need to get more of them to create a girdle on the lower edge to prevent the ground from being washed out. It will also create a nice habitat for lizards and insects, because with all the work we’re doing and all the alterations we’re making to suit our desires, that is always an important aspect. That’s the allotted “wildflowers” side of the slope anyway. I hope to get enough of the stones set in time to plant the pumpkins and courgettes. We’re not lazy, we’re environmentally friendly! We’ll spend a lot of time in the garden this year (I seriously cannot understand people who are planning their holidays this year. No, not even within Germany), so we better make it look inhabitable.

On the Fiction that is Capitalist Pricing

Companies want to sell you things. And of course, to run a business that isn’t money laundering, what you get from your customers needs to be more than what you pay for goods and services yourself. But of course they don’t just want to make some profit, they want to make as much profit as they want to and that’s where brands come into play, where they tell you stories to justify a much higher price, where a certain label means the shirt costs 150 bucks while still being made in the same sweat shop by the same people who make the 15 bucks shirts. Another trick is evoking that something is rare and exotic and therefore expensive.

Yesterday we went to the wholesale supermarket and one thing I needed was allspice. I absolutely love allspice, I was running low on allspice and I wanted to make some Jamaican jerk anyway, so I went to the spice section where I was presented with two options: the normal supermarket size packet with 19g of allspice, which would probably have been enough to make a small batch of jerk, and the restaurant wholesale packet, by the same company, with 500g.

The price difference? 2.80 vs 7.50. That’s a difference of 15 vs 150 € per kilogram for the same fucking allspice.

I think we’ll have a lot of Jamaican jerk this summer…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The Art of Book Design: The Grey Fairy Book

Andrew Lang. The Grey Fairy Book. Illustrations by H.J. Ford. New York, Longmans, Green, 1905.

Grey may not be the most exciting of colours, but the stories in this week’s Andrew Lang fairy book are full of adventure and most of the tales are new to me. The illustrations are the work of H.J. Ford again, and it was difficult to pull a few favourites because all the drawings are beautiful. Beginning next week, the remaining Andrew Lang coloured fairy books have actual coloured illustrations, so you won’t want to miss those. For today, let’s have a look at the lovely black and white drawings that accompany these stories.

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Teacher’s Corner: About Home Office and Assorted People you Have to Deal With

Schools here were closed about two months ago on a Friday. Thursday night the powers that be proclaimed they would stay open, driving to work on Friday morning I heard that we were closing on the news. Nevermind that the official announcement only came at 12:00 o’clock, we spent the whole morning frantically trying to put together lesson plans, material, information etc., while halve our kids hadn’t even come that morning anyway.

Since then we’ve been trying with more or less success to teach our kids remotely (not easy when some of them don’t even have a smartphone) and keep in contact. Which means a lot of communication. Believe me, I’ve never been as busy and with normal school days disbanded, there seems to be no point at which your work actually stops. All of this requires effort on all sides. These are just a few tales of how not to.


Informing schools of your current phone number or even address is overrated. Complain loudly about not having been contacted once you bother to call school.

Call after two months of closure to inform us that your kid didn’t get the worksheets on the last day of classes (I do remember that I sent him home early. He’d threatened to beat me).

Calling back is overrated as well. Feel neglected at the same time.


Play dumb. If you’re lucky your parents will believe you. Like when you’re supposed to hand in your work via WhatsApp and your mum texts the teacher on WhatsApp, telling her that the poor lad couldn’t find the teacher on WhatsApp.

The worksheet that is uploaded for your group has a different class label. Claim you had no idea that you were supposed to do that, even though it was uploaded under “Lessons for class XYZ”


You’ve got quite some health conditions but you’d never say “can I please not have to come in for the risky work. Let your colleagues worry and arrange schedules around you.

Here I need to fill in a bit of background. A colleague, let’s call them L, has been on sick leave for quite a while now and they still will be for a time to come. They were the tutor of a very difficult class, a situation that wasn’t improved by the long absence of their main teacher. Said colleague was the German and English teacher and just before Corona hit we had finally put up a plan which colleagues were supposed to teach them for the rest of the year. I’m not one of them because I’m not a regular teacher, but with the colleagues not having met the class yet, I took over during the last weeks. It was little work for German because they’re doing a reading diary, and more for English. Now that we’re partially up again I have a lot on my plate already, and now the reading diaries have to be handed in and evaluated (there won’t be grades, but there should at east be feedback), so I called the colleague who was supposed to take over the class in German. They are still in home office with no actual class, because they are very vulnerable and have enough preexisting conditions for three more people to stay at home. If I bring them the diaries, could they please evaluate them? “Sure, of course”, they generously said. “Just drop them off”. “Oh, and by the way, who’s actually their German teacher?”

The Duoro Valley – Part 5

From Nightjar,

This is the last set of photos and it shows the olive plantations that are also an important part of the landscape, some wine cellars, and the Pinhão river, a Douro tributary. I hope you enjoyed this series. The Douro Valley is a magical place with a long tradition of wine and olive oil production. Its sustainability is currently threatened by an increase in intensive farming and tourism. In a way, it’s being a victim of its own beauty and of the quality of its products.

Olive plantations, ©Nightjar, all rights reserved

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Jack’s Walk

Bixby and his mom, ©voyager, all rights reserved


I watched Jack hurry past the far edge of the field and toward a small wooded area. Suddenly he stopped and lifted his head, moving it from side to side and sniffing. Then he turned toward me and lowered his head again and stuck out his tongue to take a small taste of the grass. I was getting close enough that I could see a gleam come into his eye as he turned to his left, sniffing deeply for a few steps and then suddenly he plunged his big square head down behind an old log. The next thing I knew, Jack was jumping backwards and hollering “Ow, Ow, Ow” again. Great, I thought, more snakes, but Jack was rubbing his big rubber nose, not his toes, and his nose looked bright red and seemed to be throbbing. I hurried to Jack’s side, and that’s when I saw the rabbit, who was obviously hopping mad.

She was small with soft, lustrous fur that shone a blue-grey in the sunlight. Her ears lay flat against her back, and she was waving a large wooden spoon in the air toward Jack and yelling at him, “Get out, bad dog before I strike you again. How dare you burst into my warren and try to eat me. And with my son at home, too. Bad dog! Go on now, get out of here.”
Jack looked shocked and gave his nose another lick before saying, “I wasn’t trying to eat you. Honest, I wasn’t. I like rabbits. What I mean is I like to talk to rabbits, not that I like to eat rabbits. Oh dear, I’ve bumbled this all up. I’m trying to find someone, and I thought I smelled her down your hole.”
“Hmf,” said the rabbit, “It isn’t a hole, it’s my home, and you can’t just suddenly stick your head into someone’s home like that. It frightened me. You didn’t knock or announce yourself. You’re a very rude dog. Didn’t your mother teach you better manners than that?”
“I’m his mother,” I said, “and his manners are usually quite good. Please excuse him today. We’re trying to find a lost fairy who is very far from home, and Jack is quite worried about her. We both are.”
“That is no excuse to forget your manners,” the rabbit said, waving her spoon in the air again. “You haven’t even introduced yourselves.”
“I apologize,” I said. “It seems my manners are lacking today. My name is Voyager, and this is my dog, Jack. May I ask your name?”
“It’s Mrs. O’Hare,” said the rabbit.

Suddenly a smaller light brown rabbit popped up and peered at us from behind her. “And this young fellow is my son, Bixby. She turned to him and said sternly, “I thought I told you to stay inside.”
“I’m sorry, Mama,” he said. “but the old fairy is crying again, and I thought you’d want to know.”
“That’s Oma,” Jack cried out. “I knew she was here. Can you bring her out to us? We want to take her home.”
Mrs. O’Hare waved her spoon at Jack again and said, “Not so quickly, Mr. Jack. I haven’t been able to get a lick of sense out of this fairy. How do I know she’s who you’re looking for and how do I know you won’t eat her.”
“I don’t eat fairies!” Jack exclaimed. “Not fairies. Not rabbits. I eat dog food, that’s all.”
“Well,” said Mrs. O’Hare, “you look very well-fed, whatever it is that you eat. Are you sure you only eat dog food?”
Jack is sensitive about his weight, and I could see he was flustered, so I spoke up. “He has an occasional cookie treat, Mrs. O’Hare, but I can assure you that Jack doesn’t eat fairies. If we can speak with Oma, I mean the fairy, she can tell you that she knows Jack.”
“That fairy hasn’t been able to tell me anything that makes sense,” she said. “She keeps going on about being home late from school and saying that her mother will be upset. When I try to get more information, she tells me that her mother doesn’t want her to talk to strangers and then she starts to cry. About the only thing that calms her down is my honey biscuits, and she’s eaten almost all of them. I was hoping to take those to choir rehearsal tomorrow. Everyone loves my honey biscuits, and now I’ll need to make another batch, but even so, I’m not prepared to send this fairy away unless I know she’s safe.”

I crouched down beside Jack and said, “I promise you we’ll take her home to her family and friends. They’re all very worried about her. Oma has fairy ‘forgetting disease,’ and she gets mixed up. She was having an ill-advised adventure with a silly fox who lost her, and she’s very far from her home. We have a car, though, so we can get her back quickly,” I said.
“I hate cars,” said Mrs. O’Hare, “I lost an uncle to a shiny red car that was going too fast.” She turned and said to Bixby, “go see if you can get the fairy to come outside. There are a few honey biscuits left in the tin. Get one and try to get her to follow you.” Then she looked up at me and said, “Are you careful when you drive your car, voyager?”
“Yes, M’am. I am. I’ve never hit a rabbit with my car. Or any other animal,” I added quickly. “I’m sorry about your uncle.”
Just then, Bixby was back, holding out a cookie to a small figure emerging from the warren. Her grey hair had come unpinned and was wildly framing a tear-stained face full of creases. Her dark eyes were troubled but brightened as soon as she saw Jack.
“Hello, young man,” she said. ” I know you, don’t I.”
“Yes, you do. My name is Jack, and I visit with you in the forest where you live.”
“I live by the ocean, not in a forest,” she said, “but you are familiar to me. Do you know where my mama lives? I need to get home. I got lost on my way home from school, and mama will be worried.” Her eyes filled with tears.
Jack calmly laid down on the ground and looked into Oma’s eyes. His own eyes were getting moist, and he said, “Oma, I do know the way to get you home, and if you come with me, I promise I will take you there safely.”
Oma fiddled with the hem of her skirt, and after a moment, she said, “You do seem familiar. What is your name?”
“My name is Jack, and this is my mama, Voyager. We are here to take you home.”
“Oh, I’m so glad. My mom is going to be so mad at me. I’ve lost my books, and I’ve gotten dirty, and I can’t remember how to get home,” Oma started to cry softly.
“That’s alright,” said Jack. “I’ll explain that it wasn’t your fault.”
“That’s very nice of you,” she said. “What’s your name?”
“Jack. My name is Jack. Will you let my human pick you up,” he asked?
Oma was still fiddling with a loose thread on her hem, and without looking up, she clearly said, “Nope. Nobody is going to pick me up. You just lead the way, and I’ll fly behind you.”
“Your wings haven’t grown in yet,” said Jack. “and it’s too far for you to walk.”

Oma let go of her hem and frantically reached up to touch her shoulders, crying out, “Don’t tell me I’ve lost my wings, too. Mom is really going to be mad,”
Jack patiently said, “You haven’t lost your wings. They moult in the winter, and they haven’t grown in yet. It’s only early spring. They’ll grow back soon.”
She picked up her hem again and said, “Will you look at this loose thread. I hope Mom can fix it. Do you know where I live? I need to get home.”
“We’re going to take you home,” said Jack
“Are you sure you know how to get to my place? Who are you?” Oma said, looking at Jack, “I’ve forgotten the way, and my mama is going to be upset. I’ve gotten my dress dirty, and I’ve lost my books.”
“I’m your friend, Jack, and I do know the way,” he said, and he gently laid his big bowling ball of a head on the ground beside Oma and told her, “climb up onto me now and hold on tight. Careful of my nose, please. It’s a bit sore,” he said, looking at Mrs. O’Hare’s wooden spoon before continuing, “Your family will be happy to have you home again. I’m sure no one will be upset with you.”
“You do seem like a nice dog. And you are familiar. What’s your name?” she asked, reaching out to Jack and grabbing a handful of his neck ruff and pulling herself up.
“Jack,” he said patiently.
“What’s my name,” she asked.
“Your name is Oma Troutchen, and I’m going to take you home.”
“Do you know the way,” she asked again as she started to climb up Jack’s neck.
“Yes, I know the way to your home. We’re going to go there now.”
Oma had made it to the top of Jack, and he softly stood up and told Oma to grab onto his collar and hold on tight. She reached out both hands, grabbing on and started to laugh.
“This is a bit like surfing. I often surf with my friend Slippery Seal. Do you know him?”
“I don’t know any seals by name, but I like to surf,” said Jack.
“Well, let’s go find some water, and you can take me surfing,” Oma said, still laughing.
Jack turned to Mrs. O’Hare and Bixby and said, “Thank you for taking good care of Oma. I’m sorry if I was rude.”
Mrs. O’Hare snuggled up to Bixby and said, “You’re forgiven. Manners are important, but it’s even more important to have good friends who remember the things we forget. Bixby, give the biscuit to Voyager in case Oma needs it on the way home.”
Bixby reached up to me, and I gently took the cookie from him. “Thank you both,” I said, “I won’t forget your kindness, and I will make sure that Oma’s family know that you took excellent care of her.”
“Off with you now, before that fairy changes her mind,” said Mrs. O’Hare, and she and Bixby stood together watching us slowly make our way to the car.

Tree Tuesday

Jack and I came upon a dancing tree over the weekend that we want to share with you. We haven’t seen one in a long time, and Jack thinks it’s because the trees are too cold and stiff in winter to dance. I can relate to that, so the boy might be right.

©voyager, all rights reserved