Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy New Year

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As I know some of my blogging friends will be entering into the new year before I do, better post this early!

Looks like we’ll be having a windy and rainy New Year’s Eve here. Been raining all day today too, and most of the December snow is gone, even from the lawns.

As has become a tradition since more than a decade, I will be spending the Eve with the same friends as usual, at my place. Two single ‘girlfriends’ who used to be my neighbours, the sister of one of them, and since a couple of years also the mother of the other friend. I’ll prepare a quiche (or two) earlier in the day, and they’ll bring salad and some other stuff. We always watch a film… Usually a ‘feel good’ kind, not too heavy or complicated. I have one in mind that I’ve not seen myself yet and I hope the others haven’t either. (If they have, we should be able to find something else in my DVD-collection.)

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slip Slidin’ Away into the New Year

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The idiom “a walk in the park” in English is supposed to mean something is easy. You should think twice before you use it in that sense in Sweden in the winter!

We’ve been going back and forth between snowstorms and rain and ice this past week. Yesterday the sun came out for a visit, but a cold clear sky also meant that the slush and rain from the previous days froze to knobbly layers of ice on walkpaths like these.

That already seems like a long time ago, though. Since then the sun has gone back into hiding, and we’ve had another round of snow, followed by slush and rain.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Gifts (Friday My Town Shoot Out)

A dear friend since nearly four decades, Gunilla, is my main provider of shawls. She finds most of them in markets in the south of Spain, where she spends some time every year. Here is the latest addition to my collection, which she sent me for Christmas:

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And below a colourful display of more of the same kind that have come as presents from her over the last decade or so:

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I also got this tiny piece of jewellry:

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It’s meant as a decoration for mobile phone or handbag… I think I’ll find a safer place for it though.  For now it’s hanging in my Christmas tree!

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My aunt sent me these charming pot-holders.

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My Santa-brother brought the first three seasons of the classic TV-series The Onedin Line on DVD.

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I’ve discovered one disadvantage of Kindle books: You can’t make a nice colourful pile of them for a Friday My Town “gifts” photo challenge! My brother also gave me a digital Amazon.com gift card… The above is a genuine camera photo of the printed card, though!

To my delight I learned that one does not have to spend the whole sum at once and there is no time limit. Once I’ve entered it to my account, my next purchases will just be deducted from the balance until I’ve used it all.

So far I’ve bought two books from my Wishlist which were both published in 2012: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, and Dodger by Terry Pratchett. As a happy surprise the latter turned out to cost only $2.99. Which means my Kindle shopping spree is not over yet!

 Friday My Town Shoot Out – Gifts

 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Little Book of Christmas

I spent part of Boxing Day reading A Little Book of Christmas which I happened to come across as free Kindle book just before the holiday. It contains four short Christmas stories. My Kindle took me right to the first page of the first story, but I soon felt need to click myself back to the “cover” page to double check: was the book really an old classic as I had assumed…?

Hetherington wasn’t half a bad sort of a fellow, but he had his peculiarities, most of which were the natural defects of a lack of imagination. He didn’t believe in ghosts, or Santa Claus, or any of the thousands of other things that he hadn’t seen with his own eyes, and as he walked home that rather chilly afternoon just before Christmas and found nearly every corner of the highway decorated with bogus Saints, wearing the shoddy regalia of Kris-Kringle, the sight made him a trifle irritable. ---

But yes, this book was first published in 1912. Not 2012. And still after finishing all four stories, the impression that lingers with me is that the world – and big city life and crazy Christmas shopping – has not really changed as much as one might think in the last 100 years…

John Kendrick Bangs (1862 – 1922) was an American author, editor and satirist, born in Yonkers, New York. His father was a lawyer in New York City, as was his brother.

Bangs himself started at Columbia Law School but left after one year in 1884 to become Associate Editor of Life. In 1888 he moved on to Harper & Brothers where he soon got the title of Editor of the Departments of Humor of all three of their magazines. In 1904 he was appointed editor of Puck, perhaps the foremost American humor magazine of its day.

His first wife with whom he had three sons, died in 1903. He then remarried and in 1907 moved from Yonkers to Ogunquit, Maine. He died from stomach cancer in 1922 at age fifty-nine, in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The partial (!) bibliography in Wikipedia is quite impressive. I also learn that he’s even got a whole genre named after him – Bangsian fantasy which is “a fantasy genre which concerns the use of famous literary or historical individuals and their interactions in the afterlife”. I also find that there are lots of titles by Bangs available as free ebooks at Amazon… So if you’ve had enough Santa-stories already this Christmas, you could try something else. I might, some day. (Just now I feel like my reading list keeps growing instead of shrinking, with every book I read!)

Book Review: The Lewis Man by Peter May

Product Details

The Lewis Man by Peter May is the second book in a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland. I went pretty much straight on to this one after the first one in the series, The Blackhouse (which I blogged about two weeks ago).

Amazon's introduction:

A MAN WITH NO NAME
An unidentified corpse is recovered from a Lewis peat bog; the only clue to its identity being a DNA sibling match to a local farmer.
A MAN WITH NO MEMORY
But this islander, Tormod Macdonald - now an elderly man suffering from dementia - has always claimed to be an only child.
A MAN WITH NO CHOICE
When Tormod's family approach Fin Macleod for help, Fin feels duty-bound to solve the mystery.

My comments:

Some six or eight months have passed between the previous book and this one. Fin Macleod has resigned from his police detective job in Edinburgh and is back on Lewis for private reasons. While in the first novel his personal experiences and memories from growing up on Lewis came to play a part in unravelling the crime he was then sent there to investigate officially; in this book it is (sort of) the other way round. When he gets involved in a case involving an old unidentified corpse just found in a peat bog, this is because of his private connections on the island, and not as an official police detective. But still experiences from his previous job gets integrated with his inofficial quest.

Like in the first book, the landscape and climate is still very much interwoven with the events and the characters. All the time in the background, you feel the weather. I don’t think I've ever come across an author with quite the same skill to make the descriptions of nature inseparable from the story itself.

The wind howled its disapproval all around them.

The sun had rediscovered its warmth, and fought to take the edge off the wind.

Heavy low cloud scraped and grazed itself against the rise and fall of the land, pregnant with rain, but holding it still as in realisation that the ground below was already beyond saturation.

In this novel too, we get the story served in parts, and from different narrative and time perspectives. In this book, we are also faced with the added complication of old age dementia. I kept thinking of my own father (who suffered from this in the last years of his life), which at times made it a somewhat 'uncomfortable' read  (stirring up my own emotions and memories). But at the same time, I have to say I'm really impressed with Peter May's respectful attempts to describe and unscramble the old age ”clouds of the mind”, involving all sorts of odd mix-ups of people and places and times.

'We walk into that nursing home, and all we see are a lot of old people sitting around. Vacant eyes, sad smiles. And we just dismiss them as … well, old. Spent, hardly worth bothering about. And yet behind those eyes every one of them has had a life, a story they could tell you. Of pain, love, hope, despair. All the things we feel, too. Getting old doesn't make them any less valid, or any less real. And it'll be us one day. Sitting there watching the young ones dismiss us as … well, old. And what's that going to feel like?'

Just as with the first book, with this one too I found it harder and harder to put it down as the story began to draw to a close... Parts of the ‘main plot’ are perhaps not quite as believable as the general setting – but I'll give it at least four stars (out of five). **** I find Peter May a really talented writer who must also be putting a lot of effort into his background research.

Some more quotes I highlighted during the reading:

When you are young a year is a big part of your life and seems to last for ever. When you are old, there have been too many of them gone before and they pass all too fast. We move so slowly away from birth, and rush so quickly to death.

He wore dark-grey suits that concertinaed around thick black shoes which squeaked on the tiles so that you always knew when he was coming, like the tick-tock of the crocodile in Peter Pan.

Whatever is à la mode today somehow seems ridiculous in retrospect.

No carved stonework or religious friezes, no stained-glass windows, no bell in the bell-tower. This was God without distraction.

You only have to look around you, and life will always remind you that you are not like others.

And he realized that you can never tell, even when you think you know someone well, what they might have been through in their lives.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Very Own Bear

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One of my Christmas presents to myself last week was to buy an unpainted mini-mini-buddy-bear with six little mini jars of paint and a brush, and get creative.

I used to do more of this kind of thing back in the previous century… (Painting I mean… I don’t think I ever did it on a bear before, though.)  Nowadays I have difficulties holding on to small objects for very long at a time (like pens and brushes); which is one reason I’ve shifted some of the creative energy into photography instead. But occasionally I still get that handicraft itch…

Not easy to keep two kinds of creativity going at once so I was already well into the project before I remembered to take a “before” photo. The original non-colour was the greyish hue you see in the second picture. As for the creative process in my mind, it went something like this:

I think I like my bear to really be a bear. A brown bear… We do have brown bears in Sweden.

Problem: The colours in my little jars are black, white, red, yellow, green and blue. No brown! Well, red and yellow make orange, and if I add a little black… Yes, that will work.

I have a Winnie-the-Pooh bear I got from a friend years ago. He’s got a little red vest on… This bear too has kind of the right shape for such a vest…

Old Swedish folk costumes have little vests too. With long-sleeved white shirts under. And knee-length trousers with ribbons and tassels just under the knee.

The folk costumes do remind mostly of midsummer traditions… I’ll paint the back of the vest green, like a summer meadow. At midsummer, the custom is to pick seven different flowers and put under your pillow and then you’re supposed to dream of whom you’re going to marry…

Blue for his trousers, I think. Sometimes in summer you roll your trousers up to your knees (if you’re not already wearing shorts!) and wade out into the water. Why not hint waves and a couple of gulls on the back… And a lighthouse. Summer by the sea. A blue/yellow ribbon at the bottom of one trouser leg (the colours of the Swedish flag). The other leg… perhaps reminding more of rolled-up jeans? Mix of old and new fashion.

With the folk costumes they wear stockings and shoes… But no, I want my bear barelegged and barefoot – one paw in the green grass of summer, the other in snow. He’s got fur – he can take it… :)

Now the front of his white shirt over his tummy is a blank white canvas still waiting to be filled. I think we need a landscape… Trees. Grass. Water. Sky. Mountains… Snowcapped fells. Sweden in a nutshell.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

4th Advent Sunday

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Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

It’s been a rather busy week, even though I don’t really have all that much to prepare for Christmas. I’m not going anywhere, and the only visitor I’m expecting is my brother. He’s staying the night at the House outside town with the dog but will come into town to me tomorrow. We’d half planned that he’d come in this evening as well… but with a snowstorm coming up, he decided not to. Which proved wise, as the blizzard has now been going on for a couple of hours and certainly does not look like the kind of weather anyone would want to be out in “for fun”. Whoever it was around here that wished for a white Christmas…. we got it… I can only hope the worst of it will blow over during the night and that Per won’t have too much difficulty digging his way out tomorrow.

Shadow Shot Sunday 2

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday My Town – Going Back in Time to Rainy July

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Back in July, my brother and I visited an old mill (Vänga Kvarn) which is now a museum but also still produces wheat flour which is sold in their own shop, and used for baking bread and cakes sold in their own café.

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Follow the link to read more about millstones.

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Water power is used to run the mill.

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On the day we were there, it was raining heavily!

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The café garden is full of playful sculptures which bring a smile even on  rainy day:

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(The three billy goats Gruff – read the story in an earlier FMSTO post on my other blog, Bridges of Fairyland.)

Friday My Town Shoot Out – Rainy Themes

 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thankful Thursday

Coming home from grocery shopping in town today, I stepped into the lift, pressed the button to my floor, and… all the buttons started to blink like a crazy Christmas display.

And the lift stood still – with doors closed…

Luckily when I pressed the door-opening button, that one did work, and I was able to step out again. Phew!

And as I don’t live any higher than the 2nd floor and it’s not my legs that are troubling me (but my shoulder), it’s hardly worth mentioning. Except to say I’m thankful I did not get stuck inside the lift!

When I got up to my flat I phoned the lift maintenance service straight away; and a man came round about two hours later and fixed it (and when he was done he rang my doorbell and told me). Hopefully they’d have come sooner if someone had been stuck inside.

To my knowledge, that’s never happened while I’ve lived here though. The few times I’ve noticed the lift stuck it’s always been empty and stuck on one floor rather than between floors.

Still… When I take the lift down to the basement in winter (to the laundry or storage rooms), I always put on a warm jacket and proper shoes, and bring my mobile… Just in case!

All in all, it’s not been the best week on the technology front. They seem to have sorted out the broadband now though – “fingers crossed”… (Remains to be seen if it will stand the pressure of everyone spending the holidays playing with their new computers and games.)

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I’ve completely forgotten where I took this photo (back in May. I found it just now when I was looking through my archives for something else…)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Christmas Tree

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I’m back. You probably didn’t notice that I was gone,
but my broadband was out again, for about 24 hours.

In the meantime, I got my Christmas tree up.
It’s 60 cm high and it’s celebrating its 26th Christmas.
Always on top of my great-grandmother’s high bureau.

 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Mutterings

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Weather and walkability

The photo is from last Thursday when it was still icy cold. Since then we had a rise in temperature, snowfall and wind and thaw and rain… I stayed in for three days; until this afternoon, when it seemed streets and walkways looked fairly walkable again (with most of the snow gone). Actually they were mostly walkable again – except here and there.

There’s a lot of “here and there” stuff going on in winter because each property owner is responsible for the pavement outside their own house or yard. And not everyone takes the responsibility equally serious.

Anyway I managed to get myself to a mailbox and a nearby store and back home again without accidents.

Dilemma solved

Maybe someone is curious how I ended up treating the dilemma presented in a previous post? After giving the matter a lot more thought than it was worth, I sent a printed Christmas postcard with no room for extra messages. (Why can’t I just make that kind of decisions straight away? It would make life so much simpler…)

A frustratingly slow Sunday

Yesterday was a very frustrating day because I had constant trouble with my computer or broadband or one or more internet servers, and I wasn’t able to pinpoint where the fault might be – until in the evening, when the broadband gave up completely. Then I decided that had probably been responsible  for all the trouble the whole day (even though at times it seemed to be working) and went to bed with my Kindle and The Lewis Man (the book!)

Again, it would have been wiser of me to give up the internet much earlier in the day and just do something else with my time instead of keep trying to check every five minutes if perhaps...

This morning I slept late and after breakfast found myself in touch with the world again at normal speed.

New worries. Or not.

So it was not until the mail dropped in late in the afternoon that I needed to start worrying again…
(Bear with me, or stop reading here.)

No, nothing to do with Christmas cards this time.
The cause of worry was a letter from the landlord (=The City), giving a very complicated explanation (if it can be called that) of the expected procedure when next year they are going to install a new optic fibre cable in the building, to give us new options for broadband and TV and phones. This will probably be good once it’s all fixed; but m
y first reaction after reading the letter was PANIC, as it seemed that I may have to move lots of heavy furniture, like bookcases full of books. Which first of all I can’t do, and second of all, there’d be nowhere to put it all without it still being in the way.

Taking deep breaths, reading the letter again… It just makes no sense. Installing a new box in the hall, yes, that bit I understand. And it’s doable. But if they’re going to draw the cables from that box in the hall… Why on earth would they want to draw it (as they say their intention is) to the same place where my old cable socket is? – which means all around the living room, to a spot by the window, which is not a place where most people would want to have their TV anyway. (Well – at least I don’t, which is why I have extension cables from there and half way round the room to a place much closer to the hall…)

Next the letter says they’re also going to put an extra socket in the room next to the living room - which means the one I use as study. They don’t specify which wall in that room, but again it does not seem to make any sense to draw the cable across the room.

What would make sense, to me, would be to put both the new cable sockets next to the door between the livingroom and the study (which is quite close the hall, and also the same wall where I have the TV). That would involve a minimum of cable-drawing – and, as it happens, in my flat no need to move any furniture.

So… I think I shall try to put off worrying until I find out what it is they really mean to do…??

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Of Snow and Christmas Cards

I’ve been staying in today, doing my best to ignore the Weather going on outside.

Others chose a different strategy:

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(Paparazzi shots through the window.)

Christmas cards from abroad have started to arrive.
I found a new way to display them this year, hanging ribbons on a corner by the doorway to my study.

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One card that arrived this week (not included in the display above) presented me with a bit of a dilemma. Not a very serious dilemma, as dilemmas go… But I’d be curious to get a “second opinion” (or more).

I had this penfriend in another European country. We never met. I think we first got in touch via something called “friendship books” sent around between penpals. (A way of making contact with strangers around the world before the internet.) For various reasons we never got into frequent exchange of letters. It almost immediately turned into just a once-a-year Christmas letter/card.

Two years ago, she wrote that she had decided to cut down correspondence even further, so thanked me for years past but said she’d not be writing again.  I accepted that and crossed her off my own list. So was rather surprised last year when I still got another card from her. And yet another one this year! even though I never answered the last one.

Obviously she’s clean forgotten that she “broke up” with me two years ago.

What would you do??

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday My Town – Holiday Traditions

I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been (inwardly) out of sync with the FMTSO themes. Every Friday seems to spring a surprise theme on me, while I’ve been having something else in mind during the week.

This week, for example, I was convinced it was Rainy Themes coming up, and kept wondering what on earth to do with that, with all this snow on the ground…

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Snowberries in rain – November

Oops. Turns out Rainy Theme is next week.
This week it’s supposed to be My Favourite Holiday.

As it would feel very odd for me to suddenly start thinking about any other holiday 1½ week before Christmas, I think I’ll stick with the time of year we’re actually in, i.e. Advent.

This means that the regular followers of my blog may find this post repeating a lot of things they already know. But hey… Isn’t repeating stuff what tradition is all about?!

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Kaleidoscope – Advent star made from a rose hip.

Because the month of December is the darkest time of year here, we tend to cram it with traditons and celebrations, all the way from the week before the 1st Advent Sunday, and going on at least through the first week of January.

For some people it’s a time of crazy frenzy, but as I don’t really have all that many obligations, I’m more or less free to pick and choose.

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This year I had most of my Christmas cards done by mid November. (Then of course I still managed not to post some of them until after the recommended date, but that’s another story…)

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 I got my red/white kitchen curtains and my electric candles and Advent stars up in time for the 1st Advent Sunday (and, as you can see, before the first snow).

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I baked Lucia buns with saffron (‘lussekatter’)

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The Buddy Bears exhibition opened in the town square on 1 st December, and I’ve been visiting it more than once since then. Not exactly tradition - as we’ve never had any Buddy Bears visiting before - but I guess ‘Santa’ could do with a holiday of his own for once. And it’s not good to get too stuck in traditions… It broadens the mind to be open to some cultural clashes:

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The Buddy Bears for Etiopia and the United Arab Emirates

(You can see many more Buddy Bears up close in my Picture Book blog, every day this moth.)

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I went to church for 1st Advent Sunday.

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Some days it’s been really, really cold. Now there’s a part of tradition you can never control… Sometimes in December “rainy themes” would fit right in; but not this year (so far).

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I did not buy a Christmas tree, because I never do.
My personal tradition is to just have a miniature artificial tree, 60 cm high, which will be celebrating its 26th Christmas this year. I’ve not put it up yet – don’t usually do that until the last week before Christmas.

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I watched ice sculptures being made in the town square.

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See more of the Lucia parade in an earlier post. This one is for Sandra and you other dog-lovers out there.

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Lighted trees in the park… Did you know that when you take photos with flashlight in the dark, you can catch ghosts? (“steam” rising from the river, not yet frozen)

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3rd Advent Sunday coming up this weekend, and 1½ weeks until Christmas. Time to wrap some presents.

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(This collage was made the old-fashioned way.
Christmas stickers on printed photo.)

By the way, in Sweden we open our presents on Christmas Eve. (To add a bit of confusion, that means we get to open them at the same time as people in New Zealand, who open theirs on Christmas morning.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

BTT: Contemplation

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So … you’ve just finished reading a book. For the sake of the discussion, we’ll say it was everything a book should be—engaging, entertaining, interesting, thought-provoking. The kind you want to gush over. The question is—do you immediately move on to your next book? Or do you take time to contemplate this writerly masterpiece and all its associated thoughts/ emotions/ ideas for a while first?

http://btt2.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/contemplation/

Actually, I asked myself that question after finishing The Blackhouse by Peter May last weekend. And my answer was to contemplate for a day or so and write a review of the one I’d just read before I moved on to the next. (The link goes to my review.)

I usually have more than one book going at the same time, though. First of all, I nearly always have one audio book going besides my main Kindle or printed read. But I usually also have a couple of “slow read” books lying around (or easily available on the Kindle). A “slow read” book can be a book of facts or essays or short stories or poems, or basically any book where I can just read a chapter now and then without being left with a cliffhanger at the end.

So while I sometimes feel I may need a bit of time between going from one “pageturner” to the next, that does not necessarily mean total abstinence. ;)

As The Blackhouse was the first in a trilogy, I also had to make the decision whether my next read should be the next book in that series – or something different. After a bit of hesitation… I’ve now got started on the next in the series: The Lewis Man. Which shows all the potential of being another pageturner. But I also find it cuts a bit deeper for me emotionally because of some issues involved (parents with dementia)… I may have to turn to some lighter reading on the side, perhaps!

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Winter Visitors

Even though there is no food offered on my balcony (we’re not allowed to put up bird-feeders because the food that falls to the ground can also attract rats) I get visitors, and lately it’s not been just the usual crows and magpies and sparrows stopping by.

These photos were shot through the window as otherwise I scare them away.

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The one above I suppose must be a blackbird…

But who or what is the one below? Can it be a very puffed-up Mrs Blackbird? Or what? (They were not there at the same time.)

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Even though there’s nothing to eat but snow, they seem to like to come and sit on my fake spruce garland.

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This one was eating/drinking snow  - I saw him gulping it down. From what I could observe, I don’t think he tried neither the led-lights nor the plastic needles.

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