Monday, December 30, 2013

Zzz… And Happy New Year!

Rest

Better have one of these ‘zzz’ days today, as tomorrow night I have to stay awake! As has become a long-standing tradition, I will be celebrating New Year’s Eve at home, but with four friends joining me. I think this will be the 14th New Year in a row with two of them (and there were a few times before that too – but not the millennium, which I spent elsewhere). The three of us used to be neighbours as well as friends. The sister of one of them has also been with us for most of these New Year get-togethers. And since a couple of years, also the other friend’s mum.

Our tradition is to eat a little, talk a little, and watch a film. I’ve been trying to recall what films we’ve already seen (together)… and pick out a few suggestions for tomorrow. It’s not all easy… Preferably it should be of the feel-good kind, not overly long, not too complicated (or violent etc) and not too recently seen by any of us.

A bit late in the day (year) to ask for suggestions, as by now I’m restricted to what I already have in my private collection. But I’ll ask anyway. Have you got a favourite film of the kind described, that’s good to watch in the company of friends – and that you would not mind watching again even if you’ve already seen it?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Playing the Drama Queen

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As I said in reply to a comment on my previous post…

There’s not much else one can do for entertainment in this weather, than try to dramatise it a little... Smile 

(This is not right outside my door – no need to worry!)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Weekend Reflections: High Water

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We’ve had a very rainy month of December, and the river is rising. (It’s supposed to keep  to the other side of that fence! Winking smile)

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Weekend Reflections

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen

Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen
by J.L. McCreedy (2013) ****

I came across this book as temporarily free for Kindle, and as I had just finished another book and felt like reading something lighter next, I got started on this one directly.

The first chapter or two made me initially suspect that it might be too much of an imitation of Harry Potter; but as the story proceeded, I think it turned out to stand on its own feet. Of course it has evident roots in a magic fairy-tale tradition familiar from both old and new classics in that genre, but it is also spiced with some less common ingredients. It’s a fast-paced story with some unexpected twists, and a variety of characters turning up along the way.

It starts out with a new friendship between two ten-year-old girls in a US small town – Liberty Frye and Ginny Gonzalez. Ginny lives with foster parents that don’t really care much about her. Liberty (or Libby) lives with her parents, but is considered a bit odd by many. She has a tame goose that follows her everywhere, and in her garden grows an unusual tree, in which she likes to sit and read the Fairy Tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. We (and Ginny) also get to meet an uncle of Libby’s, who is very old, but still an active inventor of fantastic machines. However, one day a strange letter arrives for Libby’s parents, and shortly after that, they take her on a sudden trip abroad, to visit relatives in Germany (without giving much explanation as to the reason). More specifically, it turns out that Libby’s mother comes from the town where the Brothers Grimm were born… And from then on, things start to get really complicated! (The title of the book gives a hint.) Ginny is left behind on the other side of the earth; but when she senses that Libby might be in danger, she starts looking for a way to help…

Putting on my critical glasses, I think that the story sprawls a bit too much; with too many “unconnected” ingredients thrown in to the mix. But at the same time I did find it very enjoyable reading, with lots of surprises and suspense – and a good portion of humour to contrast the creepy parts.

From linguistic point of view (spelling etc) the reading of this book flows smoothly (knowing a little bit of German probably gives you an advantage, though). (As I’ve come across many free and/or self-published Kindle books which turned out to contain an irritating amount of printing and/or spelling errors, I feel I want to point out that this is not one of those!)

There are many details in the story that might be interesting to pursue if you like looking things up on the internet. I also think it’s safe to say that I did feel that the story came to a proper ending, but at the same time left a door ajar for the possibility of sequels.

There is a website providing more info about the book and author, without being too revealing:
http://libertyfrye.com/

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Book Review: No Man’s Nightingale

No Man’s Nightingale
by Ruth Rendell (2013) ***

Sarah Hussain, a female vicar of mixed race, modern ideas, and on top of all single mother to a teenage daughter (born years after Sarah’s husband died), is discovered murdered in the Kingsmarkham vicarage.

The body is found by Maxine, a cleaning woman who is also in the employ of former Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford and his wife. Wexford (known from many previous detective novels by Ruth Rendell) is not all happy about his retirement life; even if it gives him a chance to catch up with old classics like  The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

When Wexford’s successor and former colleague Mike Burden gives him a chance to tag along in parts of the investigation of the Sarah Hussein case, he jumps at the chance – if nothing else, it’s an excuse to get out of the house while the ever-gossiping Maxine is there doing her cleaning. Wexford also gets more personally involved when the murder victim’s daughter, Clarissa, ends up renting a room in his Wexford’s daughter’s house, and making friends (or more than friends) with his own grandson.

To be quite frank, I felt throughout this book, that in spite of the “possibilities” of an intriguing mystery, the focus in this book tends to be more on Wexford’s struggle with retirement than on the case as such. I find it debatable (both witin the frames of the novel and from reader’s perspective) how well it works out to let Wexford continue be involved in a murder investigation without his former official police authority. However, there is an awareness of this question included in the story itself too. But in the end it still remains unclear to me how much of Wexford’s struggle with retirement is the author’s means of leading her readers astray, versus just reflecting the fact that she herself will be 84 years old next year. I guess a certain preoccupation with the hazards of getting old(er) – and at the same time keeping up with the modern world - might be allowed!

My spontaneous rating: 3 (out of 5). I found some aspects of the book interesting or challenging; but at the same time I found the story "sprawling" a bit too much. But then it should probably also be remembered that Ruth Rendell is an author who has already written a huge number of excellent books – a fact that also makes her fans expect a lot from her.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

No White Christmas

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My little Christmas tree is up (since yesterday). It’s celebrating its 27th Christmas. Talk about evergreen! Smile

The weather is horrible and I’m pretty sure it’s no one’s idea of what Christmas ‘should’ be like. Storm and rain, rain and storm… The rain is of the kind that sticks like glue to the windows, even though not mixed with snow. I’ve been staying in all day today, and most likely will be tomorrow as well. There are storm warnings issued again for tomorrow morning, class 1 around here and class 2 (worse) along the coast.

No worries for myself, as I don’t need to go anywhere. There were a couple of more items on my shopping list that I had intended to get… but nothing really essential.

 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Meaning of Things

Katherine @ The Last Visible Dog had a beautiful and interesting blog post recently about how she was commissioned to make a painting of someone’s favourite things, and how she went about it. (Do have a look – I think you’ll find it worth while!)

Other bloggers, including myself, have been posting about how we decorate our homes for Christmas – or not, as the case may be… In a comment to GB @ A Hebredian in New Zealand on his post The Spirit of Christmas, I said that “Christmas should be about what means something to us. Whether that's represented by a few things or many, is really not important.”

My own tradition is to put up my Advent/Christmas decorations gradually during December. As I’ve been getting on with that, I have also been pondering about what the various “things” in my own home mean to me - those that are there all year round, as well as those I only put up for Christmas.

Actually almost every object represents something more to me than would be obvious to a visitor.

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Just take this nativity scene, for example, which I put up on it’s “usual” shelf last weekend. It was not bought as a complete set (maybe that’s obvious!) but is made up of various parts collected over the years.

The oldest item is the little porcelain camel on the right. I got that in early childhood, as a Christmas present from two old ladies: cousins of my grandmother’s, unmarried sisters who lived together, and worked in a gift shop. Unlike the toys one usually gets for Christmas and birthdays at that age, some of the knick-knacks I got from them, are still with me.

For many years the camel remained an odd item for me, as we never had a Christmas Crib in my parents’ home. Well – except for a miniature plastic one-piece, that I got from the same two ladies (I still have that one as well, see below*).

It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties or so, that I happened to find (and bought) the most essential pieces in the nativity scene above: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the three Wise Men, who all came together with the wooden stable. 

Still, even put together with the camel, it looked a bit bare. So I added a couple of plastic sheep and a goat from a set of farm animals (from a basket of toys I kept for friends’ children to play with when they came to visit.)

The Christmas card with the shepherds was added when I got it one year from an ex workmate. (She died of cancer 11-12 years ago. Because of her Christmas card now “belonging” to the nativity scene, I remember her every year when I put that up.)

The Angel I found in some shop after I already had the crib. It’s bigger than the other figures, but then I think angels are supposed to be quite impressive! (Or else why would they need to keep saying: “Don’t be afraid!”)

The golden star at the stop of the stable is a little starfish brooch. Not real gold, and not really very important to me – until it was promoted to Christmas Star, that is! (Originally it came as a free gift with some products I bought from a certain cosmetic company, where I was a regular customer for a while. But – it also reminds me of childhood summer visits to the seaside, and finding real starfish on the beach.)

One of the little vases in the background has a camel and palm trees painted on it. It also says “Islas Canarias”. I’ve never been to the Canary Islands myself, though. That vase was a gift from a friend or friends who did go there on holiday once. So besides providing a bit of company for the lonely camel from my childhood, it reminds me of the gift of friendship.

One of the other little vases is a simple earthen vessel (clay jar). I forget where I bought it, but I know why I did. It represents for me a Bible verse: 

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NIV)

*

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Monday, December 16, 2013

To Lighten Up A Rainy Day

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The photo is not from today. Today has been too wet to even think of getting a camera out. And very windy too!

I have a little “sunshine story”, though. Does one use that expression in English?? We do in Swedish; for a story with (an unexpected) happy ending.

On Monday mornings, I go to the rehab pool at the hospital. At that time of day, I am able to travel by a small bus that goes into my street and stops closer to my home than the regular buses, and then goes all the way across town to the hospital (and beyond). It takes its time, as it goes into some back streets where the big buses don’t go. But I don’t have to change buses in town, which is an advantage in wet or cold weather.

Like the other buses, it stops near the main entrance at the hospital. To get to the rehab unit, which is in a separate building, I have to walk either through or around the hospital complex. Not a big problem for me, even in winter, as I also know my way through the underground culverts and can choose that way if I want.

However: Today when I was getting ready to get off the bus at the usual stop, the driver asked if I “too” was going to the rehab unit? – implying that he already knew that some other passenger on the bus was. When I said yes, he said I could stay on board. “I’ll drive you up there,” he said. What? I had to double-check I’d heard him right, as I know that the bus is not supposed to go that way! “Well,” said the driver with a wink, “it’s raining – and it’s easy enough to make a wrong turn in the roundabout, and then I have to go all the way up there to be able to turn around…”

The result was that I (along with the other fellow passenger) arrived at our destination both drier and quicker than expected. (I can only hope that there was no one else further along the way that had to wait too long for the bus instead…)

Friday, December 13, 2013

R.A.Q (Recently Asked Questions) - Swedish Winter

In a comment to my previous post, Louise in Australia (Twenty Four Seven) asked about “old boots, old people and their boots, wheelchairs and icy paths, and whether these ice creepers are a version of a traditional footwear”…

If you mean what kind of boots were worn way back in the past - like hundreds or even thousands of years ago - I’m far from an expert on the topic; but I think the people who first inhabited the snowy parts of the world wore skins and fur etc tied around their feet and legs – their skills in making boots  developing gradually along with everything else. Later on, in the agricultural society, poor people wore shoes carved in wood (clogs); and in winter there were also boots made from straw.

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One must remember that our modern roads and pavements etc can’t be compared to the conditions before motor traffic was introduced. To get around in snow, people used skis and sledges.  Wooden skis have been found in the north of Sweden that were dated to ca. 5200 BC (older than the pyramids of Egypt):

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(image from www.svenskhistoria.se)

First to develop ice skates, about 5000 years ago, were  the Finns. Originally, skates were sharpened, flattened bone strapped to the bottom of the foot.

Another alternative was snowshoes. The picture below from an old history book (mid 16th century) shows that snowshoes could even be worn by horses:

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In my own childhood, back in the 1960’s, I lived in village outside town (not this town, another town; but that doesn’t really matter in this context). Back then, and there, we could still use a kicksled sometimes.

This must mean they did not strew out so much grit after plowing the roads back then. I know mum was able to use the kicksled to the grocery shop sometimes.

Up in northern Sweden I know there are villages where they still use these frequently in winter. Down here, I haven’t seen one in ages, as there are no roads where they can be used.

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As for modern day “old people”… First of all, the older I get myself, the harder I find it to define people by their age alone! There are older people who are both healthier and wealthier than I am, for example; but also younger people who are worse off in both respects.

However, generally speaking, old bones are said to break more easily than young ones… Which is why one general recommendation is to use ice-creepers like those I showed in my previous post. (It may be added though, that many young people would never consider wearing them. And for all I know, there may be many “old” people who wouldn’t either!)

As for those in need of walkers or wheelchairs, besides the weather etc I’d say their options depend on lots of factors, like their living arrangements, where they need to go, and what kind of help/ assistance they have (and/or need). Some inner city streets and pavements are kept ice-free by heating (if the winter is not too extreme). In other streets or areas the situation can be totally different. People who have a disability that makes it impossible or very difficult to use public transport are entitled to mobility service. That assessment (like need of for example home care services) is made from case to case. In Sweden we have a basic social insurance system not dependent on private insurances but financed by taxes. (There are still certain fees to be paid by the individual, but the costs are limited.)

Just now the streets here (where I live) are basically snow-free again, after several days of thaw. While up in the north of the country, they’re just now experiencing another really bad snowstorm (even hurricane).

Down here, in the southern parts, the winter weather varies a lot more than up in the north. Some winters we get more rain than snow. Another year it can stay cold and snowy for months. One never knows, so all one can do is just try to be reasonably prepared for “whatever”… according to one’s own circumstances.

 

 

 

13th December: Lucia – St Lucy’s Day

Lucia

Lucia, or St Lucy’s Day, is one of the very few saint days observed in Scandinavia. Usually a procession is headed by one girl (Lucia) wearing a crown of candles, while the rest in the procession hold only a single candle each. In private context, the tradition is that Lucia comes very early in the morning, bringing coffee, lussekatter, and ginger biscuits.

The original of the Lucia image above was painted by Jenny Nyström (1854-1946), an illustrator best known as creator of the Swedish jultomte by linking the Santa Claus tradition to the gnomes of Scandinavian folklore in her images.

(If you want to see more of her pictures, just do a Google Images search on her name.)

PS. For photos from the crowning of my town’s Lucia (at the Christmas Market last Saturday), see my other blog: DawnTreader’s Picture Book - FMTSO: What Lights Up My Town in December

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Winter Millipede

My parents called it (or them) “the millipede” – referring to the family’s various footwear residing in the hall…

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You may well ask: How many pairs of black winter boots does one woman need?? However, in my opinion there is no fixed answer to that question... Not in this climate, anyway! Winking smile

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These high leather boots are good in the late autumn, or as long as the streets are bare. Not so good in snow/ ice/ slush, as the sole is rather thin and the heel doesn’t fit with any kind of ice-creepers (well, none that I’ve found so far, anyway!)

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These stretchy rubber ice-creepers, by the way, were a bad purchase for me (I realised too late). I can hardly manage to get them onto any pair of boots even when the boots are dry and off my feet…  Just forget about attempting to put them back on after having taken them off in a shop etc!

 

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In snow, these boots are a better alternative than the high ones. Lined with sheepskin, they are warmer – and my “easy-to-wear” ice-creepers1 fit them well:

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However, the shorter shaft may not be the most elegant choice with a skirt. Nor is a leather boot the best alternative in slushy weather. So… keep looking…

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These are synthetic, so better at keeping the feet dry in slushy weather – but instead less good at keeping you warm when it’s really cold. But they have built-in ice-creepers that fold very easily in and out:

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Walking far on that kind of ice-creeper is very tiresome; but if you only need the spikes to get across difficult icy patches here and there, it’s a good solution.

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Here’s an alternative for really cold and icy days! Waterproof but “breathing” ankle boot with sheep skin lining, thick and heavy sole, and ice-creepers which fold (with a bit more effort!) in and out of the sole, front and back separately:

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The spikes give a good grip on hard ice, but you need a tool to fold them in and out, and to clear the soles of grit that tend to get stuck in the deep-cut pattern. Not recommended while balancing on one leg in the street. (If you’re acrobatic enough to manage that, you probably don’t need the spikes anyway!) It worked out all right for me to wear these when walking to the supermarket on a recent very icy day, though – because at the supermarket they have a carpeted area at the entrance, where one can also sit down for a while. But in the town centre, they would not be so good… So… Keep looking…

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Yay! Quite recently I found these – and at half price too! Goretex (waterproof, breathing), very light, warm, good sole, and my “easy” ice-creepers fit on them…

However, I’m still not sure I’m ready to throw out my old “moon-boots” just yet… I’m not keeping them for their elegance Winking smile– but they’re the only footwear yet that have kept my feet warm even when standing still waiting for the bus in really cold weather and snow…

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PS1: Close-up of the “easy-to-use” ice-creepers (you fasten them around the ankle with a leather strap):

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PS2: For extra extra safety, on a particularly slippery day, I sometimes bring an “extra leg” on the walk…

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Catching Up: Ice, Snow, Thaw, Slush…

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Saturday 7th Dec: Clear, icy cold and slippery.
(More photos from the Christmas Market coming up soon for ‘Friday My Town’ in my Picture Book blog.)

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Sunday 8th Dec: Snowing, snowing again, all day long. I stayed in, did not set even one foot outside.
(The bottle, if anyone is wondering, was bought at the Christmas Market and contains non-alcoholic mulled wine – “glögg” – made from Swedish wild berries. I’ve not opened it yet, but tasted some at the market.)

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Monday 9th Dec: Sunny and thawing. Took the bus up to the hospital for my rehab… Judging by the amount of snow plowed up at the bus stops, one might think they were trying to get more patients! (We don’t have competing hospitals here though. There is only one in town, and it’s usually over-full.)

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Today: Foggy and slushy… Had an appointment for a haircut, the salon is in a side-street across town.

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Some day I think I shall have to do a special post on various kinds of winter footwear and ice-creepers…

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