Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Calendar Challenge

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While putting up my decorations for the 1st Advent weekend, I got to thinking about advent calendars. 

The one in the photo above is one I remember from childhood; partly because it was of an unusual design which I’ve never seen since; but also, I suppose, because the photo is there in my album to remind me of it! This was the calendar from Swedish Radio in December 1963. It was in the shape of a block of flats, and you were supposed to put a table lamp in the middle of it; so that when you opened the windows, the lamp would light up the pictures from the inside. It was just like looking at a real building from outside on a dark winter night (or early morning). I also vaguely remember that each episode had to do with the different people living in the building. And Swedish Wikipedia helpfully informs me that the title of the series was The Thinking Postman.

Anyway, I was thinking about this and other advent calendars as I pottered about in my kitchen. And one thought led to another, and I then I found myself counting my kitchen cupboard doors and drawers, and arriving at the astonishing consclusion that altogether, I have more than 24 of those in the kitchen alone. Not to mention all other cupboards and wardrobes and drawers around the flat. And on top of that, there are of course all kinds of smaller boxes and books and photo albums and whatnots that can be opened to check what’s inside… Who needs a calendar??

 Are you beginning to guess where I’m going with this?

Yes, I’m thinking it might be an interesting Advent Challenge (for myself and for anyone else who might want to tag along) to just open one random door or drawer (or whatever) every day until Christmas, and each time pick one random thing you find there to blog about. If you ever had an advent calendar, you know that the objects behind those little doors can be absolutely anything at all. But I think that most things we own tend to have memories of some kind attached. If they don’t, they usually raise questions instead! (Like “why do I have this, when did I get it and what is one supposed to do with it?”)

No 24-days commitment required (I might not even be able to live up to that myself) and I’m not setting up any special linksite. (You may link in the comment section if you wish.) For myself I’m just hoping to find some inspiration and a good excuse to write about random things for no reason...

Happy Advent Time, everyone.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Around the World

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Time to get started on getting these off around the world!

And speaking of the world… Frances Garrood was wondering the other day “why America is always on the left, and the Eastern countries on the far right, and what would it look like if it were seen from a different angle”.

Well, I suppose it depends on what angle… But this is what it looks like if you just spin it around from our usual European view of it. (Which might actually explain why most of us don’t really look at it from that angle very often.)

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The world is my deskpad, and my money box…

I think it was when I joined Postcrossing 2-3 years ago that I bought the globe. I don’t actually use it as a coin box; but I do sometimes find it a helpful tool for a not-quite-so-flat perspective of the world.

 

Friday, November 27, 2015

1st Advent Weekend Reflections

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All my Advent window lights are up now.
From to bottom: kitchen, bedroom, living room & study.

(Taking photos of window decorations must be one of the hardest things…! I had to put these photos through numerous editing filters in Picasa to get them presentable at all… Ah well…)

These four electric candlesticks have all been bought since I moved into my present flat (seven years ago). In my previous home I had two. My first one (from nearly 40 years ago) was replaced a couple of years ago; and now my other old one (from about 30 years ago) seemed to have given up as well. At least a change of lightbulbs had no effect. And as fiddling with more advanced electricity is not quite my thing, I then found it safer to go out and buy a new one.

So today I bought this one…

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….to replace this one:

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Weekend Reflections

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Countdown Starts Here

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Once upon a time, back in my childhood, the weekend did not begin until Saturday afternoon. I recall going to school on Saturdays in my early school years at least until lunch time. Dad worked Saturdays too, but probably finished a bit earlier as well. (Mum was a housewife - which means she was on duty 24/7, weekend or not!) I don’t know when exactly we got free Saturdays. Some time in the mid/late 1960’s, I think.

I got to thinking about this while putting my Advent decorations up today – i.e. on the Thursday before the first Advent Sunday. Back in the 1960s, this would no doubt have been regarded as serious cheating. But looking out through my windows tonight, I see that I’m not alone in making an early start!

The advent star in my kitchen window is still of the same kind we had in my childhood – a simple paper star, of the same size, shape, pattern and colours as back then. (It’s not the same star, but I’ve been able to find replacements of the same classic kind every now and then through the years. I still have two extras, so they’ll probably last me as long as I’m still able to put one up!) Assuming my parents had one already the very first Christmas season of my life, that makes this my 60th year with that special soft orange glow lighting up the dark December nights for me.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekend Reflection: Let There Be Light

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It has become a tradition in my town, on the weekend before the 1st Advent weekend, to hold a special ceremony when the Christmas lights in the city are switched on for the season.

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On Saturday afternoon at 4 pm, around sunset, there is a gathering in the park, to watch some of the big trees there being lighted up; and from there a torchlight procession, led by the home guard music corps, through the park, across one of the bridges over the river, and on to the main square.

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Lots of people come to watch and join in, and this year I think more than ever. (Perhaps a kind of unofficial demonstration against recent events around the world… At least that’s how I felt myself, being there.)

The weather was just right for the occasion, too -  the first day of proper frost here, with temperatures below zero all day. But also very still, with a beautiful sunset, and then a hazy white moon.

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Hanging lights in the shopping streets in central town.

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The big Christmas tree in the main square.

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The trees in the Town Park, after dark.

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Weekend Reflections

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Things I Don’t Like

Over the last week, in among all the political newscasts, I also spent a bit more time than usual on Facebook, checking out what was being shared there.

While doing so, it hit me once again that there are certain categories of FB posts I’m heartily tired of.

For example:

Any post that ends with “Share if you agree”. (Because that plays on group pressure and implies that whether you share or not, it Means Something.)

Exhortations to sign online petitions, for much the same reason.

“Share if you can see this.” Usually some kind of optical illusion,  with the added statement that only 5% or so of the world’s population can see it. Quite astonishing sometimes, how many of my fifty-few Facebook friends (and sometimes I too) seem to belong to that rare elite. (And what if I want to share because I can’t see it?)

“But what about everyone/everywhere/everything else.”
(As comment when someone makes a statement of sympathy for someone/somewhere/something in particular.)

Photos and film clips of cats and dogs dressed up as humans. Ordinary cute and funny I can take - in moderate portions. Pets in a shirt and tie or ballet skirt, not so much. (Unless you can convince me they chose it themselves and dressed without human help). (Which means children’s books drawings are not included in this general dislike, as they are generally totally convincing in that respect.)

I’m sure my list could be made much longer; and another day it might look different. (And you may feel free to agree or disagree or add your own dislikes or remain silent just as you please…)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weekend Reflections & Shadows

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I have to confess I’m suffering from writer’s block just now. My thoughts seem to escape and wander off, refusing to get trapped into words and organised to make sense of things…

It’s been a week of big black news headlines.

First it was my own country, Sweden, reintroducing border controls in the south (on Thursday 12th Nov), in an attempt to cope with the rapidly increasing number of refugees arriving by ferries, or across the bridge from Denmark. (10.000 seeking asylum here only last week.)

Then on Friday 13th there was the terror attack in Paris, which probably hasn’t escaped anyone, wherever you live.

For now I’m really just making note of the dates here for my own memory. And repeating, as I wrote to a friend earlier today: I so do not envy the leading politicians and officials (in Sweden and elsewhere) who right now have to stay alert 24/7, making lots of important decisions, one upon another. And in between have to try to explain it all to the media and the rest of us.

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The last three photos are from the memorial chapel in the cemetery close to where I live; which was open to visitors for prayer and reflection at Halloween.

Linking to:

Weekend Reflections

 Shadow Shot Sunday 2 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Falling Fast

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Leaves are falling fast now… A lot faster than I’ve had time to transfer my photos from the camera to the computer! These are all from the last week.

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The photos above are from last Monday, a week ago.
Many more leaves have dropped to the ground since then.
The next few were taken on Saturday.

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Larch tree

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Horse chestnut tree

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Oak tree

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When I cross the main square in town, I like to check on David Zinn’s dragon from the Street Art Festival back in September. He’s still hanging on. And when I passed by on Saturday, he had found an autumn leaf to nibble on!

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On Sunday, after a storm (by name of Freja) had blown by in the night, we actually got a glimpse of amazingly clear blue sky before new clouds began gathering.

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But this morning we were back to more typical November again. (Even it it’s still rather mild for the time of year.)

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Linking to:

Through My Lens

Our World Tuesday

Saturday, November 7, 2015

In the Dark (Friday My Town)

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One week of November has gone by already, here in Sweden we are back on winter time since two weeks, and darkness is falling earlier with every day…

I went looking for some new winter decoration lights for my balcony; and fell in love with this little tree with white LED bulbs that in the daytime look rather like snowberries. As bare branches somehow look less “christmassy” than spruce garlands, I decided it would be OK to put it up already for Halloween… So I did!

So far we’ve been having mild and rather still autumn weather. I’ve tried to tie the tree tight to the rail – but it remains yet to be seen when proper winter storms set in (as no doubt sooner or later they will) if I’ve done a good enough job of it!

Yesterday, while I was tapping away on my computer writing an email, the display on my screen suddenly changed; and resolution, size and font and whatever went bigger and distorted – for no reason at all, as far as I was aware of. I then tried to restart, hoping that would fix it - but was rebuked by the computer, who (strange how personal appliances suddenly get when things like that happen!) told me I was not allowed to do that (implying that even worse things might happen if I did). Apparently It had much more important stuff to deal with than my email.

So I left it alone for a while and went away to do other things. When later on I found it had turned itself off, I tried waking it again, only to find it was still in a grumpy mood – showing the same weird display. I made some attempts at setting it right, but to no avail. At best I managed to get the text back to somewhere close to the right “height”, but everything was kind of flattened out and elongated sideways. Round icons for example weren’t round but oval. So I gave up and went to bed…

This afternoon I gave it another go. Alas no mircale had happened over night. It took me three hours or more of continued trial and error to get the settings back to looking right. For starters, I could not for the life of me remember (nor find) what my screen resolution had been before it went wrong…

Finally it seems I managed to get it right, though. (Note to self in case it happens again: 1600 x 900). Hopefully I’ve learned something about various other settings in the process as well. But I still haven’t got a clue why it played up in the first place! (Anyone else out there who had similar problems with display settings in Windows 10?)

Friday My Town – Darkness

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Turning Leaves Through October

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Besides Havana Sleeping by Martin Davies (which I thought deserved a book review of its own), I also in the month of October read/listened to the first two (out of six) ‘Chronicles of Barsetshire’ by Anthony Trollope – The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857).

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As far as I can recall, I have not previously read anything by Trollope, even though I’ve often seen references to him, and this series especially.

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Being old classics, these books can nowadays be found for free on the internet.  Back in my pre-internet university days, it was a very different story (here in Sweden) to get hold of English classics that weren’t on the prescribed list of study course literature…

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Which means that ever since I got the Kindle (I can hardly believe that was only three years ago – it feels like I’ve had it much longer!), I’ve been on a constant happy free-shopping-spree, downloading just about every old classic, read or unread, that has happened to come to mind for me. No doubt more of them than I will ever in reality find the time to read…

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The Barsetshire Chronicles were actually among the first lot of classics that I downloaded just after I bought the Kindle back in the autumn of 2012. What made me decide to read these just now was that more recently I also happened to notice that ‘whispersync’ audio versions of them were also available at reduced price (about 3$ per book).

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I really love that possibility of being able to switch back and forth between reading and listening – especially with lengthy books, because it means I can keep reading even when I need to rest my eyes, but I can also go back and check things (which is very hard to do if one only has the audio version), or read some chapters the usual way if I’m in the mood for that.

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I still find it harder to write reviews of audio books, because one does not pick up details in the same way as when seeing the text.

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And as I’ve mostly listened to these two, I’ll just say that I found them enjoyable. Not all easy to keep up with all the various titles and finer nuances of the mid 1800s ecclesiastical, aristocratic and social hierarchy – which is pretty much what the author is mocking in these books, and also spinning his plots around – but even without looking up every detail of all that, one soon gets the drift. Society may have changed a bit over the last 150 years, but the ways we relate to other people really haven’t changed as much as we might like to think… (Prestige, envy, gossip etc.)

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I really loved the poor honest warden’s struggles with his conscience in the first book (receiving very little or no credit for all his efforts to be just and fair); and all the misunderstandings in the second arising from people just assuming what’s going on in the minds of others, without really bothering to ask – for example!

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I’ll continue reading/listening to the rest of this series. I find they make excellent “bedstories” as in the midst of all the intrigue they’re still kind of peaceful…

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 [And in between reading, I have been out walking a lot in fine autumn weather! The photos in this post were taken on different occasions from the beginning of October to about a week ago.]

Book Review: Havana Sleeping by Martin Davies

On my Kindle, during the month of October, I’ve been reading Havana Sleeping by Martin Davies, also author of The Conjuror’s Bird, The Unicorn Road and The Year After. (The links go to my blog reviews of those books. The first title I read before my blogging days.)

This novel “of espionage, love and murder” (as the cover says) is set in Havana in the 1850’s. It is a fictional novel but based on some real events. The author’s notes on the historical background can be found in an afterword. They contain certain spoilers though, so on the whole I think I have to agree with the editor’s note (at the beginning) that they are best left till the end. (Which I did, even if there were times during the reading that I felt tempted…)

As in his earlier books, I find Davies very good at creating images of the past, and making the reader feel as if we were there, watching. However, with this novel I have to admit I found it hard to get “involved”, and to keep track of the male characters involved in this novel – like who is working for whom, in what capacity and even their nationality. The women in the story on the other hand are very few, and only one of them, a mulatta by name of Leonarda, really stands out as a main character. But even her role in among all these men is not easy to pin down – as she does not really fit into any accepted social patterns of her own time, but seems to move freely in and out of them as she pleases.

Looking back at the whole novel now, it hits me that in trying to express my frustration and confusion about the characters keeping to escape me (not to mention the whole mess of 1850’s English-American-Spanish-Cuban politics), I think I may actually have caught the very essence of it. This is not a story told from a clear black-or-white angle. (Which also makes Leonarda just the right person to lead us through it.) It may start out as a rather conventional murder mystery (which may lure us into also expecting a traditional ending) – but it turns out way more complicated than that. The whole novel is full of “red herrings” – just as politics and espionage tend to be…

My Kindle as usual asked me for a star rating when I reached the end. Hesitating between 3 and 4 (out of 5), I decided on 4, because I can’t get away from a feeling that the book is probably cleverer than I am. Whether in the long run it will turn out to have left a lasting impression – well, only time will be able to tell, when enough of it has passed! With ‘The Year After’ (the year after what?), I had to go back to my review now to remember what it was about. ‘The Conjuror’s Bird’ and ‘The Unicorn Road’ on the other hand - those titles immediately bring back impressions, even if not all the details. I suspect that with ‘Havana Sleeping’, the title itself may be a strong enough clue to conjure up images as well – even if I’ll probably soon forget names and who was who and played which part in the puzzle.

Quotes:

“In all his years in the Foreign Office, [he] had never been abroad. The realities of foreign postings were new to him, and evidently more complicated than he had anticipated.”

“She recognised them instantly. They were the friends she had grown up with, each of them exactly as she remembered. She knew them by the patterns of fading on their bindings, by their thumbed decreptitude, by the familiar rips and tatters on their spines. --- Memories so strong she felt the stirring of tears.”

“You don’t become a spy all at once. You don’t sign the articles. You probably don’t even know it’s happening.”

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