Monday, 30 December 2019

2019 Statistics


Since many years, I keep a list (database) on my computer of the books I read (or listen to, as I do much of my reading via audio books nowadays). I probably sometimes forget or leave out some (for example when listening again to old favourites in between other books). But usually I seem to end up with an average of about one book per week - and 2019 again seems to have been a pretty average reading year for me: 51 titles listed. (As for which ones also get mentioned here on my blog, that really depends more on my own inspiration to write, rather than on the book!) 


Every now and then I also try to sum up my language learning progress on Duolingo. This year, in mid December, I got an email from Duo himself (the little green owl, see image) to celebrate my achievements in 2019. Besides confirming that I'd been practicing every day (which I knew), it says that (over 351 days) I spent a total of 156 hours learning, completed 2340 lessons, and learned 8190 words (!)

As for the number of words, I suspect it depends on how you interpret the word "learn". Considering how many different languages I've been juggling, I don't doubt that from their point of view, they did throw 8190 new words at me... However, how many of those were words that I already knew, vs how many truly new ones stuck in my memory, is probably a different story. I also find the number of lessons surprisingly high, compared to the number of hours. But it may have something to do with my having "tested out" of some lessons in some languages (German, French, Danish, Norwegian). But never mind: I think I can still safely say that I've kept making some progress...

The language I'm primarily working on is still Spanish (slowly but steadily...) I've also been trying to better my French, and update my German (after all, society has seen some changes since my school & university days). With lower ambitions, I've also been continuing with Dutch, Welsh, Turkish and Russian. Ranked in Duolingo points (XP), my list currently looks like this:

Spanish - 51987, German - 22455, French - 20690
Dutch - 19670, Welsh - 15545, Turkish - 15090
Russian - 13191, Danish - 8773, Norwegian -7111
Swahili - 1348, Latin - 918, Scottish Gaelic -157

The last three are recent courses that I added out of curiosity... Swahili because it's "different" but still uses our alphabet. Gaelic to see how it compares to Welsh. (Seem to differ more than I thought.) Latin because I took Latin for two years back in secondary school (nearly 50 years ago) - but usually don't talk about this (shh!), as someone might then get misled to believe I actually know it... The Duo take on it seems to be to treat it like any other [modern] language (rather than jumping straight in to old quotes and tons of grammar). I may give it a few more lessons, and see how it goes...

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Read in Nov/Dec - Book Reviews

Trying to "catch up" with a number short reviews of what I've been reading and listening to in November and December...


The Murder at Redmire Hall by J.R. Ellis
(Kindle + Audible)
No 3 in the Yorkshire Murder Mysteries series

Lord Redmire intends to perform an impossible locked-door illusion on live TV. But the trick goes fatally wrong - and right in front of special guest DCI Jim Oldroyd... As Oldroyd and his DS Stephanie Johnson soon discover, nearly everyone at the event had a reason to resent the eccentric lord. But in this case, it’s not just a question of who did it and why - but how?

It may have been this locked-door mystery that made me look up and re-read another classic in that genre. (Which I've read before, in Swedish, but I always seem to forget the details of mysteries after a while, so usually fall for the same traps when I reread ...) 

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne (1922)
Yes - by the author of Winnie the Pooh! Milne wrote other things as well, but I think this was his only mystery novel. The book was an immediate success when it was first published, frequently reprinted, and is still regarded as a classic in its genre. The setting is an English country house, where the owner has been entertaining a small house party, when a long-lost brother, the black sheep of the family, arrives - and is shortly afterwards found shot under mysterious circumstances. A friend of one of the guests turns up, and together the two friends take on trying to solve the mysteries in a Sherlock & Watson fashion.

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940)
(Kindle + Audible) 

This is a book I got curious about after reading a review by Terra at the blog *Terra Garden*. I first read it on Kindle, but then decided this was one I'd also probably enjoy listenting to (and perhaps more than once) - so bought the audio as well. (I don't regret that. The audio narration is very good too.) 

The narration style reminded me a bit of one of my favourite classics, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. However, Miss Hargreaves also has a touch of magic to it - although I don't think the word magic is ever used in the story. (Mary Poppins also came to mind for me - even if I suspect that both Mary and Miss Hargreaves might resent the comparison...)

It is not a children's story, but it involves a great deal of whimsicality or "spur of the moment" ideas - and afterthought. It all starts when the narrator, a young man by name of Norman, and his friend Henry, are away on a holiday and visit a church as tourists. In conversation with the man showing them around in that church, they "happen" to invent a fictive acquaintance - Miss Hargreaves. This spur of the moment impulse comes to cause them a lot more trouble than they could ever have imagined...

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
 (Audio, 18:37, multiple narrators)

Quick summary: Not worth the time!!

I kept hoping that at some point I'd reach an 'aha' moment in this book... But it never came! It's a fantasy story, and like many great stories it starts with a door to a different world. However, to me this book read like a tedious computer game of the kind where ever so often you just come to a dead end, and have to start over; and then it's the same story all over again with very little change; until another dead end, and so on and so on. For a while I thought that perhaps to realize this was meant to be "the point" - but having reached the last page, I still couldn't really see it leading anywhere. So either I missed the point, or else there wasn't one. Only one thing seemed certain, and that was that I wasn't going to try and listen to it again to find out.  So for once, I actually made use of my Audible membership benefit to send back a book one didn't like (and get a credit to use for another instead).

Decided to "play it safe" with the next listen, and catch up with the latest Botswana No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency adventures... Oops, I found there were two I had missed...

The Colours of All the Cattle by A McCall Smith
(Audio, 8 h, narrated by Adjoa Andoh) (2018)
No 19 in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series 

Mma Potokwane suggests to Mma Ramotswe that she run for a seat on the city council - against Mma Makutsi’s old enemy Violet Sephotho...

To the Land of Long Lost Friends by A McCall Smith
(Audio, 7:35 h, narrated by Adjoa Andoh) (2019)
No 20 in the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series 

Mma Ramotswe takes on a case for a childhood acquaintance; and Charlie is dreaming of getting married, but wondering how to be able to afford it.

McCall Smith is one productive writer...!
I actually found both these quite enjoyable, though.

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
(Audio, 2:07 h) 

Letters written by J. R. R. Tolkien (alias Father Christmas) for his children, between 1920 and 1943. The book was released after his death. I'm guessing it's best read in print with the original illustrations - but the audio presentation was quite nice to listen to as well (with Christmassy music interposed between the letters).

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
(Kindle) (2008)

I haven't quite finished this book yet, but hope to do so before the end of the year (or else, at the very beginning of the next one). Sarah Addison Allen writes novels classified as "magical realism" and "chic lit". I think I've read them all now; this was her second out of six. (They're stand-alones so the order doesn't really matter.)  
Typically the magic in her books has to do with food (especially sweets) - like women having inherited a special witchcraft kind of knowledge how to use secret ingredients to create certain effects. In this book, she also sort of gives new dimensions both to hiding things (or people!) "in the closet", and of books turning up just when you need them (even if you're not looking for them), giving you hints to what you ought to do...

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Christmas Was Here

I hope you are all having, or had, a good Christmas. I'm writing this towards the end of Boxing Day - which some people will consider the end of Christmas, while perhaps others don't. Personally I've kind of come to regard the whole period from 1st Advent Sunday and until mid January as Christmas. (In Sweden, 13th January used to be the day to throw out the tree and decorations.) I find that a looong Christmas takes the pressure off having to do everything at once! ;) 

My 'actual' Christmas nowadays is usually a quiet affair - but I've come to love that, and at this particular point in life wouldn't really want it any other way. So yes, I had a good one!

Before lunch on Christmas Eve I went to a Nativity church service. Photos taken just before, and after.

During the service, children help setting up the nativity scene. This sometimes results in novel interpretations, so I went up front afterwards for an inspection. The wise men - on the right - seem to be having a private conference before handing over their gifts; while one of the shepherds looks concerned about two collapsing camels...

In Sweden, Christmas Eve is when we open our presents. If children are involved, Father Christmas often comes knocking on the door himself to deliver them. (In my own early childhood I found him rather scary as he was wearing a gruesome face mask!) Nowadays my brother and I have settled for a Santa-free Skype ceremony (i.e. video chat)

Many of my friends are also still quite active on Facebook on Christmas Eve, so a lot of greetings are sent back and forth. 

In the evening, I watched a film recently released on Netflix - The Two Popes, about a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and (then) cardinal Bergoglio - later to be Pope Francis; starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. I knew next-to-nothing about the film beforehand, but I loved it. Great acting, serious issues, but made with both respect and humour at the same time.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day were "lazy days" for me... Sleeping late, taking things (whatever) at my own pace, going out for a couple of short walks, but mostly just staying in reading and watching TV/DVD - with lots of cups of Christmas-scented tea (cinnamon and ginger etc). The weather has been mild, grey and drizzly - but today a little colder, and hint of white in the morning. (What you see in the foreground of the photo above is the the top of a hedge in the nearby cemetery.)

My Christmas gift from my brother was a DVD box of a classic British TV-series we both remember from our childhood - Catweazle  (1970) (about a wizard from the 11th century getting lost in time and ending up in ours - i.e. as it was 50 years ago)... Quite fun to watch that again after all these years. (I've watched the three first episodes so far.)

In Swedish, we have a useful expression when it starts feeling too late to say Merry Christmas (or Happy New Year) one more time... God fortsättning, which means Happy Continuation!

So - that, until next time! ;)

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

December 24 - Christmas Eve

~ Merry Christmas, Everyone! ~  

Closeup details from the astronomical clock in Lund Cathedral

 - - -

"It did seem to me there was a quality about time
which had nothing whatever to do with clocks or calendars."

Quote from the novel Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940).


This is the last of my prescheduled "Advent Calendar" posts.

Monday, 23 December 2019

December 23 - Monday

Stained glass window and votive ship
Allerum Church (Skåne, Sweden) 

"Every day is a journey through a sea of time.
To live is to travel from yesterday to tomorrow."

(origin unknown)

Sunday, 22 December 2019

December 22 - 4th Advent Sunday

Seven-branched candlestick in Lund Cathedral.  

The seven-branched candlestick is to remind of the Menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem. The one in Lund Cathedral is from the 15th century and made of bronze. It was made in Hamburg and was transported to Lund in three parts.

The four figures at the bottom are the traditional symbols of the four evangelists in the New Testament: Angel (Matthew), Lion (Mark), Ox (Luke) and Eagle (John).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel describes a vision of four living creatures, each of which had four faces (and wings): "Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle." (Ez 1:10)

A similar scene is described in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament: "In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures ... The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle." (Revelation 4:6-8)

Very early on in Christian tradition, these creatures became symbols of the authors of the four gospels in the New Testament.

 InSPIREd Sunday

Saturday, 21 December 2019

December 21 - Saturday

From Malmö Old Town: A market stall selling clogs, in front of an old half-timbered building. Half-timbered houses were/are common in Skåne (the southernmost province of Sweden); and clogs belong in their traditions as well.

Friday, 20 December 2019

December 20 - Friday

"On the road" ... somewhere in Skåne

Typical landscape for Skåne, the southernmost province of Sweden.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

December 19 - Thursday

Interiors from Sofiero Palace,
Helsingborg (Skåne, Sweden)

Sofiero used to be one of the Swedish royal family's country mansions. It was built in the mid 1860s for Crown Prince Oscar and his wife Sophia. In 1905, they gave it as a wedding gift to their grandson Gustav Adolf when he married his first wife, Margareta from England. They had five children together before she died in 1920. In 1923, Gustav Adolf got married again, to Lady Louise Mountbatten from England. In 1950, he became King of Sweden (Gustav VI Adolf). He still liked to spend the summers at Sofiero, until his death in 1973. But when he died, he left the palace and park to the city of Helsingborg to be enjoyed by the general public. 

Image of the palace from Swedish Wikipedia

The palace is surrounded by a large park with lots to explore. Inside, there is a restaurant and café, art exhibitions, and also a museum showing a bit of the history. I liked the rooms above for the details bearing witness to the palace having been "loved and lived in" - books read, travels planned (the atlas), creative talents explored, children playing...

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

December 18 - Wednesday

Fountain in the Old Observatory park in Lund (cf. my post December 16)

 “Where the waters do agree,
it is quite wonderful the relief they give.”

― Jane Austen

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

December 17 - Tuesday

From Lund, Skåne, Sweden

The city of Lund is full of charming old houses.
And in July, hollyhocks and roses in bloom everywhere.
Often flourishing in seemingly impossible places!

July 2019

Monday, 16 December 2019

December 16 - Monday

The Old Observatory in Lund (Sweden)

Lund Observatory is the official English name for the astronomy department at Lund University. The old observatory building from 1867 is located in a cultural-heritage protected park. There is a new observatory (from 2001) at the new university campus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea,
during the time of King Herod,
Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked,
"Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
(Matthew 2:1-2)
 Yes, my Christmas crib is up again. :)

Sunday, 15 December 2019

December 15 - 3rd Advent Sunday

Old Bible in St Nikolai Church, Halmstad, Sweden
(open at the book of the prophet Jeremiah)

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
St John 1:1 (NIV) 
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
 Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NIV)

 St Nikolai * Church, Halmstad 

* Saint Nicholas of Myra (15 March 270 – 6 December 343) was an early Christian bishop of the ancient Greek city of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire. He is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus.
InSPIREd Sunday 

Saturday, 14 December 2019

December 14 - Saturday

"A rose is a rose is a rose"

/The line is from Gertrude Stein's poem Sacred Emily, written in 1913 and published in 1922, in Geography and Plays. The verbatim line is actually, 'Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose'/

Friday, 13 December 2019

December 13 - Friday - St Lucy's Day

From Lund Cathedral (Skåne, Sweden)

On 13th December here in Scandiavia we celebrate Lucia or St. Lucy's Day; a festival of light which in the past coincided with the Winter Solstice.

Lucia is celebrated in both private and public contexts. In most towns in Sweden, an official Lucia with a number of maids are elected at the beginning of December. They then spend 2-3 weeks visiting public places like hospitals and nursing homes, singing traditional Lucia songs and Christmas carols. Churches and schools and workplaces etc often have their own Lucia celebrations on the 13th of December as well.

Classic Lucia illustration by Jenny Nyström (1854-1946)
(God Jul = Merry Christmas)

St Lucy was a 3rd century martyr in Rome. According to legend she brought food and aid to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs, wearing a candle-lit wreath to light her way and leaving her hands free to carry as much food as possible. Nowadays she brings coffee and saffron buns and ginger biscuits - early in the morning while it is still dark.

(If you write Lucia into the search box on top of my blog, it will bring up more Lucia posts of mine from years gone by.)

Thursday, 12 December 2019

December 12 - Thursday

Museum park 'Kulturen' in Lund, Skåne, Sweden

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

December 11 - Wednesday

Alcea Rosea - Stockros - Hollyhock
Lund, Skåne, Sweden

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

December 10 - Tuesday

A side entrance to Lund Cathedral, Skåne, Sweden

(A rather grand archway for a narrow door...)

Monday, 9 December 2019

December 9 - Monday

Red granite sculpture in three parts, Sofiero Palace Park, Helsingborg

This sculpture is in three parts. The ear was lying further away from the other two parts - too far apart for me to catch all three in the same photo, so I made this collage. When I was there, I had no idea what it was supposed to symbolize. I still don't, really - but I managed to find that the artist is a Canadian, George Rammell, and the sculpture (entitled something like "spirit of the tumulus") inspired from old Norse mythology, and the giant Ymer (Ymir). To cut a long story short, the world was created from Ymir's dead body.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

December 8 - 2nd Advent Sunday

Skanör Church, Skåne, Sweden

Love always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:7

Cf. The Fourth Day (of our summer road trip)

InSPIREd Sunday 

Saturday, 7 December 2019

December 7 - Saturday

Lighthouse, Skanör harbour
(Skåne, Sweden)
From 1881, still active

Cf. The Fourth Day (of our summer road trip)

Friday, 6 December 2019

December 6 - Friday

Pottery at Höganäs, Skåne, Sweden

Höganäs is known for its ceramics industry, Höganäs Keramik. From visits to Höganäs in the past (decades ago), I remembered the town as full of potteries and shops where you could buy locally made things. I knew that the main industrial production had been moved abroad, but I still hoped to find some smaller potteries in business. As it turned out, we now had trouble finding even one! But finally found this place. I did not need a huge garden pot, though. But I bought one of those plant supports with ceramic head. And I also liked the fence shaped like coloured pencils :)

The plant support I bought in Höganäs is still keeping my geranium company... I took in the geranium from the balcony when nights started getting frosty. My plan was to cut it back when the last flowers had withered. The plant seems to have read my thoughts, though. So just dropped a lot of leaves, but kept on flowering!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

December 5 - Thursday

More from Kulla Gunnarstorp Castle (near Helsingborg, Skåne).

My posts for 2nd and 3rd December from this place caused so many questions that I decided I'd better show you the rest of my photos from there as well. Not all that many, as this was just a short stop way made along the way, on our road trip back in July. 

The old castle from the 16th century is not open for tourists to go inside; but one is allowed to go into the park and look at it from the outside. It is situated on a large estate, where there are other buildings as well. On the same estate there is also a 'new' castle from the 19th century, but that is in a private part of the park.

We parked near this building - "P" to the right on the map below. What you see sticking up behind the gateway in the photo above is the gable of the old castle; which on the map is the pink building with wings in the middle. It is surrounded by a moat, although that is not really made clear from the map.

Map borrowed from the castle's website.

 Gateway leading to the park - photo from my post Dec 2

Approaching the old castle from the side. Here you can see the moat, which perhaps wasn't really obvious in yesterday's photo:

The front of the castle, with bridge over the moat
- photo used in my post from Dec 3

The courtyard at the back of the building.

View across the moat from the castle. When we were there, I thought that perhaps that pink house was the new castle/palace/manor house. But having done more research afterwards, I know now that the new castle is a much bigger red building with towers (to the left on the map). I'm still a bit puzzled that we did not even see the top of it sticking up from where we were... But maybe it's on lower ground and thus hidden by the trees. 

There is a photo of the 'new' castle here (Wikipedia).

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