wanafriday

No longer dreaming of a white Christmas

Christmas is coming.

*cue music* Hark the herald angels sing!

To commemorate the season, we’re harking back to a particularly memorable past Christmas or winter holiday. Since Christmas falls in the summer for us Australians, it’s fortunate that I do, as it happens, have a memorable winter Christmas to share…

Three years ago I spent Christmas in Germany — no longer dreaming of a white Christmas.

My sister and her family were living in Bonn. The rest of the family thought it the ideal excuse to experience a traditional German Christmas. So we did.

For us Australians, Christmas is all sun and barbecues and backyard cricket. So you can imagine a Christmas with snow and Christmas lights at 4pm and mulled Gluhwein was something of a novelty.

I wrote a series of posts on my otherblog back in December 2010 about our German Christmas. Here they are.

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der Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree)

It is exactly one week until Christmas, which this year will be spent with my entire family in Bonn, Germany. The plan is to embrace some of the German traditions while we’re here. We are of course hoping for a ‘white Christmas’, which is not unthinkable — there is still much snow on the ground, and it snowed quite heavily for a while yesterday. Fingers crossed the world is still white in a week!

christmas tree

In true German fashion we set off today to choose our Christmas tree (der Weihnachtsbaum). The plantation we visited was filled with snow-laden Christmas trees of all shapes and sizes — from massive 4-5m monsters, down to tiny baby trees about 10cm high. The idea is to trek through the snow to find the exact tree that meets height, breadth, symmetry and aesthetic requirements, then have it cut down, netted and slung over the car. It then hangs around outside until next Friday, Christmas Eve, when it is brought inside and decorated.

It took us about 20 mins to investigate the various tree-options and make our selection, all the while our toes and fingers becoming numb. A snowball fight ensued once the choice was made and we awaited the man with the saw. By the time the tree was felled and roped onto the roof of the car, an hour had passed and we were all freezing and ready for a hot drink and lunch. O Tannenbaum, the pains to we which we go to choose thee!

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Christmas Markets

Of all things at Christmas time, Germany is renowned for its Christmas markets. On our train journey from London, we met people travelling to the Cologne Christmas markets — some of the most acclaimed in the country — specifically to do their Christmas shopping. The markets can apparently be found in just about every town, and attract crowds (no matter how freezing the temperature) to sample the edible delicacies and handcrafts and, perhaps most importantly, Gluhwein (mulled wine).

The Bonn Christmas market, located mainly in the town square, is a lovely market with all the prerequisite foodstuffs and handcrafts like ornaments and Christmas decorations carved from timber, engraved glass objects, paper star lanterns (complete with light globes inside) for hanging in windows at Christmas, porcelain ornaments, candle holders etc. It flows into adjoining pedestrian walkways and neighbouring squares, luring the visitor onwards through the quaint city centre. It was in the Bonn market that we sampled the delicious dampfnudel, a traditional German steamed dumpling, smothered in vanilla custard sauce and stewed plums.

We visited two of the Cologne markets today. The first nestles in the shadow of the Dom, Cologne’s massive and impressive cathedral (see picture – not mine), and is perhaps slightly more diverse and higher quality than the Bonn market. Here, the kids rode the merry-go-round and the adults sampled gluhwein in ceramic mugs that we could keep. The weather was milder today at 1 degree C, and we all enjoyed perusing the many excellent stalls. (Alas, no dampfnudel to be found!)

We stumbled upon the second Cologne Christmas market, down a bit and around the corner, as we headed back to the station, the light fading and the lights twinkling in the dusk. We didn’t have nearly enough time at this market, which looked at a glance to be the best of all of them! It seemed to have a multitude of stalls with interesting wares and different foods, and the night atmosphere with all the lights (including hundreds of lit Christmas trees) was truly spectacular.

So the German Christmas markets have lived up to expectation (unlike the Bruges effort, which was poor by comparison). The lights and snow and gluhwein and market stalls all combine to create a wonderful Christmas atmosphere that is unlike anything we have in Australia.

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Fluffy White Christmas

Amid the great European freeze, we have had our White Christmas in Bonn, Germany. In accordance with German tradition we celebrated on Christmas Eve — decorating the tree with all the family, attending a candle-lit carol service, building two impressive snowmen, eating and drinking and being generally merry.

snowman

Then we celebrated again on Christmas Day (today) with presents and our usual turkey roast dinner (more eating, drinking, being merry) — and it felt entirely appropriate having a roast, since it was so chilly outside (circa -6 deg C). In fact, we found the back porch an entirely appropriate place to chill food that didn’t fit into the fridge…

The snow today was beautiful, light and fluffy powder. Much of it fell yesterday and overnight, covering grass and other surfaces that had begun to show through as earlier snowfall started to thaw. But after a couple of milder days, yesterday was bitter and windy and it snowed for most of the day, and then today was fine and even sunny for a spell in the afternoon. We went down to the Rhine for a short walk and I was sorely tempted to throw myself into the pristine powder to make snow angels.

The massive house-party (across two houses) and two-day celebration has been fantastic. With all the snow-disruptions to trains and planes, we’ve been incredibly lucky that everyone made it to Bonn in time (from various parts of Germany and Europe), with only a couple of hairy moments. After over a year in the planning, it’s all turned out brilliantly.

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Have you ever experienced Christmas in a country outside your own? How did it differ? How was it the same? 

I’ll post links to other #wanafriday contributions to this theme as they become available:

My thoughts on Catching Fire

catching fireI loved Catching Fire, the movie. A lot more than I did the book. Which is unusual.

My major complaint with the book was that it seemed to repeat the same story and themes as the Hunger Games (the first book in the trilogy). It suffered from a lack in progression of the overall story arc. Katniss goes back into the arena to fight for her life. Yeah, whatever.

The movie sticks really close to the novel as I remember it — except for some reason I liked it a whole heap more. Maybe this was because I already knew what the story was and had accepted it. Or maybe it’s because the movie highlighted all the differences really well. Not sure.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie yet, I’ll summarise the basic plot:

It’s set in the future dystopian nation of Panem, which comprises 12 oppressed ‘districts’ and a central dissipated ‘capital’. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Malark, winners of the recent Hunger Games (a barbaric reality TV show in which children from each district are annually forced to fight each other to the death), are trying to integrate back into their lives in district 12. But Katniss has attracted the attention of the not-so-nice President Snow, who sees her as a trouble-maker, and resolves to eradicate her and other past winners by sending them back into the arena…

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is fabulous. The rest of the cast is great too, but she truly shines — no surprises she’s one of the youngest ever Oscar winners (for Silver Linings Playbook earlier this year). 

Whereas The Hunger Games introduces you to this horrible world, Catching Fire does a lot more to show the brutality and oppression of the districts, thereby paving the way for the rebellion that is to follow. Because the movie broadens the viewpoint (the book is limited to Katniss’s first person narrative), the viewer is granted a deal more insight into the overall situation — especially President Snow’s scheming and the desperate plotting of a small rebel group. Somehow the ins and outs of the plot are a whole lot clearer in the movie.

The movie is beautiful to look at and exciting. The costumes are vivid (and they wear some truly wacky outfits in the capital), and each of Katniss’s show costumes are stunning (after all, it is a reality TV show!). Definitely many thumbs up from me!

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Today’s blog theme is ‘which holiday movie do you love this year and why’. Catching Fire is the only recent film I’ve seen, so it’s a good thing I loved it! I’ll post links to other contributions as they come up.

Also, check out this far more thorough (and a little spoilerific) post from Siri Paulson on Catching Fire – book versus movie.

My 1988

Pick a random coin, look at the date and write about what you were doing that year. That’s this week’s wanafriday blog theme.

Rather than dig through my wallet, I went for the $2 coin I knew was rattling around in the bottom of my handbag. I could have grabbed one of the coins in the car, but this one was closer.

coin

As you can see, the year on the coin is 1988, and I know exactly what I was doing that year. These days we call it year 12. Back then it was Form 6. The final year of high school.

I recently came across the journal I kept that year, as it happens. It’s 100% unprintable, but it has served to remind me of what my life was like that year. And what I was like. My rambling scrawl is full of:

  • Homework . . . lots of homework. It seems I was always under this massive mountain of homework that just kept getting higher and higher.
  • Rage. I was very ranty about all sorts of stuff.
  • Friends. Seems I had a much more active social life than I recall. Also teen angst about whoever was/wasn’t/didn’t appear to be talking to me.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but in that 1988 journal I sound like such a teenager!

Looking back, the whole year was something of a blur, really. But I do recall that by the end of November I had finished all my year 12 exams and I was freeee.

One of my huge frustrations of that year was feeling obliged to read all the English novels — and there were a bunch of them — instead of what I wanted to read. The moment my English exam was over (it was the first one of six), I celebrated by grabbing one of my favourite novels and reading long into the night.

I don’t remember what the book was, but I remember it was good.

I was happy to see the end of 1988. It was a tough year and I was more than ready to leave school; not to mention excited by the prospect of going to university. The transition from 1988 to 1989 was a major turning point in my life.

If you were born in 1988, what were you doing? What was the most memorable thing about your final year of high school?

I’ll update with links to other posts on this theme as they come in.

What am I?

This week’s challenge is to write from the perspective of an inanimate object…

objectIt has been nearly three years since I came to live in this place. A dull if not particularly strenuous existence in a room of stainless steel and laminex and timber. There is a window, beyond which the flowing tendrils of spring wave merrily in the breeze.

I’m usually called to action just twice a day — although I think perhaps our relationship is not a monogamous one. Not on her part, at least. I do the best job I can, truly. But sometimes my best is just not good enough.

I love it when the switch is flicked and heat suffuses my body. For less than a minute I’m glorious, triumphant, essential. At such moments I let myself be satisfied by my purpose and revel in my function. Then I am switched off again and abandoned until next I am needed.

Despite my yearning for greater occupation, I am proud of my role and will continue to perform it to the best of my ability. I do not believe I am in danger of being superseded . . . Surely she couldn’t?  . . . Wouldn’t.

I must strive for greater perfection.

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Can you guess what my mystery object is? I daresay you can! I’ll add a picture to help you. 😉

Other wanafriday contributions to this theme are:

Book Review: Slow River

I can’t remember who recommended it, or where I heard about it, but I recently read Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, republished as part of Hachette’s SF Masterworks series (it won the 1996 Nebula Award and Lambda Literary Award).

SlowRiver

Set in the not-too-distant future in a city that might be in England, Slow River is about a young woman struggling for control of her life in the aftermath of her kidnapping and from the shadow of a hidden identity. From Amazon:

Lore van de Oest awoke in an alley to the splash of rain. She was naked, a foot-long gash in her back was still bleeding, and her identity implant was gone. She had been the daughter of one of the world’s most powerful families . . . and now she was nobody. And she had to hide.

One of the many things I liked about this novel is the structure. Three interwoven threads tell Lore’s story in different time periods:

  • in the ‘present’ — Some three years post kidnapping, Lore makes some changes in her life to take control of her situation and embrace her future.
  • the recent past — Commencing at the point of her escape and spanning the last three years, Lore deals with issues surrounding her family, the woman who has taken her in, and the world she has been drawn into.
  • childhood — A chronological account of her privileged upbringing right up to the point of her kidnapping just before her 18th birthday, including the familial relationships that are revealed to be critical to who she has been and who she has become.

I also like that it’s an SF genre story focused on character, rather than big ideas and epic events. The SF aspects are almost incidental, but serve the story well to give it that distinct flavour of ‘other’. Events are limited in scope to Lore’s world — major for her as an individual, but barely a blip on the radar of world events. It’s a personal story in entirety. It’s Lore’s story.

And beautifully written.

Slow River is a book I’d recommend to those who want a contemplative reading experience. It’s not fast-paced; nor did I find it a truly immersive experience, where the world fell away. But what it lacks in action and excitement, it has in thought-provoking themes and exquisite craft.

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To read what books others are recommending for this week (and last week!), check out these wanafriday posts:

I’ll take a harmony with my wine

I’ve been singing rather a lot recently, and have become somewhat addicted to making harmonies. It all started when I joined the SoulSong community choir at the beginning of the year. (Or maybe it started at the Christmas Eve carol service, when I remembered how much I love choral singing…)

Anyway, after turning up weekly to choir for a few months and learning a bunch of new songs and realising how much fun it is to hold one strand of a three or four part harmony, I’ve been hanging out with fellow harmony addicts on the occasional Friday night as well. We gather around a kitchen table, eat well, consume wine, and then get out the song books. One or two of us will hold down the melody, while the others improvise harmonies to their hearts’ content.

This is on top of our weekly SoulSong gathering, which we manage to extend by half an hour by volunteering to wash all the coffee cups after the others have gone home. The kitchen in the church hall where we meet has excellent acoustics…

What strange paths our lives can take.

A year ago, I never would have predicted that harmony jam sessions would form a new and important part of my social life. I’m hanging out on a semi-regular basis with a bunch of women I did not know this time last year, and loving every minute of it.

Our choir leader flagged an article recently by a researcher (Carol Dore – La Trobe University, Bendigo) who is exploring the lived experience of community singing. She writes:

“Music making and/or listening is thought to result in the release of endorphins into the bloodstream… A surge of endorphins can create a unique feeling of belonging and a strong social bond between people who make music together.”

Speaking from recent experience, I really believe this is true. Singing together makes you feel completely connected with each other. No wonder the tradition of singing is so important in just about every culture.

Our favourite songs to sing in the kitchen include a 3-part arrangement of Hallelujah by Ma Muse (see clip below), and River by Kavisha Mazella (3-part harmony arrangement). Or the latest song we’ve been learning…

This post is a belated response to this week’s WANAFriday theme, which was to share what song is stuck in your head these days and what draws you to it. I invariably have one of the above-mentioned, or one of the other songs we sing with SoulSong in my head — which include  folk tunes from all kinds of cultures (in all different languages). And I sing them often.

Check out these other WANAFriday posts on music that feeds the soul…

What song is on your mind today? Have you felt the endorphin rush from singing with others?

Are you an ailurophile?

Here’s a cool word

AILUROPHILE

Sounds like… I don’t know what it sounds like.

What it means though is

A CAT LOVER

Yep. It’s from the ancient Greek ailouros (cat) and philos (dear, beloved). And I’m guessing quite a few readers of this blog qualify as ailurophiles. Am I right?

Here’s my claim to fame — Chenna, otherwise known as the devilcat. And despite her antisocial behaviour and destructive tendencies, she’s very lovable really.

chenna

Aw, how could you not love a face like that? (This is actually, ahem, her begging for food face.)

So, fellow ailurophiles, it’s time to ‘fess up! Tell me about your favourite feline friends.

Today’s post is in response to this week’s wanafriday theme, which was to share interesting word. Check out these other posts:

10 rules for writing first drafts (via copyblogger)

Really short and sweet post today…

I just came across the following poster from copyblogger. It’s quite pertinent for me at the moment as I try to finish-the-hell-out-of-this cursed, er, fantastically wonderful novel. Yeah.

Stuff to remember…

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

You can also download as a PDF from their site here.

Sooo… What do you think, fellow wordslingers? My favourite is rule number 6.

Do you need to print this out and pin it on your wall? I sure do! And I’m gonna. Right now.

(Although not sure about the ink and the paper… would web-disabled computer work instead?)

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This post is in response to this week’s wanafriday theme of A New Discovery. (Not that I didn’t already suspect all this, but, you know…)

Check out the other exciting new discoveries (coming in all shapes and sizes) this week from

Spring wishes

The blossom is out and the last couple of days I’ve worn a tee-shirt. Yes, it’s been a gorgeous sunny end to winter and next week Spring officially begins with forecast temperatures in the mid-twenties.

Spring bloom - image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spring bloom – image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The blooming of Spring and the crackle of Autumn are my favourite times of year. I’m always ready for the change. Spring marks the return of sunshine on bare arms, eating outdoors, a new wardrobe (at least, everything old is new again)…

Spring also seems to instill one with a yearning to get stuff done. The longer, warmer days inspire productivity and lofty goals for over-achievement.

As might be expected, I have a massive list of things I want to achieve. But the only one worth revealing here is this:

I want to finish the first draft of my current work in progress, which has been dragging on for far too long now. I just need to figure out how to write the ending, and then it will all be done.

That would be seriously cool. And I want to finish it before heading to the autumnal UK for a holiday and attendance at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. My trip commences in less than six weeks now. It’s going to be fabulous, but it would be so much more fabulous if my WIP is finished by then.

That is all.

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This post is in response to today’s wanafriday theme, which is to share a bucket list for the new season. Check out these other wanafriday contributions.

If you’re not joining in with a post, what’s on your bucket list for the new season — Spring or Autumn, wherever you happen to be?

On a writing (not reading) retreat

In many ways I suppose this could be a good weekend for reading. But that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing…

I’m at a writers retreat. I’m supposed to be writing.

I’m here in a house with eight fellow word wranglers. There are laptops everywhere. The floor is strewn with cables.  Wine is being mulled…

This afternoon the house was a veritable hive of activity; a silence weighted with productivity, punctuated by the clacking of keyboards.

Before I can progress with writing, however, I need to figure out what’s going to happen next in my WIP. And I concluded earlier in the week that maybe I should read back over what has gone before to see whether anything helpful jumps out at me.

So that’s what I did this afternoon — read back over some of what has gone before. (Which, to my gratification, wasn’t as awful as I thought it might have been.)

My plan for the weekend is to become unstuck. I’d love to plough through the current scene-of-difficulty and navigate my way towards the end…

Having said that, I do like the idea of lying back with a book all weekend. What an indulgence. I brought my kindle — books! — maybe (if I can’t get unstuck) it will be a good weekend for reading after all…

What’s your plan for the weekend? Will you be doing any reading?

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This post was inspired by today’s wanafriday theme, which was to launch from the opening line of Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani: “This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Read some of the other interpretations of this theme:

Janice Heck – A good weekend for reading (in which she also talks about the book, Big Stone Gap)

Kim Griffin – Rainy Days

Siri Paulson – Reading

Cora Ramos – Reading Time? Ha Ha