Saturday, December 31, 2005

einen guten Rutsch in das neue Jahr!

That's what Germans wish each other in the days preceding New Year's Eve. I was all set to tell you that it means 'Have a good slide into the new year', the German rutschen meaning 'to slide' but then I looked it up (I loooooooove the internet) and found that it actually comes from the Hebrew Rosh Hashanah. Rosh means something like 'head' or 'start' and it's there that the expression Rutsch originated. Wow, who knew?

In 1582 the Gregorian calendar reform changed the last day of the year from December 24 to December 31. It was on this day that Pope Silvester I died in 335 A.D. and in remembrance of this event New Year's Eve is known as Silvester in German.

We've finished our New Year's dinner now and are whiling away the last couple of hours before midnight.

We had a meat fondue, as we've done for many years, but a couple of years ago we got tired of doing the meat in hot oil and decided to cook it in broth instead. It's much less fatty, and at the end you get a delicious soup for the next day. We also did some jumbo shrimp which turned out really well.




Remember the chimney sweep? Well, he's back again as a good luck symbol for German New Year's. As a table decoration I got each of us a little four-leaf clover plant with a chimney sweep in it. He's holding a red and white toadstool, another Glücksbringer or lucky charm here. Other good luck symbols in Germany include lady bugs, pigs and horseshoes.





Another Silvester activity in Germany is Bleigießen, the practice of melting bits of lead to predict the future. The lead is melted in a spoon and then quickly dipped in water where it hardens into all sorts of interesting formations.



I missed having Christmas crackers this year, but Mr. M found some New Year's crackers for sale. Wheee! Mine had a yellow plastic heart charm in it. Please discuss.




The highlight of the kids' Silvester is letting off loads and loads of firecrackers and rockets. And when I say loads, I really do mean loads. What is it about little (and big) boys and fire?



All that noise makes me a bit nervous so I stay inside and watch the fun from there. There are also wonderful fireworks all over Hannover which we can see them quite clearly from Boy9's bedroom window.

It's also customary to eat jelly doughnuts at midnight in Germany. The significance of this is beyond me, but apparently one of the doughnuts is traditionally filled with mustard instead of jelly (we don't do that because, really, what a waste of a good doughnut!) and I'm assuming whoever gets that one will have either extraordinarily good or bad luck in the coming year.

I'm wishing all of YOU a wonderful 2006, whatever your hopes and dreams for the days ahead may be.






Friday, December 30, 2005

I may have to get a job

Right after Christmas the sniffles broke out here again. Boy9 infected Boy12 and me with a lovely head cold, quite different to the fascinating illness I had before Christmas, so we're all laying pretty low once again. Thank goodness the boys have holidays and we don't all have to get up early in the mornings. And we still have another week and a half to go so there's still time to beat this bug.

Today I went to the pharmacy to get some over-the-counter cold remedies to get us through the weekend. I bought seven items - nasal spray, cough syrup, sinus meds etc etc and the grand total came to...€58!! (currency converter here so you can do the math). Highway robbery, I tell you! And they told us things didn't get more expensive when they introduced the Euro. Riiiiiight.

I wonder if McDonald's is taking applications...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

you vill shovel ze snow und you vill like it!

(Thank you all for your very kind comments in my previous post. I'm trying to stay positive and I'm sure everything will turn out for the best somehow or other.)

We got hit by a bit of a snowstorm last night. Not as bad as some parts of the country, but enough to cover everything again. And in Germany a covering of snow means shoveling and sanding the walkway to your house and a metre-wide strip of the street or sidewalk in front of your property before 7 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on the weekends. Not because you're a nice person, but because it's the law. So I was out there at (ahem) 10 a.m. this morning shoveling as if my life depended on it. I have no idea what the punishment is for not doing it, but I'm sure it's not pretty.

For the past several years, a client of the company Mr. M works at has been offering free Christmas trees to X-Company employees. Because we use an artificial tree inside (evergreens make me itch) we put the real tree outside and decorate it for our feathered friends with apples, seeds and nuts. The birds really seem to like it.

This is what it looked like yesterday before the snowstorm.



And this was the tree this morning.



I'm using this photo as my Christmas/New Years picture of the boys because, no, I still haven't sent out Christmas cards. I've never sent them in time before, so why should I start now? It would only upset people.

Despite the sniffling and coughing going on around here, the kids got out for a bit, doing some sledding and throwing snowballs at each other.


What are big brothers for?



This little ivy-covered nesting house sits in our cherry tree. I thought it looked sweet with just a dusting of snow.

Monday, December 26, 2005

December 26 - Boxing Day

If you're not from a Commonwealth Country - Canada, the UK, Australia or New Zealand, you probably won't have a clue what Boxing Day (also known in some parts of the world as St. Stephen's Day) is. There's some controversy as to the origins of Boxing Day but there are a few things it is not:

- it's NOT the day to get rid of all the old boxes in your house
- it's NOT the day to take back your unwanted gifts to the store
- it's NOT a day for your drunken relatives to have at it

Snopes and Wikipedia give us the real story behind Boxing Day.

Today is also zweiter Weihnachtstag (the second day of Christmas) in Germany, a public holiday, so everything is locked up tight.

Our Christmas Day was like all the other Christmas Days for the past 15 years, except that we had it at our house this time, as I mentioned. The turkey turned out very well, but it was such a mangey looking creature that I couldn't possibly post a picture. My in-laws are not adventurous eaters at all, so I had to keep the menu pretty simple - turkey (no stuffing), red cabbage, green beans and potato croquettes with a tiramisu cake and a raspberry and mandarin orange trifle for dessert. Father-in-law behaved as well as can be expected and we were all happy that he didn't show up already drunk, even though he did manage to polish off his customary four beers and four schnapps during the meal. Oh well.

In the afternoon I talked to my youngest brother at length on the phone and found out that my parents are not doing all that well, especially my dad, who is experiencing double vision in one eye and personality changes (according to my brother - I'm not entirely sure if this is true) and will have to have his arm broken again because it's not healing properly. Ugh. Kind of puts a damper on things and I haven't been in the best mood since hearing that news.

And while things are going all pear-shaped anyway, let's just throw another monkey wrench into the works why don't we. Most of you know we have already booked our trip to Vancouver next July/August. Well last week Mr. M learned that his assistant has found a new job and will be leaving within the next three months. After the employee has left, German labour laws (or company policy, I'm not sure which) require Mr. M to keep the position open for another three months, as in he's not allowed to hire someone else in case the other guy wants to come back. I don't understand these things but that sounds pretty weird to me. So by the time the guy leaves and the no-hire period is over, we should be smack in the middle of vacation time. That means that instead of being on the beach in Vancouver, Mr. M may have to stay here and hire and train a new employee. He's had his vacation time authorized already, but this new problem could veto that and take priority. I'm trying to be hopeful about the whole thing, but I have no idea how it's going to turn out.

Ho hum. So much for Christmas spirit!


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve has come and gone and I'm still up making the preparations for Christmas Day lunch. This is the first year we won't be subjected to a very difficult father/father-in-law/grandfather two days in a row. For years and years we always followed a set plan, not my plan, but Mr. M's parents' plan, and I thought it was time for a change. It used to be that they would come to our house on Christmas Eve, the traditional day for gift giving in Germany, and we would go to their small, cramped apartment for lunch on the 25th. Last year was the last straw when my mother-in-law served leftovers! That's just not Christmas to me. I need my turkey with all the trimmmings. So I'm in charge of the turkey dinner this time and they'll be coming to our house for lunch. We also got to spend a lovely Christmas Eve alone, just the four of us for a change. The boys opened their presents from us and will open the grandparents' presents tomorrow to spread things out a bit.

For the past few years we've been having a Swiss raclette for dinner on the 24th. It's very easy and the kids love it. Traditionally I think raclette only involves boiled potatoes, pickled onions and lots of cheese, but we add all sorts of things to ours. The potato slices go on to the little pan first followed by various toppings. Then comes a nice slice of cheese and the whole thing is put into the raclette to get all melty and delicious.


the beginnings of our humble supper (or: this is what the table looks like when you let your husband set it!)

Christmas Eve in Germany usually follows a set ritual - first an afternoon church service, then coffee and cake and then the opening of the gifts. It used to be, and still is in many families, that the tree wasn't decorated until the 24th and that the children weren't allowed to see it or enter the room where the presents were until a little bell was rung, a signal that the Christkind had been there.

I was talking with my English friend F last night, and she said she was trying to explain German Christmas traditions to her almost three year old son who is smart as a whip and wants to know everything. We were discussing whether the Christkind is supposed to represent the baby Jesus, as she and I had thought, but when I looked it up I found it wasn't so. Apparently the mythical Christkind, sometimes represented in the form of a young girl or an angel with long blonde hair, a golden crown and white and gold robes, was invented by Martin Luther as a parallel Protestant figure to the Catholic St. Nikolaus. In the 19th century Catholics gradually accepted the Christkind, while Protestants later moved on to the secular Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus). This is the reason why the Christkind now appears mostly in Catholic households. Read about it here (in German) and here (in English).




the tree decorated by the kids




my little peace angel


Wishing those of you who celebrate a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

spicy

Here's the gingerbread recipes Amber in Belgium requested.

Gingerbread Dough

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup fancy molasses*
1/2 cup blackstrap or cooking molasses
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp each baking soda, salt, ground cloves** and cinnamon

*we don't have different kinds of molasses here so I use what's known as Zuckerrüben Sirup - a dark syrup made of sugar beets and it works just fine.
** I only used 1/2 tsp cloves because I thought that was quite enough.

In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in eggs and molasses.

In separate bowl, stir together flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cloves and cinnamon; stir into molasses mixture in 3 additions until well-combined, using hands if too stiff to stir.

Gather dough into ball. Divide in half; flattening into discs. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. (May be refrigerated for up to one week).

Roll out dough 1/4 to 1/8 in. thick and cut out desired house shapes. Bake at 325F (160C) for about 25 minutes for large pieces, 15 mins for small. Dough should be firm to the touch when done.

We used just over half the batch of dough for our two houses and used the rest for cookies.

To cement the houses together for eternity you need to use Royal Icing which is traditionally made with raw egg whites. Since using raw egg whites is no longer considered safe practice due to the risk of salmonella poisoning, there are a few other options.

1) Buy meringue powder from a baking supply store
2) Use pasteurized egg-whites (egg section of supermarket if you're lucky - I've never seen them in Germany)
3) Use this method to make your egg whites 'safe'. (instructions halfway down the page)

Have fun!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

sweet

Every year since they were very little the boys have been making a gingerbread house to while away the hours before Santa Claus gets here. On the weekend they decided to make two.




I like how their completely different personalities come through in the candy decorations


Boy9: free-spirited artist



Boy12: Mr. Symmetrical

Sunday, December 18, 2005

frosty

We had snow again on Saturday!


I love the way the snow clings to the thin elderberry branches








My favourite tree in our garden - a tall, tall Scotch pine





Our outside Christmas tree waiting to be decorated





Boy12 took this one - that's Mr. M's trailer

dad update

Thank you all for your concern and kind words regarding my father. I appreciate it SO much. The internet is a wonderful place.

I talked to my mother yesterday and she said that my dad is doing as well as can be expected and that they were thinking of releasing him from the hospital this weekend. The bleeding in the brain didn't seem to be that much of a problem although I had read otherwise (note to self: I will not google my parents' medical conditions...I will not google my parents' medical conditions...)so he'll just be out of commission for a while the other injuries heal. Mum said he was very cranky and ready to go home so I suppose that's a good sign. Thank goodness my parents were planning a stress-free Christmas this year anyway.

My brother said if Dad hadn't gotten to the hospital when he did, his condition might have become life threatening so I'm SO glad M was there to help. My dad is a pretty stubborn guy and hates going to the doctor unless he absolutely has to. Kind of reminds me of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

ARTHUR:
Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
BLACK KNIGHT:
'Tis but a scratch.
ARTHUR:
A scratch? Your arm's off!
BLACK KNIGHT:
No, it isn't.
ARTHUR:
Well, what's that, then?
BLACK KNIGHT:
I've had worse.

My mum had a word with the neighbours, by the way, and they were completely indifferent to the whole situation and didn't even apologize. They're some fancy couple from L.A. (not that there's anything wrong with being from L.A.!) with more money than sense and are apparently so anal that they have to pressure wash their driveway every single day. My parents have no intention of pressing charges or sueing or whatever might be appropriate, but they would like an apology and the reassurance that this won't happen again. My brother has connections all over the place so he's going to look into and get things rolling.

Anyway, I'm feeling a bit better about everything and happy that it wasn't any worse. Sometimes it's really hard to be sandwiched between worrying about your kids AND your parents at the same time! I'm sure many of you know exactly what that's like.

Friday, December 16, 2005

feeling helpless

Last night I got a very worrying e mail from my mother in Vancouver and this morning's news from her was even worse.

Yesterday morning she was getting ready for a hair appointment that my dad was supposed to take her to because her newly-operated knee doesn't allow her to drive yet. As she was showering, my dad (who is 76) came into the bathroom covered with blood. At first she thought it was a bad nosebleed but then she saw that one of his eyes was bleeding and swollen shut and he told her he had had a bad fall on some ice out on the road in front of their house (freakin' neighbours who insist on pressure-washing everything in sight even in winter) and had been knocked unconscious. Some passer-by found him and brought him back into the house.

As well as having his face bashed up, he had also apparently sprained one of his wrists and Mum wanted to take him to the medical clinic at the shopping centre near their house after he had rested a bit. Luckily one of my brothers, a fire fighter with the local fire and rescue unit with a lot of experience with injuries, came home from work (he lives in an apartment in my parents' house), took one look at Dad and got him straight to the hospital.

And there he's going to stay for the next few days. After a thorough examination, they found that he has a broken hand, an arm fracture and multiple bruises, abrasions and lacerations to his face. Along with that they discovered a very serious sinus infection (we're all prone to that as a family) and some bleeding in the right hemisphere of the brain. Oh crap. He must have fallen flat on his face, the poor dear. To make things even crappier, he was diagnosed a couple of years ago with osteoporosis, so who knows what else may be fractured or broken.

So here I sit, worried as hell and unable to do anything at all. I know he'll be OK, but when I think of him lying there like that I feel like crying my eyes out and throwing up at the same time.

I love you, Dad.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

one bug after another

Just as I recover from one bug, Dr. Haddock infects me with a new one. Virtually speaking, of course.

The rules: Post 5 random and weird facts about yourself, then at the end, list the names of 5 people whom you in turn infect. Also, leave a post to these people letting them know they have been infected.

1. When I jump on a trampoline, my toes crack.

2. Board games, card games and jigsaw puzzles put me into a catatonic state.

3. When I was around 40 they told me I had three kidneys.

4. I officially changed my first name when I was 22.

5. I was in the choir and two musicals in high school even though I can't sing worth beans.

Weird and random enough?

As usual, I'm going to skip passing this on to specific people and just let you make up your own minds.

give me a book and I will love you forever

Sandra tagged me for a '15 things about books meme' a couple of days ago so I'd better get cracking.

1. I have over 40 cookbooks in my kitchen. One of my favourite? Julia Child's The Way to Cook

2. I have always loved a good mystery. Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George and Dorothy Sayers know how to catch my interest.

3. I learned to read and write in the first grade using the controversial Initial Teaching Alphabet, popular in some schools in the late 60's. Once I learned to read, I never stopped.

4. As a child I was ill a lot and sometimes had to stay home from school for days at a time. Instead of watching TV, I read. One book I read over and over again was Harriet the Spy

5. In the 6th grade, my best friend Suzanne and I used to skip out of gym class and go to the library to read. Someone must have known, but we never got caught.

6. Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and Enid Blyton's The Famous Five books were at the top of my reading list in elementary school

7. As a teenager I read a lot of science fiction/horror short stories.

8. Other than mountains of textbooks, I can't remember reading much at all while I was at university.

9. I adore the English book section at Amazon.de

10. Reading a book on the computer is not my cup of tea at all. I like to feel the book in my hands.

11. I wish that I could find more time (and a quiet place!) to read now that I have a family to look after.

12. Just finished: Snow Falling on Cedars, a book I had been meaning to read for years and finally go around to when my husband brought it home from the flea market.

13. Other books on my nightstand: Isabel Allende's My Invented Country, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (in German), The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, The Psychic Pathway.

14. I can read in either English or German. It doesn't really matter to me, although I prefer English.

15. If I'm reading a book in German that has been translated from English, I sometimes find myself translating it back again in my head.

So that's it. I'm too lazy to tag anyone else, so if you'd like to do this meme, go right ahead!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

the baby of the family

I can't believe it. My youngest brother R turns 37 today. He's been married for 5 years now and has a little boy of his own to delight in.

R was, and still is, such a sweet guy and I miss him a lot.

Happy Birthday, R!


1971 - 2 1/2 years old

(No bath would be complete without a red plastic fish and a kewpie doll. And check out the groovy 1970's bathroom decor!)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

coughing up a lung or two

Recovery is taking a bit longer than I thought it would. With me, colds are all about the nasty dry cough for 4 days right at the end, so I know I'm reaching the finish line and should be right as rain by the weekend. I am not, however, too sick to bake Christmas cookies! Details forthcoming.

In the meantime, here's another article on understanding those mysterious Germans.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

and who's going to yell at the kids?

I'm sick.

I've lost my voice.

I could feel something brewing all week and yesterday it finally revealed itself as some kind of weird cold that isn't quite a cold but drives you nuts anyway - fatigue, endlessly annoying dry cough, swollen airways, hoarseness, blocked ears and a cotton-wool brain. And my joints hurt. As usual. Very nice. I apparently spent the night snoring and coughing in Mr. M's face, so to get some sleep the poor guy has retreated to the guest room for the time being. Which will probably only be until Monday because I WILL be better by then.

Moving right along, we got a Christmas card from my parents today with a picture of the inukshuk my dad built in their garden recently. He had been promising the kids he'd make one for them so they're all excited to see it next summer.




If you read the definition at Wikipedia, you'll notice that this isn't an inukshuk at all, but is in fact an inunguak. And it's this type of inunguak that has been chosen as the emblem for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It seems like such a cool logo, I had no idea there was so much controversy surrounding it.

But what's life without a little controversy?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I swear they multiply overnight

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

time to put away the flip flops

My brother in Vancouver just sent me this. (Psst! - I think it's a joke)


Vancouver (Reuters)

Day 2 - Vancouver Blizzard 2005 - Revenge of the Commuters

Chilled Vancouver commuters faced their second day of winter hell today, as an additional 1/4 centimeter of the peculiar white stuff fell, bringing the Lower Mainland to its knees and causing millions of dollars worth of damage to the marijuana crops. Scientists suspect that the substance is some form of frozen water particles and experts from Saskatchewan are being flown in.


With temperatures dipping to the almost but not quite near zero mark, Vancouverites were warned to double insulate their lattes before venturing out.

Vancouver police recommended that people stay inside except for emergencies, such as running out of espresso or biscotti to see them through Vancouver's most terrible storm to date. The local Canadian Tire reported that they had completely sold out of fur-lined sandals.

Drivers were cautioned to put their convertible tops up, and several have been shocked to learn that their SUV's actually have four wheel drive, although most have no idea how to use it.

Weary commuters faced soggy sushi and the threat of frozen breast implants. Although Dr. John Blatherwick of the Coastal Health Authority reassured everyone that most breast implants were perfectly safe to 25 below, down-filled bras are flying off the shelves at Mountain Equipment Co-op.

"The government has to do something," snarled an angry Trevor Warburton. "I didn't pay $540,000 for my one bedroom condo so I could sit around and be treated like someone from Toronto."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

calling all conifers

Boy12 really likes puns and a play on words so I put this little postcard in his Nikolaus stocking.




(You might not get it unless your German is pretty good.)

Nikolaus was here

Everyone was up early this morning to see what St. Nicholas had brought. Lots of sweets, a calendar for Boy12, a Beyblade for Boy9, cozy socks for me and some spirits for Mr. M. Oh, and the scarves which will be photographed at a later date after I get them how I want them.

As I mentioned, we hang our Christmas stockings on the fireplace instead of putting out our shoes.



All the stockings have been in the family for a long time and we use them year after year.



Boy12's is on the far left. We spent Christmas in Canada when he was 9 months old and my mum made him his first stocking. Poor Mr. M didn't even have a stocking back then, so I had to make him one too - it's on the far right. It was kind of an emergency solution and I think it's a bit small, but somehow I never got around to making him a new one and he's never complained.

Mine is the fancy green one, second from the right, which my mum created for me when I was about 13. It's cheesy but it means a lot to me. Boy9's is second from the left. He was crazy about all kinds of trucks when he was very small, so I made him a stocking to reflect his interest.

German children have it really good - they get a visit from Nikolaus on Dec. 6 and then, depending on what part of Germany they're in, the Christkind or the Weihnachtsmann comes again on the 24th with more presents.

In Germany, Nikolaus is accompanied by his helper Knecht Ruprecht who carries his bag of sweets and gifts and hands out switches to naughty children. In Switzerland the names change to Samichlaus and Schmutzli.
Along with Knecht Ruprecht, there are also stories of a meaner, devil-like figure known as a Krampus who appears in some parts of Germany, Hungary and Croatia, accompanying Nikolaus on his rounds and threatening to beat children who dare to misbehave. Yikes.

Other names for Nikolaus in different countries are Klass, Sint Nicolaas, Sinterklaas (Holland), Samichlaus (Switzerland) oder Kleeschen (Luxemburg). Father Christmas (England), Père Noël (France), and Santa Claus (North America). All of these have their origins in St. Nicholas, who was bishop of Myra (in Turkey) during the first part of the 4th century, but many look different and bring gifts at Christmas instead of Dec. 6.

Nikolaus and the North American Santa Claus appear to be the same figure, but they differ somewhat in their appearance. Nikolaus traditionally wears a bishop's mitre (pointy hat) and long robes and carries a staff. Santa Claus wears a red suit and a fur-trimmed cap and is called the Weihnachtsmann, the Christmas Man, in German.

Monday, December 05, 2005

waiting for Godot St. Nick

(Knitting update: I'm almost finished the third scarf but am not entirely satisfied with the first two and may do them over again after they have been presented tomorrow. )

Tonight is the eve of Nikolaus or St. Nicholas Day. It's the evening when you polish up your shoes or boots and place them outside the door or on the windowsill. If you've been good all year, St. Nicholas (who is different than Santa Claus), accompanied by his helper Knecht Ruprecht will fill them with chocolate, gingerbread, nuts, oranges and a small present or two during the night. If you've been naughty, however, all you'll get is a lump of coal and a switch (a bunch of dried twigs).

At our house we use Christmas stockings and hang them on our electric fireplace, but St. Nicholas always finds them just the same. We've all been on our best behaviour, of course, and are anticipating getting lots of loot.

Pictures tomorrow!


Sunday, December 04, 2005

knitknitknitknitknitknitknit

(I have 15 minutes to write this and then I need to go back to knitting!)

One scarf down
Two more to go
Will she make it?
We hope so!

I've never been very good at meeting deadlines but I'm going to do my best.

I couldn't knit much yesterday because I was downtown all day Christmas shopping in overheated German department stores. They're hot in the summer (no air conditioning) and even hotter in the winter (because, like, it's cold outside so we need to crank up the heat even though people are wearing hats and down jackets).

I must have looked a strange sight sweating away and muttering things like "Nintendogs" and "Yu-gi-oh! Nightmare Troubadour" under my breath. If you have kids between the ages of about 8 and 16 you'll know what I'm talking about. Luckily, the sales people also knew what I was talking about and I have now officially finished the shopping for the boys. They get one big present from us (Santa) and one from Oma and Opa and then a couple of little bits and pieces - all very low key. Our other friends usually give them money so they can either buy what they want right away, or save it up for something Really Important. A parcel also arrived from Canada yesterday (postage was only CDN $47! - can you say rip-off?) to be opened on the 25th and of course the kids are going nuts trying to figure out what's inside.

I've finally gotten the Christmas decorations organized and put up the wreath on the front door.
















And last but not least, December 4th is St. Barbara's Day in Germany.

Barbara, the daughter of the rich merchant Dioscuros, was born around 236 A.D. and grew up in Nikomedia (today's Izmet, Turkey). Her conversion to Christianity enraged her father so much that he ordered her to be locked up, tortured, and put to death.
Her father, having a hand in her death, was immediately struck down by lightning and Barbara was later named the patron saint of those needing protection from thunder storms. She is also the patron saint of miners which makes Barbaratag very popular in the mining regions of Germany.

Legend has it that as Barbara was imprisoned, a cherry branch stuck to her dress. She watered it with the water in her drinking cup until the day of her execution in 306 A.D, when the branch was said to have bloomed.

The German custom of the Barbarazweig - the Barbara branch, stems from this legend. Branches of flowering trees and shrubs (cherry or forsythia are quite common, but others such as apple, hazelnut, chestnut or plum may be used) are cut on Dec. 4 and soaked in water overnight to saturate them. They are then placed in a vase in a cool place and should flower by Dec. 24, bringing good luck, good weather and fertility to the household. Young girls are said to have given each branch a name of a suitor, the branch that bloomed first showing her the name of her future groom.


I cut a bunch of forsythia branches today and I'm hoping they will indeed bloom in time for Christmas. I've already found my groom and have had quite enough fertility, than you very much, but a little good luck and good weather would be just fine with me.

Friday, December 02, 2005

panda with language issues

This is my joke du jour for today, hand-picked by Boy12:

A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter dead. As the panda stands up to go, the manager shouts, "Hey! Where do you think you're going? You just shot my waiter and you didn't pay for your sandwich!"

The panda yells back at the manager, "Hey man, I'm a PANDA! Look it up!"

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition: "Large black and white bear-like mammal native to China. Eats shoots and leaves."


Hee! It's always nice to start the day off with a smile, don't you think?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

the countdown starts

It's December 1st. In Germany that means you get to peek behind the first door of your Advent calendar. Some calendars, like the ones we're using this year, have drawers or pockets instead of doors.

Mr. M suprised me with this delightful calendar containing sweets from him and a 'joke a day' from the kids.



In his calendar from me, along with his favourite sweets, Mr. M is also getting some interesting looking chocolate, flavoured with Lebkuchen (gingerbread), Spekulatius (a spicy almond Christmas cookie) and coriander. If he doesn't eat it, I will!




This is the calendar we've been using for the boys for the past several years.



In place of candy or small presents (they do each get a regular chocolate-filled calendar), they get a coupon every day good for things like "a visit to the Christmas market", "movie of your choice" or "make a gingerbread house with Mummy". So far the idea has gone down very well.

In other news, I have been inspired by my lovely and very, very clever friend Betty (one of the first friends I made on the internet way back in 1998, by the way) to knit something. Yesterday I went downtown and chose some yarn, meaning that all my boys will be getting handmade scarves for St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6. Oh, that's next Tuesday. I guess I better get started!

The yarn isn't as garish as it looks in the picture and knits up really nicely so I should be able to make the deadline.

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