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Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Happy New Year


I just realized that if I’m going to wish you Happy New Year I shall have to do it NOW, because the rest of the weekend I’ll most likely be busy. Tomorrow on New Year’s Eve I’ll be having friends over in the evening; and if the snow situation doesn’t get too much out of hand, I’ll also be spending Sunday with family and relatives.

So looking back in the rear mirror on the year 2010, as well as any attempts at gazing into the future of 2011, here on the blog, shall have to wait until… well… some time next year…!

♥Gott Nytt År! ♥


BTT: Annual Book Review

Booking Through Thursday, December 30, 2010

Deb asks:
* What’s the best book you read this year?
* Worst?
* Favorite?

These questions made me realize that over the past year I’ve slipped out of the habit of keeping a list of all the books I read and listen to. For years I kept such a list on my desktop computer, but then that computer crashed back in November 2009… Eventually I got the old documents from it back, but in the meantime I had failed to start a new reading list. I think the problems I’ve been having with an eye (PVD and “floaters”) contributed too. I’ve been reading mostly by ear (audio books) lately and many of them have also been Swedish books not available in English; which makes it meaningless to review them here.

Among the English books I enjoyed this year, the first that come to mind are the first three novels in Alexander McCall Smith’s series 44 Scotland Street. (Link goes to a previous BTT-post of mine.)

I don’t think I find it worth the time and effort to try to recall what might have been the worst!

Happy New Reading Year!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Using the Inner Eye


Struggling along the icy streets in town today, it occurred to me that I almost feel I don’t believe in summer any more.

Please tell me I’m wrong…?


“… blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.
John 21:29

Monday, 27 December 2010

Quotation of the Week (52/2010)


“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

Taylor Caldwell

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Weather Or Not


In this part of Sweden (inland from the west coast) we cannot claim to have been really snowed in over Christmas. We got a thin layer of extra snow on Christmas morning but that’s it. Otherwise around here it just basically stayed cold, -10°C plus icy winds blowing.

The really nasty snowstorms seem to have kept to the south-east over Christmas (now moving north). Down in the SE all trains were cancelled on Christmas Eve, car queues on the roads got stuck in the snow for hours, and military vehicles were needed to get home care/medical staff out to patients in remote places, etc. The main problem was the strong winds which caused the snow to drift. They had to give up even trying to clear some of the smaller roads while it was at its worst.

2010-12-25 traffic TV
Collage from news scenes on my TV screen

Myself I even got out for a bit of a walk in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, but I have no photographic evidence of it, since I got problems with the camera card. Maybe it froze or something!  Anyway I had to format it to get it sorted and the few Christmas Eve pictures I had on it got erased. Never mind, nothing important. (And my main errand was to pick up a parcel from the post office rather than to take photos.)


On Christmas Day I only went outside for ten minutes or so, which took me as far as the end of our street, from where I was able to take this photo of the sun setting behind a house across the road.

Today I won’t be going out at all. If I had any thoughts of it, they went away just now as I turned from the computer screen to look out the window in my study. Guess what? It’s snowing…

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve

Advent Calendar / 24 December


Wishing all of my blogging  friends a Merry Christmas,
and hoping that Santa will find some extra special gift
in his bag for each and every one of you!

The 24th is the last door in the traditional Advent Calendar. And at least here in Sweden, Christmas Eve is also the main day of celebration, because that’s when Santa comes bringing presents. Yes, that’s right. He starts his work already on Christmas Eve here in the North. He usually doesn’t bother with going through the chimney here – he just knocks on the door, just like any civil person would do. There, however, the normality ends, because what other guest would start the conversation by asking their hosts if they’ve been GOOD all year? Honestly, that’s enough to cause a child nightmares rather than joyful expectation (and I’m speaking from personal experience here!).

However, I blogged about my issues with Santa last year, and so I’ll skip repeating all of that again. Over the years, we’ve come to a better understanding; which means he rarely turns up in person on my doorstep any more, asking silly questions; but on the other hand I no longer boycott all images of him. And I still get presents…! Some came through the mailbox earlier in the week and are waiting under my little tree to be opened this afternoon or evening.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I hear some little santa-gnomes making a noise in the kitchen, complaining that I forgot to let them out of their house…  Better go and do something about it…



Thursday, 23 December 2010

Almost There

Advent Calendar / 23 December

It’s the Day before Christmas Eve, and I just put my Christmas Ham in the oven before starting on this post.

The Swedish word for Christmas is “Jul” (the same word as the old English “Yule”, dating back to pre-Christian times). Christmas Eve is “julafton”. However, we also have an alternative name for that day, which would translate “Dipping Day”. This refers to a tradition of dipping bread into the broth left over from cooking the meat.

Traditionally, there is sort of a count-down going on the week (or so) before Christmas, which makes today “the day before Dipping Day”. With just one day to go, that’s not much of a challenge; but for example Monday this week would have been “the day before the day before the day before the day before Dipping Day” – etc. (The only limitation for when to start the countdown is really your own ability to keep count.)

(Picture from Wikipedia)

You may be familiar with the concept of the Scandinavian smörgåsbord (in English spelled smorgasbord) - a buffet with a wide variety of dishes. (“bord” literally means “table”) Well, the Julbord is similar; only more of everything, and extra special Christmas dishes added.

What should be included in the “julbord” varies a bit between different parts of the country, and from family to family. If you’re interested, read the Wikipedia article, because this is one subject which I’m not qualified to write about. Our family traditions were rather modest in this respect – especially in later years  - and my own even more so!

It probably says something about how strong the tradition of the ham as the centerpiece of the Julbord is, though, that this is just about the only thing that I sometimes do bother to make myself. (Christmas without ham is for us like Thanksgiving without turkey for the Americans. Or at least that’s my impression from Americans movies and sitcoms!)

In spite of the ham, Christmas food fanatics would probably feel deeply disappointed looking into my fridge. Not that it’s empty, but since I’m not much of traditional Christmas food fan myself, I’ll be quite content eating other things - and hopefully not much more of them than I usually do. 


In fact, the only other thing in my fridge that really shouts out “jul” is a couple of bottles of Julmust. This is a special soft drink made from a secret recipe. It was created by a father and son Roberts in 1910 as a non-alcoholic alternative to beer. It is still made exclusively by the same company and the original recipe is said to be locked up in a safe with only one person knowing all the ingredients. The beverage is closely associated with Christmas, is also sold at Easter but traditionally not at all in the summer. In the Christmas season however, Julmust outsells Coca-Cola  in Sweden, and not only that - the consumption of Coca-Cola drops by 50% during the same time.

One more thing that is a “must have” for me at Christmas is gingerbread cookies, but I do not bake them myself any more (too hard on my neck-shoulder-arm problems). What I did do a few days ago was bake a cake with the same spices – less hard work, but still gives the right smell ;) 


I also like a special Christmas blend of green tea which I buy at my favourite tea shop. 


So: Christmas ham, Julmust, gingerbread and Green Christmas Tea… I’m all set! ;)

As for the expected snowstorm, it has not showed up yet in the area where I live (inland south-west). It now seems it will hit the south-east coast the hardest. The snow that is already here is not going anywhere though! The outside temperature is –8°C. Just nipped outside to dispose of some garbage bags… Brrr, quite a wind blowing too… I’m staying in…!


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Christmas Tree

Advent Calendar / 22 December


They say there is a shortage of Christmas trees in Sweden this year. This is because snow came so early this winter, and never left. Which means a lot more work for each tree that has to be cut. For customers who want to choose their three before it’s cut, I imagine it also involves some difficulties in judging what the tree might look like without the snow. Not to mention finding a place for it to thaw before taking it inside…?


I have no statistics to prove it, but my guess is the sale of artificial Christmas trees might have gone up this month.


I was not really out looking for Christmas trees, though, when I took those first two pictures... Not trees to take in, anyway! My own artificial little tree (60 cm high) is celebrating its 24th Christmas with me. It’s usually the last of my Christmas decorations to get put up. I decorated it on Monday afternoon this week. Then on Tuesday some presents to put under it arrived by mail from a friend!


The custom of the Christmas tree can be traced back to 15th century Estonia and Germany. A decorated tree was put up in the market square or the guild hall. People danced around it, and the edible decorations were given out to the children on Christmas Day.

The Christmas tree is said to have been introduced in Britain and the US in the early 19th century. The first report of a Swedish Christmas tree is from 1741, but it did not get really common until the late 19th/early 20th century. The early Christmas trees in private homes were usually small, table-sized ones.

Long before the introduction of the Christmas tree it was common to take in just branches for decoration.



Tuesday, 21 December 2010

All Prepared…

Advent Calendar / 21 December


I posted a picture of this wall hanging last year, too, but I thought I’d show it to you again, in more detail.

The artist who made it was my mother. (Although she would never have called herself an artist.) I think she must have made it back in 60’s or early 70’s, although I cannot recall where it used to hang. (The house where my parents lived during the last two decades is not the house where I grew up.) Anyway… looking closely at it now, she put quite a lot of work into details:

… like candles, Christmas tree, and hyacinths in the windows!



Quoting myself from last year’s post:

“The landscape reminds me of another Christmas decoration from my early childhood which I think was found not worth saving when my parents moved in the early 90s. It was a little village of home made cardboard houses, church included, and little people made of home made play dough (flour, water and salt), dried in the oven and then painted with water colours. Each Christmas, my mum cleared the top shelf of my bookcase, rolled out a layer of white cotton wool over it, and then we placed the houses on top and built the village. There was also a little dam made by a mirror, on which people were “ice-skating”. When we'd built the landscape, we finished off by sprinkling some boric acid crystals on top to make it glitter like snow does when it's really cold outside.”


Today is that kind of day. When I got up around 8 in the morning, the thermometer outside my window showed -17°C (1,4 F). All the weather forecasts now seem to agree that Tuesday (today) and Wednesday will be very cold; and after that there’s another heavy snowfall coming in, lasting all through Christmas Eve…

Personally I’m all prepared now to let myself get snowbound over Christmas. I hadn’t got plans to go anywhere anyway. Not expecting visitors either. And after some initial bewilderment about how to feel about that, I think I’m now totally okay with it. Actually more than okay: Looking forward to it as a time of relaxation, with no obligations to fulfill.

I was able to pay a short visit to dad last week, together with two cousins of his. I could tell from details I noticed when I was there that he is being well looked after where he is living now, and that he has not been forgotten by old friends and acquaintances in the village either. (Several poinsettias and other Christmas flowers on the windowsills and table.) It’s a relief to know that he’s in a “safe” place this winter rather than living alone in the old house depending on home care staff making their way there through the snow. And in this kind of weather, I really also feel better knowing my brother won’t have to spend half the weekend out on the roads!

I’m pretty well stocked up with food and other necessities. I’ll be able to get out for some “extras” this afternoon. After that, I could stay snowbound for a week or more, if need be.

My indoors temperature is also back to normal lately. I think I mentioned here that a few weeks ago, it was so cold in the flat that I went out and bought myself an electric blanket to keep myself warm. But shortly after that, the indoors temperature went up again to a comfortable 22-23°. I hope it stays that way. (If it doesn’t, I still have the electric blanket!)

My Christmas decorations are up. I have plenty to eat. If I don’t like what’s on TV I have lots of favourites on DVD. I have unread books, lots of music, computer games and the internet...

All I really wish for is that all of my friends will be safe and comfortable as well; not finding themselves stuck in traffic or waiting endlessly at some train station or airport.

~ ♥ ♥ ♥ ~

Monday, 20 December 2010

Quotation of the Week (51/2010)

Advent Calendar / 20 December


‘The White Witch? Who is she?’
’Why, it is she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!"’
’How awful!’ said Lucy.


‘Come on!’ cried Mr Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. ‘Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power as already crumbling.’


And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. --- Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world – the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make his look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

‘I’ve come at last,’ said he. ‘She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.’

C.S. Lewis: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Illustration by Pauline Baynes)

I’m not sure how it works for readers who live in a warm climate, but I think Lewis catches perfectly how closely connected Christmas has come to be with Winter for us who live in the North. Christmas is celebrated at Midwinter; it is the turning point, when we can begin to say things like “at least from now on the days will be getting longer again…”

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Christmas Gospel

Advent Calendar / 19 December

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2:


8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.


9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.


11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”


16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2:


1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”


3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
   who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”


9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


The pictures are all of my own Nativity Scene decorations (and some extra angels) which I put up yesterday in my study. All the pieces don’t come from the same source, but I’m having some fun with that… ;)

♥ ♥ ♥

Listen at YouTube to Sinead O’Connor singing Silent Night.

♥ ♥ ♥

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Dreaming of a White Christmas?

Advent Calendar / 18 December


Are you dreaming of a white Christmas?

In Sweden, the early winter this year has already provided so much snow that the thought of even more of it is likely to cause nightmares rather than classic Bing Crosby sentimentality.

On Wednesday this week, we had had cold, clear day here in the south-west, around -13°C (8.5 F). In the night, the temperature rose to 0°C (32 F) in a few hours, and it started snowing (or raining, esp. closer to the coast). On top of that, a strong wind blowing. And it kept on snowing most of the day.

The top photo in this post was taken the day after the snowstorm; turned into black-and-white - not that that made much difference! –  and the snowfall effect was added in Picnik.

The photos below were taken through my windows in the snowfall.

DSCN0747-1   DSCN0746-1

The media warned people in this area from going out if they didn’t have to. I did not have to, so I took the advice and stayed in. As the day proceeded, I was more than glad that I did! 


The sudden temperature changes glazed some roads with ice, while others were blocked by heavy snowfall. Not for the first time this winter, trains stopped running and airports were closed. Accidents were multiple, especially along the west coast. Trucks went off the road and blocked the rest of the traffic. A bus turned over. In Gothenburg, pedestrians were unable to stay on their feet in the streets because the rain froze to ice as soon as it hit the ground. The Emergency Rooms at the hospitals were crowded. All ambulances were out picking up people in a never-ending queue, and they had to call in every orthopedic surgeon they could get hold of to take care of all the fractures.


Friday morning, I again woke up to -13°C, and a bleak sun sometimes peeking out from behind the clouds.

I managed to get into town by bus in the morning to get some groceries; and later a short walk to the small local shop as well. So if necessary, I’m all set to get snowed in again over the weekend! More snow is predicted, after which it will get colder again.

Most likely, Christmas will be white and cold all over the country. That is far from always the case here in the south.

My local newspaper had some statistics: In our town, looking back over the past 20 years, 13 Christmases out of 20 were NOT white. Last year was actually the first white Christmas we’d had since 2001. But December this year will probably turn out the coldest December in Sweden in 100 years - or even 150, someone just said on the news!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Horses

Advent Calendar / 17 December


… Really?! … Well, the first reaction would be “neigh”… (“nej” meaning “no” in Swedish!) … but on second thought …

These ponies I found in the Christmas market last weekend, and children could go for a ride around the town square.

“In the good old days”, when people went by sleigh to church early on Christmas morning… the sleigh was of course drawn by horses.

Photo from

I’ve mentioned before that pastry cutters for Christmas gingerbread biscuits come in all kinds of shapes – including the pig, and the yule goat. Many years ago on holiday in the province Dalarna in central Sweden, I also bought pastry cutters in the shape of horses.

imageThis picture I found on the internet
(easier than finding my own cutters)

The province Dalarna is famous for their wooden horses (in the same shape as the pastry cutters), colourfully decorated with a special kind of folk art, kurbits.

My Dala-horse, and a model of a grandfather type of clock 
from the same area; both painted in the “kurbits” style.

I mentioned in connection with Lucia, that the male participants in the Lucia processions, called “star boys”, are associated with the first Christian martyr, St Stephen. One of the songs often sung by the boys in the Lucia procession talks of St Stephen (“Staffan”, in Swedish) as an ostler or stable boy, taking care of his “five horses”, “in the light of the star”. The origins of this song are said to go back way further than the Lucia traditions and are based on a legend that places Stephen as a servant of King Herod around the birth of Jesus (rather than as the first martyr of the early church after Jesus’ death ~35 AD): seeing the star of Bethlehem he told Herod about it, and thereby aroused the king’s anger.


A medieval church ceiling painting of St Stephen and his horses
(picture from Swedish Wikipedia) ~ 1200 AD

The horse, just like the pig and the goat, also belongs in pre-Christian Scandinavian traditions. The Old Norse god Odin’s horse Sleipnir was said to have eight feet. He could run through the air as well as on the ground, and the stories also tell of him being ridden down into the Underworld to the realm of the dead (reigned by queen Hel). Horses were also used for sacrifices.

Looking at the medieval painting above, I doubt it is quite a coincidence that it can be seen either as two horses, or as one horse with eight feet and two heads, one pointing up, and one down. It strikes me that the painting was probably meant to recall ideas of descending into hell and rising into heaven, borrowing the imagery from the old religion. (A “revelation” that only dawned on me just now. I had no idea whatsoever when I started writing this post that from the ponies at the Christmas market I would end up with references to old Sleipnir…!)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Yule Goat

Advent Calendar / 16 December


Hey, what’s this? Dogs?


No, not dogs… Dogs do not have horns…


They’re goats!


So why are there goats at the Christmas Market??
Yule Goats, of course!

Just like the Christmas Pig, the Yule Goat in Scandinavian traditions probably goes as far back as to pre-Christian days. Goats were connected to the Old Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.

The Yule Goat nowadays usually only appears as a Christmas ornament made out of straw etc. The most famous Yule Goat in Sweden is found – briefly – each year in the town of Gävle. I say briefly, because it is traditionally always burnt down almost immediately. Not as an official rite, but an unofficial one.

image       DSCN0379

In the 19th century, however, before ‘Father Christmas’ entered into Scandinavian traditions, it was the Yule Goat who came with Christmas gifts. In early Christmas cards, the Goat and the Tomte/ Father Christmas can also be seen together:

 Christmas card by Jenny Nyström

A thought of my own (although perhaps I’m not the first to make the connection) is that in Biblical/ Christian tradition, we also have the Scapegoat

“The rite is described in Leviticus 16. Since this goat, carrying the sins of the people placed on it, is sent away to perish, the word "scapegoat" has come to mean a person, often innocent, who is blamed and punished for the sins, crimes, or sufferings of others, generally as a way of distracting attention from the real causes. In Christian theology, the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus is interpreted as a symbolic prefiguration of the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who takes the sins of humanity on his own head…” (Wikipedia)

It kind of closes the circle of religious symbolism, doesn’t it?
The Scapegoat becoming the Bringer of gifts...


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