A merry little Christmas


I’ve been home for a while now, and it’s been (mostly) perfect. No matter how little I miss home when I’m not here and how few traditions or memories I connect with this place, Christmas always feels more like Christmas when I’m with my family at my parents’ house.

This & that
We had a single day of snow over the past couple of weeks so Christmas here most certainly was not white. It was rainy and warm. We spent Christmas Eve as we always do, though: setting up the tree and decorating it in classic red and white, doing a long walk at the widlife sanctuary in the (relative) cold at dusk, and then coming back to a warm and cozy home to exchange gifts and eat good food. Instead of lamb, which we usually eat on Christmas Eve, my dad made duck and deer this year (photos to come) which was delicious!

Over the holidays we also read in our old children’s Christmas books that our parents used to read to us throughout December when we were little. We had Glühwein and fresh mint tea. We met the extended family at restaurants to eat more and promise to see each other more regularly next year (which we never do). I tried the Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks and decided it must be their best pretentious Christmas novelty drink yet. I spent many evenings playing cards with my mom.

Material Christmas
I got some lovely Christmas presents, some of which I had mentioned to “Santa”, some of which were a wonderful surprise. I got Stephen Fry’s book “Moab is My Washpot”. It’s his autobiography and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since I got obsessed with his television show “QI”. I also got a gift card to a bookstore, and a couple other gift cards. My mom gave me my favorite perfume (“Glow” by J.Lo) (don’t judge, it smells really fresh and light and soapy). And my brother, sweet guy that he is, somehow remembered that I mentioned this particular H&M sweater a couple months ago and got it for me. Oh, and San sent me a lovely handmade Christmas card that made me so happy! I love getting regular mail – thank you, San!

Meeting old friends
On Thursday I went to a breakfast meet-up at a small local café with a bunch of old girlfriends from high school. We don’t usually see each other during the year because we’re never in the same country, much less the same town. But we always meet on the day after the holidays (December 25 and 26 are Christmas holidays in Germany), when everyone is here to visit their families back in this little town that we came from. By now, our group has grown to include two husbands and a little baby girl who tag along, and it’s just- lovely. We don’t talk about the negative stuff; we skip right over all the everyday complexities of growing up and creating a life because we don’t see each other often enough to fill everyone in on the details. And so it’s nothing but old memories and jokes and banalities. Just the right thing after a Christmas spent with extended families who excel at asking exactly the wrong questions about How Your Year Has Been and Your Plans For The Future.

We did a short trip to Holland yesterday (is it odd that I mainly miss the Dutch supermarkets? I loved them most when I lived there, their selection and quality of food somehow is so much better) and hit the Christmas market again. I just made a last batch of Christmas cookies and will pack for my trip to Sweden later. Am trying really hard to enjoy all of this as much as possible!

If you celebrated, I hope your Christmas was wonderful!

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I’m going to Sweden, again


So guess what. I’m going to Sweden for New Year’s, after all! My friend actually very happily changed her plans so we could make this happen, and the tickets are already booked, and I just can’t with how sweet she is. Then Facebook messages of two other friends still in Jönköping came in, saying how much they look forward to seeing me. And so it looks like the kind of New Year’s I had in mind – quiet and relaxed, in Sweden, in the freezing cold, among loved ones – is indeed happening.

I took the cell phone shot above on my first return visit to Sweden. It was the first time I flew into Stockholm Skavsta airport, a small airport outside Stockholm. Upon landing you see nothing but snow and lakes and trees and the frayed coastline, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It was beautiful every single time I’ve come back since.

This will be me fifth trip to Sweden. There’s a sign at the side of the road as you drive away from Skavsta airport into the empty Swedish countryside, it says: Välkommen tillbaka. Welcome back.

And every time I pass it, I feel like I’ve come back home.

From aboard this train


I’m on a train speeding through a snow storm, the first I’m witnessing this season, and everything is white and the train, for once, is warm and quiet and cozy and comfortable, and I’m reading some beautiful writing by a dear friend, and I’m on my way home, to my mom who will be picking me up from the station. What more could a person ever really ask for?

December at home


I’ve been at my parents’ in Northern Germany for a few days which appears to be the only place in the entire country where it hasn’t snowed. (Cologne, meanwhile, was covered in a blanket of white as soon as I left it. Figures.) So that bit’s been rather disappointing but I’ve been to two of our local Christmas markets on most of my nights here and that has almost made up for the lack of snow. It has been crazy cold and that, too, put me in a good mood.

I met up with my aunt and my grandma for some Glühwein. I bought a new book; I’m almost finished with “Gone Girl”. I hung out with my brother and helped him buy Christmas presents. I got obsessed with “QI” because of Stephen Fry and have been watching too many episodes a day on YouTube. I baked cookies that are already gone.

I like December so far. I have to get back to Cologne tomorrow for a meeting about the potential freelance opportunity I mentioned a couple weeks back but right now it looks like I might get to spend the rest of the month with my family – which is nice after having spent the past four Decembers out of the country or working.

It snowed

It snowed on Tuesday. A tiny bit. Almost not worth mentioning. Tiny flakes; none of them actually stayed on the ground. For two blissful hours, the lovely white drifted down from the gray-blue sky, tossed about by the strong winds, and died before it hit the pavement, yes, but lifted my spirits nevertheless.
I watched “Lawless”, which was much better than I had anticipated. To give you an idea: a bond between three brothers, Virginia during prohibition, bootlegging, guns, violence. Also, Tom Brady. It sounds too easy, too predictable, and yet it’s fast-paced with a few unexpected turns and I would absolutely watch it a second time.

I’m going home tomorrow. I plan on spending as much time with my family as I can this Christmas season, making the most of my being unemployed. This means a lot of traveling back and forth by train and I just hope that the entire network of German railway won’t just break down as it tends to do as soon as it gets colder outside.

The end of November and NaBloPoMo has killed any inspiration for blogging I may have had (which is the opposite of what I had hoped would happen) so I don’t know when I’ll come back and write here. Expect photo posts, rather than words. And send me snow, if you’re lucky enough to have any.

Home sweet home


I took the train home to my parents’ on Tuesday. So I thought in between telling you about the places I’ve lived (here and here), let me also tell you something about the place where I grew up and where my parents and my brother live to this day. It’s a small town in Northern Germany – far from cities the size of Cologne. And- it’s magical here. I had to leave, of course, to realize that. But that’s the way it goes for everyone, isn’t it?

I went for a walk this afternoon through the fields behind my parents’ neighborhood. The winter sun stood low and red and warm, it smelled like fresh earth and dead leaves, my fingers were cold, it was empty and quiet, and I could just breathe and- be. Just: one step after another on half-frozen mud, rain boots on my feet, Ryan Bingham in my ears.

I’ve been going a little stir-crazy in Cologne these past few days and coming home is exactly what I needed. I have some sweet little things planned – baking, window-shopping, coffee with grandma – and right now that’s enough. It’s good.

Stream of consciousness II

I run into Santa at a stop light. An actual (crazy) person dressed as Santa casually meandering about the neighborhood. I decide I like that dude. I also decide this is a sign that it’s finally okay to start playing Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”.

***

I go see yesterday’s hipster girl for my hair cut and I tell her what I want, and she says that cut would look awful with my body size. She says size and not type, and I notice. I look at our bodies in the mirror, her much slimmer one next to mine, and I feel a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. She says the cut I want is so out of style and that I don’t strike her as the kind of girl who visits the hair dresser often. I hate that her comments get to me. When she asks me what I do and how old I am, I lie. I hate that, too.

The cut is 36 euros and I walk away with almost the exact same hair and an awful feeling. Thanks for nothing, hipster girl.

***

The roommate and I go to the mall. She needs new bras, I need a reason to leave the house. Some Christmas decorations are already up but they’re not lit yet and just look sad. There are seven different shoe stores and we go to them all. I remember why I hate shopping with others. I’m too impatient. We browse Christmas stuff and buy lights for our hallway and a reindeer for our kitchen window. It feels nice: to invest in the coziness of our home. We stop to sit down for some coffee and look out at Köln-Kalk in the dark. Head lights in one direction, break lights in the other. People in between; pushing strollers, riding bikes, dragging suitcases. And the moonlit clouds above it all. The roommate orders a Belgian waffle which turns out to be huge so I have a few bites. I don’t enjoy it.

I don’t enjoy much of anything these days, and it worries me. I’m not myself. Everything is sad and lonely and complicated and serious.

***

I buy a train ticket home for next Tuesday. They have a special offer for a high speed train on my connection; I can’t pass that up. Home in an hour and forty-seven minutes. 215 kilometers in less than an album’s worth of music. My mom is hosting a fancy seafood dinner and I want to be there for that. “You’re always welcome”, she emphasizes. “Come home.”

Yes. I think I need to.