Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Markets in Hamburg

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I, along with a few of my new friends, headed to Hamburg for the Christmas markets there.  When I was initially invited on this trip, I had met zero of the people going and didn't really know what a 'Christmas Market' entailed (I obviously knew that they would be selling stuff but 'christmas market' to me meant vendors at folding tables in a gym). I decided that I should just jump into life here with both feet--and am glad that I did.
Entrance to the main Christmas Market in front of the city hall

This was the first weekend the markets were open & on the first night--yeah, they were packed!
Some of my new DK friends

Emily and I--my friend from DC who now lives in the netherlands.  She took the train to Hamburg to meet us!

Yes, they are also 'occupying' Hamburg, except that they go home at night and don't leave behind a mess.

Life-size Christmas Windmill

Christmas Parade

First Starbucks in months! Look at the smiles and overall happiness

Den Gamle By

This weekend, Ed took me to a popular tourist attraction in Denmark, Den Gamle By--translated, The Old Town. It depicts the way life was in Denmark in the 1800's and also in the 1920's and 1970's.  It is the world's first open-air museum--opening in 1909.  According to the website, there are 75 historical houses 'in' the museum.  We decided that we probably went on the most popular day of the year--the weekend before Christmas.  It was packed. When we left, there was a long line out the door to buy tickets.  Despite constantly fighting the crowds of people, we managed to get a pretty good idea of what Christmas was like in Denmark in the 1800's.
If only store signs were still made with this much charm...

One of several working gardens

Over the canal

Most of the time (though not in this picture) people were right next to the passing horses, coaches & buggies...I managed to not have my feet run over or stepped on--I wonder how many people have not be so fortunate

I am a little disappointed that we didn't take the time to wait in line at the bakery...every shop looked like this though. Packed with people and usually a line.

Den Gamle By on December 18, 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words

When simple danish is not enough....
Drawn for the plumber's wife to give to her husband when he returned home (they are our neighbors)
Thankfully Ed was able to fix it himself.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

candles and moss... another fire hazard?

I recently met a new neighbor--I'm the new one actually but we met for the first time a few nights ago.  She knocked on my door and offered me branches with tiny pine cones, pine boughs & moss and told me that I could have some if I wanted any of it. Another neighbor who speaks English came out to help explain what I was to do with my newly acquired bits & pieces of plant life. She told me that every year, the Danish children make these arrangements that involved candles and moss and other odds and ends.  I left with my bag of plants determined to make something. 
Bag of moss, sticks and branches      

Before starting the candle arrangement, I excitedly put the pine branches around the house.  I had looked at a few fallen branches in the woods but had yet to collect them. Then, after buying a few candles and lighting the moss over the sink to see just how flammable it was, I set out to make my 'plant arrangement'.  I definitely don't think it's a masterpiece and would never leave the candles unattended, but I am certainly happy that I tried.
Green felt mushrooms were not found in the wild :)

How does it look??

Alternatives to 'Dirty Santa' & 'White Elephant' gift exchanges

Since I've been an adult for awhile now, I have been to a fair number of dirty santa and white elephant gift exchanges over the years.  I have walked away with gifts that I loved, gifts for the GoodWill pile and once, with the very gift that I had brought to the party.  But, it seems that mystery gift exchanges are loved by all around the world so I am going to type the 'rules' for 2 different ways of playing the game--and maybe add a few tips so that you do not end up with a box rusty car parts sitting in your front seat as you drive home and wonder what went wrong.

First of all, if you are going to host a party that includes a gift exchange, I suggest that you make the gift guidelines specific. How about a themed gift-- Every brings: a Christmas ornament, candle, booze, candy, food--whatever floats your boat. Or a dollar amount-- & specify that it should be something new i.e. purchased recently and un-used (because apparently some out there feel they can put a dollar amount on the dusty crap in their garage) If you would prefer people bring their random, found-object-turned-Christmas-present-haha-funny-funny-gift, say it in the invitation so that someone who brought a nice bottle of something doesn't leave with the aforementioned box of rusty car parts. Bring a gift you'd be happy to win--even if it is a gag gift.   And IF you are one of those people that bring a box of junk from the attic or a melted candy bar in a diaper, I would like to let you in on a secret.  It isn't funny.  The best gifts are the ones that people want to steal! Now, off the soapbox and onto the different rules for gift exchanges.

Ed and I participated in a gift exchange at an international Christmas party at a church here.  The gift swap was not going to be a long, drawn out affair (as they can be if there are over 15 people) but short and sweet at the end of the party. The pianist started to play "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and we all sang and mingled. While mingling, we were swapping wrapped presents as we passed by one another.   When the piano music stopped (after about 6 rounds of WWYAMC), whatever gift you had in your hands was now yours.  I opened my gift to find a box of crackers and Ed gave his to a little boy who had so wanted to win something during a different game earlier in the evening but never did.  It was sweet & I was happy to have something that I could actually use!

The second gift exchange was one that our Danish friends taught us last night. We were told to bring 3 wrapped presents between the 2 of us--and I was later told that usually, it is 2 per person.  Each gift was only $4-6.  It is best to play this sitting at a table because rolling a dice is involved.  The first part of the game is the 'handing out' of the gifts.  All gifts rest in the middle of the table.   A dice is passed around and if you roll a 6, you either pick a gift or steal a gift from someone else.  Rather than opening the gift when you get it, all gifts remain wrapped! After all the gifts are sitting in front of someone, part 2 begins.  (just to be clear, if you did not roll a 6 during the first part of the game, you will have zero presents in front of you while someone else may have 4-5)  One person, the time keeper, will set an alarm for an undisclosed amount of time.  It can be as short as 30 seconds or as long as...well, I guess that is for the time keeper to decide :)   After the timer is started, the dice is again passed around the circle.  For each 6 you roll, you may steal a gift.  You don't want to lazily be rolling and passing the dice because you have no idea when the timer may go off.  So, once the time ends, what you have in front of you is what you won.   I suppose if you hosted a party and played this version, you could have a consolation prize for someone who managed not to win even one gift.

My last alternative is an adjustment to the traditional American way of doing the gift exchange game. It is one that relies on ones skill rather than just dumb luck.  Instead of drawing numbers to see who will have the coveted last number, why not have a competition of real 'skill'--like musical chairs.  When you fail to find a seat, you unwrap or steal a gift.  The winner of musical chairs will either steal the gift of their choosing or open the final, unopened gift.  And no, the first person out does not get to be the last person to steal a gift :)

Happy Gift-Exchanging!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deck the Halls...with fake trees, mice in bows and branches on the celing

 Merry Christmas!  I think in a different post, I typed that I would be hosting my own "christmas party house tour video"...After attempting to make a video of where Scout and I run, I decided against doing videos of me, talking to myself for now. I did, however, take lots of pictures of the house dressed up for Christmas. I do love Christmas- I love that we celebrate Jesus' birth, I love that we can share gifts and time with friends and family, I love baking (and eating) Christmas cookies and watching 'Christmas Vacation' and 'White Christmas'. I even love Christmas music.  But one of my favorite things about Christmas is that my house, or any house, is "dressed up" with texture, pattern and shine. It feels cozy--like hot chocolate and a fire in the fireplace.  (Which hasn't happened here yet because the flue won't stay open) So, with all that said, Merry Christmas! I wish you could all be here to have hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, and to warm your hands around the.....candles :)
Danish Flags on the tree-we may not be Danish but we certainly live here!  And I should also mention that our tree is fake. Yes, in case you couldn't tell from the pic ;)  But I have been told that the Christmas tree industry is pretty big here so most people prefer a real of my funny neighbors actually told me that a "fake tree is not a tree at all"  Touché
Ornament from Hamburg

Troldhassel (?) branch--the branch that I got from my non-english speaking neighbor--and asked for in Danish.

Snow Village at night

A friend came over with his 2 daughters.  The younger daughter was playing with the snow village people just like I used to do when I was her age. It made me happy!

Dining room

By the tree
Mantel-I think stockings are too long for this small fireplace

Remember making these??

Above the coat closet in kitchen

This mouse stuck around after Halloween

Red Hot Popcorn, Spritz cookies, Pfeffernuese (aka anise cookies) and Gingersnaps
The Village skaters
Danish Tulips
I was trying to take a picture of the whole dining room...but discovered that I could make the camera lens look like a creepy eye
Okay here is the whole dining room
and the living room (the giant mirror where the previous picture was taken is just to the right of the gray lamp)

The skiing moose--skiing to Austria this year :)  (He too was purchased in Hamburg--you would have thought a kid was shopping but no, it was me!)

Faces only a mother could love

Ed went to Copenhagen last week and came home with a gift.  
Most stores will ask as you are paying, "Is it a gift?".  If you say yes, they will wrap it for you!
 He decided that since we are living here, we should collect something--and since Danish-designed furniture is out of the question, he settled on something else. 

They are nisser, or elves. (If you want to read more, I found this website that gives a brief, and hopefully accurate explanation of nisser)  From what I have seen, the Danes decorate with nisser over Santa Claus at Christmas time. Anyway, these two, Lærke and Villads, are the pair of collectible nisser for this year, and they now live in our house.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Plant loves Sun

Before living here, I didn't own a single houseplant. Ever (that I can recall--aside from the occasional herb that rested on the kitchen counter for a bit while waiting to die. And my Chia Pet).   But houseplants seem to be a way of life here and so I too now own several houseplants.  I don't know what kind of plant this is but the funny thing about this plant is that its long 'tendrils' ( I don't know plant anatomy) stand up and face the sun, when the sun is out.  It makes me laugh--it's just so desperate for sun-love!  Anyway.
Onto the newest houseplant, or house tree :)

It sits in the only south-facing window in the whole house.  I wonder if it will survive...I wonder if any of my house-plants will survive..

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

King Scout

Scout has been using the Orvis Therapeutic bolster bed for over 2 years now. He loves it and we love it because we haven't had to buy a new bed monthly since it is too heavy for him to pick up, drag around the house and ultimately, destroy.  His old bed cover was getting a bit threadbare though so we ordered a new, embroidered cover. Isn't he the cutest??

Baby Scout

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If you don't like the weather in Denmark..

I promised myself that after I left the super-heat of Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and DC, I would never complain about the cold or rain here.  While I have definitely thought, "wow, this really sucks," I have never wished that I could be back in the sickening 101 degree, 85 % humidity weather of one of those places (everyone here says I will change my mind eventually but I beg to differ--I will tell you when and if it happens though) Today, however was pretty unbelievable.  If it were possible for weather to have serious mood swings...I would have found the Danish weather in the midst of one today...well, the past 3 days to be exact.  I had typed up a timeline of what the weather was like in one day but after the 3 days we've had here, I will just give you a brief list of what I have seen:  Rain, Hail, Sleet, Snow, sunshine, lightning/thunder, hurricane-force winds, breezing winds, no wind....What haven't I seen??
Hail on Sunday--I was actually walking Scout when this happened.  Thankfully, they were the size of peas so no harm done.
In Texas, there is this saying "If you don't like the weather in Texas, wait 5 minutes". I think the saying applies to Denmark as well--though in Texas you'd probably get a cold front with snow an hour after it was 85 degrees and sunny.  There definitely are no dramatic temp changes here--just mildly cold to pretty cold.

While I was thinking about that Texas saying about weather and waiting 5 minutes, I realized that I had heard the same thing being said when I lived in Oklahoma.  Which state actually 'owns' the saying?  I decided to do a little research.  I used the Google predictor (the drop down list of what you could be looking for when you start typing in the search box) to see what the top guesses were for "if you don't like the weather in"  They were New England, Oklahoma and Texas.  Imagine that.  What I discovered though was that Mark Twain was the 'quoter' of the saying, and New England was the original area with fast-changing weather.  So now you know. 

Speaking of the 'Google predictor', is there anyone else who spends large amounts of time just typing random words, even letters into Google just to see the top guesses are for what you could be searching? If not, try it.  You will laugh--For example, I just typed 'why does' and the top 3 results were "why does it always rain on me", "why doesn't my boyfriend get his period"& "why does god hate denmark".  Are those really the phrases with the most results for 'why does'?? I can't help but to be a bit worried...

Anyway, A picture of a passing snow shower earlier today.  Now the sun is shining.  Go figure. 

If you don't like the weather in Denmark, wait 5 minutes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Candle Safety 101

Hello again!   I know I was on a blogging roll for awhile but have been quiet for a few weeks.  I've been here, and there...And promise to write about it soon!  This, however, could not wait.  With Christmas just days away, this story is a good reminder to take care with fire, candles and lit Christmas trees.

I knew this before moving here and have observed it since arriving: Danes love their candles.  These are not just average Yankee Candles in glass jars.... Nope, they are slender 'stick' candles, with added height from extra-tall, very thin, candle sticks.  I've only been here 2 months and have averted one tipping candle disaster at a friends house.  They just seem dangerous!  I happen to love candles though and decided that my first candle-holder would be a "windmill pyramid" that I purchased in Hamburg last weekend.  I had lit it a few times to show ed, watch the windmill turn, take a few pictures...but I had never left it lit for longer than 5 minutes and definitely never unattended. 
Note the blue sky-a rarity these days

Tonight, we had some friends over for dinner and I thought it would be the perfect time to actually use my new & fun candle holder.  We were sitting around the table so I figured that it would have plenty of supervision.  I am sure that you can see where this story is headed so I will skip to the end.  I looked down and realized the solid wax was gone and that lit wick had tipped to the side and was leaning over the metal and onto the wooden portion of my windmill. (I would like to know who thought that making a candle holder out of wood was a good idea??)  I quickly blew out what was left of the candle before any serious damage occurred. Ed said he was going to throw the windmill pyramid away ASAP but I hope that it he doesn't because it will now serve as a reminder for me to be careful with my beloved candles...though I don't think I will be using it again in the near future..
Disaster averted
A wooden, varnished candle holder??

In the first paragraph, I mentioned that this would serve as a good "candle safety" reminder since Christmas was near.  I remember hearing once that more house fires occur around the holidays and was going to write that but decided that I would just search around the internet first to see what the great Google had to say about fires and Christmas.  The first website I came to had this list of facts about house fires that caught my eye-- So much so that I ended my internet search there.  From the looks of this list, I better be checking our smoke detectors weekly rather than monthly.  But in all seriousness, take care this holiday season! Here's a couple house fire facts to think about:
  • During the winter months, the potential for fires increase because of the use of Christmas trees, heating appliances such as the furnace, space heaters, and fireplaces as well as the increased use of lighting. -We obviously have the tree, but we also have lots of lights that are on for hours since the sun is down by 4:30
  • House fires in the U.S. that are started by candles are at a 20-year high-I would believe it if someone told me the same was true for Denmark.

  • Children playing with fire set over 100,000 fires annually and over 30% of those fires kill the children who started them.  This equates to over 800 children killed each year by the fires they set playing.-Remember the candle I caught as it was falling over--it was one of my small friends who accidentally bumped it.

  • Studies of electrical fires in homes show that many problems are associated with improper installation of electrical devices by do-it-yourselfers that do not comply with code requirements.-This one just makes me laugh. All the Danes install their own lights! (before Ed corrects my use of 'blanket statements', I am sure that some people here hire someone to install their light fixtures)  Ed installed 5 light fixtures in this very house.  Lights are considered part of the decor and are moved along with furniture, etc. when someone goes from one house to another.
  • Common errors that can lead to fires include the use of improperly rated devices such as switches or receptacles and loose connections at these devices.-We use plenty of transformers and adaptors here and I can think of at least 1 loose electrical socket plate. I am not even going to think about the flickering lights that were already in the house.