Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Year's Eve Charms

In Austria, it is traditional to exchange New Year's Eve charms with friends and family. Traditional charms are pigs, ladybugs, mushrooms with white polka dots, horseshoes, chimney sweeps, playing cards showing a winning hand, champagne bottles, gold coins and 4 leaf clovers. Maybe I am forgetting something, but that seems to be the main theme. In the past few years glow-in-the-dark Fimo clay figures of dragons, frogs, unicorns and the sort have shown up.
Right after Christmas, many stands pop up along the sidewalks. Some are small, others are larger. 

Most of the also sell fireworks. Lots of people with smaller children buy fireworks and set them off after dark and that way they don't have to stay up until midnight when the town really goes crazy.  There is a big concern over fireworks this year...With no snow or rain, it is very dry.

The bakeries are full of breads shaped like pigs, special cakes and mazipan pigs. Tomorrow I will go buy the breads so they are fresh. We will have our traditional fondu dinner around 4. Usually we go up on our building roof at midnight where we can see the city fireworks. After measuring the air pollution from fireworks last year, the city announced they would do a laser light show instead. The forecast is for cloud cover so I doubt there will be anything to see.

Update on my nephew who was in the hospital...He is home now!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A New Christmas Tradition

We had such a very nice Christmas this year. Just the 3 of us on Christmas Eve. Fondue dinner at 4, presents at 6. Christmas morning stockings early-ish and then off for a family dinner about 1 hour away. When we got home we had some delicious stew my DH had made earlier and then tackled the directions for a new board game, Risk.

My son went to bed, then got back up to look at the tree again. So, I made tea and we played a new game Santa brought. Listening to Christmas carols. And we happily stayed up until midnight to officially bring Christmas 2015 to a close.

I think we just started a new Christmas tradition.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Candles on the Christmas Tree

We have had candles on the Christmas tree before, but not this year. This is an old photo.

But, I have NEVER seen Christmas tree sparklers!  We had a lovely family lunch today and I was admiring the tree...and asked about the sticks hanging down.

I was so amazed that my son's cousin put one on the tree and let my son light it.  And here is the photo to prove it!

Candles and chocolates (we always have chocolates!) are traditional in Austria. Also, there is no Santa,  but rather Christkind (Christ child), an angel that brings gifts during the day on Christmas Eve.

And, some children's drawings of their Christmas trees from the newspaper cover today. So sweet! Many with candles and angels.

Still very warm here in Austria, unusually so! Great for my heating bill. Our apartment has stayed at about 72 degrees F for the past several days and we have not had the heat on for a good 5 days. As long as the sun comes out, our apartment heats up beautifully. We pull our shutters down at night and it keeps the heat inside.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Happy Summer Memory

 Cousins coming in from an afternoon sail. My son and one of my sister's sons. They are 3 years apart. When my son was born, big cousin came right over...and was so disappointed!  He wanted a cousin to play with! My sister and I both laughed and told him to give it a few years. Well, a few years later they were arguing over everything and I do mean everything! How did my sister and I live through that? But we did. They did. And now we can laugh about it.
 A selfie. sitting on the beach waiting for them to come in.
 My view...After those boys were safely in. Really, those 2 boys were out of sight. I would have gone crazy if my sister wasn't there with her eagle eyes - she could see a tiny red dot...waaay out there, that was them!
 Bringing the boat up.

15 and driving! It is an automatic with power steering and good brakes, so they are better off than when another nephew and I (a nephew the same age as me since I am the youngest of 7) learned how to drive an old dump truck at the age of 12!

Anyway, my nephew (my son's cousin, well shoot - all my nephews are his cousins, but I mean this cousin who is 3 years older than him) has been in the hospital all week and finally had surgery on Monday. Looking at a couple of months recovery. Not easy for a kid.  My son had called him 2x before the surgery while he was laying in the hospital bed twiddling his thumbs.  The tube came out yesterday but the pain not under control until today, so my son got to talk with him for a few minutes today. Cousin love.  Of course they can go months and months without talking, but if I tell my son his cousin is sick, he wants to call him right up.

Christmas Eve. Wishing you all a healthy holiday. Are you a little sad? Nostalgic for times past? Volunteer and spread a little joy. My sister spent some time volunteering gift wrapping the other day at the hospital. And today, the highlight of my nephew's day was when the therapy dog visited. On Christmas Eve. Yes, he is 15, but still a child and sick and not home for Christmas. Doggie cuddles helped.

And some photos of my incredibly strong sister who seems to be able to handle any medical emergency (and there are many) with calmness. Every patient needs an advocate. She loves action and adventure, being outside and smiling. Hospital rooms are handled with knitting needles in hand.

I do not know how I would hold up if I were in her shoes. It is so hard for parents to see their kids in pain. You just never really know what someone is going through unless you really know them. Give strangers the benefit of doubt, and practice spreading kindness.

So, tonight, I am thankful to be here with my little family of 3. Yes, I miss my big family, but I am right where I belong. We had fondue dinner at 4 and presents at 6. Lego building has commenced. And we are watching "Home Alone", in German.  Tomorrow - stockings in the morning and then we will go to my DH'S brother's for Christmas lunch.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas Tree Is Up!

I never go to get the tree, DH and my son do a great job. Sometimes an extra opinion muddies the waters. They went earlier this past week and we decorated it last night.  Isn't it lovely?  I should add, that after I took this photo, my son crawled under there and put the red tree skirt into place. You can no longer see the power strip and it looks even nicer!  Trees over here are prunned a bit differently to allow room for candles to be put on the tree, if desired.  I prefer lights! A tree is a big accomplishment when you live in a crowded space, but I rearranged some furniture and got it to fit. Last year we had it very close to the stove, and while I prefer that location, it really wasn't good for the poor tree to be so close to the heat! It really lost a lot of needles.

Unfortunately, our basement storage locker was a bit flooded this summer...from the ceiling. I thought all our stuff was OK, but this tote of stuff did not have a, ewww! Just enough moisture to be yucky. But, lucky me, I packed most everything in plastic boxes. Yeah me! The stockings were on top and a cycle in the washing machine did the trick. I ended up throwing out just a few odd ornaments from the bottom of the tote. All the empty plastic boxes got scrubbed in the tub. Even our lights were OK.  I was really relieved because...All the stores in Austria are closed on Sunday so it is not like we could run out and get more. Plus it is not an expense I really want! We do not have many ornaments in the 1st place, but we like what we do have. AND lights in Austria cost 30€ a string, no joke. But at the end of the days, they are just THINGS and could be replaced if needed. So, now maybe my DH understands my love affair for plastic boxes with tightly fitting covers. During the Christmas holiday I will bring up our other totes and check them all over, but the rest have covers and are placed on metal shelving. I like my stuff in storage to be at least semi-organized!

There is a saying that when a cardinal is near, it means a deceased love one is visiting you. My Mom always had birds on her tree, and I have several. But this lovely cardinal is my favorite. My happy reminder of my Mom, who lost her fight with cancer when I was 28...before I was married or had my son. She just loved kids and half the kids in our town called her Nana. So, if you are missing someone this holiday season, it may bring you some comfort to see a cardinal and if you live where that is not likely, get something with a cardinal on it. This cardinal ornament is so sweet, so I was happy it was not damaged.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Cookies Are Made!

 My son signed up for cookies for his class party. Brownies, I beg. Can't you bring brownies? But no, he has his heart set on cookies. Every Mom's best friend has got to be pre-made cookie dough...If you can find it. Slice, dip in sprinkles and bake. You can not go wrong!
 1 bag of dough for only 1.49€ on sale. What's not to love?
 Have you been reading my blog since he was 2 years old?  Here is a snap of the 2 of us working away. Sorry it is slightly blurry but I was not the one taking the photo! I am pretty sure that when he was 3 or 4 I posted a photo of him making cookies standing on a stool to reach the counter.  Step stool definitely not needed anymore! 
 We made 1 batch of butter cookies. Apparently  my cookie cutters got moved to the basement...somewhere! So we went to the store and got 1 new cutter and 1 new stamp. Today we should be in the basement storage unit for Christmas lights so I will take a look.   
Ta-da! A full container of cookies. It came home empty.

And while we were waiting for cookies to bake, my son started drawing on a new sheet of paper...He probably will add many pictures and fill up the entire page...that seems to be his style. So,  here is his picture zoomed in - plenty of space left on the paper...We will be going to the Star Wars movie sometime soon.

Friday, December 11, 2015

December Christmas Lights in Graz

 The weather continues to be mild in Graz this December. It makes walking downtown to see the lights enjoyable. And because it gets dark so early, even though it looks like we are out all hours of the night...We are not.
Personally, long winter nights wear on my nerves. Christmas lights makes things a little more perky!

 The downtown square.
 Lots of people out enjoying visiting and drinking Gluwine at the Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt). There are some little kiddie rides for the kids too.
I am not sure how the cute, little shops do selling items, but they sure are fun to look at and make things festive. Basically, at night people are out drinking hot wine drinks and eating. The waffle hut does well! I like the smells of cinnamon and basically, Christmas in the air!

The annual nativity ice sculpture. Melting fast!
The newspaper on St. Nicholas (spelled Nikolaus over here) Day featuring St. Nikolaus with 2 Krampuses.

Very busy right now and not much time to write, but I will keep taking photos along the way! One more photo from a different day, slightly earlier. I like the color of the sky in this one.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

St. Nicholas Day in Austria

In Austria, it is traditional for children to receive gifts from St. Nicholas (spelled Nikolaus here) on December 6th. My son got his gifts today...because, quite simply, the stores are closed tomorrow and Saturday just works better for us.

The normal gifts are oranges, peanuts (in a red bag), chocolates (chocolate "gold" coins are also popular and fits in nicely with the St Nicholas story) and dates (I do not always get dates though).

The red bags usually have red draw strings on top. And the choice of St Nicholas or Krampus as a sticker. One year my son got a Krampus sticker...and he put it on his door! Chocolate St Nicholas or Krampus are usually available...maybe I was too late this year, but I did not see any Krampus chocolates.

My son got usual treats from us. Then we went to visit DH's family and my son got a little bag of goodies from them. It was a nice visit. Omi (DH's mom/my son's grandmother) was there. She is 90 and was in good spirits, which makes things easier on my son, who tends to be sensitive. No talking about maybe dying tomorrow, thankfully! 

After a lovely lunch with family, we met a friend for coffee. He gifted us with 3 Krampus breads.  Yummy, buttery bread! I ate 2, my son says he wants the 3rd one but if he does not eat it tonight, chances are it will be stale tomorrow even if I wrap it in plastic. So, we will see.

Graz has a famous Krampus parade every year. It was last weekend and my son did not want to go. We spent a quiet evening home playing Monopoly instead. If you do not know this character, Google it! 

The drive to visit is about an hour to and fro. Unusually warm in Austria, so no snow or ice yet. Perfect day for a drive! 

And in case you are wondering...This is what downtown Graz looked like the other night. 

And as this Saturday night draws to a close, I am drinking peppermint tea and watching a children's feel good Christmas TV show with my son. Maybe, just maybe I will knit a few rows on my current sock.

All is well in my little corner of the world. I appreciate this little holiday, leading up to Christmas, where the gift of FOOD makes children very happy. There is no stress or surprises...they get the same thing every year!  And they hear the story of the real St Nicholas and how he helped poor people. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

More Cactus Flowers!

My son has another cactus with not one...but multiple blossoms!

I got a little jab moving it slightly so the lighting would be better for a photo. I am not sure how long that flower will last so I was keen to get a photo of it today...just in case it is a 1 day wonder. But there are so many little buds, I am hopeful there will be several blossoming flowers at the same time.

Exciting things going on with the cacti...late November / early December. I would have never guessed. Even though it is still pretty warm here, it gets cold at night now, so most our plants have now been moved inside.  I am going to have to do some kitchen counter is a bit full...With sharp prickly objects!