New Year’s Resolutions: The annual game of good intentions

It seems you cannot escape them these days: resolutions for a better next year. Although January 1st is just one day further from December 31st, we still feel we are doing a magic leap into something new. It is a bit as with birthdays: of course you are not suddenly a whole year older on your birthday, just one day older as the day before… but obvioulsy we humans like to put some drama in our counting. We like to jump from time to time.

I have to admit I like to jump too. And, as the rest of us, every year after Christmas I start wondering about the past year, speculating about the coming one.

The other day I read something in the newspaper: the author evaluated her resolutions from last December, thinking about what had worked out and what had not. Good idea  – if only I could remember my resolutions from last year… (My forgetting them could be a sign I did not take them seriously, oh well.) But it is probably safe to assume they contained something like “healthy life”, “more sport”, “less stress”.  I think everyone has at least one health-related item on their list, and the more I think about it the more I seem to remember something like “do more yoga”, “take up running again”, “eat less sweet stuff”. The last one is an inevitable result of Christmas food: too many cookies, to many big dinners, not enough sport (no yoga classes during the holidays, bad weather resulting in many hours on the couch). So I think I can take that item over from last year’s list to this year’s. First item found.

What else is on everybody’s list? “Spend more time doing things you really like.” I am sure I had that one on my list too! Actually I was not so bad with that item this year – I have managed to let go of some activities that had become obligations keeping me away from stuff that really matters to me (writing!). But saying ‘no’ from time to time should stay on my list, since I still need some practise there. Second item found.

What else? “Spend more time with family and friends”. Good one, very important. I take that too. Third item found.

It seems I am not a very special person so far, since my resolutions for 2014 are

a) basically the same as everyone else’s in the world and

b) probably the same as last year.

Oh, what the heck. It is crazy anyway to think one’s needs and dreams are much different from those of the other 7.something billion people of the world. And b) just shows that I am not giving up on old fights just because one more year (day!) has passed.

But maybe, for the sake of doing something a bit different this year I should add an item number four: I will try to more actively choose – my actions and my reactions, my thoughts and my emotions (the last one is the hardest). And I will try to choose positively, optimistically.

Ok, that’ it. List ready. I am done.

2014, you can come now!

Happy New Year, everyone!


Christmas Thoughts

Looking back at Christmas Eve, what do I see?

It was a day filled with bubbling excitement and we-cannot-wait-any-longer feelings from the boys. I guess for them it was the longest day of the year.

There was the service at our church: a special children’s service with a Christmas play. The church was fully packed, over the time it got really hot and sticky in there, all children getting red ears and rosy cheeks. The service was nice, although the last half hour was probably stretching endlessly for the children.

Then heading home, the excitement reaching its peak. The little bell rang and there was the tree, glowing, with parcels underneath, and two little boys went “oooohhhh”.

We then enjoyed a little concert by two guitars (older boy and husband), accompanied partly by one singing voice (younger boy).

Afterwards the presents were opened in lightning speed and the living room was filled with delighted cries. Two boys were very happy. The adults opened their presents too, more slowly, smiling.

After some playing we had dinner – the boys ate more than I would have expected, being magically drawn back to their presents. They were not interested in dessert though. 😉

We let them play a little longer, than brought them to bed. They were tired, but content, looking forward to more play in the morning.

Husband and I then cleaned up the kitchen and settled cosily by the tree with our desserts.

What followed then is my personal Christmas ritual. When all the excitement has subsided, I love to sit next to the tree, listen to some music and start reading my Christmas book. (Christmas without at least on new book is no real Christmas for me. This year I was really lucky: I got four.) While husband started tinkering with his own present, I read a few pages, listended to the music, looked at the tree, read a few more pages, thought for at bit. Later I got the newspaper and skimmed through that – a mixture of Christmas related news and normal ones.

Looking after the tree for a while, the feeling that dominated me was that of deep thankfulness. Thankfulness because I could spend this lovely day with my family, being warm and sheltered and cosy. Being able to dress in festive clothes, give them presents, cook them a nice meal. Being able to sit next to the tree, knowing two healthy boys slept peacefully upstairs, one loving husband sitting next to me.

Thanks – to everyone, everything, God and the universe. And Merry Christmas.

(I know this post is soppy, irony-free and probably boring…. but today it does feel good to just be happy.)

December Choices

This blog has not been so much about choices lately, partly because my “glass wall” kept me occupied for a bit. 😉

But recently I noticed that there are so many things to choose in December – you could call it the month of choices, I guess. Everybody keeps asking each other: What will you do for Christmas? Stay home? Go somewhere? To see your family? To see the in-laws? Or will you go on holiday somewhere (skiing? looking for the sun?)? What are you going to eat (that seems to be a major point)? What type of tree? Real one, fake one? Candles? Electric lights? …. And so it goes on. Lots of questions, lots of choices to be made. It makes your head spin. No wonder so many people get stressed out before Christmas. (And I have not even had it about presents and sending Christmas cards!) Plus most children get a bit crazy too (I know mine do), which does not help much to keep the adults around them calm.

So this is what I choose to do, to keep my sanity and to preserve myself something of the magic atmosphere this time of the year always had when I was a child (and “stressed out” was a phrase I did not know):

This year we are not going anywhere. Not to the part of the family that lives 1200 km away, not to the part that is only separated from us by 400 km. We will stay home, just the four of us. We will have our own little Christmas without the need to manage diverse expectations. I won’t be spending hours in the kitchen, but instead think of something simple that still has a touch of special. We will do a nice table but won’t expect the kids to sit there too long.

How does Christmas look like in our family:  First of all, “Christmas” is starting with Christmas Eve, not with Christmas Day. On the 24th of December, the living room is roped off, forbidden territory for the boys. We have breakfast and lunch in their room, with them playing host, which they love to do. Because on the 24th of December (and not a day before), the Christmas tree is being decorated in secrecy by the “Christkind” (= “Christchild”), which can be imagined as a sort of angel. (Our oldest knows it is the parents that are doing it, but he still likes the secrecy about it.) In the late afternoon we go to a special family service at our church, with Christmas songs and all. When we come back, it will be dark, and the tension will be rising. The boys will listen for the tone of a little bell – and then the doors of the living room will be opened, the tree will be there, decorated, lights glowing, presents underneath (left by the Christkind). We will sing a song and then the boys will open their presents. There will be play and later dinner and more play, and eventually bed. They will wake up early the next day, but probably not as early as if they were still waiting for presents to be opened.

This is the type of Christmas I had as a child, and my husband’s family has similar traditions. Living in an international community made us learn about other types, and it is funny to see how the children juggle with the combined concepts of our Christkind and the British “Father Christmas”/the American “Santa”. They do not really mind and we decided they are all helping each other because there are so many children that otherwise it would be too much work.

One more thing about the Christmas tree: When I was a child our tree at home always had real candles, burning down peacefully (no trees where ever harmed or singed). When I met my husband I realised he was terrified by the concept, coming out of a family with electric lights. He thought I was being really dangerous, I thought electric lights were unromantic. So for the first years of our relationship, he put up with my pyromaniac ambitions and suffered silently while my candles burned down (always very peacefully).  But when we approached our first Christmas with a baby boy I had to admit that toddlers and shiny hot objects are not a good combination. So we switched to electric lights and stayed with them, even though now both boys are out of the toddler age. I still think real candles cannot be beaten concerning the perfect look (yes, I know, a burning Christmas tree is not a perfect look and it tends to incinerate the rest of the room almost instantly), but I have to admit that the electric ones have one advantage: you can switch them on whenever you like, whereas we only lit the real candles once, on Christmas Eve.

So these are our choices for December 2013: staying home with a real Christmas tree (fir) with a colourful mixture of bulbs and other objects, electric lights. Spending two weeks of holidays with each other, meeting some friends, hopefully spending some time outside (the weather here is not very Christmas-like at the moment…wet and mild and windy). Letting the year end in a restful, peaceful way. Looking forward to the next one.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The glass wall is down: How my comments got their wings back

(If you want to know what happened before, you might want to read the post before this one: Behind the glass wall: When my comments got caught in the spam filter)

Well, it did not happen “tomorrow”, so yesterday I was keeping myself busy by polishing my glass wall. It had gone a bit greasy from me pressing my nose onto it. Luckily there was one small hole in it though: One blogger found my comment in her spam queue and rescued it from there. So her blog was the only one accessible for my comments. Out of curiosity I did try one or two comments elsewhere – I found really great posts from people who had commented on my last post, so I just had to try to communicate. It did not work. So more of my words are hanging in spam folders somewhere. Sad.

But I was getting more and more curious about the why. The friendly support guy from Akismet had asked me to do another test by then, and I was waiting for the answer.

The answer came this morning: problem solved, you are ok again (not with exactly these words, but this is the gist of it). I was so happy! Did not completley trust it though, I have to admit (shame on me). So I did my own little tests: one coment on a blog where I had not tried it before. IT WORKED! Happiness spreading. Then I tried commenting at some place where I had failed before. I thought since there is one of my comments in their spam queue, maybe they will reject the following ones automatically? You never know, right? BUT IT WORKED TOO! Happiness complete.

The curiosity was still there though, since I still did not know the reason. So in my thank-you-it-worked-mail I asked the support guy if he could tell me what it was. Unfortunately he couldn’t.  Or rather, he wouldn’t. He just told me it was an oddity in Akismet, nothing to do with what I did or wrote. Which is quite consoling on the one hand, but on the other hand I would have really liked to know how this Akismet ticks. And what made it tick wrong. But probably that is knowledge on a need-to-know-basis… and it obviously I do not need to know. 😉 Or they did not want to bother me with technical details (I would have liked to be bothered in that case…).

Oh well, some mysteries will stay mysteries forever. For me the most important thing is that now my comments are flying free again.

Behind the glass wall: When my comments got caught in the spam filter

For almost a week now I have not been able to post any comments on other people’s blog. Or, to be more precise, I can post them alright, but they seem to disappear in some strange online nirvana. Or so I first thought.

Ok, my first thought was I had hit the ‘cancel’ button by accident. But how many wrong buttons can you hit in a row? I tried commenting on other blogs, with the same result. Puff, gone. So I ventured into the support corner of WordPress, posted my problem in the help forum and waited.

While I waited I discovered I felt a bit frustrated. Which is funny, since I am still such a newbie at blogging and commenting and stuff. All this reading of other people’s blogs, commenting on them, writing your own post – I have been doing that for only about 6 weeks now. Everything is fresh for me, as I am wandering around WordPress, finding new fascinating sites and post and thoughts. I am still feeling a bit tentative about throwing my thoughts out in the air, about forcing my opinion on other people by commenting on their thoughts. But I have to confess I do really like it. It is great to discover that somewhere on the other side of the world there is someone who thinks along the same lines, who wrestles with the same problems, or has these amazing ideas that make you think. If you had told me two months ago that I would get fidgety because I could not share my thoughts on some complete stranger’s ideas with the complete stranger (and anyone else who might be dropping by) I would have laughed out loud and called them silly.

Luckily I did not have to wait long until I was contacted by one of the “Happiness Engineers”. This really made me happy. I gave her the details she was asking for, she promised to look into the problem, I settled back to waiting. But hopeful. It came in handy that we had quite a busy weekend with the extended family, so I was not able to hop around the blogging world anyway.

And I did not have to wait long. My friendly Happiness Engineer was back with some news. She told me that apparently all of my comments are flagged as spam and advised me to contact the Akismet support for help.

Spam? Spam??? Me? My frustration levels were rising again. My comments are certainly not brilliant, but they are my honest thoughts, not spam! So far I had given the whole spam filter thing only about two thoughts, and they were all friendly, but now I was definitely feeling some grumpiness.

So I did as advised, got to the Akismet help corner, filled in a form stating my problem and hoped for another helping hand to appear. It did appear, asked me to give them more details, which I did. Now I am waiting again.

To be honest I feel a bit like I am stuck behind a glass wall. I can see what everyone writes, can see them communicate with each others, but cannot join in. The only thing I can do is throwing my own post out into the world, or rather stick it here, and hope that someone comes by. But I am not sure if anyone will notice.

Hello? Helloooo? Anyone out there who can hear me? I would like to join the conversation again!

But no, I am going to pull myself together now and remind myself that I do have a real life in the big 3D world around me. And that honestly no-one is sitting waiting for my comments anyway.

Just relax, do some writing offline, do some chores, write some real-paper Christmas cards (the big list of un-ticked names is frowning at you anyway), talk to your husband, go to bed early.

Yes, good choice. Will do.

(But secretly I do hope that tomorrow the nice people from Akismet contact me with the news that they have solved my problem, that I am no longer a persona non grata on everyone blogs. – Tomorrow? Please?)


Small Sweet Satisfaction

You probably all now the feeling: Something small happens, a tiny little nastiness, and you think “Why are they always getting away with it? Why is no-one watching?” Well, today, someone was.

I was sitting in my car, driving home. Rush-our had passed, so the streets were rather quiet, traffic feeling was calm. I came to a traffic light, where I needed to turn right. On the side of the road was a bike path, so I needed to watch out for bikers (where I live, you always have to watch out for bikers – from any direction, at any time: they can appear out of thin air, and they are fast!). As I was approaching the lights turned yellow. I probably could still have proceeded, but I had to let some bikers pass, and while I waited for them, the lights turned red.

Fine, I thought, staying put in front of the red light. Not fine, the car behind me must have thought – because he suddenly passed me on the left side, driving through red and sped on.

I blinked. I let out a very modest honk – the type saying “what?”, not the one screaming “you idiot what do you think you are doing here?”, and exchanged a look with a very startled pedestrian who had just wanted to cross the road.

Then I heard the sound. A very nice deep “vroom” sound, coming out of the engine of the motorbike that sped past me now. Sitting on it was 1 policeman.

So I guess the driver who could not stand to loose a minute will now have lost a couple of more minutes, explaining his behaviour to the policeman . Plus he probably will have to part with some Euros.

I must confess I drove home with a smile on my face.

(I mean, seriously: Probably everyone has driven over a traffic light that was not really yellow anymore… more like very dark orange…. when you approach a traffic light and you think you can just make it and later realise it would have been better to have stopped. But actively overtaking someone who is already stopping at that light? That tops my previous number one in startling traffic light behaviour: Watching someone waiting at a traffic light, who then after a while seems to think he had enough and just starts driving while the light is still red. I have seen that two or three times already and I never cease to wonder what goes on in these people’s heads. – Oh, am I ranting now? 😉 )