December in rearview mirror

Plzen in snow

This here is my view as I’m typing this post. It’s the view from my parents’ kitchen on the sixth floor of their appartement building at the outskirts of the historical center of the city of Pilsen. Usually, in my rearview mirror posts, I write about what happened in our garden in the past month. But the truth is that in December I spent very little time gardening. I have not even pruned the vine that grows in front of our house and is partly blocking our front door. Every time someone bumps into a branch, I say vaguely: “I should probably prune that” and then forget about it. Ah well, I can always make that one of my New Year’s resolutions, right?
Likewise in the community garden, after we lifted the dahlia tubers and stored them away and mulched the beds with fall leaves, there was very little to do. So instead of gardening, on a Monday we asked one of the volunteers in the community center who is from Turkey, to teach us how to make borek, a spinach and leeks filled pastry.

So what else did we do in December?

The advent calendar I prepared for the kids worked out great, and the activities meant more family time in the evenings which was exactly what I imagined / hoped for for the dark evenings at the end of the year.

advent calendar

One of the activities was crafting Christmas cards together. Esther cut out a star and complained that it looked more like Patrick from Sponge Bob than a star. Remco promptly drew eyes on it and turned it into a Christmas card for our friend Laimonas from Lithuania whom we met in Norway and who is currently serving as Lithuanian ambassador in India. Hopefully he has kept his sense of humor.

crafting

We had friends over one Sunday for a Christmas brunch. My friend lost her brother but a week before that and was very sad and only beginning to open to grieving. It pained me to see her like this. Being confronted with the fragility of life is always a powerful reminder of what’s really important.

We did not know whether our friends would want to come or cancel, but as her husband said, in the days around the funeral they experienced strongly how important it is to have a circle of close friends. Friends to share happy times with and friends who will be there when times are difficult. It was good to be together, to share stories and hugs.

Christmas lunch

On the 18th we went to a Christmas concert of the Celtic Tenors (another advent calendar surprise) and sat very close to the stage (cheaper tickets). The kids loved it. One of the singers borrowed Remco’s cellphone and took a selfie with it. After Remco posted the picture on their Facebook wall, the reaction was: “Note to self: never take a selfie while singing”.

the celtic tenors

Sebastiaan had his cast signed by all the three singers and after he told them the story of breaking his finger, one of the singers wrote “Keep skating” on his cast.

For the first time this year, Sebastiaan performed with his choir Chant ‘Encore during the Dickens festival in Deventer. On a weekend in December, hundreds of singers and actors in 19th century costumes perform in the streets of this beautiful old city. There are chimney sweepers and demonstrating suffragettes, bagpipe players and even queen Victoria makes an appearance. This year the festival attracted 200 000 visitors, despite the bleak and rainy weather. We were a little worried two days would be too long for Sebastiaan, but he loved all of it and could not wait to go back on Sunday.

Dickens festijn

On Sunday, he decided to spend his last money on gifts for us and his sister but came up 2 Euro short. He offered the shopkeeper he would sing her a song instead and she agreed. Which means he earned his first money by singing “Here we come a wassailing“. I wonder what’s next on his career path.

Dickens festijn

On the last day of school Esther had a Christmas breakfast with her class and this is how she described it to us: “All the food will be AWFUL because it’s all from the store, nobody is making anything themselves except for the pancakes and those come from a BOX.” I think I might have spoiled her with my home baking. I am not sorry.

Obviously, there was also a lot of Christmas cookie baking throughout the month and the house smelled wonderfully Christmassy all the time. They say that if you want to sell your house, you should bake bread when potential buyers are visiting because the scent of freshly baked bread suggests a happy home. I think if we ever want to sell our house, we should do it in December. Before we left for the Czech Republic, I put together packages of cookies for our friends.

Christmas cookies

On 22nd we drove to my sister’s in the Czech Republic and spent a very peaceful holiday there. Every evening I read to my niece and nephew from my favorite children’s book of all time: Astrid Lindgren’s The Children of Noisy Village. It is probably the book I have read most often in my life, many times when I was a child and later to Esther and Sebastiaan and yet I am still not fed up with it.

reading
I love watching the way my children interact with their cousins, Esther drawing with Alzbeta and Sebastiaan and Matyas (who are both such BOYS) swordfighting with their lightsabers. Like last year they decorated the Christmas tree together, mostly in harmony.

sized_December in rearview mirror

Christmas tree

The point of Christmas food is that it is the same year after year, so like every year for dinner on Christmas Eve we had the pumpkin soup, the potato salad, the carp, the cookies… And the next day for breakfast it was vanocka, the intricately woven Czech Christmas bread.

vanocka

A few days before Christmas, we wrote a Christmas wish list, just for fun, and Remco put “snow” on top of his. On the evening of 25th December we were sitting in my sister’s warm kitchen and when we looked outside, we saw this:

snowing

I wished for a peaceful and unhurried time with my family and long walks with Ronja, the wolf dog, while Esther looked forward to spending time with her pony. We all got what we wanted. It is the little things that are the best, always.

Have a very lovely last day of 2014!

Ronja

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