‘Tis the Season (Already)!

I can hardly believe it’s November already – where did this year go?  It’s moving so fast that I have started preparing for Christmas already. Now, I know that for most Americans it may come as a shock that I’ve waited so long – don’t you lot start in August? 😉

I was discussing the cultural differences of Christmas traditions with a Swiss neighbour recently, and I mentioned the fact that I have an aversion to the opulence of the average American household’s decorations. If an American came to Switzerland during Christmas, they’d probably think that the Swiss forgot to decorate! Outside lights (minimal and usually non-blinking, as not to disturb the neighbourhood), tree (minimally decorated, and in most households, it’s set up on Christmas Eve), advent wreath, advent calendar, done. Maybe a front door wreath, but not usually.  Maybe a nativity set, but not always.

Most of our decorations are made by yours truly; with the exception of a wedding-year ceramic ornament, all other ornaments are either embossed tin, or crochet, or paper mache, though we do have a small set of glass ornaments, too. Our presents are not wrapped but put into reversible cloth gift bags that I made a few years ago because I disliked the waste of wrapping paper. And we’ve used the same silk tree for about 15 years; I didn’t like the environmental waste of chopping down a live tree for a couple weeks’ enjoyment, just to toss it out again. It looks like the real thing and is storable.

I do a LOT of upcycling crafts, and this past week I had a creative streak; our church will be having a creche display, and they asked me if I could have some items to sell when visitors come. I made dozens of tin ornaments, and have on hand a few dozen plarn bags to sell as well.

Besides such preparations, I’ve begun planning for our family Christmas dinner, which will be here this year, as requested by my nieces (they stay overnight, and take over the upper floor for a party). A few years ago, on a whim, I decided to make a traditional American Christmas dinner with turkey & co. (I would have gone for British, but couldn’t get a goose at the butcher’s or find Christmas crackers), and they wanted that once again. The first time I prepared it, I ordered the largest turkey I could get, which was 3 kg. (~6.5 lbs.); for 15 people, that was WAY too much!! But try as I might, I couldn’t find instructions anywhere online for such a small bird on American sites; the lowest end of their cooking time graphs started at 8-12 lbs. [An interesting note: IKEA had to make American dining tables much larger than they sell in Europe, and it’s mainly due to the load of food served at their holidays, including the size of the turkey; in fact, they had to supersize everything for America, from drinking glasses to chairs to sofas…]

I managed to get the turkey cooked in time, and I made notes for the next round. But in that process, I recognized many cultural differences between what I grew up with in America, and what I am used to, having lived in Europe for over 30 years: The simpler approach to the season of Christmas, not only in decorations but in the whole materialistic aspect. Here, it’s not about the biggest, the brightest, the loudest, or the most; it’s about family, friends, taking time with loved ones, and eating a nice meal that won’t break the bank or the scales! Our Christmas decorations and lights fit into 2 boxes; my mother recently told me about helping one woman decorate her home for Christmas; she had an entire walk-in closet filled with hundreds of decorative pillows, and her basement was lined with shelves for nothing but her seasonal decorations… mercy me – that woman’s collection could decorate dozens of Swiss homes.  If that’s what makes someone enjoy Christmas, then so be it; but it’s not for me!

Some people dislike the fact that Christmas decorations and sale items have already appeared in stores here, but I don’t mind it this early – I can get my shopping done before the first of December (including advent calendar gifts, and Samichlaussäckli fillings [6 December]), and leave the last-minute panic up to others. If you haven’t begun preparations for the season, you might think about how you want to celebrate Christmas, and perhaps find ways to avoid stress or trying to keep up with the Joneses.  In the meantime, I’ll share a few ideas for upcycling crafts and decorations – make it yourself and save money, spare the environment and natural resources, and enjoy the satisfaction of doing something with your hands! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest boards.

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Wordless Wednesday #54: Punctuation

Punctuation

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October 31, 2018 · 5:32 PM

History Undusted: The Evolution of the Zipper

zipperA zipper is something one rarely thinks about until it breaks.  It’s something we use every day, from trousers to jackets to purses to zip-lock bags.  Yet the actual modern zipper has only been around 101 years!  The idea began forming as a practical design in 1851 in the mind of Elias Howe, who patented an “Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure” (no wonder that name never caught on).  He was not a marketing whiz, and the idea petered out.  At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, a device designed by Whitcomb Judson was launched but wasn’t very practical, and again, it failed to take off commercially.  In 1906, a Swedish-American electrical engineer by the name of Gideon Sundback was hired by (and married into) the Fastener Manufacturing and Machine Company (Meadville, PA), and became the head designer.  By December 1913, he’d improved the fastener into what we would recognize as the modern zipper, and the patent for the “Separable Fastener” was issued in 1917.  In March of that year, a Swiss inventor, Mathieu Burri, improved the design with a lock-in system added to the end of the row of teeth, but because of patent conflicts, his version never made it to production.

The name “zipper” was coined by the B.F. Goodrich Company in 1923, when they used Sundback’s fastener on a new type of rubber boot.  When they first came into production, zippers were mainly used on boots and tobacco pouches, only making it onto leather jackets in 1925 (produced by Schott NYC), trousers in 1937 (beating out the traditional button method for men’s trousers).  The next time you use a zipper, stop and think about what you would have had to use 100 years ago!

And in the meantime, here are a couple idioms that have arisen using “zip” or “zipper” or which refer directly to that imagery:

Zip it (up) – close your mouth

Zip your lip/mouth

Zip Your Lip

Euphemisms about undone zippers are numerous; here are a few of the better ones (IMHO):

Barn/stable door’s open

It’s six-thirty

Bombay’s open

Fly time

What do birds/airplanes do?

You’re advertising

Flag’s at half-mast

Front/trap door’s open

Your horse/colt’s gonna bolt

Mind the gap

Zip code

XYZ (PDQ) – “Examine Your Zipper (pretty darn quick)” – Your zipper is open

 

 

Originally posted on History Undusted,

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Wordless Wednesday #53: Choices, Choices

Drive Slow, Fast

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October 17, 2018 · 11:53 PM

History Undusted: Celebrating Amalie Noether

The celebration of this relatively unknown figure highlights her brilliance in the face of staunch sexism.  As a woman, I still feel sexism today, though it’s far more subtle – the glass ceilings still need to be broken through, and the duplicity of definition needs to be redressed (name any male characteristic, and often the negative reverse is applied to women, whether stated or subconscious; e.g. a man may be assertive, but if a woman shows the same spirit, she’s often labelled as aggressive). Though they paved the way for a better path for many women, Amalie and her female contemporaries faced brick ceilings and walls.

Born in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, Amalie was born into a family of brilliant mathematicians, yet had to beg to be allowed to study at University; when she aced her audited courses, they only reluctantly acknowledged her achievements. She was an unpaid, unsung heroine for years, yet Einstein himself referred to her as “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced.”  To read more about her story, and details of her scientific breakthroughs, please click on the image below.

 

Amalie Noether, Mathmatician

Amalie Noether  (Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

Originally posted on History Undusted, 23 March 2015, by Stephanie Huesler

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Wordless Wednesday #52: Ballard Street

Fencing.jpg

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October 3, 2018 · 11:09 AM

On the Tracks of History

“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

traintracks

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Obscurities: Adronitis

Obscure 21Have you ever had that feeling that, when you meet someone for the first time, you already know them? Most of us might think of that person as a soulmate – someone we understand and who understands us without using many words or having to explain ourselves.

Well, adronitis might be the antithesis: It means “the frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone”.  There are people I’ve known for years and tried to understand better, who are still a mystery to me. I can’t feel how they are doing or know what they are thinking, even with a lot of words. One might say with such people that they’re “on another wavelength” – and unless that person is a relative, they usually end up falling out of our lives fairly quickly.

May we all meet more people who are soulmates than those who give us adronitis!

 

 

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History Undusted: The Shilling

1 Shilling front

Numismatics is an interesting field, and in doing research for the Northing Trilogy, I wanted to know just what currencies would have been used at the time (1750s, England), and what the value of the currencies were:  How much could be purchased or earned?  Would a Stirling pound have made a pauper a land owner or not?  That brought me to the current book I’m reading, called “The Splendid Shilling” by James O’Donald Mays.  Here are a few bits and bobs:

The Shilling was a form of currency used in Britain up until the 1970s; even after that, the coins continued in circulation as smaller denominations (1 shilling was 5 p, and 2 shilling was 10p) until 1990, when it was demonetized.  I remember using them until they were phased out and replaced by the smaller coins of 5p and 10p values, and I kept a few for my coin collection.  One shilling coins were called “bobs”, and that led to programs such as “bob-a-job” fund raisers by the boyscouts, starting in 1914.  Two shillings were known as Florins, or “two-bob bits”.

1 Shillings reverseThe word shilling most likely comes from a Teutonic word, skel, to resound or ring, or from skel (also skil), meaning to divide.  The Anglo-Saxon poem “Widsith” tells us …”þær me Gotena cyninggodedohte; se me beag forgeaf, burgwarenafruma, on þam siexhund wæs smætes goldes, gescyred sceatta scillingrime...”  “There the king of the Goths granted me treasure: the king of the city gave me a torc made from pure gold coins, worth six hundred pence.”  Another translation says that the gold was an armlet, “scored” and reckoned in shilling.  The “scoring” may refer to an ancient payment method also known as “hack” – they would literally hack off a chunk of silver or gold jewellery to purchase goods, services and land, and the scoring may have been pre-scored gold to make it easier to break in even increments, or “divisions”.  From at least the times of the Saxons, shilling was an accounting term, a “benchmark” value to calculate the values of goods, livestock and property, but did not actually become a coin until the reign of Henry VII in the 1500s, then known as a testoon.  The testoon’s name and design were most likely inspired by the Duke of Milan’s testone.

 

Duke of Milan's Testone

Duke of Milan’s Testone

 

 

Henry VII Testoon

Henry VII Testoon

 

 

 

 

Originally posted on History Undusted, 15

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Square Eyes

word-500x392

How my brain looks at the moment…

 

I’ve been staring at the computer screen so much the past few weeks that everything else in life got put on the back burner (including this blog – my apologies!). I could afford to do this because my husband’s been away on his annual hiking & biking holidays, so I could focus on huge chunks of editing for (10-14) hours at a time. I’ve taken the stereotype of authors as hermits to the limits, I must say! And I enjoy it for the moment. With minimal appointments/classes/students during this period, I’ve gotten a LOT done: I’ve been updating/tweaking/editing the already-published novels because they needed to be uploaded again anyway (due to new releases, and broken links*).

This simple goal opened a pandora’s box of issues – like the fact that I’ve realised that I need to keep an active eye on Amazon; they manage to screw up things on a regular basis with links to books, links to my Author Page, and external links to my blog.  They don’t care that their mistakes cost me readers. And not just Amazon.com – but .de and co.uk… that translates to, ideally (heavy dose of sarcasm) checking 10 book links per website times 3… regularly. Obviously, I have nothing else to do with my time.

That’s one issue; another is something I’ve recently become aware of, and I think anyone publishing e-books using Word as a basis-format needs to be aware of: Start off your manuscript with a “nuclearized” version – NO formatting, and turning off all Word auto-corrects and auto-formats.  Word tends to add hidden bookmarks to help navigate through a manuscript; however, these can also mess up your final version if you’re sending it off as Word to be *converted by the end-publisher. That means, go to “Insert”, click “bookmark”, and unclick / re-click the “hidden bookmarks” checkbox. Anything beginning with _(gibberish) needs to be deleted. The bad news: each one has to be deleted individually (unless you pay for a tool like Kutools for Word)! I just did one of my e-books, and I had 280 superfluous bookmarks… Joy.

Once I get this all done, the next phase begins: Preparing all 5 e-book manuscripts for release on another website, Smashwords. They use what they affectionately call “the Meatgrinder” – a program that converts a nuked document into the various formats through which they distribute.  That means sifting through a 120-page PDF for grains of useful info in a vat of chafe – things I already know (like how to copy/paste!). They leave no stone unturned, but I still need to read through it and prepare my personalized list of editing/formatting points.

Every time I look at my to-do list at the moment, I take a few deep breaths. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, however: When I start work on my next manuscript, it will be nuclearized from the get-go; putting pure practices into effect from the beginning will (hopefully) save me a lot of headaches later on when it comes time to publish again!

In a few days, I hope to emerge from the cave to become a modern, socializing human again – in the meantime, just gimme a cuppasoup and turn off the phone, please.

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