Tag Archives: family

At reise er at leve

Such wrote Hans Christian Andersen in ‘Mit Livs Æventyr’ in 1855. To travel is to live. I would translate that title, given the HC Andersen context, The Fairy Tail of My Life, though literally it may be better translated as The Adventure of My Life.

It has been 18 months since we returned home to Australia from our big year in Copenhagen. We have created new routines and new ways to make meaning of life and the everyday routines back in Brisbane.

We are back on Danish soil to see family and friends in Europe for seven weeks of holiday. And a little bit of library conference at the public library of the year DOKK1 in Aarhus, Denmark.

Jetlagged and with sore legs and bottom, I don’t necessarily think HC Anderson was right: life happens where you are and you make a choice to live in it, whether or not you are travelling. Travelling gives you the opportunity to experience something new and make memories. But if we live to travel, we invariably spend most of our life yearning to be elsewhere.

Before we go, I wanted to say See Ya Later to my home suburb and my boys. So I made this little film, though you may feel cheated if you expect to see Yayoi Kusama and an upside-down elephant in Mitchelton. I added for effect and to try out my new-found iMovie skills.

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Glædelig jul: Merry X-mas

Santa. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Santa. Photo: Mick. 2014.

I wish all my readers a merry x-mas and a happy new year.

This time last year, we celebrated a true Danish jul together with my siblings and their families, managing to serve up our own version of the x-masses we remember from our childhood home, complete with pork roast, ris-a-la-mande, live candles on the newly felled pine tree and Santa who delighted most, but terrified one five-year old. On x-mas day we walked through a bright morning with sparkling snow in beautiful, cold sunshine. All up we were 17 people together, ranging in ages from five months to 72 years. Continue reading

Reflections on the gap

Mind the gap. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Mind the gap. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Normally, the gap year is reserved for the young, fresh out of high school, ready to conquer the world. But like youth, the gap year really is wasted on the young.

For starters, at that age you have very limited means. This means you have to work a shitty job in a shitty café – or worse – to fund your fun year out. At 48, I have accumulated a certain amount of wealth from many years of working really hard and living quite frugally, as well as an amount of long service leave I could use sensibly for the purpose. I compare this with the time when I as a 16 year old also took a gap year to attend an English language course at Cardiff University for three months. I really had very limited means and no steady income. I am sure Cardiff would have been much more fun with dosh.

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‘Hygge’ and December

Candle light is ubiquitous in Denmark at xmas. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Candle light is ubiquitous in Denmark at xmas, in window sills and on the tree. Photo: Lone. 2014.

I love December. It heralds time with family and ‘hygge’. ‘Hygge’ is that Danish concept that escapes English translation: ‘cosiness’ simply does not capture the feeling of warmth, friendship and good conversation associated with the Danish concept. From old Norse, its etymology denotes comfort and encouragement (as in comforting and encouraging someone). In my mind, ‘hygge’ conjures up images of candlelight against dark windows, a big pot of tea and rustic ceramic mugs, held tightly to warm the hands, while sitting with a friend in a deep soft couch, the legs drawn up under us, absorbed in gossip and secrets with laughter ringing. “Oh is that the time? I better go. It has been so ‘hyggeligt’!”

But hygge can also be outdoors, during long light summer nights, gathered with friends on a patio, the grill cold again after the slightly burned sausages and steaks have come off – dirty dishes still in front of us and plentiful red wine in our goblets. And the lark singing as the sun refuses to be completely overwhelmed by the night and the children have fallen asleep on the couch in front of the tv inside. “Thank you for the other night. We really enjoyed it. It was so ‘hyggeligt'”

The ‘hygge’ I associate with December is both indoors and out. The outdoor markets in Tivoli, plentiful with food stalls and merchendise, snow and darkness by 4 o’clock. Long walks in newly fallen snow and coming back inside with red cheeks and that fresh feeling in the entire body.

Making marzipan confectionary is part of 'hyggen'. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Making marzipan confectionary is part of ‘hyggen’. Photo: Mick. 2014.

But best are the indoor pursuits leading up to the evening of 24 December. Here in my brother’s house we have been drinking a lot of tea and coffee, while sitting around the long dining table making confectionary. With marzipan, nuts, melted chocolate and hazelnut nougat, hands sticky with the sweet almond mass, yet some amazing and delicious creations achieved. And with bellies full of nuts, figs and marzipan, we made decorations. The woven hearts and 3D stars are particular favourites, though both can be challenging for the smaller children, who prefer to just cut shapes and glue them together. With plenty of glue.

‘Lille juleaften’ – the 23 December – the old box with decorations was retrieved and its contents combined with newly made ones on the recently erected fir tree. Plus the live candles. Candles on a tree may seem foolish to firefighters, Australians with plastic trees and anyone else who fear a fast xmas fire. But here it is unthinkable not to have live candles everywhere, including on the tree. They add so much to ‘hyggen’ on ‘juleaften’ on 24 December.

The xmas tree comes in on 23 December, 'Lillejuleaften' and is decorated with home-made hearts and stars. The live candles may seem foolhardy, but there are very few serious xmas fires in spite of them. Photo: Lone. 2014

The xmas tree comes in on 23 December, ‘Lillejuleaften’ and is decorated with home-made hearts and stars. Photo: Lone. 2014

When I grew up, we almost always held ‘juleaften’ in my father’s childhood home, often with another clan of cousins. Our ritual was of piling presents and children into the station wagon in the afternoon, my father driving carefully on 20 kms of small, slippery roads to be welcomed by my grandmother – Farmor – at the farm. She had been busy in the kitchen with the feast to be devoured – roast pork, caramelised potatoes, red cabbage and ris-á-la-mande – before the tree would be lit.

After the feast my grandfather – Farfar – ushered everyone into the kitchen, while he and a chosen child lit all the candles on the tree, complete with hearts, angels, stars and fairy hair, glittering up and down the tree. When he finally opened the low kitchen door and let us into the living room, all of the electical lights were off and the tree lit up the room in warm golden light. We would link hands and walk – dance – around the tree, singing the familiar songs, with Farmor sitting in a seat with a small songbook to lead the singing, with her high voice which gradually degraded over the years. After the last loud and fast song that we knew all the words to, even my English speaking cousins – ‘Nu er det jul igen’ – the lights would come back on and the gift orgie commenced with its soundtrack of ripping paper and excited screams. Then, exhausted from the anxious wait and the adrenalin rush from singing and dancing and opening presents, we would pile back into the car, now with the presents in an unopened state and distributed to the right child, to drive back home through the dark night. It was nothing, if not ‘hyggeligt’.

In my childhood we often went to my father's childhood home for xmas. Plenty of children and presents - and of course the tree with plenty of live candles. Photo: Andreas. 2014.

In my childhood we often went to my father’s childhood home for xmas. Plenty of children and presents – and of course the tree with plenty of live candles. Photo: Andreas. 2014.

‘Juleaften’ on 24 December is the night of celebration in Denmark rather than xmas day. The following holidays are just that: days off with family and doing things together. ‘Hyggelige’ things, always involving too much food.

I love being with my Danish family during these days. And I love being in Denmark, where Christmas makes sense in ways that Australian marketeers could only dream of, what with their fake snow on shop windows, polar bears and warmly dressed Santa Claus, all in 30 degrees of humid, sweltering antipodian heat. The holiday season is still ‘hyggelig’ in Australia – and with my Australian family we have created our own traditions and rituals to make it so. Yet to me real xmas is what I recall from my childhood memories in cold wintery Denmark. Thank you to my family for making it happen this year.

Mortality and the art of living

The Danish birth certificate in Jelling. Photo: Mick 2005

Denmark’s birth certificate in Jelling. Photo: Mick 2005

It seems to me death is all around me. First, tragically, actor Robin Williams commits suicide, which makes me wonder how could such a funny man, who seemed to be able to summon joy for himself and other people, do that to the people he loves? Then, horrifyingly, American journalist James Foley is decapitated by members of Islamic State, which makes me wonder how people can hate so much to justify this violence? In Ferguson, Missouri police kill 18-year-old Michael Brown, sparking racial unrest, which makes me wonder why the colour of your skin should determine your life chances. Next, the 1975 Klaus Rifbjerg radio drama, De Beskedne, that I was listening to abruptly ends with the sad death of the family patriarch, which makes me wonder about the cleverness of writers to make you care so much about a character that you feel sad with his or her fictional passing. Finally, I see on Facebook that a childhood friend, the drummer of my brother’s teenage band, passed away before turning 50 years old, which makes me wonder about life’s fragility and my own mortality.

It happens all the time, death, it is a consequence of living; in its own way it is probably the very realisation of life’s finiteness that gives us motivation to live well. In a paradoxical sense, the living is so much harder to do than the dying. Precisely I was granted life through the amazing fact of the evolutionary success of every ancestor that has come before me: each one of them, right back to the primordial soup, were successful in navigating life and surviving at least until they could reproduce. How to make sense of the millisecond of life I have on life’s stage in the long history of the world? How to be secure in the knowledge of my own value and worth in the bigger scheme of things; how to live well; how to make a difference and make a mark? And then you die. And most of us will die twice – once those who remember us also die we will finally slip into oblivion.

Death is the certainty of living. Photo: Mick 2005

Death is the certainty of living. Photo: Mick 2005

In 1979, death first came close to my life when my grandfather, Morfar, died. It was suddenly, without warning; a heart attack, as he sat up in the bed in my mother’s sister’s house. I loved Morfar, who was always warm, funny and willing to read us Asterix comics because he himself was deeply interested in ancient history. He took my brother and I to see the archeological diggings for the remains of 1000 year old Gorm den Gamle in the church in his home town, Jelling. In viking times Jelling was the residence of the Danish monarch and to this day, the rune stone known as Denmark’s birth certificate still stands here. Sadly, at the time of Morfar’s funeral, Jelling’s church was still closed for these important investigations and we sat in a neighbouring community, singing for him and ourselves with our tears, memories and gradual realisation about life’s fragility, our own mortality, how irreversible death is and how long ‘forever’ really lasts.

In 2003, the last of my grandparents, my beloved grandmother, Farmor, died. I loved Farmor who had simply always been there for us. She had reminded me that I was going to come back to Denmark when my kids were ready for school – which I never did. I was across the world in Australia and could not be at her funeral. It was the end of an era. My father said to me: “My generation is next in line”. Ten years later he passed away and, given the fact that my mother died in 1997, I urgently feel my generation is now next in line. The untimely death of someone I knew when I was just a kid, someone just two years older than me, brought this fact straight home to me.

Next on my bucket list is our one year stay in Denmark in 2015. I will be home again, after 23 1/2 years living in another country. 23 1/2 years are roughly half my lived life. Does that mean I am Danish and Australian in equal portions? I look forward to reconnect with my culture, my family and friends. I especially look forward to spending more time with my nieces and nephews. Indeed, in the midst of all the mortality, a brand new member of my Danish family was also born. I cannot wait to meet you, Lillepigen.