Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a most fabulous New Year 2011, filled with happiness, laughter, love and, of course, books!

2011 Goals, part 2: Bookish Goals

2010 was all about spontaneous reading for me. I didn't think I could handle challenges with a new baby and all so I didn't sign up for many. I enjoyed the freedom, but missed my reference lists, so this year I want to do a bit of both.

In 2011, I want to:
  1. Continue reading classics. I got into classics in the past few years and have been going through them slowly but surely. 2010 was the year I discovered Jane Austen and I definitely want to read more of her. There are several others on my list too, for example The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. And I'd like to re-read Jane Eyre at some point too, although I'm not sure I'll get around to it in 2011!
  2. Read second books by authors I liked. Luckily, there's a challenge set up for this, so I'm all set.
  3. Read more in Polish. I was disappointed to realise that I didn't read a single book in Polish in 2010. I think I need to include Polish books in a challenge format, otherwise I won't pick any up. Even though I'm Polish, I've been in English-speaking environments since I was 6 years old and reading in Polish is hard for me. I have to concentrate more than in English. But I do want to keep up with new Polish authors and also improve my vocabulary so I'd really like to include Polish reading in my life.
  4. Keep up with series I'm reading. I seem to read a lot of series and I seem to constantly discover new ones. I want to keep track of where I am and continue with the series I've started.
  5. Read e-books. I got a Kindle for my birthday and I want to use it - e-books, here I come!
  6. Learn more about topics that interest me. This is why Alex and I set up the One, Two, Theme! challenge... my list of topics is here.
  7. Read the books that Alex chose for me. We exchanged book recommendations and I really want to read the books she loved and thought I'd enjoy too.
  8. Read off my shelves. I'm sure many of you will understand perfectly when I say that I have a book-buying problem. I love it. I can kind of control myself when buying new books, but whenever I go to a charity sale I end of with bags and bags of new books on my shelves. Some of those need to get read - see the list I made for the TBR challenge.
  9. Re-read some favorites. There are a few books that I've been meaning to re-read because I enjoyed them so much, such as Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and the Harry Potter series. Maybe I'll get around to doing this in 2011?
  10. Knock a few books off my TBR list. Like Nymeth and probably loads of other bloggers, I have a huge list of books that I've been meaning to get to soon. I would like to read several of books from the list below in 2011 - not all, but definitely some:
    1. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    2. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
    3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
    4. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
    5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    6. Wild Swans by Jung Chang
    7. Watership Down by Richard Adams
    8. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
    9. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
    10. 1984 by George Orwell
Hmmmm.... that seems to be a lot of reading! :-)

2010 Challenges

Housekeeping post...

These are the challenges I participated in in 2010:

R.I.P. V - done

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 Goals, part 1: Non-Bookish Goals

I love the start of a new year. I love being able to leave behind what already happened and love being able to look forward. And I love making lists of what I'd like to accomplish. :-)

I expect that 2011 will be pretty busy. Here are a few things that I'd like to get done:
  1. I'll be getting married in 2011 and I'd like things to go smoothly. If all goes well with documents, translations and other administrative things, our civil ceremony will take place in February. Our handfasting (a pagan wedding ceremony) will be in June, provided we can find someone to perform it - our party will celebrate that as well as Joe's 50th birthday. We're really looking forward to our marriage and to the related celebrations.
  2. I'll be turning 35. This milestone won't happen until December, but I'd still like to keep it in mind throughout the year and mark it by growing, both spiritually and intellectually. To me, life makes sense as long as I'm learning something and sometimes that requires more of an effort than I like to admit. Also, I understand that spiritually 2011 will be the year of embracing those unique attributes that make you YOU. Learning more about myself and accepting what I find are definitely on my to-do list.
  3. 2011 will be the second year of Baby S's life. I want to cherish the times we'll have together and stop whining. He's a baby and that means he acts like a baby. Seriously, I need to focus on the huge positives that he brought to my life. Sometimes I loose myself in the little things that don't matter and lose sight of what's important.
  4. Get in shape. This has been a goal of mine for soooo long and I soooo want it to be done. I will eat healthy and I will excercise and I will be fit by the time 2012 rolls around.
  5. Get finances in order. Even in these tougher times, I remain a big spender. I want to become better with money, there's no other way of saying it. Grocery shopping is my downfall so I guess that's where we'll start.
  6. Travel. I already have a few trips planned, but I wan't more... I just want to take advantage of the holidays we get and make sure I start visiting some of the countries I've been wanting to go to. There's no time like the present, right?
  7. Cook more. I love cooking and I have a about a million cookbooks. I want to make time on the weekends to cook meals for the week so we end up eating pizza less often!
  8. Chill out. I want to be balanced and zen, not stressed out and crazy. Any tips on how to get to my goal?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Favorite books 2010

Here we are again. The end of the year is one of my favorite times of the blogging year, because of everyone's favorites lists that I devour and end up adding to my wishlist. Good times!

2010 was a great reading year for me - 59 books, which I think is pretty good with a new baby around!
I hope that my favorites of 2010 add some interesting books to your lists too! Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
This trilogy was a treat. I couldn't get enough of Katniss and the terrible world she lives in. It's not often that you enjoy all the books in a trilogy and I loved every minute of The Hunger Games, from the action-packed first games Katniss took part in to her introspection and pain in Mockingjay. (Yes, I know I'm cheating by listing these three as one book on my list...)

2. The Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mitch Alborn
This was a book I avoided because of the hype and only read because a dear friend said it was her favorite. How I loved the idea that the people you meet in heaven teach you something about the way you lived your life! This is one I'll be re-reading often, I'm sure.

3. What Mothers Do, Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen
The perfect book for every expecting or new mom. Who knew that all the stuff you go through in the first weeks an months isn't strange and that all other moms went through it too? The part that made me feel better was the societal aspect - the fact that traditionally we're not meant to do it all alone, so I could stop feeling guilty for finding it so very hard at times. A real eye-opener.

4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
A beautifully-written book about the changes you go through as you get older... an amazing novel in stories with unforgettable characters that inspired a whole range of surprisingly real emotions in me. Not to be missed.

5. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
A fun YA novel about a girl named Frankie, who sets out to change some of the male-centered ways of her Ivy League school. Her unique use of language ("I was gruntled") stayed in my mind all year. She reminded me of Rory Gilmore and I loved her just as much.

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The only part I didn't enjoy was the 'Pray' part, but it goes on my favorites list anyway, because the other two were brilliant. Great reading for all women who are trying to figure out where and how they belong and if they're choices are right - which I guess will be most of us. Gilbert has a wonderfully down-to-earth writing style and her ability to laugh at herself makes her someone the reader can totally identify with.

7. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I love Flavia de Luce, so passionate about chemistry, obsevant of life in general and intent on solving a real murder committed on her family's property. Besides that she's a completely normal eleven-year-old. :-)

8. Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Fascinating popular science book about how big pharma and the media use science to further their own goals and how being misinformed can affect our choices. A book that everyone should read to learn to distinguish between good and bad science themselves - knowledge is power, in this case.

9. Room by Emma Donaghue
The story of Jack and Ma and their life in Room shows how we can adapt to almost anything and what life can look like if we're not aware of the existence of anything else. Told from 5-year-old Jack's point of view, it's a truly unique piece of writing.

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
My first Jane Austen and I admit that I was very surprised to have liked it so much! I was expecting a more 'typical' classic and instead I got a story full of great characters and writing full of humor. Now I can't wait to watch the tv and movie adaptations!

Special mentions, or books that didn't make the top ten but were still fantastic:
  • The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan - a great way to teach kids about Greek mythology.
  • In the Woods by Tana French - I don't read many thrillers, but Tana French kept my interest the whole way through.
  • The Wood Wife by Terri Windling - fantasy book with aspects of Native American mythology, very engrossing.
  • Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi - graphic novel set in Iran, about a man who gives up on life. Another example of the beauty of graphic novels - the simple drawings deliver a very strong message.
  • I'd tell you I love you but then I'd have to kill you by Ally Carter - a refreshingly original take on adolescence, through the eyes of a teenage spy.
And that's that. Can't wait to see all your lists now!!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Eastern European Reading Challenge

Amy of The Black Sheep Dances is hosting the Eastern European Reading Challenge in 2011. I imagine that most of my books will come from my own country, Poland, and that's perfectly ok with me. I didn't read a single Polish book in 2010 and that makes me sad.

I'll go for Tourist level, which means 4 books in 2011. It isn't that many I suppose, but I need to be realistic! If I make 8 books I'll upgrade to Ambassador level. ;-)

Completed: 0/4 as of January 1, 2011

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to you and your families during this holiday season - whatever you're celebrating, may this time bring you lots of joy and laughter, and of course lovely prezzies. :-) Santa has been very good to our family this year, loads of goodies floating around the place. Baby S is worn out by all his new toys and is sleeping, so I'll take some time out too and look over all the beautiful things I got this year - no books but two fantastic cookbooks and lots of non-bookish stuff! Hope you're all having a great day with your loved ones!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011 Graphic Novels Challenge

Vasilly is the new host for the 2011 Graphic Novels Challenge, hosted on a dedicated blog.

The challenge runs from January to December 2011. I'm going for the intermediate level, which means 3-10 books.

I always want to include more graphic novels in my reading and a challenge is the perfect way to plan it in!

Completed: 0/3-10 as of January 1, 2011

Preludes and Nocturnes (The Sandman, #1) by Neil Gaiman
Fables 3: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Buffy Omnnibus, vol. 2 by Joss Whedon et. al.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Chick Lit Challenge

Twiga at Journey to the End of the TBR Pile is once again hosting the Chick Lit Challenge for 2011.

The challenge is to read 8 chicklit books in 2011 - I enjoy fun chicklit so I'm in. :-)

Completed: ALL 8/8 as of December 30, 2011 (see my wrap-up post here)

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik
Dating Big Bird by Laura Zigman
Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot
Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise
Undead and Unappreciated by MaryJanice Davidson
something by Marian Keyes
The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
The Class by Eric Segal
The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne
One Day by David Nicholls

Steampunk Challenge


The Bookkeeper is organising a Steampunk Challenge.

I've never read anything that would classify as 'setampunk' and I'm really intrigued by these books. :-)

The challenge started in October so I'm a bit late, but it goes on until October 2011 so I still have time. No commitment is needed so we'll see how things go!

Completed: 0 as of January 1, 2011

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Girl Genius, vol. 1 by Phil Foglio

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

The women over at Historical Tapestry are hosting the Historical Fiction Challenge.

I alwazs want to read more historical fiction - I love learning about life in other time periods and, as long as they're well-researched, historical fiction books are great for that.

This challenge has several levels and I choose the 'Daring and Curious' level, so 5 books in 2011. The great thing is that all historical fiction counts - including YA and fantasy. yay!

Some ideas are below, but I'm not committing to a list!

Completed: 2/5 as of July 28, 2011

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The Luxe by Anna Godbersen
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

Mini reviews - coming to you from beautiful Poland

We finally made it over. There was lots of confusion as the airport in Brussels was closed for a while because of weather conditions... we had to switch flights and then switch back and it made everything very rushed and hectic. But we're at my parents' house now, which is great for so many reasons. The Warsaw airport was closed this morning so we feel very lucky to have gotten here - having survived a four hour delay at the airport too.

So the next week or so will filled with family time, presents, good food and lots of happiness. Joe and I are even going into Warsaw for a couple of days, without Baby S, to spend some quality time together. Lots to look forward to.

I'm doing some reading, though not tons. Enough. But I still have all my November reviews to post so, this is another mini-review post. I'm getting used to these!

Product DetailsMary Anne Saves the Day, Dawn and the Impossible Three, Kristy's Big Day by Ann M. Martin (The Babysitters Club #4, #5, #6)
What is there to say about this great series that I loved so much when I was a kid? I am really enjoying re-reading them, especially while taking care of Baby S in the early hours of several November mornings. I don't know if anyone who doesn't already know these books would like them as an adult, but as re-reads they are a great comfort.

Product DetailsDiplomatic Baggage by Brigid Keenan
I soooo wanted to like this, since I too travelled around the world a lot and lived in a couple of more 'exotic' countries. Keenan is the wife of a diplomat and her book is a memoir of their experiences and travels in country after country. I wanted to relate, I wanted to laugh with her at the absurdity of some of the situations you encounter when you move around that often, but I just couldn't. She annoyed me immensely and I found her jokes forced. Sometimes I even wonder if she didn't make them up, they often seemed apocryphal. And did I mention that she really annoyed me?

Product DetailsThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
I think 'creepy' is the only way to describe this... Englishman Edward Prendick finds himself stranded on an island with  mad scientist Dr. Moreau and some other beings who don't seem quite human. The story combines science, ethics and the nature of man. It's quite unbelievable that it was written in the 19th century. The science fiction that H.G. Wells produced is incredible. I'd like to read up more about him, it seems that he was quite the champion of free thought and equal rights.

Product DetailsThe Bad Mother's Handbook by Kate Long
Three generations of women under the same roof come to terms with themselves and each other. They're each going through a different phase of womanhood and struggling with relating to the others. A chick lit book which looks at what it means to be a daughter and a mother. Very enjoyable and very real, it made me laugh so many times. I think one of the things that made is so wonderfully real is that the point-of-view alternates - we get a glimpse into the minds of all three generations. It doesn't look like much, but it's a keeper, I'd recommend it to all women!

2011 Global Reading Challenge

The Global Reading Challenge is hosted by Danish blogger Dorte H and is a great idea. The point is to read novels from each continent. There are several levels of participation, but I'll go for the easy one, so one book per continent, just because I'm signing up to so many other challenges and I want to have a chance of completing them!

For the seventh continent, we can choose either Antarctica or any other setting, eg the sea, space, a supernatural/paranormal world, history, the future – you name it. Great idea.

Completed: 5/7 as of July 28, 2011

Africa -
Asia - The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
Australasia - The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Europe - The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
North America - Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik
South/Central America -
The Seventh Continent - The Future - The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

Challenge: The 2011 Challenge

Bart of Bart's Bookshelf is hosting the 2011 Challenge, which features a whole series of categories participants need to fill. I'm a total sucker for categories. :-)

I need to read 2 books per category, but can read only 1 book for two of the categories, for a total of 20 books. For details, visit the intro post.

Completed: ALL 20/20 as of December 30, 2011 (see my wrap-up post here)

1. To YA or not YA... (one YA and one adult fiction)
Cross My Heart and Hope To Spy by Ally Carter
The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble

2. ...with a twist (subgenres, steampunk and historical)
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

3. Hot off the presses
Winterborne by Augusta Blythe
Ravenstoke by Augusta Blythe

4. It wasn't me! (a.k.a. Bad Bloggers)
Hell's Belles by Jackie Kessler
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

5. Show it who's boss! (TBR pile)
Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons by Lorna Landvik
Wicked by Gregory Maguire

6. Babelfish (books in translation)
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac

7. Willpower? What willpower? (newly bought books)
The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

8. Mind the gap! (to finish a trilogy or series)
Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Only the Good Spy Young by Ally Carter

9. Back in the day (re-reads)
The Cat in The Hat by Dr Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

10. Way back when (published before I was born)
A Room With A View by E.M. Forster

11. Slim pickings (novellas)
Gigi by Colette

Southern Reading Challenge

Jen of The Introverted Reader is hosting the Southern Literature Challenge. There are many levels, but I'll be ambitious with this one and go for the highest one - Level 4-Y'all come back now, y'hear!, which means reading 4 books. I really enjoy that Southern feel so I'm hoping this will be easy to do!

Completed: 0/4 as of January 1, 2011

Murder Runs in the Family by Anne George
Daisy Day and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc by Loraine Despres
Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Friday, December 17, 2010

Challenge: 2011 TBR Challenge

I need this challenge - I have sooo many books that have been sitting on my shelves for years and years. At least if I put some of them on a list I remember that I have them. :-)

The TBR challenge is hosted by Adam, a.k.a. The Roofbeam Reader, and requires participants to read 12 books that have been on their shelves for over a year. A list is required and is considered final on January 1, 2011, when the challenge starts. It lasts all year.

I just walked around the house and looked at my bookshelves and selected the books below. Maybe they'll be lucky and will finally get read!

Completed: 0/12 as of January 1, 2011

  1. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
  2. The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer
  3. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
  4. Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen
  5. The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
  6. A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton
  7. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg
  8. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
  9. Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
  10. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  11. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  12. Making History by Stephen Fry
Two alternates:
  1. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
  2. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Challenge: 2011 Seconds Challenge

Katy from A Few More Pages is hosting the 2011 Seconds Challenge. There are too many authors I've only read once, so this one will be good for me. The books can be second ones in a series so that should help some of those series I started too! :-)

There are several levels and I'll be going for "A few more bites", i.e. 6 books. A list of possibilities is below.

Completed: 1/6 as of February 3, 2011

The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (I read The Goose Girl)
A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (second in the Mary Russell series, after The Beekeeper's Apprentice)
The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (second in the Kurt Wallander series, after Faceless Killers)
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (I read Wicked Lovely)
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Alborn (I read The Five People You Meet in Heaven)
The Likeness by Tana French (I read In the Woods)
Two Caravans by Maryna Levycka (I read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian)
The Glass Demon by Helen Grant (I read The Vanishing of Katharina Linden)
What I was by Meg Rosoff (I read How I Live Now)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (I read On Beauty)
Ludmilla's Broken English by D.B.C. Pierre (I read Vernon God Little)
Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor (I read Star of the Sea)
something by Sarah Waters (I read Fingersmith)
something by Elizabeth Strout (I read Olive Kitteridge)
something by Emma Donaghue (I read Room)
something by Jane Yolen (I read Briar Rose)
something by Banana Yoshimoto (I read Kitchen)
something by Octavia E. Butler (I read Kindred)

Challenge: What's in a Name 4

Beth of Beth Fish Reads is hosting the What's in a Name challenge - fun unrelated categories I love making lists for! :-) The 2010 edition was great fun - and one of the few challenges I actually completed during this busy year. This year's categories are below - getting more and more creative, I think!

If you have any suggestions let me know - I can't think of many choices for some of the categories!

The challenge runs from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011.

Completed: ALL 6/6 as of December 30, 2011 (see my wrap-up post here)

A book with a number in the title: The Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

A book with jewelery or a gem in the title: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

A book with a size in the title: The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

A book with travel or movement in the title: When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

A book with evil in the title: Hell's Belles by Jackie Kessler

A book with a life stage in the title: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Challenge: Ireland Reading Challenge 2011

I don't think I can put off signing up for 2011 challenges any longer and the Ireland Reading Challenge is the perfect one to start with. Hosted by Carrie from Books and Movies, it's all about reading Irish authors or books set in Ireland with several levels - I'm going for the Luck o'the Irish level, which means 4 books.

Sign-ups and all information is here.

The challenge runs from January 1, 2011 to November 30, 2011. My list of possibilities is below.

Completed: 0/4 as of January 1, 2011

Ulysses by James Joyce (only if Trish organises a read-along!)
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor
The Likeness by Tana French
The Gathering by Anne Enright
How the Irish saved civilization by Thomas Cahill
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
My Left Foot by Christy Brown

Monday, December 13, 2010

Birthday thoughts

Yay, it's finally here. :-) I wait for my birthday each year as if I was still a kid, the day still feels so special to me. I have friends and family over each year and whereas it's sometimes stressful to do all the preparation (this year with an 11-month-old trying to get into the kitchen cupboards), I do love making food that my guests will enjoy and spending time with those I love.

The party turned out great. :-) The food was yummy - and I added two dishes that are definite keepers to my repertoire. One is a Layered Mexican Dip - there are loads of recipes for this online, but mine came from the New Basics Cookbook. It's basically layers of kidney beans in some form, guacamole, sour cream, tomatoes and cheese. What's not to love?

The other is Nigella Lawson's Ritzy Chicken Nuggets recipe - chicken strips marinated in buttermilk, covered in Ritz cracker crumbs and baked. The recipe is available on the Food Network and is fabulous, definitely worth a try!

On to the presents... Joe got me a Kindle - but I he actually gave it to me way early, because I couldn't wait and was becoming unbearable. :-) It's fabulous. I love having all those reading choices with me at all times and I'm enjoying my purse not weighing a ton because the one or two books in there. I heart my kindle.

I'm currently adding books like crazy - good thing that so many of them are free.

I got lots of beautiful things from my friends and family - I feel truly spoiled. People don't normally get me books because they can't keep up with what I've already read and I already own, but I did get one - the third book of Fables by Bill Willingham from Alex. Thanks Alex I can't wait to start on it! :-)

And - I had the sweetest surprise this morning, when I found two gifts and a card marked To Mommy, from Shane. How cute is that? One was a candle and the other was a book on how to cook healthy food for your family. Hmmm - is this a hint from an 11-month-old baby? ;-) I think I'll keep those gift tags forever and ever.

So here we are. I'm 34 years old today and I feel like the luckiest and happiest woman on Earth. So grateful.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Pagan Roots of Christmas, part 1

For a few years now, I have been very interested in pagan religions, as well as pre-Christian and early Christian Europe. I love knowing where things - ideas, traditions, symbols - come from. This is one of the reasons for why Pagan Europe is one of my themes for the One, Two, Theme! challenge I'm co-hosting with Alex.

Some of those who have already signed up for this challenge have asked if they could start reading early, before the start of 2011, and we said 'sure'. So I started with reading The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas by John Matthews. I've only read two chapters so far, but there is so much in that I want to talk about already that I decided to write several posts, as I gather interesting tidbits to share with you.

I already knew that Christmas celebrations are loosely based on the Roman feast of Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to Saturn, God of agriculture, which lasted from 17 to 24 December. Masters and slaves switched places, schools were closed and everyone ate and drank themselves silly for the duration. One of the Saturnalia traditions was gift-giving, which is where our own tradition comes from.

I did not know, however, that Saturnalia was followed by the Kalends festival, in which the gaiety continued with people in masks (including animal masks) went around singing and dancing. This tradition is still alive and kicking in many countries, including in mine, Poland, where (in certain regions) when Christmas is over youngsters dress up and go around singing and dancing, hoping to collect coins from their grateful audience. The young Poles who do this are called kolędnicy, a name which is too similar to Kalends to ignore the connection.

I also knew that lots of our Christmas traditions come from paganism - this makes sense of course, since Christianity was built on what was already there. John Matthews' book is giving me a lot more detail though and since it all fascinates me, I wanted to share some of that detail with you.

Loads of traditions all over the world have a story of a wonder, miracle child being born. In ancient Rome, it was Apollo's birthday that was celebrated on December 25th and this came from a celebration of the Sun on the same date. Apparently, the Church didn't make December 25th Jesus' birthday until the 4th century...

After Apollo, it was an Iranian/Persian deity called Mithras who celebrated on December 25th. Mithras dates back to the 6th century BC and was very popular in Rome. Some of the parallels between his life and that of Jesus are incredible, including that when he died he didn't really die, he ascended to heaven and will come back at the end of time to participate in judgement.

Emperor Constantine, who is credited with making Christianity the state Roman religion, was himself a follower of Mithras before he converted. Even after, he kept links to paganism, especially to sun worship.

(Constantine was not only the first Christian Roman Emperor, he was the one who transformed the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium into Constantinople.)

The story of Egyptian God Osiris also has similarities to Jesus' story. Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, who dismembered him and hid the pieces all over Egypt. His consort Isis restored him to life on December 25th.

I'd tell you about some of the others, but then I would just be copying the whole book out here and that wouldn't really be an efficient use of my time. :-)

Enough rambling for one post, I think - except to say again how much I love to read about where our traditions come from. Like the 12 days of Christmas, which start on December 25th and end on January 5th. Here in Belgium, on January 6th they have cakes with a hidden ring in each - whoever finds the ring wears a crown for the day, similarly to the master/slave reversal that was part of the original Saturnalia festival in ancient Rome.

These old traditions are alive all over the world - just the other day raidergirl was explaining how attached people on Prince Edward Island are to Old Christmas, on January 5th. I think it wonderful that communities like hers are keeping tradition alive.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Smugglivus!

How did I not know about this? A bookish end-of-year celebration? I love it!

I'm home sick and decided that I'll catch up on blogs, since that's something I hardly ever have time for anymore. I'd pretty much just started, I was on the Bs in my reader and I visited Jodie at Book Gazing. Her fabulous links post sent me to the one she did for Smugglivus (yes, it's a word) and I've been reading Smugglivus posts for most of the day now.

This BRILLIANT event is organised by The Book Smugglers - thanks Ana and Thea!!!

I wanted to wait till I was done reading everything with the Smugglivus tag, but I've discovered so much already that I can see I'll need to do several posts.

These are the some of the amazing treasures I've discovered so far:

Peiren Press - a small independent publishing house that publishes English translations of contemporary European literature under 200 pages. I can't believe that there is a place that will make books normally unavailable to me available. Three books were published in 2010 and I think that all of them sound more than worth reading.

The Amazon Encore project - which uses customer reviews to bring to the forefront books that might otherwise be overlooked. Sounds like a very worthwhile initiative, much appreciated from such a large and successful company.

Jackie Kessler - an author that's new to me but from reading her guestpost and an interview with her, it seems to be that she's awesome. And not only because of her new Buffyverse connection. I just bought a Kindle edition of her Hell's Belles and hope to report back on that soon!

Not to mention (though I will mention)  the list of books I added to my wishlist - including Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda and Liar by Justine Larbalestier. I added 15 books so far. What a great way to spend my time! :-)

P.S. I've been trying to figure out what the word Smugglivus reminds me of and its In the Nightgarden , a bedtime cartoon for young children. :-)

Blogger to Wordpress?

One of my plans for the New Year is to get my own website. I understand that the easiest way to do this is to switch from Blogger to Wordpress, which I hear is better anyway. But I know nothing about what to do - including anything about this web hosting thing. Is it ok to just buy a package from one of the hosting companies that Wordpress recommends? Will everything else be simple?

Advice from anyone who has done this would be appreciated!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Random thoughts... and a delicious cake!

I lost my voice. And am home sick for the rest of the week. I could have done without tonsilitis during this particular week, I have too much going on at work, but that's the way the cookie crumbles I guess. I had a Christmas concert yesterday, it's only afterwards that my voice went completely, but I have another next Saturday so I hope it comes back!!!

We had our first Christmas celebration on Saturday! Joe's daughter Helen was over for the weekend and we did Christmas because we're not seeing each other for the 'real' one. It's really amazing what you can accomplish when you put all your energy into it; we were all really surprised at how Christmassy it was! Everything was exactly as it should be, with the tree, the presents, the yummy Christmas dinner, the drinking starting in the afternoon...  We are Irish and Polish after all! ;-)

Helen gave me a gorgeous cook book - all cakes and other sweet stuff - that I'd never heard of. Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood. Do any of you have it? It's a beautiful, beautiful book with lovely photos and wonderful writing. Clearly, Harry loves her food. She (yes, she) also loves creating healthy versions of things we love to eat, like brownies and cookies and cakes. The recipes in this book all have some strange ingredients, such as grated potato, butternut squash or parsnip. And they use rice flour or spelt flour, plus ground almonds, although you can use the same quantity of regular flour if you prefer. I was intrigued that I immediately made the Banana and Toffee Sticky Cake and my oh my is it good! If the rest of the bakes in here are this yummy then we'll be living on a strict diet of cakes for a long time!

I leave you with a photo of my cake - sticky and moist and very, very more-ish. This book makes a brilliant present, maybe one of your family friends would appreciate it?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Odyssey - Check-in the Last

And here we are. I can't believe I finished. I was even on time, it's just been a really hectic week so I didn't get a chance to do this post till now.

The last books were mainly about the preparation for the slaughter, about the slaughter itself and about the aftermath. I think that, of those, the slaughter was my favorite... though slightly gory. What I REALLY didn't like is the last book, where nothing really happened except a visit to Ody's dad and even that seemed kind of pointless.

A few random things that struck me:

  • Ody, when still playing the stranger and lying to Penelope about how he'd seen Odysseus and all that, says to her: "In fact Odysseus would have been here beside you long ago but he thought it the better, shrewder course to recoup his fortunes roving through the world." And Penelope just accepts this. Seriously? You don't see anything wrong with this Penelope?
  • Athena's meddling pisses me off in these last books. At one point she actually makes the suitors laugh uncontrollably. Even laughter is no longer their personal choice?
  • The way Penelope listens to Telemachus gets to me. I mean I know he's the man, but she's the Mom, shouldn't she get some respect from him? Honestly.
  • And last, but certainly not least, when the suitors try to get Ody to forgive and forget, they offer to pay him back for all the stuff they used up at his house by 'laying a tax upon the land'. Now, is that really fair? The saddest part is that nothing's really changed...
And that's it. I can't say that The Odyssey is going on my favorites list, but I am soooo glad I read it. Thanks, Trish. And I was thinking of reading Ulysses next too, so I'm totally in for that!