The Ghost of Christmas Present

I am late in sending out my customary blogworld Christmas greetings this year due to an unexpected family emergency. Gingerbread Man (of “My Velveteen Rabbit” fame) had to go to the hospital.

One week beforehand a problem had been discovered and all thoughts of work or Christmas preparations or Covid lockdowns dissipated. The focus turned entirely to health issues.

Last Wednesday, Gingerbread Man arrived at the clinic and was admitted. A whirlwind ensued. Two procedures were done on Thursday and Friday, the doped-up recovery began on Saturday. On Sunday, he was already allowed to go home – with a list of medications and a little less stuffing.  He’s a bit blurry about the whole experience but remembers A LOT of needles and that the food there really sucked.

The early release was lucky, because it gave us all enough time to do any neglected preparations and pull off – somewhat contrary to earlier expectations – a wonderful Christmas Eve.

I’m happy to be able to tell you that Gingerbread Man is feeling a little better each day. He spends a lot of his time now in the new recliner with his new electric blanket. Here he is,  staring at the Christmas tree lights, basking in nice memories and hopeful feelings for the future.

I Blame Bill

 

Of course it is partly my fault. Over the past year, I have allowed digital chaos to creep into my life. Thousands of school and work photos remained scattered over 5 different devices instead of being regularly uploaded in an orderly fashion onto my laptop. Work and private files were saved . . . oh, wherever. (I’ll clean it up later.) Blog posts – finished or not – were also saved willy-nilly in various dark corners of my hard drive. Backing up files was something that could be perennially put off till some later date. I’ll get to it during my next work break, I told myself . . .

I never did.

And then came the ominous news that Windows 7 would no longer be supported after January 14, 2020. A few days later I discovered that the 2/” button on my keyboard no longer worked (which might have had something to do with the water I spilled on it the previous day). I found a workaround using Insert and Symbol, but it was (and is) a pain in the asterisk. To make matters worse, I started noticing that it was taking longer and longer for my laptop to fire up in the mornings. Between the moment I turned it on and the moment it was ready to accept my password, there was plenty enough time to take the dog out for a quick walk. Between entering the password and it being ready to use, I could go take a shower. After clicking on Thunderbird, I could go make my morning coffee and still get back before the Inbox showed up on the screen . . .

I put “new laptop” on my Christmas wish list.

 

December 24th, 2019. 10:32 pm. My entire family has now gone to bed after our wonderful Christmas Eve. I plug my new super-duper laptop in and nervously push the power button. A screen appears and asks me if I want it to speak English or German. I choose English and a “Please wait . . .” message appears on the screen for a matter of seconds. Suddenly I hear a pleasant female voice.

“Hello,” she says. Out loud.

“I will be helping you through the process of setting up your laptop,” she continues. Then she asks me if I want to respond to her manually or by speaking back.

I am completely freaked out. And speechless. I just click my way through the rest of our “conversation”, feeling like a dork. I can tell she thinks I’m a loser.

Five minutes later I am immersed in the foreign-looking bowels of Windows 10 with offers of tips and random websites popping up on my screen, email notifications dinging one after another on my nearby cellphone. I am in over my head. I get the hell out of there.

Once she has gone dark, I lean back and my first thought is that my new laptop is female. In the future I’ll probably be referring to . . . her . . . as “she”. I’m pretty sure my old one was an “it”. My second realization is the horrendous amount of work ahead of me before I can make this transition. My third thought is that I should write Bill Gates a letter of complaint, asking him not only where he gets off gendering my machine like that, but also pointing out what should be obvious to him – the fact that a lot of older people also depend on computers and he’s putting us through some major stress. I’ll tell him it is his fault that the first half of my Christmas vacation is going to be spent carefully ordering all my files and readying them for the move from my old machine to my new bff. (Actually . . . more like “bf for 10” – or however many years she lasts till Bill decides to end her.) Then I will quickly thank him for all his good work in Africa and sign off with “Indignantly yours”.

 

Fortunately, the computer specialist in my husband’s school is willing to spend a few hours with me tomorrow, helping me find my way around this new terrain. He’ll show me how to install all the programs I need and to get rid of all the useless stuff that is already on there. I don’t suppose there is anything he can do about her being a girl.

 

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like . . .

“American trends take about ten years to come to us.”

I heard that statement dozens of times when I first came to Austria. And it struck me as true. It was 1984, but the younger people were still walking around in hippie garb and attitude. Stores were quaint in their lack of variety or marketing pizzazz. No one celebrated Halloween and Christmas was surprisingly uneventful. Trees were not put up till the 24th, they were only lit up once using real candles, and they were gone before New Year’s Eve. No one put up strings of electric lights outside their homes. I’m not even sure they were available in stores. There were Christmas markets, but they were cozy affairs centered more on mulled wine than on trinket or handicraft shopping.

Things have changed.

I noticed this year that when the Halloween merch was removed from stores in early November, it was immediately replaced with chocolate St. Nicks and reindeers and Santas and angels. Then one neighbor after another strung up lights until we were the only house left without them. Santas appeared on rooftops and life-sized crèches populated front yards. Mailboxes were stuffed full with letters from charities.

Clearly, American trends had come to Austria, but I didn’t realize just how fully until I went to City Hall Christmas market on my evening in Vienna.

This was a level of kitsch that even Americans would have trouble matching. Austria had not only caught up, it had surpassed us! This could not stand!

Fast forward to yesterday as I walked the daily route to this Milwaukee neighborhood’s central shopping street. Along the way is a huge house that has been under the process of gorgeous (and expensive!) renovations for the past 10 or so years, yet still seemed uninhabited. I noticed a huge Christmas tree in the front window and, it being only December 12th, I wondered at the owners’ Yuletide enthusiasm. Then I proceeded to walk past the side of the house and noticed a second tree in the next room:

In the third room there was yet another tree:

And in the fourth . . .

And, yes, there was a fifth . . .

Part of me was fascinated and plagued by the question “Who ARE these people?!” But another part was delighted. Take THAT Austria! When it comes to Kitschmas, we are still Number One!

Good News

I finished our wreath yesterday, just in time for the First Sunday in Advent celebration – which this year consisted of lighting a candle. My 16 and 18 year old daughters dutifully complimented my work, made 95 seconds of small talk and then retreated back to their rooms.

In earlier years, we would have had a longer ritual including aromatic tea, cookies, the sound of Bing or Dean or Frank softly singing Christmas carols in the background, and a reading of some short, moralistic, Christmas-themed story. That last part, to be honest, was never my daughters’ favorite and might explain their speedy departures now.

So . . . seeing as how I missed telling them a sappy story, I will force one on my blog audience . . .

A week ago, we just had friends visiting and we took them to the Christmas market that had enchanted us so much the first time we were there  (when I bought my “alternative” crèche.) While we were there, I unhopefully walked up to the cashier and asked if anyone had found a missing Baby Jesus made of felt about the size of my thumb. I wasn’t expecting much as we traipsed over to the next room. In the corner where my crèche had been displayed there was now a bucket of stuffed sheep and cows. We took a closer look and . . .

 

. . . there he was.

 

A little Christmas miracle.

 

Crèche

I can hardly believe it myself, but here it is – mid-November, and I’ve already been bitten by the Christmas Spirit. This must be some kind of record. Partly it might be from waking up to this two days ago:

It also might be due to a Christmas market we went to the night before – a new one that is walking distance from my home. I wasn’t expecting much, but ended up being completely enchanted. A local woman had bought a 200 year old farmhouse from another part of the country, which was taken down and rebuilt here. She combined it with a more modern tract and horse stables, and filled it with antiques and artistic touches. The things for sale at the market were all handmade and so creatively displayed throughout the house. We meandered through the rooms and then had some hot mulled wine out in the courtyard.

I did not come home empty handed. I saw a little crèche made of felt and had to have it for my collection. I quickly peeked inside to make sure the rest of the figures were in there and then headed for the cashier. I probably should have inspected it more carefully.

When I got home, the first thing that I noticed was that there was no baby Jesus figure. I looked more closely – there were the donkeys and sheep, the angel and the three kings, there was Joseph and then . . . . there was this guy:

It seems I bought myself an alternative crèche – it’s not Joseph and Maria in the manger, but Joseph and Mario. (And I guess that explains the absence of the baby Jesus.)

I should probably go back to the Christmas market and ask about my missing figures but, to be honest, the heathen in me is getting fonder by the minute of my new crèche just the way it is. It makes my collection somehow more  . . . diverse. More inclusive. Isn’t that in line with the Christmas spirit too?