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We All Need A Little Hygge

My parents were both Danish, so I grew up hearing that language all around me. My first words were in both Danish and English, likely in that order, and it wasn’t until I started school that I realized they were actually different languages.

There are words that seem to be unique to a language, and hard to translate exactly into another. For instance, one of my favourite Danish words has always been “pyt”. It is said in response to something that is stressful or frustrating. And when you say it, pyt is almost like spitting. So it works really well when you’re fed up. “PYT! Let it go…”

You may have come across the word “hygge” in the last few years, and perhaps you even know what it is. But for those of you who haven’t heard of it before, I will explain.

Hygge actually originated in Norway, but first appeared in Danish writing around the 18th century. It is an old, but still very relevant and common practice that has become more popular all over the globe lately. Pronouncing it is your only challenge: the “hy” part sounds sort of like you’re hacking up something that is stuck in your throat. And then add a “ga”. Saying HOO-ga comes close.

The Scandinavian languages are all rather guttural, and Danish is no exception. There are certain letters and pronunciations that are difficult to demonstrate. Danish has often been described as sounding like German, but with a hot potato in your mouth.

But what exactly is hygge? It’s coziness and comfort. A long hot bath. Reading a good book by a crackling fire. Lots of lighted candles. Warmth, soft music, good food and friends, all of those cozy things. Being out in nature is hygge, as is a feeling of gratitude.

In Danish, there is the word “hyggebukser”, or hygge pants. Those are the pants you love to wear, but rarely in front of anyone else. Maybe your pajama bottoms or sweats. In fact, if you’ve been working at home for the last few months, you’re probably wearing them a lot anyway. I mean, if no one can see, who cares? That is hygge.

There’s also the word “hyggesnak” which is what you might think of as cozy conversation. You know, a nice chat with an old friend about comfortable topics. No politics or anything that could be controversial. Politics is definitely NOT hygge.

For me, hygge is sitting out on the back deck on a summer morning with my thermos of coffee and my cat on my lap. I have been known to stay there until noon. As long as my husband doesn’t turn on the radio to blast the news, that is. The news these days can ruin everything, can’t it? All I want to hear is the birds.

Many times over the years I’ve had my friends over for smørrebrød, which is a Danish meal that literally translates as “butter bread”. These are open-faced sandwiches made with dark rye bread topped with all kinds of delicious treats. You might use different cold cuts, shrimp or other fish with fancy garnishes. And lots of butter. I usually make Danish red cabbage along with the sandwiches, and serve up some pickled herring too. We drink Aquavit and Danish beer or “øl” and feel the hygge. (You probably noticed that letter ø. That’s an extra letter in the Danish alphabet, which also sounds somewhat like you’re gagging.)

These days, of course, having friends over is not possible in the same way. So instead, we spend time every week on a Zoom chat with a glass of wine.

Your idea of hygge might be different from mine, and that’s okay. The point is that however you do it, it has to be something that makes you cozy and content. Happy, even. And with fall and winter looming, we’re going to need lots of hygge to get us through.

And we’ll hope for a better 2021. Because, you know, PYT to 2020!

Godt Nytaar!

I am three quarters Danish;  my mother was born in the tiny fishing village of Karrebeksminde on the coast of the island of Sjaelland (Sealand, if you prefer) in Denmark.  Sjaelland is also home to Denmark’s capitol, Copenhagen.  My father, as it turns out, was conceived on the high seas as my grandparents immigrated from Denmark to Canada.  He was their first child, born in Calgary, Alberta.

My parents met in Vancouver and were considered rather old when they had me;  my father was 35 and my mother 37.  As a result, I was an only child, and all through my childhood I heard about Denmark.  My parents both had Danish friends, so I remember visits between them, fat cigars smouldering, Danish delicacies like festsuppe and vienerbrod (translated literally as “feast soup” and Vienna bread or Danish pastry), and at Christmas, little Danish flags everywhere.  I remember visiting the Danish Lutheran Church in Vancouver, where I had been baptised, and its red roof and model ship hanging from the rafters, a site in pretty much every Danish Lutheran church, and I recall attending the Danish Bazaar in the church’s basement every year.  My first words were a mishmash of Danish and English, and my mother loved to brag to her family back in Denmark that I spoke that language.  I found out years later that my Danish was actually pretty much a hybrid between the two languages and my grammar was all wrong, but as a child it seemed perfectly natural to me to converse in either language.  When I first went to school, I remember being given a spelling test and asked to spell the word “milk”, which I dutifully spelled “melk” because that was the Danish spelling.  I was offended to be told that it was wrong.  How could it be wrong to spell something correctly in Danish??

Eventually, my Danish was overshadowed by English, although I kept it up in conversation with my parents over the years.  In the spring of 1970, my mother’s sister, my Aunt May came to visit us.  It was a real adventure for me to have my Aunt May, who spoke a little English but not much, staying with us for a few weeks.  We introduced her to Vancouver, where she marvelled at the skyscrapers and mountains, both unheard of in Copenhagen.  I loved to tease her at her inability to pronouce English words starting with “th” and “shr” because they came out of her mouth sounding hilarious to me!  She good naturedly went along with my teasing and we got along famously.  I didn’t know at the time that the reason my Aunt May came to visit was because my mother was dying, and this was their last chance to see each other.  When my aunt was preparing to fly back to Denmark, I was upset that my mother wouldn’t let me go with them to the airport, but of course, I know better now.

My parents were planning a trip to Denmark when my mother passed away.  In a phone conversation with my Aunt May shortly after my mother’s death, she convinced my father to rebook the trip for the following year, 1973.  And so that spring, my father and I flew to Europe, neither of us having been out of North America before.  By this time I was 15 and a real teenage brat, but we spent five weeks in the country of our heritage, travelling from Sjaelland to Lolland Falster where my grandparents were born, enjoying Copenhagen, riding bicycles and light trains and buses and visiting with everyone we could on both sides of the family.  I was able to see the house that my mother was born and grew up in, the church where my father’s parents were married and the country that I had, up to then, only imagined.  I spent my 16th birthday in a pub with my Aunt May and my Dad, which would have been unheard of here in Canada.  My Aunt ordered me a pint of beer and after that, I was blitzed!

At a dinner out one evening, we decided to have Chinese food, and I was absolutely entranced listening to the Chinese waiters speak Danish…it was utterly fascinating to me.  I was also perturbed to hear the Danes talk about “pizza”…what?  There’s no Danish word for pizza?  I bought and wore Danish clogs as my father and Aunt May and I wandered the streets of Copenhagen, visited the real Little Mermaid and enjoyed the sites and sounds.  There were beautiful castles, cobbled streets, fairgrounds, a depth of history I could barely grasp, great food and wonderful people.  When I said goodbye to my Aunt May, I was sure I would be back again some day.

As it turns out, I have not been there since, and I recently found out that my Aunt May passed away just before Christmas 2009 at the age of 95.  Many times I have had dreams about being there or flying there, but life has always found a way of distracted me from actually going.  I have kept in touch with some of my cousins, and every now and then I think about and talk about going back, perhaps with one or both of my daughters.  In the meantime, every Christmas I put Danish flags on our Christmas tree, and once every year or two I hold a smorgasborg for my good friends with traditional Danish food and lots of beer and schnapps.

My father remarried a couple of years after my mother passed away, and I inherited an unusually blended family of Danish and Chinese.  My brother, who looks more Chinese than caucasian, was told as a child by his Danish grandmother “Never forget that you’re a Viking!”  I smile, imagining this little boy who always indentified more with his Chinese roots hearing that from his grandmother.  I often tease him that I’m going to bring out the Dane in him, but I have yet to succeed :-).

In the meantime I’ve never forgotten my Danish roots, and although my mother worked very hard at speaking English without an accent and becoming a Canadian, I’m happy that she and my father gave me such a wonderful, rich culture to celebrate.

Godt Nytaar means Happy New Year. 
To all of my readers, here’s to a year full of happiness, harmony and good health!

IJ

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A Rant About Stuff

The audio cassette greatly increased the distr...Image via WikipediaWith all the hoopla about Apple’s latest iPhone problems, I’ve been thinking about things that get re-designed or “upgraded” and end up being less than satisfactory.  And what do we do with the old ones?  Okay, some of the stuff I’m going to talk about may not seem as fancy schmancy as the iPhone 4, but IT’S MY BLOG!  Dammit.  But I really did have to stifle a laugh when I saw the disaster that became the iPhone 4.  All of that hype, all of that excitement, and all it would do is drop calls.  Yeah, put all of your attention into the appearance and these things called “apps” and “oooh, it does this! and it does that!”.  And forget that it’s supposed to be a PHONE, you idiots.

First of all, why change something that works just fine the way it is?  I spent a long time looking for a bra the other day because all a person can find these days are these foam type cups that are supposed to “smooth” out the look of your bust, I guess.  But all they do for me is make me feel like I’m a massive, over-stuffed double D.  I hate them.  And since when are subtle traces of nipples on a person’s top so disgusting or unappealing?  I mean, they’re BREASTS for pete’s sake.  They’re supposed to have nipples!!  Personally, I believe that the truth is that young women simply want to look bigger.  Of course they do.  I guess I was exemplifying exactly that when as an 11-year-old, I got a bra from my Aunt in Denmark who had never seen me and didn’t know I was flat as a pancake.  I put it on and stuffed it with Kleenex, like any girl would do, excited to have her first bra.  Two boys asked me if they could come to my house after school.  I guess it worked.

But I’m 53 now, for crying out loud.  I have no desire to lure anyone with the size of my boobs anymore.  It would be disturbing if someone wanted to come to my house after seeing me in one of those foamy bra things.  I’d be calling 9-1-1.

Well, after hours of searching I finally found what I was looking for at Sears.  The real slap in the face was that the bras that I ended up buying actually cost three times as much as those foam-stuffed things.  Hopefully they’ll last three times as long.  Things are just not made to last anymore.

For awhile now we’ve been using a crappy old microwave that my husband inherited from work because our “new” one pooped out on us after only a couple of years.  The very first microwave we got was given to us as a wedding present 26 years ago.  It lasted almost 24 years.  Stoves and fridges and washers and dryers are lucky to last 10 years, if that, anymore. 

My father calls it “built in obsolescence“.    And it makes sense, doesn’t it?  Why would a company want to make ANYTHING that lasts 24 years?  That means it’s going to take 24 years for them to get any more money out of you.  That goes for anything electronic.  In this case, it’s not even that they can’t make something as good as they used to.  It’s that they don’t want to.  And I won’t even go into this madness for the next “great” technology that has taken over the universe.  Holy crap, how many 2- or 3-year-old cellphones are there out there lying around unused because their owners don’t actually even care to use them for their expected (short) life spans, because the next iPhone has come along?  Sheesh!

Okay, I’m calmer now.

But where do we put all of this stuff when it stops working or suddenly doesn’t suit us anymore?  For me, it’s in the basement.  There are a couple of old TVs down there, a gazillion cassette tapes (nobody uses those anymore!), some old books of my Dad’s, wires, boxes of boxes, two space heaters that barely lasted two years each, two fans, same thing, a dead coffeemaker, a couple of old computers and monitors, boxes of my daughter’s stuff (hopefully they going to take it with them when they move out?), some of my brother’s stuff, and the rest I can’t remember because it’s been so long since I’ve even looked through it all.  A few years ago, I convinced my husband to spend the money to hire one of those junk hauling companies to empty out the garage and some old stuff from the basement.  I was so relieved to get rid of it all.  And then, much to my horror, it seemed only months before the basement filled up again.  How did that happen?

Tomorrow I have to go to Richmond and pick up my mother’s secretary/desk, a beautiful piece of furniture that I always loved because it was hers.  And I have no idea where I’m going to put it.   Years ago I fantasized about having that piece of furniture, and now it’s just another (rather large) thing that I don’t have room for.  I guess when I was younger, it was all about acquiring stuff.  You moved out and took your stuff with you, and when you could afford it, you bought more stuff to fill your place with.  And you dreamed about the “big” stuff like a car or a house, until you could at least afford a car loan or a mortgage.  And then you filled your new house with more stuff, until your kids came along and you had to move into a bigger house to be able to fit them and their stuff…

Okay, that’s how it happens.

But I don’t want all of these things anymore.  And having to deal with my parents’ stuff because they are at the point where they can’t take care of it and don’t have room for it leaves me (and my siblings and many others I’m sure) with this enormous pile of someone else’s stuff that I’ve never even wanted. I guess my parents didn’t plan on being stuck with so many things either.  We don’t realize when we’re younger, that the things we think we want will eventually just become the things we have to find a way to get rid of.  I put that in bold so that when I read it again later, I will remember.

How did I get on this whole rant?  Oh yes, cellphones.  Well, the last several months I’ve been at the end of my contract with my cellphone company and had nothing but offers for the “newest” and “latest” new cellphone.  Complete with another 3-year contract of course.  My old cellphone works just fine, but like all other technology geeks I am tempted by these new offers.  Except, unlike younger geeks, every time I think about a new one, I can’t think of what to do with my old one.  Nobody in my house wants it and it’s such an old model that I know for sure it isn’t going to become one of those “refurbished” ones.  This particular cell provider talks about recycling your old phone…but what do they really do with it?  I have hellish visions of poor people in third world countries working for next to nothing taking these electronic things apart and breathing in and handling horrible toxins from their components.

I call it my old cellphone, but is it really?  After three years, oddly enough it hasn’t died on me.   Crap.

IJ

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To Be Canadian


I spent Canada Day at the mall.

But I had on my Canada Day shirt, not a t-shirt but a shirt actually sewn by my daughter, white maple leafs on a red background, and I wore it proudly. There were a few people at the mall in red and white, but not many. You have to go to the events to really see them…I know that from experience.

Normally I go to Fort Rodd Hill, a historical part of Vancouver Island, where there are ceremonies with representatives from all levels of government, a 21-gun salute and lots of birthday cake and activities. But this year I was sans my partner, so I ended up at the mall instead, doing some shopping for an upcoming family wedding.

To tell you the truth, my favourite part of Canada Day is not the local celebrations or the barbeque or the cold beers and flag waving. It’s watching new Canadians receiving their citizenship. My family are all immigrants one or two generations back, the nearest one to me being my mother, who became a proud Canadian in the 1950’s. She immigrated from Denmark after the Korean War, and decided that she loved Canada so much that she wanted to stay here.

She often joked that she knew more about Canada than Canadians did because she had to go through some rigorous testing on her knowledge of Canadian history and politics before she could get her papers. She was proud, very proud of her adopted country, and she worked hard to learn the language and remove her Danish accent.

When I see families who have come from other countries under very difficult political or socio-economic circumstances, choosing this country because they know that they can make a better life…well, I tear up pretty good.

They know the truth about how good we have it here much better than we do. It’s easy to take it for granted when all we have known is freedom and opportunity. There are a lot of young people right now who could learn a lot by spending a month or two in an impoverished or politically oppressed country. I hope they grow up to learn the real value of the country they live in. Canada. 

I know there are other wonderful countries in the world. But today is Canada Day, and I am unabashedly joyful and grateful to be here.

Happy Canada Day!

IJ

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