As the Sun Sets on 2013

Back home from my holiday travels – a wonderful time spent with family. Now looking out on the ocean and reflecting on the fact that today will be the last sunset of 2013. I thought I’d share one sunset for each month that I have been privileged to enjoy this year here at the Gulf beaches. I hope you enjoy them.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year 2014! May it bring you many blessings and much happiness.  Tiny

My Year in Review – A Bird’s Eye View

This is not an official review of world events in 2013. Not even an account of celebrity marriages, divorces or babies. This is a quick review of my year. As witnessed by the birds. Who’ve kept me company over the year (as my regular readers know). I trust they’ll keep me honest.

January: Pleasant holiday season. With granddaughter time. New Year fireworks.  Followed by January 2nd fireworks. Kick start of a big project. In Africa. Skype heating up. Emails splashing. A family visit at the end of the month. Well deserved R & R.

February : Lots of work. Tons of reading. Mid-winter on the Gulf Coast. A short visit to Rome. A trip to Africa.  Stuck in a snow storm. In Germany. Long days. Longer nights. Too many hotel points. Life’s getting foggy.

March: Sunny and cool (everything’s relative)! Lots of research. Picking seeds in the sand. Running with the projects. Interesting stuff to explore. Too much of it. Drive to visit family. Old SUV soon to be retired. Unpleasant conclusion. But hey, everything has its time.

April: Spring! Gorgeous weather. Outside my office window. A quick visit to Paris. Rainy and cool. Another trip to Africa late in the month. Sand storm. Strong coffee. Busy, busy. Will need a secretary(bird)!

May: Cold plunge. Nose dive. Hubby to hospital. Drama. Pause. Heart surgery. All goes well. Convalescence. Family time.  Finally up for air at end month. Thank God!

June: Good news! Son’s leg finally healed. After bone graft surgery nine months earlier. Running, or at least walking. Another thank you note sent. Son also visits. New SUV helps get up to speed. Wallet much lighter. Less to carry. More reliably.

July: Work-filled month! Tightly at home base now. Good overview of deadlines. No reason to worry. Just watch and fly. Food is abundant.

August: Relatively smooth sailing! Hot. Sweaty. Also on work front. Frequent trips to the ocean. Hubby’s birthday. Reason to be thankful. Turning towards fall. Very slowly.

September: The month of family gatherings! Dad’s 90th birthday celebration in northern Europe. A privileged occasion. Seeing “everybody and his uncle”. Hugs. Sauna baths. Wonderful time. Own birthday late in the month. Multi-day observance. Family. Friends. Lobsters and roses.

October: Biggest project complete! Contemplating. Planning. Deciding to take a break. Do NaNoWriMo. For the first time.  Not one of the usual professional publications. A novel. That’s fresh. And scary.

November: Writing. Flying high. Flying low. Flap, flap. Feeling humble. Quitting. Restarting. Getting to 50K words before the end of the month. Phew! A manuscript on the table. “Only” editing remains. Lots more flaps. Necessary. Whenever.

December: Editing, working, preparing. A new project. A tree. Baking! Traditional foods. Granddaughter time. Eating much. Moving little. Praying more. Looking back. Reflecting. Was each day lived to its full potential? Probably not. But that’s the best I could do. So be it. Still learning. Optimistic. Thankful.

Lions for Christmas. Out of the Blue.

One year in the last century, completely out of the blue, we got lions for Christmas! For some odd reason I had completely forgotten about this particular, shall we say, slightly different holiday experience when I wrote about the holidays we have celebrated in various corners of this earth. But last night I saw this funny lion ornament my hubby had put in the tree, and it all came back to me.

It all came about entirely without planning on my part. Saying that it came out of the blue might actually not be quite truthful. That particular year it was very difficult to find blue skies where we lived, in Stockholm, Sweden. It was all grey drizzle, ice and snow starting from mid November.

So one day I get this call from a reputable development agency. They asked if I was interested in doing an urgent evaluation of a heath care project in Zimbabwe the following month. December. That was interesting. I had a regular job and so did my hubby. But the thought of doing something truly worthwhile in a warm place – and as a bonus being able to skip all holiday stress, was intriguing. So I braved myself and asked my employer for a month of unpaid leave starting the second week of December. It wouldn’t hurt asking, I hoped. To my total surprise my employer agreed! And so did my hubby’s employer. It must have been the good cause that persuaded them – or was it simply the good old times?

So one snowy morning in early December we were on our way to London and further to Harare, where we established our home for the holidays in a small hotel room. I worked every weekday, and sometimes until late at night, but on the weekends and holidays we were able to explore the sights together.

Our first weekend outing was to the impressive  Chapungu Sculpture Park in the outskirts of Harare. The exhibition included hundreds of beautiful stone sculptures of people, animals and some mystical beings by contemporary Zimbabwean and other African sculptors.

We spent almost a full day there walking around, admiring the works and talking to the sculptors “in residence”, who were actually working right there in the park.

Zim sculpture garden cat ed

I found this stone cat truly charming but he was too fat to take home in the suitcase so I opted for much smaller sculptures from there, like this stylized stone elephant.

zim stone elephant ed

Unfortunately it seems that this wonderful sculpture park has not fared well through the recent times.

The next day we visited a nearby crocodile farm and a snake exhibition. I think our son will never forget his spitting cobra experience. For obvious reasons I didn’t get a picture of that fast action.

The following week my work took me out of the capital to the town of Masvingo in south-eastern Zimbabwe. As this town is close to the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, we decided to spend the following weekend in a small resort at walking distance from the ruins.

Great Zimbabwe was the capital of Kingdom of Zimbabwe in iron age. It was constructed by the ancestors of today’s Shona people over more than three centuries in the 1100-1400s. It covers almost 1800 acres and may have been inhabited by up to 18,000 people in its heyday.

Zim ruins ed

The ruins are impressive, constructed completely of stone – without mortar. I was truly fascinated by them. Walking there I could still sense some of the lively energy that once inhabited this walled city. It was a very interesting pre-Christmas weekend.

Christmas fell on the following weekend. We spent the Christmas eve and day quietly. Took long walks in the city, stayed at the pool and did all our dining in the hotel’s excellent restaurants. No cooking or hassle. No tree, just a fresh flower arrangement that the hotel had kindly provided for its Christmas guests.

Then we watched the mid-night mass on TV and it brought some additional Christmas spirit to our holiday. Our son got a couple of small presents Santa had bought for him at Heathrow. He was happily playing with his new remote-controlled car on the pool deck and in the hotel room. I’m sure he sneaked it into the hotel corridor as well – for a quick speed test.

On Boxing Day we took a drive out of the city to a small wildlife sanctuary. It was not a real safari, of course, as the lions were in a large enclosure, separated from other wildlife.

But we could observe them at a close range as long as we wanted, like this huge male taking a nap in the afternoon sun. And then, during a game drive, we saw many species of antelopes, zebras, ostrich and hyenas.

Even after having lions for Christmas, our son’s absolute favorite was this old tortoise. He was huge and over 250 years old!

For our last weekend outing before returning home and to work, we drove to Lake Kariba in northern Zimbabwe to celebrate the New Year. I believe Lake Kariba is still the world’s largest manmade lake.


It covers 2,150 sq miles (5,580 sq kilometers)  and was formed when one of the world’s largest dams, the Kariba dam, was built in Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe in late 1950s. The lake has quite a dramatic history in terms of displacement and resettlement of about 57,000 people and the famous 1960-61 rescue of thousands of large wild animals and numerous small species from the rising waters of the lake. In many parts of the lake, one could still see the dead trees sticking up out of the water.

We stayed at the then very fresh Caribbea Bay resort situated right on the lake Kariba shores. In addition to resting and swimming in the pools, we did some wonderful excursions on the lake by boat to see the spectacular sunsets. We saw some wildlife too, like hippos, crocs and a large variety of  birds.

We did not have the time to visit Victoria Falls, but you can find a post about that beautiful spot on earth here.

All in all, this was a wonderful holiday season. It was somewhat work filled for me, but also offered relaxation and some very interesting experiences for our little family. We did return to work, kindergarten and our daily routines thoroughly refreshed after 12+ days of Christmas. The lion in the tree is a good reminder.

I will take a small break from blogging and editing my book to spend some quality time with family. It’s been a great year for me with so many new friendships formed in the blogging community from all corners of the world.  Thank you everyone!

I wish you all a wonderful Holiday Season. – Tiny