My blogging friend Miranda and her best friend Sophie recently started a wonderful podcast called Tea & Tattle and in one of their first episodes they talked about the Scandinavian philosophy of Hygge. As I was listening to their discussion, I was standing in the most un-hygge like place you could imagine - an over-crowded train on my way home after a long day of studying, the outside world cold, dark and thorougly uninviting -, but instead of feeling mentally drained and utterly exhausted, I arrived home feeling invigorated and full of positive energy for once. Good company, if only through a podcast, had turned a normally bothersome situation into a pleasurable experience. And since then, I have thought a lot about how accepting where we are in life – both literally and figuratively – is an essential part of finding personal happiness.
I wanted to publish a post about my recent trip to France today, but when I sat down to write, the words just didn’t want to come to me and so I decided to work on a good old-fashioned life lately post instead. I am sure I am not going to surprise anyone by saying this, but I am slightly obsessed with seasonal living these days. I feel grateful to call a place home that allows me to experience the best of every season and I try to live my life in a way that makes the most of the rhythm of the year and it has been my personal experience that learning to find joy in the months that we would rather skip is one of the secrets to feeling positive at any time of the year.
I think for many of us, November just seems to be one of those months that doesn’t seem to serve any particular purpose except maybe to stretch the time between the glorious days of October and Christmas. The holidays are still lightyears away – no Thanksgiving in Germany, I am sorry to say -, the excitement about the beginning of fall has long since been replaced with annoyance at the seemingly never-ending rain and heading to and from work while it’s completely dark outside is hardly anyone’s idea of fun. Because November is one of those rare times of the year that doesn’t require us to fill up our social calendars to quite the same extent as many other months do, I like to think, though, that right now is a great time to nourish our souls by focusing on doing the things that we love and enjoy the most. And so I have spent the last few weeks doing just that.
One of the things I have been absolutely crazy about lately is reading. I have always enjoyed getting lost in a good story, but this year – and in the past few weeks especially – I have become more obsessed with reading than I have been in a very, very long time. As a kid and teenager, my nose was pretty much always stuck in a book, but when my workload increased manifold when I started university, reading for leisure quickly ceased to be part of my daily routine. It wasn’t until I set myself a reading challenge earlier this year that I began reading in earnest again – and now I’m not quite sure how I used to spend my commute!
I had plans to write a round up post of all the book I have read in November, but since I’m not sure if I actually have the time to do so (I have spent so much time reading lately, that my writing has been a bit neglected...), I figured I would share some of my favorite reads of the month with you here instead. At the moment, I am reading A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle which is an autobiographical account of the author’s move to Provence from England in the 1980s and it’s an easy story peppered with amusing anecdotes about life in rural France that doesn’t have to resort to clichés to be enjoyable. If you’re a francophile, enamored with the south of France or simply someone that enjoys reading about good meals, this book is definitely for you!
A Year in Provence has been a welcome diversion from the book I read before, The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The Vegetarian is a Korean novel and has won the Man Booker International Prize this year and it’s a book that is so brutally haunting and, in parts, disturbing that I found it to be simultaneously absolutely brilliant and deeply distressing. It’s a story about a young woman who one day out of the blue decides to stop eating meat because she hopes that this will stop her violent nightmares. But doing so goes against the grain of everything her family and the society she is a part of believe in and so problems arise. This novel is too deep and complex to be properly summarized in just one or two sentences, but at its core it’s not a story about vegetarianism, but rather a look at rebelling against oppressive social structures and suffering from mental illness and while it’s neither a comfortable nor an easy read, it’s impeccable in its execution and incredibly thought-provoking. (The Guardian and The New York Times have published two excellent reviews about this book that are worth reading if you’re curious to learn more.)
I have also started re-reading the Harry Potter series. I make no secret of the fact that I’m a massive Potterhead, but it’s been years since I last read the books and I seem to have forgotten just how brilliant the books are because I constantly find myself in absolute awe of J.K. Rowling. Not everyone could have created a world that is so vivid and rich that it has truly come to life in the hearts of so many! I’m coming to the end of the third book at the moment and I’m glad that the really long books are still ahead of me because I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do with myself once I have finished them.
Another of my favorite things is obviously great food. Whether it’s at home or at restaurant – a good meal, no matter how simple or elaborate, will never fail to excite me. I had a great meal with a friend at a new-to-us Korean restaurant called Gogi Matcha in Heidelberg’s Old Town the weekend before last and although the entire experience was a bit surreal since I had just started reading The Vegetarian, it was also a very delicious one as my Jeyuk Bokkeum – a spicy pork dish – was exceptional. I also had a fantastic meal with my boyfried at our favorite Italian restaurant in town when his father and step-mother came up to Heidelberg for a visit and we finally managed to visit a tiny little café close to the Old Bridge that we had meant to visit for ages and that wouldn’t have been out of place in Paris.
All the pictures in this post were taken on a forest walk a few weeks ago. I love the woods at any time of the year, but during the fall they are an especially mysterious and enchanting place. There are many gorgeous forest walks in and around Heidelberg and this year we decided to visit an old arboretum called Exotenwald in a small town in the north of the city for our annual fall forest fix. The Exotenwald features trees from all over the world and thus has a bit of a distinguished look from the regular German woods which makes walking through this forest an unusual experience. I was mesmerized by all the different colors and felt like I was walking through a veritable fairytale world and I found myself wishing that I had more time for outings like this at the moment.
The colder seasons of the year shouldn’t cause us to put our lives on hold for months. Life during the fall and the winter might be different from life during the spring and summer, but it’s a change I always welcome, if only to shake up my daily routine a little bit. As the temperatures are getting colder and colder with each passing day, it’s tempting to stay cooped up inside until the first signs of spring arrive and to complain about the weather and the season, but as far as I can tell that is all the more reason to wholeheartedly embrace life in November.
Make the most of the few daylight hours that we do have each day to catch some fresh air and stretch your legs. Pencil in meetings with friends for no other reason that to have a cup of coffee and to chat. Buy a few interesting books to keep you company on the days it really is too miserable to go outside. It’s not hard to love November – but, you know, maybe a bit of hygge does make it easier! ;)
What have you been up to this November? Let me know in the comments!