Friday, August 29, 2014

A reset of sorts

Hammarby Sjöstad outdoor gym utegym  |  A reset of sorts on afeathery*nest  |
It's that time of year again—when everything starts anew, for me at least.

And in the name of resets, shifts, and the like, I'm going to spend some time this weekend doing a little behind-the-scenes re-jiggering of my online life.

In case I somehow bring down the Internet by doing so, or at least my little corner of it, and you don't hear anything from me next week via your bookmarks, feed readers or email subscriptions, do a little Googling and I'm sure you'll find me again.

Till then, a few tidbits that I've found or have been on my mind lately:

+ + +

Wine that doubles as a dessert:
I've discovered a wine that tastes and smells just like a chokladboll! You know how much I love those little chocolatey, nutty, espresso-laced balls of deliciousness, so this was quite a find. If you're from Sweden or have had the delight of eating one and want it in a glass, or if you're not / haven't but have wondered what I was gushing about, please try and find Diemersfontein's Coffee Pinotage from South Africa.

While I pride myself on multi-tastking well, I probably shouldn't:
"Every day we’re assaulted with facts, pseudofacts, news feeds and jibber-jabber, coming from all directions...Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.
..If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.
— "Hit the reset button in your brain", The New York Times

Exercising in public:
I'm not one to get my training in at the gym or in group classes—I'd much rather prefer to do all that at home, sometimes with candles lit, or else just during the natural course of my day, but I was always a little intrigued every time I passed one of Stockholm's utegyms, or, outdoor gyms. They looked so raw and real and the fact that they're always in pretty pockets of greenery helped up the interest factor. When a new one was installed right behind our apartment (pictured at the top of this post), I had to try it. Besides a much older lady and myself, all the other people there were men and women accompanied by babies in strollers. There's something pretty amazing about seeing a woman lifting weights while her child amuses itself and looks on placidly. I'll definitely go back.

One year ago:
El Martinez &
Citrusy tweaks for you and your kitchen &
Slothful sleuthing

Monday, August 25, 2014

Another go at it

After my last little flop, I regrouped and popped out two new projects that, thankfully, I did not end up unraveling. The first was a birthday gift for S, our friends' daughter, who celebrated her third with a big bash this weekend.

// Sidebar: I wish* I could send you a taste of the food that S's grandmother on her mother's side made for the party. That half of the family is Kurdish from Iraq, so the cuisine was slightly reminiscent of home (from both my own family and my brother's wife's, whose family is from Afghanistan) and I filled my plate three (and a half) times from platters of the most heavenly-scented rice (with the cracklings on top!), pomegranate and cilantro salad, meat-filled rice balls that were incredible and delightfully crunchy and savory, and chicken you can't even believe could ever be so crispy.

I haven't had much Middle Eastern or Indian subcontinent food lately (despite Stockholm being full of it thanks to so many foreigners from that part of the world living here now), which probably accounted for some of my gluttony. (The rest was entirely because the food was outrageously delicious). The table was also dotted with jars of rosewater "soda" and of lime-mint water, and we interspersed the afternoon with perfectly brewed tea served in gorgeous glasses with scrolled gold carriers. My hands were too full with the food and the tea to take a picture, but trust me, I felt (and dined) like royalty! //

S is going through her princess phase, specifically Snow White, so I thought that a little pair of knit ladylike fingerless gloves with a crocheted flower on top would suit her perfectly. But it's always a little tricky to make something for children, even more so this time for me because I didn't measure her beforehand (although I was lucky that last weekend she was playing with my knitting bag and when she asked what the ruler was for, I demonstrated by measuring her hands. When I came home I rushed to measure what I had already finished making and thank goodness, they were the right size).

There's also the element of "finickiness" (for lack of a better word) inherent in making or gifting a child something—I wanted to create something that S would like and enjoy for a long time, not just for a few hours.

So you can imagine how ecstatic I was when after the party her mama sent me a photo of S sleeping...still wearing them. I'm still smiling about it!

P.S. I also whipped up a new market bag. The last one was long and narrow, this one is short and wide. That first is perfect for wine and olive oil bottles, milk cartons, flowers and R's bread, while I made this one for vegetables, cheese, and other squat market goodies.

*Actually, I don't know if I would, even if I could, send you a taste. It was that good and I might not be inclined to share...

One year ago: My American boy

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It's elementary

Stålhästen in Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm  |  Of tests and things on afeathery*nest  |
Last we heard, I was struggling to keep three languages straight, but soon after that, my new teacher suggested I take the National Exam to move ahead from 3C to the next official level of instruction, 3D. I mentioned a slight problem with that plan: I don't actually speak Swedish yet, which might hinder an exam that tests my reading, writing, listening, oh, and speaking abilities.

He waved that aside and said my reading comprehension and writing were good enough to take the test. Since there's no risk to taking the test and failing, I figured I might as well.

That's why I spent 3.5 hours in a classroom listening to recordings, reading texts, answering multiple-choice questions, writing an essay, and having a conversation with a fellow classmate before the attentive ear of a proctor and then a conversation with said proctor—all in Swedish, last week.

While I felt really good about the reading and the writing, I felt much less so about the listening comprehension and conversations. But turns out I did well enough across the board—I passed the exam and have begun 3D!

Theoretically this is meant to serve as proof that I speak Swedish at the level of an elementary-school-aged child.

"Theoretically" being the key word.

One year ago: Not so fast (<-- That one time my Swedish residency request was denied.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The much-celebrated arrival of fall

Lugnets Allè in Hammarby Sjöstad  |  The much-celebrated arrival of fall on afeathery*nest  |

While I've made no attempt to hide (any) of my feelings about this summer's unexpected heat, I didn't exactly want fall (my favorite season!) to start quite so early.

Which seems to be what's happened as suddenly everyone's donning light scarves and closed-toe shoes and the air has a little nip to it. If that wasn't enough to clue us in, perhaps the insane festival that took place in our courtyard this morning would have made it clear.

Apparently today is the first day of classes—which the school that shares a side of our courtyard with us is marking by lining all the walkways with balloons, having all the teachers stand outside to whoop and cheer as each student arrives with their parents, and, b.l.a.s.t.i.n.g. music. (Why they're playing "Pomp and Circumstance", i.e., the graduation song, for elementary school kids is perplexing).

Now I have to admit that it is cute to watch the reunions between kids and the friendly, but reserved (of course) nods of parents toting travel coffee mugs, but...why are they still standing outside thirty-minutes-later with that song blaring on repeat from the speakers?

It's not technically early, but at 8AM this is certainly infringing on my morning rituals.

One year ago: Reveling in the regression

Monday, August 18, 2014

Urban natured in Stockholm

Sandasjön, Nacka, Stockholm  |  Urban natured in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
There were so many reasons we moved to Sweden, but one of the top ones was definitely the way you can live in the royal and governmental seat of a country, yet be so near to nature, fresh air and clean water. If you want to be a little more distanced from the city, that's easy to do, too, but whether it's a little forest-y bike ride, a woodland walk in your backyard, or a lakeside ride a few neighborhoods over, it's so easy to straddle the lines of city and country from right here in Stockholm.

In New York I always found it more taxing on my senses to "escape". Even if I stayed in the city, the way home inevitably involved a re-stresser (hello, MTA) or if I left, a disappointing destination. Both of which could easily redo all the knots the day was meant to have undone (definitely not always, though).

The reason I bring this is up is that this Sunday a conflation of events happened that I think could only happen in Stockholm (at least as far as I know). While only a few miles apart, we were somehow both able to do the following at the same time:

R and his friend headed out to a nature preserve called Sandasjön in Nacka where one can do all sorts of "manly" things as they did, like fish (actually fish your dinner out of the lake!) and have open fires. While they didn't catch anything (despite the fishies dancing around right in front of their lines), they built a fire and used tree branches to grill some hefts of meat, so they were happy as can be. After more than 8 hours of doing what men do when they're alone with fire, they came home smelling of smoke and fresh air and all dreamy-eyed and relaxed.

Sunday morning pancakes  |  Urban natured in Stockholm on afeathery*nest  |
Meanwhile, I spent my morning out on the balcony reading when the wife of R's fishing friend called me. She was itching to get some knitting supplies after trying it out with some needles and yarn at our apartment last week. I wanted to tag along, so I quickly made my Sunday pancakes for one (couldn't leave without some sustenance!) then hightailed it out to catch a bus to meet her.

Since most retail stores are closed on Sundays, we met up at the very fancy NK department store. I felt like a lady from one of those movies set in NYC in the 50s and 60s who goes to an elegant department store to have her hair set and then wanders about before lunching with lady friends. We did nearly the same: after perusing the very chic textiles area and picking out some lovely yarn and needles, we took a coffee in the atrium overlooking all the glam shops and perfectly coiffed grand dames walking about.

After our coffee we headed home to spend the rest of the afternoon with our knitting. None of my friends in NYC knit (at least that I know of), so I was mostly on my own except for a few afternoons knitting alongside my mom. Now that the weather is starting to get a wee bit crisper I'm already envisioning evenings this coming fall and winter after one of our dinner parties when we'll shoo the men out to the balcony with blankets for their chit chat and whiskey, and we can cozy up on the couch with our tea (or whiskey) and knitting.

One year ago:
The Delilah, a bewitching White Lady for summer eves &
Egg custard, or how to preserve a profusion of milk &
Arancini Taorminiesi, and how I cook

Friday, August 15, 2014

More lessons to learn

Crocheted flowers  |  More lessons to learn on afeathery*nest  |
It appears that I'm still discovering things I decidedly do not like to (am not good at) make(ing), so in the hopes that I shan't make the same mistake again, henceforth is a list of rules based on lessons I should have learned by now for me to refer back to anytime I have the itch to make something (that I probably shouldn't).

RULE #1:
I will not make clothes for R because he is just too tall and broad-shouldered. Since it takes so long to make things for him, I get bored, which leads to mistakes or even worse, knitting without any love woven in. That can only lead to an unraveling.

RULE #2:  
I will not knit endless stockinette. For one, it's just too boring to do the same thing over and over again. And secondly, the lack of variation means you can't hide mistakes so well. So the finished (if I do finish) product is not as nice as I'd like, and when I'm not proud of something I won't wear it/gift it. (For non-knitters, this is what stockinette looks like—it's made by knitting one stitch, forever.)

RULE #3:
I will not knit piece-y projects—the ones that require making separate collars or sleeves or what-have-you. Chances are that because of my inability to perfectly knit individual pieces in the same way, they're not going to come together very nicely at the end when it's time to seam them all together.

(Items I can knit all in one go, i.e., sleeveless and one-piece tops for myself and raglan-sleeved baby bits are where I excel).

(Also napkins. But you know this.)

While I can crochet, I'd much rather knit. Knowing that about myself, I'm not sure why I have four crochet hooks, but I do, so when I came across a whimsical crochet pattern for 3-D'ish flowery bits I had to try it. Which brings us to:

RULE #4 (building off of the previous):
I will not attempt granny-square projectsThey are just not my cup of tea. Or my cup of coffee. (For non-knitters, granny-square projects create items made up of many little squares or hexagons of crocheted bits bound together to form a bigger thing, like this.)

It's hard to make handmade things uniform, harder still for someone like me that's not so adept at keeping my tension and bind-offs nice and even, so once I had 9 of these little flowery pods sewn together I looked at it screwy-eyed and deemed it imperfect and thus I unwound the whole thing.

The bad news? Since each little square was a finished piece in itself, I have a mess of random clippings of yarn.

The good news? I get to start a new project!

Update: A year later, I have some updates to this list.

One year ago:
The day to day &
Cold-brewed coffee &
Shut eye 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Into the woods

Nackareservatet // Nacka Nature Reserve |  Into the woods on afeathery*nest  |

It's not like Stockholm is a loud city—but sometimes you just need a little peace and quiet of a forest-y nature*. So, to the wooded hills I headed Saturday afternoon.

I was having one of those sigh-y, angst-y, doldrum-y days (the mean reds seemed to have followed me from New York). Despite it being a beautiful day outside, I followed my usual homebody method of coping—burrowing into a corner of the sofa, watching guaranteed tear-jerker movies, making myself pancakes, drinking loads of milky coffee, knitting, and futzing around online.

But as early morning turned to late afternoon and the sea breezes floated in I gave myself a stern talking to and hauled myself off the couch, washed my face, and forced myself out for some fresh air.

Nackareservatet // Nacka Nature Reserve |  Into the woods on afeathery*nest  |
Nackareservatet // Nacka Nature Reserve |  Into the woods on afeathery*nest  |
I headed to the Nacka Reserve (Nackareservatet) behind our apartment (lucky us, pretty canals in front and forests behind), and walked, walked, walked. Ignoring the gravelled path once I was far enough in, I struck out for the overgrown parts, clambering up stones, and finally settling back against a sun-warmed one.

I've never been crazy over licorice, so this isn't the best way to describe it, but the woods here smell like licorice—in a good way, which doesn't really help if you do like licorice, but all I can say is that I snuffled it up like mad as I tromped along. While they may not smell all that familiar, the woods here definitely look like Virginia's (which I'll always compare all woods to).

The scent and scenery carried me back and soon I was reminiscing, and very soon after that, all my black clouds had floated away. Once I realized that I (and the woods) had sorted myself out, I headed back home. Just after I walked in, R returned from work. We pow-wow'ed over dinner decisions and decided to settle ourselves on the balcony with a few nibblies first. Once we were comfortable I realized we could do with a little music, but rather than reach for my laptop as usual, I went to dig out my old iPod (which hasn't been updated in about 7 years) from our electronics drawer.

// Sidebar: have I mentioned we're still living with the exact same things we left NYC with on March 31st? We only have the clothes and belongings that fit into our two checked and one carry-on bag each. While our shipment already arrived, we're in a furnished sublet (temporarily?), so it's all in storage at the moment. Luckily the hardly-ever-used iPod made the cut //.

I propped it in its mini speaker gadget on the dining room windowsill and hit shuffle.

Nackareservatet // Nacka Nature Reserve |  Into the woods on afeathery*nest  |

The first song that played was from a wedding soundtrack a college friend (my very first!) gave all her bridesmaids at her wedding eight years ago in Richmond (where she grew up, and about an hour from where I did). R didn't know the connections of the song for me, but as the lilting country sounds started he said, "this sounds like Virginia".

Yes, my dear—yes, it does.

* A little woodland punning for you.

One year ago: Summer woolens

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The biggest differences I've noticed in Sweden: Vol. 3

Hammarby Sjöstad at dusk  |  The biggest differences I've noticed in Sweden: Vol. 3 on afeathery*nest  |

The abundance and economy of the exotic:
Never before have I seen such a robust spice selection at the local grocery store. Cardamom! Garam Masala! Sumac! All for about the same price as black pepper!

Things are more...manual here:
Women's monthly products don't come individually wrapped with applicators...

Pedestrians and bicyclists are always given the right of way:
Have never seen treatment of non-motorists as deferential as this—obviously it's not at all the same in NYC.

Air conditioning doesn't exist:
Not only do apartments not seem to come standard with it (a la San Francisco), but even if stores, buses and subways have it, they don't actually use it. Now you know I'm all for energy savings, but this proved to be more than a bit problematic during this summer's shockingly unexpected heatwave. Ick.

Anyone accompanying a child in a stroller rides free on Stockholm's buses:
When a parent/grandparent/adult boards a bus with a stroller, they do so from the wide, double doors in the middle of the bus. They get on there...and stay there. No move is made to the front to swipe their transit card on the reader. At first I thought people were taking advantage of getting on the bus somewhere other than the main door, but turns out, that's just another way the country supports parents and child caretakers. If you board a bus with a stroller, you ride for free. The same doesn't hold true for the subways, but then again, I would think adults prefer the buses rather than having to deal with an underground elevator (no matter how clean the Swedish public transit system is, I don't think it's possible for any city to have fresh-smelling subterranean elevators).

* A few more Swedish differences 

One year ago: Somewhere else this week

Monday, August 4, 2014

Weekend play-by-play

View from Skansen over Djurgården + Östermalm/Norrmalm  |  Weekend play-by-play on afeathery*nest  |
Saturday AM:
I'd gotten used to the crazy light show that is a Scandinavian summer, yet this morning at 5AM I sat straight up in bed and ambled out to the living room. Why exactly? No idea. There was a wee bit of ruckus down below, but I can usually fall right back to asleep after hearing murmurs and whatnot. Today though, not so much.

I stood out on the balcony to stare moonily at the rising sun-lit sky (and to see what my neighbors were up to: one dad was up cleaning from yesterday's BBQ, but no one else spotted). I considered taking a picture to Instagram (naturally), but, eh, the view isn't that spectacular from where we are so I shuffled back inside and thought about what I could do.

The usual commenced: blogs, news, Facebook, Instagram, a few mini Google searches for an upcoming trip.

Then it was 6AM and I realized it was finally a sane time to make coffee.

So I did, and had the brilliant idea to document this mundane morning...and share it with you (you're welcome).

Maybe I should keep this going all weekend...?

Saturday PM:
...Might as well now that I've started!

So—after a morning at home drinking coffee and falling into the black hole that is watching little kids singing on X Factor and the like on YouTube by myself, and then listening to a Best Love Songs of the 80's playlist (...) with R when he finally woke up, we headed out to visit his mom and her partner for a fika, and then to Solviksbadet for a picnic and swim (can't get over the concept of swimming in a city's waterways!) with friends before a movie night.

Saturday late PM:
We didn't get home until almost 1AM and fell asleep for a few hours before being tumultuously awoken to a crazy storm with gushing rain, crackling lightning and huge booms of thunder. Haven't experienced one of those since summers in Virginia!

Sunday PM:
Sleeping in (hence no Sunday AM), then pancakes. I seem to keep forgetting that I'm useless the next day after an even remotely "late" night. We managed to drag ourselves out to the balcony for a few hours of reading (and nodding off), before we finally had the energy to go for a quick bicycle ride around the port in Finnboda / Nacka.

Then home for a glass of wine outside before heading in for a pizza on the couch and a movie. Best kind of Sunday, especially following an early morning / late night Saturday.

How was your weekend? 

One year ago:  Growing up Goan with homemade remedies

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hello, August

Kungstädgården  |  Hello, August on afeathery*nest  |
Ahhh, finally back to the way it should be. We had a few thoroughly refreshing rain showers and the city is all fresh and sunny and breezy and lovely again. Summer in Stockholm as it should be (or, as I'd like it to be).

Now we can go back to sitting outside and snuffling up the scent of all manner of korv being grilled on balconies and in courtyards. To sipping a little wine and listening to a little Bruce Springsteen accompanied by the chorus of children cavorting down below (although apparently this will be our year-round soundtrack, as children in Scandinavia play outside no matter the weather thanks to seriously hard-core all-weather gear).

My two-week hiatus from bicycling has finally come to an end, too—and really, it's not like riding the subway or busses was cooler, it was just a means to potentially avoid me having a heat stroke on the way to and from school—so I'm back to gliding along the waterfront snuffling up the salty sea air.

But while things have been a little slow on the exploring front recently (I blame the heat, naturally), I did finally make it out to Skansen (the open-air museum on Djurgården) for a field trip with SFI last week. And earlier this week I had amazing Greek food at Kamarina in Södermalm, a friend's "secret" place. So nice to have something other than our hodge-podge meals at home and Italian, Swedish, or Japanese in general. Now, if I could only find some good Mexican...

In any case, though, it's been nice having a slower pace at the moment, especially since we've got some travel coming up this fall. So August? Come on in, I'm ready for you!

P.S. Did a little blog maintenance this week and installed DISQUS for comments. Hopefully that'll be easier for y'all!

One year ago: Rituals