Thursday, December 31, 2015

And then there were three


There are a few ways to say "to give birth" in the Italian1 language, the most poetic of which is "dare alla luce"—to give to the light. 

A few weeks ago, while R held me up after 40 hours of labor and I roared out my angst and shock at the amount of pain I was in, I gave birth to our son on the clearest, brightest, most unbelievably blue-skied day of this winter. As the sun began to flicker out after a glorious afternoon, our last one before our hearts no longer belonged solely to us, our little boy entered our life while a shaft of light danced across my bed and tears streamed down our faces.

He's finally here.

1 While we were at the birthing center, a certified letter arrived with the news that my request for Italian citizenship has finally been processed (2.5 years later, for anyone who's counting—see the backstory here). I'm officially a citizen of the Repubblica Italiana and our baby boy was born to two American/Italian parents.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The third trimester

The third trimester on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Nighttime in our lovely, long awaited bed has mostly ceased to be the pleasant experience it once was. Sinking into its downy confines and cool cotton sheet embrace doesn't quite provide the solace it once did, as my third trimester weight gain and increased circumference ensures that most positions are quite uncomfortable.

Sometimes I can get the ratio of pillow-fluff-supporting-belly-rotundness just right and I'm able to fall asleep quickly, but whether I get there fast or slow the fact that I have to lay on my side ensures that sooner or later a leg or an arm will fall asleep (and not in the desired way) and I'll have to heave myself over. Either that or our little one's increased frequency of movements will keep me awake. And the closer we get to the birth, the less I sleep but that's more anxiety than anything else.

Other third trimester happenings?

Near daily heartburn and indigestion (which thankfully tapered off mid-way through this trimester) and the need to always have a plan of where the nearest bathroom is while out, as by 7.5 months I was on a 90'ish minute bathroom break cycle. (Thank goodness for charming hotels dotting Stockholm).

Then there was that little blip where I couldn't walk very well, but that only lasted two weeks (thanks to recovering from all the walking we did in Prague and the help of a physical therapist that had great advice).

Aside from the above, things have gone ridiculously smoothly (and comfortably) and we've had the luxury of being able to slowly prepare. There were bi-monthly midwife appointments, a birth plan written and emailed, the birth center information night and parent's prep course, lazy days to put the crib, high chair, and stroller together and to wash all of our baby clothes and textiles—and then find places to store everything, of course, and the gradual packing of our hospital bag.

Now everything is set up and awaiting for his/her arrival, just like we are.

Two years ago: The last stitch
Three years ago: Dolphin dives & An unburdening

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas in the city

Stortorget Gamla Stan Stockholm Julmarknad Christmas market  |  Christmas in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

As soon as I got over that pesky unable-to-walk situation, I (gingerly) jumped right back into my city wanderings. With Christmas lights going up and on across the city, cool, gray December afternoons are a perfect opportunity for a ramble.

(Also: the perfect opportunity to enjoy my final moments alone as a carefree gal.)

One ramble included a Sunday brunch at The Hairy Pig, an atmospheric, teeny-tiny, pub-style restaurant on the edge of Gamla Stan. That was followed by a stroll over to Stortorget, the main plaza in Gamla Stan, to visit the Christmas Market (seen here last year, at night).

European Christmas Markets are so quaint—there is a bit of kitsch, but the majority of stalls and decor are simple and wintry, filled with lovely handmade objects (like, hand-carved wooden Dala horses, Swedish sheepskin slippers, festive wreaths and mistletoe, and hand-dipped candles), and the ever present stall serving fragrant glögg and pepparkakor, of course.

Plus, the Swedish Julbock, a.k.a. the Christmas Goat, something I desperately need to acquire for us. Our current Christmas set-up is definitely missing a jolly straw goat, preferably a family of them.

Gamla Stan Stortorget Julmarknad Christmas Market Julbock Christmas Goat Stockholm  |  Christmas in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com



On another day I decided to interrupt my morning of errands with a long, leisurely fika. I don't have a go-to spot downtown (like my Vasastan favorites: Cafè Pascal, Haga Bageri, and Kaffeverket), but I did remember that Kaffeverket had a downtown sister cafè called Snickarbacken 7, so I wandered up towards Stureplan to visit.

It's housed in a really beautiful industrial space that combines the cafè, a small "pantry" where you can buy beans and ground coffee and other fancy and tasty items, and a boutique with clothes and artwork. The cafè is much bigger than Kaffeverket's space, and even more of a freelancer/mobile-worker's dream spot, as it has free Wi-Fi, tons of plugs, and soft lighting.

They also have that yummy Swedish take on carrot cake that I'm obsessed with—which is all I needed to make the trip a success.

Snickarbacken 7 Kaffeverket Stockholm Christmas  |  Christmas in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

A stroll back across town to look at NK's Christmas windows (which have a pull similar to NYC's Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Bendel's, etc.) to see Stockholm's version on showcase artistry was the perfect way to end my morning of errands (and cake).

NK Stockholm holiday decorations  |  Christmas in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An unexpected shower

An unexpected shower on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

When my friend Johanna invited me over for a "Julbak och Julpyssel kväll" (Christmas baking and crafting evening) with her sister-in-law and their daughters I was thrilled. A whole Saturday afternoon and evening listening to cheery Christmas carols, crafting together with little girls, and rolling out and baking Swedish gingerbread cookies (pepparkakor) all while candles are twinkling and aromas of ginger and cinnamon waft about? That is exactly my cup of tea—or, glögg, as it so happens.

But when I walked in and began the 5-minute long process that is now required when I take off my coat, hat, scarf, gloves and boots I noticed that she was quite dressed up for an evening of baking and it wasn't until I finally turned away from the coat rack and began waddling towards the living room that I realized there were people sitting there that I knew, but that she didn't. And instead of flashes of Christmassy red and white and gold and silver I saw blue and pink banners and balloons and realized it wasn't a Christmas baking and crafting evening at all, but a surprise baby shower!

(Which didn't stop me from turning back to her and saying, wait, so we're not baking?)

Since baby showers are still a relatively new thing in Sweden, and with so many of my female relatives and friends living in the U.S., I didn't even think about having a baby shower, so it was an even bigger surprise for me that she would throw me one.

And such a lovely and thoughtfully-put together one it was.

It began with us sitting at the dining table where my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I realized what was on the menu—remember that fantastic Kurdish biryani I talked about a year and a half ago, the one I couldn't get over when I first had it at Johanna's daughter's birthday party? Well, she knew how much I loved that crunchy, savory goodness and had her mom make a special one and bring it over for the baby shower.

While we ate I questioned everyone about their birth experiences—as all the ladies present, both Swedish and American, have given birth in Stockholm in the last few years and had a lot to share from when their labor began to their experiences at the hospital to their stay at the "hotel" and their first days home.

And the girls all had a good laugh when I specifically asked when their water broke (1 at home in the bathroom, all the rest at the hospital during active labor), and then revealed that R, at the suggestion of his (American) colleague, covered my spot on the sofa and the bed with satin shower curtains just in case my water broke on our newly-purchased, long sought after, non-IKEA furniture.

After dinner we moved to the coffee table where Johanna had set a deliciously-decadent walnut/hazelnut cake topped with bitter chocolate mousse, a plate of mini cupcakes and cake pops that nodded to my Americanness (Red velvet cake! S'mores! Banana nut!), and mugs of tea for us to snack on while we began the baby shower games.

To start, all the girls filled out a questionnaire where they answered questions like when they thought the baby would be born, its hair and eye color, whether it would be a boy or a girl, what letter they thought the name would begin with, and its weight and length.

Then each girl took a ball of yarn and cut off a length they felt would encompass my stomach—some were tragically large, but two, Johanna's and R's cousin's fiancee's were exactly the right circumference.

After that began the portion of the evening that separated the mamas (everyone else) from the non-mamas (me). The third activity involved a selection of baby foods in unmarked containers and the request that we guessed what they were. I seem to think pre-prepared baby food is a bit more gourmet and over-the-top then it actually is, as I came up with, "Sun-dried tomato pesto pasta" (it was spaghetti with meat sauce). I also had trouble identifying the different types of paps and cereals, calling what was a cornmeal and potato puree, "some kind of mash".

Next we were each blindfolded in turn and told to diaper a doll. I came in dead last at 38 seconds (the winning girl did it in 23), although I did get a point for style.

Finally, the true test of a mama vs. a non-mama. Johanna disappeared into the kitchen and came back with 3 "dirtied" diapers. I logically knew that they weren't actually dirtied by any baby and were smeared with some kind of food, but the color/texture (ugh) of the substances and seeing them inside diapers was too literal for me and I began to feel quite nauseous, something I haven't felt since back during my first trimester.

All the others quickly picked up the diapers, no qualms on their part, to inspect them closely and sniff at their contents to guess what had made the "mess", while I tried to keep my dessert down and couldn't even bring myself to place my nose anywhere near the diapers. Zero points for me that round.

(The correct answers were: Nutella, a melted Snickers bar (the very textured one), and a melted Mars bar).

Once those diapers were banished to the trash can we tallied up the points, anointed a winner and then finished the evening with a few gifts, which were a perfect mix of what we needed more of and what we hadn't even thought of (but needed).

First up: a few very cute, gender-neutral onesie sets (with matching hats!). Then, a beautiful book of Swedish fairytales, accompanied by a CD (an excellent addition for non-native Swedish speakers) with oral versions of the same stories, plus songs—something we really needed and wanted, but hadn't yet picked up for our bookshelf.

I was also gifted a sweet little "activity fox", and since we don't really have any toys (unless you count the mobile), that was a perfect gift, too. The fox's ears crinkle when you touch them, while his hands rattle when you shake them, and his little bandana is actually a teething toy, so something to entertain the baby with and provide some stimulation.

We didn't have a nightlight, but one of my gifts was a sweet little dove (who looks surprisingly like the birds in the mobile!) that sits prettily when not in use, and when needed, can be turned on which causes it to slowly change colors thanks to the LED bulb inside, morphing from white to blue to green to yellow to purple to red to orange, helping light up a dark room at night and entertain the baby.

Finally, a beautiful folding picture frame with one side ready to put a picture into and the other to contain a clay foot- and/or handprint of the baby (the kit comes with a mix to make the clay at home).

It was such a sweet, generous, and fun (and informational!) evening (even sans gingerbread baking!).

I went home grateful to know that I have a mini tribe of mamas I can turn to for help and encouragement once this little one arrives, something that's so very important—and something I didn't think possible when we first arrived in Sweden and began creating new lives for ourselves. No matter how much (amazing) help Sweden provides to parents, that's one thing they can't help you with—but looks like we'll be just fine.

Two years ago: Butter coffee & butter tea & The last stitch
Three years ago: Honduran holiday

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Unpacking Christmas

Live Christmas tree from Smålandsgran in Stockholm  |  Unpacking Christmas on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

It's that lovely time of the year again, when Sweden shows its best side. Last year, when I experienced my first Christmas in Stockholm as a resident (versus previous years when we flew here together from NYC, or before that when we met here, traveling separately from NYC and Sicily before we were married), I marveled at how (comparatively) uncommercial, simple, natural and warm the Swedish approach to decorating for and celebrating Christmas was:

"Growing up in New York and coastal Virginia, Christmas decorations were heavy on the multi-colored strings of lights and lit-up figurines of Santa Claus, his sleigh and reindeer, and a bevy of spectacularly-wrapped presents. There were also nativity scenes and Bethlehem stars and sweet candles lighting up the windows, but on the whole, the decorating styles were equally represented or perhaps a little more than slightly edging towards the kitschy side.

But one of the (many) things I adore about northern Europe is how it dresses up for the holidays—there's a bounty of white lights (my favorite), Christmas markets in the shadow of buildings constructed hundreds and hundreds of years ago filled with loads of handmade and locally-crafted gifts, and the majority of decorations embrace and celebrate the wintry landscape: miniature bulbs that flicker on and become animals that roam mountaintops and snow-covered woods, rustic straw figurines of goats, oranges studded with cloves hanging from doors and windows, and paper stars that look homey instead of glamorous are everywhere you look.

It feels so festive and more in tune with the solstice, hibernation, and the way generations before us survived the darkest months of the year versus the commercialized aspect (which of course still exists here, but it doesn't feel as strong to me, or at least not yet).

My family's tradition (which R and I followed living in New York) was to bring down all the Christmas decorations from the attic and carry home our Christmas tree from the "farm" (the local grocery store's parking lot) on Thanksgiving. While R's family's tradition is the same as ours in that they also always have their biggest celebration on the 24th, they don't bring home their tree until the week of Christmas, Swedish-style." 

Carrying a live Christmas tree on the subway in NYC  |  Unpacking Christmas on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Here in Stockholm we decided to continue the inherited tradition we followed in NYC of bringing home a live tree a few weeks before Christmas so we could sit in its cozy glow and enjoy that heavenly scent for a few extra weeks.

While before we'd gone to Brooklyn to pick out a tree and cart it home on the subway as seen above (much to the delight of our fellow passengers, less so to the 6'4" man carrying our tree), this year that wasn't exactly an option. Mostly because trees aren't really for sale just yet and also because our subway stop isn't conducive to carrying trees home from. So: we looked online and found Smålandsgran, a company in the south of Sweden that delivers trees to Stockholm and Göteborg for very reasonable prices.

It arrived earlier this week and is now set up before our windows, overlooking the boats sailing by. While playing Christmas carols and sipping the season's first glasses of glögg and munching its first pepparkakor, we spent the afternoon unpacking our box of Christmas goodies and setting up all our flashes of red and gold and white.

Decorating a Smålandsgran Christmas tree in Stockholm  |  Unpacking Christmas on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Our tabletops are covered with crimson runners; we have craft paper-wrapped pots of poinsettias and amaryllis in our windows; and our tree is decorated with a mix of simple white, silver and gold balls, a small selection of my childhood ornaments, and a handful of clove-studded clementines that smell divine. With beautiful white Advent stars glowing in our windows and pillar candles twinkling from our black metal lanterns, we're all set for the coziest of Christmases.

And for a very special guest to arrive.

Swedish Christmas decorations clementine clove pomanders  |  Unpacking Christmas on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


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Friday, November 27, 2015

A flock of little birdies (and a handmade crib mobile)

DIY Knit Crochet Baby Bird Crib Mobile  |  Rabbit Hole Knits Bluebird of Happiness on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
After finishing those pants, I decided that perhaps it might be a good idea to wait until this baby is actually born (and we know its size) before making anything else for him or her.

But then the crib we'd ordered came and when we put it together I realized that the drape rod poised above, which is meant to hang a canopy and a mobile from, was missing one of those things.

The canopy will arrive soon (along with matching sheets and other assorted baby textiles, courtesy of my mom, her sewing machine, and her talented hands), but meanwhile, we hadn't bought a whimsical mobile to hang over our little one for his/her entertainment.

So—I decided to make one, and then that could be my last handmade goodie for the baby (instead of those pants). And with a trio of wool skeins I was gifted from a friend for my birthday, in perfect soothing shades of gray, mint green and cream, I had exactly what I needed to start.

DIY Knit Crochet Baby Bird Crib Mobile  |  Rabbit Hole Knits Bluebird of Happiness on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
While I was completely besotted with the idea of making a wild animal mobile, with elephants, monkeys and lion cubs (naturally), turns out those are quite complicated to make. And as this was my first time knitting and stuffing a "softie" (a.k.a. stuffed animal, lovie, etc.), and I've learned the pitfalls of trying to go rogue with something new, I wanted to follow a straightforward pattern.

Enter Rabbit Hole Knits and this sweet pattern for a "Bluebird of Happiness" (which I've christened as a "lovebird" for my mobile). I also made Purl Soho's Crocheted Balls to intersperse between the birds. When I had my four birds and four globes finally finished, then I had to figure out how to attach them all to an embroidery loop I'd wrapped in matching wool.

DIY Knit Crochet Baby Bird Crib Mobile  |  Rabbit Hole Knits Bluebird of Happiness on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
And that's when things got complicated (and the cursing began). Not being particularly good at measuring, nor at engineering, figuring out how to hang 8 things evenly from a hoop that was laying on the table (as I had no way to hook it or hang it until I figured out how to hang things from it) proved to be exasperating. That combined with realizing that not being a crocheter means my crocheted balls were a little...uneven, and I began to find the whole thing disappointing and a little hokey looking.

After pottering about for an hour, covered in wool fuzz and bits of glue, with assorted needles and pins surrounding me, I still couldn't get it to look just right. I fiddled with the braided cords I'd made to hang it all together one last time and then turned off the lights and went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning and saw the wan, gray November Swedish light playing softly against my little birdies, I realized that it was perfect just as it was. As all things made with love actually are, I suppose.

DIY Knit Crochet Baby Bird Crib Mobile  |  Rabbit Hole Knits Bluebird of Happiness on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Maybe I'll manage my elephants and monkeys the next time around, but for now, I'm happy to see these little birdies flitting above our soon-to-arrive baby's nest.

P.S. Ravelry project notes here.


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Monday, November 23, 2015

Giving birth in Sweden: The parent preparation course

Flickorna Helin & Voltaire cafe on Djurgården, Stockholm  |  Giving birth in Sweden: The parent preparation course on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

When I'd registered us for the information night at the birthing center we'd chosen, I also signed us up for the 6-hour (!) "parent preparation" course, which covered a litany of topics related to the actual labor and delivery, as well as the days and weeks after. As we've both gone into this adventure with our eyes wide open but without our brains jammed full of information from every possible source, the relatively brief, but comprehensive, afternoon course was the perfect choice for us.

And what I mean by sans information overload is that we've purposely chosen a "light" form of preparation for this little one's arrival next month. We've got the big, necessary stuff ready, a few purchased onesies and clothing sets in varying newborn sizes (the plan is to get more once we actually know how big or small the baby is on arrival), and a few each of some of the smaller things, like swaddling blankets. But that's it. We have a minimalist, simple approach to purchasing things for our home and while it's a little hard to hold strong to that when a baby is on the way, we're doing our best.

We took the same approach when it came to "mental" preparation, in that we've talked a lot about the kind of parents we want to be, how we'll handle diapering and breastfeeding and food choices and the like, but apart from figuring out what I should and should not eat during pregnancy, we didn't get too bogged down in loads of information about each week of the pregnancy. Similarly, I've decided not to watch any live birth footage on YouTube and we didn't do a Lamaze course.

There's a chance I'm about to have the shock of a lifetime in a few weeks, but also the chance that practicing yoga for many years and going into this without all the potential what-if's flashing before my eyes will mean a calmer, saner birthing experience (during which I'll already know how to breathe through the pain, theoretically).

So—the one-shot overview of what to expect and how to prepare worked well for our style and we arrived at the auditorium to find it completely jammed with expectant parents. And while the schedule said it was a 6-hour situation, once we'd had a break for lunch and a fika, it was just four-and-a-half hours (whew).

But of course, all in Swedish.

Here's the thing with me and Swedish: if someone asked me to explain to them in Swedish or write down in Swedish what we'd learned, I wouldn't be able to, but given how I process languages (using lots of context clues and educated guessing), following along wasn't too much of an ordeal, as long as I didn't let me my mind wander. And since the lecturing midwife was a great speaker (lots of jokes and a personable style), that was easy to do and I ended up understanding about 80%.

(Even so, when we filed our birth plan we asked that the attending midwives speak English during key moments, because I'm pretty sure I won't be able to handle Swedish right then.)

As for what the course actually covered, she talked about:
  • How our lives will change as parents:
    She reminded us to make sure we do a lot of solo things now, like dinners out and spontaneous plans, etc., telling us to be as selfish as we can, because once that baby comes "every moment of our lives until we take our final breath will be consumed with wondering how our child is". (Her poetic phrasing naturally made me tear up).

  • How our relationship will change once we're parents:
    Then she spoke about how we're about to have a sweet, charming little baby in our midst...who's also a master manipulator. She talked about the importance of working together as a team and warned us not fall into the trap of becoming roommates or transforming our relationship into that of siblings.

    I was impressed that these kinds of reminders were included, and in general, that the course wasn't solely about the women and the physical changes and obstacles we're going through to bring our babies into the world, but also about the mental and emotional changes we'd both go through as equal partners in this. (Yay, Sweden!).

  • The psychology and physiology of birthing:
    The hormones that are released and how they instigate contractions, help move labor along, and signal to the body to begin producing milk. And how the baby actually descends and is pushed out (also the different ways that it can come out).

  • The phases of birth:
    Latent contractions—manageable contractions (you can sleep during these).
    Active contractions—when your body is dilating to 10 cm (i.e., painful).
    Transitional contractions—when the baby comes out (i.e., super painful).

  • When to call the birth center and when to go in:
    We were advised to stay at home as long as possible before coming in, as it's easier and more relaxing to be in your own cozy home than a hospital (assuming you're not the type to panic).

    And, that there's no need to call the hospital if your mucous plug comes out, but as soon as your water breaks we must call as the baby must be delivered sometime within 48 hours from that point (so as not to get an infection).

    What's great is that the midwives who answer your call listen to how you're breathing and talking and use that to recommend when you should come in (speaking on the phone during a latent contraction is fairly normal, whereas it's very difficult to speak through an active contraction).

  • Pain relief methods and options:
    Sweden offers lots of options and don't push any of them, which is another one of the reasons I wanted to and looked forward to giving birth here. The main choices are taking a shower/bath in your private birthing room's attached bathroom, massage, acupuncture, laughing gas, and an epidural.

  • The last moments before birth:
    This is where I learned one of the most amazing things. The midwife was telling us that when asked what they fear most about giving birth, women's #1 response is that they'd have an "accident" on the table (it happens, the midwives expect it), and #2 was that they'd tear or require an episiotomy.

    Not only would the latter be painful during the birth, but recovery from it (with stitches) means a very painful first few weeks at home (with problems going to the bathroom, walking, sitting, and laying down), when you're already dealing with everything else that comes with being a new parent. Then there are also the effects that the French tend to worry about (I'll let you Google that), but the midwife didn't mention that part of it at all.

    In an attempt to avoid this very uncomfortable ordeal, midwives take monthly refresher courses on how to coach a birthing woman through each contraction so that she's not pushing when she shouldn't be (which can also cause a tear), but in addition, there are always two midwives present during the final moments of birth: one to guide the baby out and one to apply warm oil and warm washcloths to make the skin more flexible while she uses her own hands to, essentially, hold the woman together. (Amazing.)

  • The first moments after birth:
    We were told there's no reason to include in our birth plans that we want to be sure the baby's cord stops pulsing before it's cut (something that happens quite often in the rest of the world), as standard practice is to place the naked baby on the mother's chest immediately. Cleanup and cutting of the cord comes later—another difference with some parts of the world that cut the cord and clean the baby before it's placed (wrapped) on the mother's chest.

    She told the partners present that they'd have to wait their turn to hold the baby as in the first hours after birth it's essential that mothers have the babies with them not only for the emotional bond and contact, but the smell of the baby and the hormones it releases also help get the flow of milk going.

Plus:
  • What to bring with you to the hospital
  • Complicated births
  • Breastfeeding
  • Going to the "hotel"
  • Taking the baby home

Once again we left feeling very, very glad to be here in Sweden for this part of our lives. And while the fear of giving birth hasn't quite descended on me yet, going through how it's all going to play out and learning so much about the care the midwives provide, I'm fairly certain that when those feelings of panic set in, I'll have something to remember that will calm me down.

+ + +

More on Swedish healthcare, prenatal care and giving birth in Sweden:



One year ago: A taste of the familiar
Three years ago: Some tweaks & (Out of the) ordinary

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rogue pantaloons

Knit baby pants |  Rogue Pantaloons on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
These knit baby pants weren't exactly a labor of love.

And since hate is a strong word to use, I'll say this: I intensely despised every stitch I knit of them and I came very, very close multiple times to ripping it all apart (and I had ample chance to, since I made so many mistakes I had to keep undoing large sections).

After I had finished everything but one leg from the inseam down, I was completely prepared to pull each stitch out and save my yarn for something else, but for some reason I kept at it and forced myself to finish, despite everything I'd learned from Economics 101 and sunk costs.

Why was this such a disaster from beginning to end? The problems were three-fold:

(1) I couldn't find a single pattern that incorporated all three design aspects I wanted, namely: something knit top-down, in the round (so I wouldn't have to seam up the sides at the end), and that incorporated short rows (a technique that allows you to selectively knit certain portions of a garment to create a 3-D "pocket", like one you'd need for a women's top to accommodate her bust, or socks to fit around the heel of a foot, or, in my case, a little extra room in the tush to allow for cloth diapers).

(2) Since I couldn't find a pattern that encompassed all three, I decided to combine parts of multiple patterns to craft my own, which wasn't too bright since I have only ever knit pants once before (see further down).

And (3), the final "pattern" ended up violating some of my own self-set rules, like not knitting straight stockinette (Rule #2), as well as violating what are now two new ones:

RULE #4
I shall not knit larger projects on small needles. Baby pants are considered large in this case, especially when knit on size US 3 (3.25 mm circumference) needles.

RULE #5:
I shall not do Magic Loop projects on small needles, especially if using low-ply yarn (in this case, 4-ply fingering weight yarn, which translates into one of the finest categories of yarn and is characterized by only having 4 strands of fiber).

Magic Loop is a technique that means you don't necessarily need to have multiple sets of the same size of double-pointed needles, but in varying lengths, or, multiple versions of circular needles in the same size circumference, but with different lengths of connecting cables. You can just have the one set of circular needles with the longest cable and then manipulate the cable to be shorter should you be working on a smaller project.

It's an extremely efficient and effective technique—it's also highly annoying when working with finicky thread and smaller pieces, as it seems that every other stitch you have to re-adjust the cable.

Knit baby pants |  Rogue Pantaloons on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
If it hadn't been for these charcoal pants—my first attempt knit a few days earlier (which came out well, were finished in a day, and knit from one of the four skeins R picked out at Wincent)—that I'd completed between the sweater that annoyed me and these cream and heather gray pants that really annoyed me, I might have been forced to take a break from knitting for a good long while.

But now that these are done I'm ready for something completely different. Something not baby-related, not knit in-the-round, and NOT knit with super fine yarn.

P.S. Projects notes are on Ravelry—Rogue Pantaloons + Baby Bumpers

One year ago: 
Across an ocean (Happy 1st birthday!)

Two years ago: 
It all melts away (Happy birth day!)

Three years ago: 
Wistfulness & Latte pappas (just a few weeks until we have one in the family!)

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II)

Pestsäule, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

I don't think it was Vienna's fault—at least not really. But after our magical visit to Prague I don't think that any city could have compared.

(The rain certainly didn't help, though)

We'd both been to Austria as children, but to smaller, more idyllic towns like Salzburg and Innsbruck, which we remembered as enjoying, but Vienna? I'm not sure if it was how commercial and modern the Old Town was or that we had the wrong idea and were expecting something more quaint and atmospheric (a la Prague). Whatever it was, we didn't quite click with Vienna.

But we did have one truly amazing experience.

On our first evening in town we went to a Classical (Mozart) and Baroque (Beethoven) string quartet concert held in a small church in the Old Town. I knew that we had to see some sort of live music while in Vienna, but I wasn't quite interested in a bigger todo, like the ones at the Opera house or the concert houses. Then I came across St. Anne's intimate concert series, which seemed perfect for us.

St. Anne's Church Mozart concert, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
St. Anne's Church Mozart concert, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

And it was—an hour of lovely music, sitting a few feet away from the musicians, in a beautiful church.

Our second day found us wandering around Old Town looking for the charm, for Old European flavor unmarred by McDonald's and Starbucks, and sadly, we didn't quite find it, although we did have a proper Viennese coffee break, so that's something.

By the next morning we were ready to go home, but Vienna had a little surprise for us.

Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


We arrived at the airport and put ourselves in line to go through security and were shocked when the security guards insisted I go through the X-ray machine. Based on the two airports I've departed from while pregnant (Stockholm Arlanda and Catania Fontanarossa), I knew that it was within my rights (as it is for everyone) to ask for a physical pat-down from a security guard rather than go through the X-ray machine because of a medical condition. In fact, there were little curtained cabins right behind the X-ray machines precisely for that purpose.

Rather than be accomodating, the security manager put us through quite an ordeal, speaking rudely to us and saying, "Ma'am, just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you're special. This is Austria and everyone goes through the X-ray machine".

As he insisted that it was not harmful to the baby, I rationally asked him to show me where on the machine it says that or some form of documentation to confirm. He refused to, and instead called over the military police.

If you thought R might have been upset with the man's behavior before, you should have seen how livid he became when the two armed guards came over and began yelling at us in German (which of course was 100% unhelpful). I stood firm, R stood firm, and the Austrian security manager and military police stood firm.

Finally the head of security came over and pulled the others away so they could have a pow-wow in private. A minute later a female security guard was called over to them and then she came to me and said, "Ma'am if you'll follow me, I'll perform a physical security check in the curtained-off area".

Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Wiener Staatsoper, Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Now really, why didn't that happen 10 minutes earlier? What was all the posturing and peacocking about for?  The absurdity of their insistence on making me do something that we felt was unsafe and that they couldn't prove was safe was infuriating. Especially after the wonderful treatment I received in Sweden and in Italy.

In the latter's case, the security agent at the head of the line gently "chastised" me for waiting in line to go through security, saying that as I was pregnant, I didn't have to. Then she led R and I both through to the family line, where he walked right though the X-ray machine and I was immediately led to a woman for a pat-down.

Clearly, Vienna has no intention of waiting for us.

(I still love that song, though.)

One year ago: The first snowfall
Two years ago: Travel tweaks
Three years ago: A bit more on AIRE & Frissons

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

My kind of morning


With a whole morning free a few weeks ago, we spent a few hours doing a condensed version of one of my all-time favorite pastimes: a stroll through town, a flânerie, if you will. An aimless wander to soak up the sounds, rhythms, flavors, and sights of the city.

We started at Kaffeverket, a cafè in Vasastan I came across just before we moved from there to Minneberg, although that hasn't stopped me from still going every chance I can. Not only is it a perfectly cozy place for a fika, given their great pastries and coffee, but as they also have matcha tea, juices, raw milks, coconut water, and full-on breakfasts and lunches, it's a great place to work (if working at a laptop in solitude is your thing), since they have free wi-fi and enough outlets.

Also? Their carrot cake is the absolute best I've found so far here...or anywhere, really. They load in the spices, lace their frosting with tart lemon juice, and sprinkle chopped pistachio and slivers of fig on top. Just look at this tasty little wonder*. I have an obsession with it, so much so that one day recently when I went a bit overboard with cleaning and then had to lay flat on the couch for a few hours to recover, R snuck out and came back with a slice for me (which naturally made me tear up before I devoured it).

After we'd had our morning fika, we walked from Sankt Eriksplan to Odenplan and along the way we stopped in at our bank and then at a baby store to ogle the stroller we'd picked out. Then I remembered hearing about Wincent, a yarn shop on Nortullsgatan just north of Odenplan, so we headed there next.

The boutique is small and quaint—when you enter you see one wall lined with pretty bolts of fabric, while the rest of the shop is lined with wood shelves heaped with yarn. The friendly owner (seems to be a theme here in Stockholm) chatted with us while we looked at all the lush colors and soft skeins of beautiful yarn. I didn't technically need anything, but when R handed me 4 balls of beautiful wool (2 in indigo blue and 2 in charcoal gray) saying, "can you use these?", I took them to the counter immediately.

Turns out he'd picked, purely by how they felt in his hands, 100% organic wool from Lane Mondial, an Italian brand that's been around since the 1940s with a family-run sheep farm just outside of Brescia, which the boutique owner had just visited.

After leaving with my bag of goodies we swung by Akadamiebokhandeln, a book store on the south side of Odenplan (a block away from Café Pascal). We didn't need anything in particular there either, but I can never resist the chance to meander around bookshelves, especially lately when I've been drawn to beautiful (and hilarious) Swedish children's books. While last time I found a wonderfully absurd title, this time I found an equally hilarious illustrated book cover. I laughed, but R was not quite so amused—in fact his Sicilian sensibilities were a tad bit offended.

Luckily he was soon engrossed in a book about whisky so I was free to have myself a proper, un-hurried wander around, which led me to the hobby section and the most ingenious book: Sagornas Stickbok.

It's book of fairytales interspersed with knitting patterns for the clothes the children in the stories are described as wearing. For example: "Pappan, katten och flickan i den röda klänningen" (The father, the cat and the girl in the red dress), which is then followed by a pattern to make the little girl's dress, collar and bib.

How amazing is that? If only I could read fairytales in Swedish with as much enjoyment as I read them in English I would have snatched it up. The problem for me is that fairytales use so many fanciful terms and there are always numerous woodland creatures, which are completely necessary for a children's story, but, my language repository doesn't include many of those words just yet, meaning I can't quite comprehend, much less pronounce them, although I am practicing with my wee friend.

Maybe someday, though.

(*image from Nancy Elmira)

One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla
Two years ago: A Derby Bourbon
Three years ago: Winter oil concoction & Trekking in tights & Farewell fall

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Giving birth in Sweden: The birth center info night

Skeppsbron in Gamla Stan, Stockholm Sweden  |  afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

A few weeks ago R and I headed to an information night at the birthing center we chose for where we'd like me to give birth. Having never given birth here in Sweden nor anywhere else, I had us sitting in our seats and was mentally shushing people around me 10 minutes before the midwife was scheduled to begin talking.

(Let me tell you, it's not easy to digest important information in a foreign language, especially when you're anxious and someone is repeatedly crumpling and un-crumpling the opening of their bag of candy while bouncing a toddler on their lap.)

The majority of the women that were there (each, amazingly, were accompanied by their partner) are also due in December, which made me a teensy bit nervous as the birthing center doesn't have that many rooms available (I believe around 20), and if when we call to let them know we're coming in we find out that they're full, I might have to give birth elsewhere, but, I'm trying not to think about that.

Anyway—when I found out that I was pregnant I decided to go with a private midwife group here in Stockholm for my prenatal care, and that private group is connected to private birthing centers located at all of the major hospitals in the area (there are stand alone birth centers, too, but we wanted to be near an emergency room just in case).

I've yet to figure out exactly what the difference is between private and public facilities (aside from aesthetics), as both have the exact same costs for pre-natal care, labor and delivery, and post-natal care for mothers and babies, which is: 0.

The evening began with the midwife going over the birthing center's philosophy—how the midwives work together to make the parents comfortable, how their goal is for both parents to feel mentally, physically and emotionally safe and taken care of, the process for checking in, and the sequence of activities that will take place from when we arrive to when we leave, including what happens after the birth, when we can elect to be moved from the birthing room to the "hotel" where the parents and baby can stay together for two days, assuming everyone is healthy.

(We're definitely taking advantage of that, because having someone else take care of all our needs for the first two days while we get to know our little one, and having midwives on call for any questions or help we might need, especially when it comes to breastfeeding, sounds incredible.)

Being a visual person, I loved when the midwife began flipping through step-by-step photographs in the presentation of the building entrance, the elevator bank, the entrance to the birthing center itself, the birthing room (which has a birthing bed, an L-shaped sofa, chairs, a table, and a private bathroom), pain relief apparatuses (yoga balls, bathtubs, a wooden coatrack-like structure that you can lean into and put your weight on, etc.), and examples of various birthing positions (on the birthing bed itself, on a birthing stool, in different positions on the couch, and even on the floor).

Perhaps the best photo of all, though, was of a smiling midwife carrying in a tray with two flutes of bubbly and two open-faced sandwiches topped with little Swedish flags on toothpicks for the new parents to enjoy after the birth.

While the information didn't go into super-detailed medical specifics (that was covered at another meeting at the birthing center—more on that later), it was a great introduction to how everything's going to play out, especially since neither of us have ever had any experience with Swedish hospitals.

We left two hours later feeling happy that not only had I picked that particular midwife association to be with us for my pregnancy and the birth of our baby, but incredibly relieved that we had waited to leave NYC and move to Stockholm before growing our little family from two to three.

+ + +

More on Swedish healthcare, prenatal care and giving birth in Sweden:



One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía: Cadíz + Medina-Sidonia
Two years ago: Craving a cozy cappuccino
Three years ago: Tension with the Times & Fondue femmes

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fall fika at Gamla Orangeriet

Fall fika at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Following my little tradition (as started...last year) of seeking out a cozy, out-of-the-way place for an autumnal fika, this year's find was Gamla Orangeriet on the grounds of the Bergianska Organic Garden, which sits right on Brunnsviken, an inlet of the Baltic Sea.

Last year I rode my bicycle from Hammarby Sjöstad over to Sickla for my solo fika, while this year we borrowed my in-laws' car for the afternoon and R came with me. On the very short walk from the car across the garden and courtyard to the orangery, I took in as much fall foliage fantastic-ness as possible during my release from confinement (all the while looking beyond the courtyard to where a mossy, pine-y forest stood just waiting for someone to wander through).

The skies were gray, but the colors were blazing, and the breeze smelled smoky and woodsy, just as it should this time of year. After a bit of fresh air we ambled in to the warm confines of the all-white orangery, straight to the organic cafe and ordered a coffee for R and a nut bread for each of us.

Fall fika at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Fall fika at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Fall fika at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Pumpkins, squash, and eggplant at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


One slice from the walnut banana loaf for him and one from the the salted almond and hazelnut one for me (although I didn't realize it was also topped with salt-encrusted almonds, so keep that in mind if you order it, especially if your first bite is a big one, and the only thing around to wash it down with is coffee...which is not pleasant).

Both our slices were deliciously nutty (after my salted nut topping was brushed off) and sitting amidst all the bright white furniture and furry gray bench cushions, before big windows and under very soft lighting, we settled in for our fika—which didn't last long, as within a few minutes we'd both already finished our treats.

Fall fika at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Knitting at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


So we grabbed a few books from the shelves for R to page through while I pulled out my knitting and contemplated ordering something else sweet.

While the orangery made for a nice afternoon break, I'd love to go back in the spring and see it when there should be more greenery inside—only a few plants brightened up the interior of the café, which I was surprised by, as the greenhouse next door (sans café) was bursting with plants and flowers.

I suppose you could say that the view outside made up for the lack of color inside, though.

Fall at Gamla Orangeriet in Stockholm on a feathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía: Vejer de la Frontera
Two years ago: A wee shuffle & Welcome!
Three years ago: Equal play & Facial (t)oils

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