Thursday, January 29, 2015

Leaving the snow, but not the sea

Snow view from Sankt Eriksbron Vasastan Stockholm Sweden  |  Leaving the snow, but not the sea on afeathery*nest  |

Not that I don't love all this lovely fluffy snow that's been gracefully cascading down over Stockholm recently (unlike the craziness happening over in New York/New England this week!), but we've flown away to have a mini, mid-winter adventure in another part of the world for a few days, as I'm finally collecting on that wonderful surprise trip R gifted me (well, us) for our 5-year wedding anniversary last month.

We'll be back next week, but until then, I'm sure to be posting a bit of what we're up to on Instagram. You'll see that we're still wandering around a seaside city, but there shouldn't be any snow...I don't think.

See you here next week!

P.S. Remember I once said Café Pascal was my go-to coffee shop? Well after moving and changing schools, I had to find a new one. Luckily I came across Haga Bageri, which is just as cozy and charming. A few days ago I posted all about it on View Stockholm, in case you'd like to see a typical Swedish bakery and cafe's interior (and an example of how adorable this particular one is!).

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One year ago: Week 5
Two years ago: Juice Press Cleanse & Pioneering in a chilly city & Sybaritic weekend

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stockholm's snow angels

Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Swedish has twenty-five (if not more) ways to describe snow: there's wet, slushy snow (blötsnö), Christmas snow (julesnö), the snow that's perfect for making snowballs (kramsnö) and then there's powder snow (pudersnö)—a word we have in English, too, to describe that dreamy snow that collects in supple waves across the landscape, soft as a bed of feathers and perfect for falling face-forwards (or backwards) into.

Which is exactly the kind of snow that fell across the city this past weekend—and exactly what we did in it.

When Johanna, Selina and I made a play date for for yesterday I started scrolling across Google Maps for a place to visit that looked interesting. (Funny: in New York I'd Google different phrases or check starred posts in my blog reader for new places I'd read about when looking for something to do. Here I try to spot attractive terrain and see what's nearby). That's how I came across Winterviken, a combination restaurant/cafè + garden + event space just west of Gröndal and Liljeholmen, and no more than a 15-minute drive from the heart of Stockholm.

Once I saw pictures of the grounds itself (including its tasty sweets) and realized that on the weekends there's a story hour run by people that work for a group specializing in organizing activities for children, we decided we had to go—it seemed perfect for us.

Which it was.

Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
The drive off of the main road to the property was dreamy: freshly-fallen snow outlined the trees, shrubs, what few houses there were, and fences. Then the building itself—beautiful brick and dark iron fixtures with exposed beams and farm tables inside, which is basically exactly how I'd want my own home to look.

Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken story hour sagohörna  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |

The high-ceilinged, open space was lit by the light streaming in from the large circular windows along the walls and votives lining the tables. There was a café with loads of tasty things to try (and not just sweets, savory dishes, too!) and cozy communal tables to sit at. Beyond it was another room where story books, wooden toys and miniature furniture stood at the ready for play. A woman was settled into an easy chair with children gathered around her sprawled out on pillows, listening while she read.

Like I said: perfect.

Johanna and I picked up a sandwich, a semla (a doughy bun spread through with almond paste and an extremely thick layer of cream, a chokladboll, some other nutty treat, an apple juice, a coffee, and a cappuccino and tucked ourselves into a small table right next to the children's area where Selina was listening intently to a story. Meanwhile we caught up, as we haven't had a chance to spend time together in person since before the New Year.

When the storyteller took a break, though, I decided to play storyteller myself, as Selina was momentarily the only child by the armchair, and everyone says the best way to learn a language is by reading children's books. She handed me Den Fula Ankungen, which I attempted to read, but you know what people forget when they say that about children's books? Fairytales and sagas and whatnot are rife with adjective-filled descriptions. Which is fine and necessary to get a child's imagination roaring, except that all of those adjectives were words I didn't know how to pronounce, much less understand. So while I paged through and pointed to the Swedish illustrations, I told Selina what I remembered of the English version of The Ugly Duckling. She sort of bought it...but barely.

Luckily before I started to get really kerflummoxed, Johanna had the brilliant idea to go out while there was still light to make more use of the sled we'd brought with us.

Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
And that's when things got really fun: you know how sometimes the fact that you can't control your own movements results in rolling bouts of laughter (or is that just me?)—like when you can't deal with exam prep anymore and head out behind your university's library where there's a mini valley and just roll right down the hillside to give yourself a laugh (again...just me?)?

Or when you and a friend can't manage to stand up when you're calf-deep in the ocean because a not-really-that-strong set of waves keep coming in back-to-back and you're laughing too hard from the first awkward flail to get it together enough to stand up?

Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |
Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |

That's what playing in the snow at Winterviken was like this weekend. For some reason, perhaps the combination of the snow being deeper than we thought it was or maybe because there was a slim layer of ice on top of the grass below it (or even just the existence of the long grass itself), we could not manage to walk properly, even less so when we tried to get Selina and the sled up a tiny incline so she could sled down. I fell down face first once, and then again as soon as I managed to stand up. And when I tried to show Selina how to fall back gently and make snow angels? I couldn't get back up right away.

Our laughter peeled across the meadow and those moments, ever single one of them, melded together into wintry perfection—the kind of day I won't forget in a long time, if ever. Even if I can't see these girls often enough, it's enough that when we do spend time together, it's so beautiful and fun and laughter-filled.

Winterviken  |  Stockholm's snow angels on afeathery*nest  |

P.S. Coincidence or not, the orchid Johanna gifted me when we first moved to Stockholm, which was in hibernation all winter after flowering for 6 months, budded and re-bloomed with three fuchsia-striped flowers this weekend.

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One year ago: Week 4
Two years ago: Literary and libationary libraries & All Good Things market in Tribeca

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Snowy contentment

Karlbergs Slottspark, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Snowy contentment on afeathery*nest  |
Yesterday the snow floated down again and I took advantage of a warm, post-lunch belly to head out to crunch through it. I was in the mood for something new and a quick glance at Google Maps showed me a castle (yep!) in a park nearby. I knew there was a military academy there, as I pass its front facade often when I walk around the canal, but I didn't realize it had been a castle previously.

So off to Karlbergs Slott I went and I still can't quite comprehend that stupefyingly-beautiful wintry woodland cathedrals like this are everywhere in Stockholm—a capital city! How is access to this just a few minutes' walk away from a handful of bus stops and subway stops (and from my in-laws' apartment)?

Karlbergs Slottspark, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Snowy contentment on afeathery*nest  |
Karlbergs Slottspark, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Snowy contentment on afeathery*nest  |
Karlbergs Slottspark, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Snowy contentment on afeathery*nest  |
I'm not one to take a walk (especially in a city) with my headphones on, but I have to say, a walk through the woods in this park, completely alone, with a little Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban harmonizing in my ear was quite enchanting.

Karlbergs Slottspark, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Snowy contentment on afeathery*nest  |
Karlbergs Slottspark, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Snowy contentment on afeathery*nest  |
And here's the thing that crossed my mind as I made tracks through the snow (perhaps spurred on by the crooners accompanying me): anytime you have a huge change in your life (or even a little one, I suppose), it's normal and understandable to second guess yourself or have misgivings, but I can count the number of times I've felt that way on one hand (less than one hand!) since moving here.

But the times I've felt overwhelmingly and completely filled with happiness that we actually did it? I'm not sure I can count that high!

(And it's only been 10 months).

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One year ago: Winter, post-twinkly lights
Two years ago: A sheaf of the past

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A collection of memories

Vasastan Park, Stockholm Sweden  |  A collection of memories on afeathery*nest  |

When I began to travel beyond the confines of my home state (New York) and where I grew up (Virginia), the childhood need to collect things surfaced. The need to acquire something that perhaps makes no sense to anyone else but the collector, because the sheer quantity of their cumulative mass is pleasing—and perhaps secondly because they tie to something specific in the collector's (short) memory.

My need for "things" emerged in the form of slightly tacky and overwhelmingly useless snow globes. Every place I traveled that was new: whether a state, a large city, or a foreign country, demanded the acquisition of a ridiculously unaesthetic (as I see it now) plastic snow globe featuring something the place was famous for.

Of course at that age I thought they were incredibly sophisticated, in all their dust-collecting glory.

A shelf above my bureau and mirror housed this growing assembly and while they were impressive in their sheer number, as I got older I began to see them for what they were: an additional 30 minutes tacked on to my room-cleaning chore.

Somewhere around age 20 I had the idea to begin collecting something a bit more pretty, infinitely more useful, and hopefully a bit more representative of my travels: jewelry.

All those snow globes went into a box for the Salvation Army and on my next trip, during Spring Break of my third year at university when my mom and I took a vacation together to Turks & Caicos, I picked up a silver bangle that wrapped around the wrist and secured itself by one end bending around a small gold hook at the other end so that its fastener was actually part of the design. Perched next to the point of connection was a gold plumeria (also known as frangipani), a beautiful and fragrant indigenous tropical flower.

I wore that bracelet every day for many years—not only did I love the significance in its simplicity, but it made me feel a dash more exotic and reminded me of that week with my mom. So much more meaningful than a snow globe.

As my travels became more frequent and I began to acquire more pieces (and also rifle through my mom's jewelry whenever I was home), my collection grew and it was time to find a better way of storing my travel souvenirs, the pieces I inherited (swiped) from the women in my family, and the few things I bought for myself just because. So I found one of those standing armoires that opens to reveal a place for storing every type of jewelry, and as a bonus, the front door that you open is a mirror—highly functional and tidy.

When I moved to my first apartment after graduating it had a place of honor at the entrance to my walk-in-closet. When I went to Italy for the summer after meeting R and before moving back to New York it summered in my parents' sun room. When the movers broke it somewhere between Virginia and New York I used their reimbursement money to buy a new, better one (better because not only did the door open to reveal storage space, but the door itself had storage space!).

Karlbergssjön, Kungsholmen, Stockholm Sweden  |  A collection of memories on afeathery*nest  |

Seven years later it was time to leave New York, and the US, and the somewhat heartbreaking decision to sell all my heirloom furniture pieces had to be made. While we knew it was the right choice then, we know so even more after having left New York 10 months ago and we still don't have a more permanent place to live—I don't even want to think about how much it would have cost to move all that furniture here, store it for this long (and who knows how much longer) and then move it again. But still, I miss the familiarity of the pieces I grew up with and bought as a young adult (and the comfort of that beautiful bed!).

R, in all his infinite knowing-of-me abilities, knew all of that (perhaps not the story of my first non-snow globe souvenir though, in which case: ecco amore, ora lo sai!), this past Christmas he did one of the most thoughtful things he's ever done for me.

When it came time for me to open up my gift from him he pulled a red ribbon from behind the couch cushion he was leaning against. Completely confused (and mildly hoping it led to a puppy waiting in the bathroom—apparently I'm still ten years old!), I followed its trail out of the living room, across the hall, and into my in-laws' walk-in-closet where the end of the ribbon was wrapped around a cumbersome box as tall as me.

I heaved it into the living room near the tree and was, for once, completely in the dark. I had no idea what could possibly be in the box as I ripped off its paper and and tore at the staples securing its flaps closed.

Inside: a brand new jewelry armoire—something I hadn't even remotely suspected!

And, again showing how well he knows me, he didn't get it in the same oak tone as I used to have, but in an espresso stain, as he knows I'd (we'd) like to go for darker bedroom furniture when the time comes.

Since leaving New York I'd had all my jewelry stored in multiple small boxes collected inside one large fabric-covered one (that I'd made when I was 14) that was brought over on the plane with us and has been sitting smushed in with clothes all these months as we've moved around Stockholm. Meanwhile I'd been wearing the same few pieces since leaving New York.

Not since Christmas Day, though, as that morning R helped me assemble the armoire and I placed each piece of my jewelry collection behind its door—all of my souvenirs lined up together again.

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One year ago: The beginning of a yearning & Week 3
Two years ago: The Liebster Award & Pure Synergy & Monday meanders: 5

Monday, January 19, 2015

Surviving a Scandinavian winter's darkness

Sankt Eriksbron  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  |
Much as Sweden's summer threw me for a loop, the arrival of winter has as well. Now rather than feeling forced to remain awake later than I'd like, I find myself forced into a lethargy brought on by the early creeping in of the darkness.

Not only does the sky take until 8:30AM (later if it's a cloudy day) to finally get its act together and start lightening, but by 2:30PM it's already darkening again and then the afternoon and evening just stretches on endlessly. The Christmas decorations have just come down, too (in Sweden Christmas ends on the 20th day after, so: January 13th), meaning their twinkling presence and shots of energizing red can't help to light up the darkness anymore, and now it seems harder than ever after the gaiety of the holidays.

Even though the winter solstice was a few weeks ago, meaning every day since then has had and will continue to have have a few more minutes of sunlight until the summer solstice, I thought it'd be better to list a few things that have helped me "survive" (in quotes because it's just before 9AM as I'm typing this and I'm already yawning) to make sure I remember to do them:

+ Follow the clock, not the sun: This perhaps took me the longest to get used to—living according to the sun's loop is no longer an option when it's only out for 5-6'ish hours a day. Especially since I'd be sitting at my desk studying or working away and suddenly notice how dark it was outside, to which I'd respond to by yawning, stretching and padding into the kitchen for a glass of wine since the day was over. Except it was always something like 3:03PM. Now mind you, I'm not thoroughly opposed to daytime drinking (hello, brunch), but that can't be happening every day! Not only was I having trouble getting anything done thanks to my shortened work/study day, but your first glass of wine so early leaves many, many hours before bedtime and one glass of wine isn't going to be enough.

+ Be consistent: This time of year a routine will be your best friend. Having a schedule that doesn't require much thinking brings a rhythm to your days and I found it helped me move through the darkness with more ease. Although completely rote is no fun, so plan outings and fikas and whatnot (even just a Netflix night!) so you have something to look forward to (and to keep you awake).

+ Get some daylight for the soul: After 6+ months of taking Vitamin D I can't say I've really noticed a difference at all, which is good and bad. Bad because, well, I probably should have felt a difference so either I have a bigger problem with using Vitamin D or perhaps I didn't purchase the right product, and good because I can't pretend that a little gelled pill is cutting it and I have to get myself out of a chair and outside for fresh air and actual sunlight (which isn't always so "sunny" up here, hence "daylight"). This is something I've prattled on about before, but I like reminding myself because it's so easy to stay inside cocooned in comfy clothes with candlelight playing off the walls when I know that even though the hurdle to getting dressed is so high, I always feel better after taking a walk, whether to get groceries or just fresh air. Plus, that's the only time I can capture Stockholm's beauty these days.

Bellevueparken, Kungsholmen  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  |

+ Strike a match: My obsession with lit candles year round comes very much in handy now. Not only are they cheery and cozy for your psyche, but also useful with their warm, glowing circles of light. Hoard tapers, pillars, tea lights: you'll need them all.

+ Stock up on greens for the blues: This is the same regardless of what hemisphere you find yourself in—winter weather calls for strengthening, energizing greens tangled with garlic and spices. Followed with lots and lots of oranges, pinks, reds, and yellows (eat whatever citrus you can get your hands on, too!).

+ Go fishing: True, I have an advantage living in the Nordics now, but seriously, have some fish (or take some vitamins) on the side of your plate of greens. People don't harp on about this as a huge conspiracy—at least I don't believe so, since I do find myself feeling a bit perkier if I've had some oily fish (speaking of, it's actually been a few days...).

+ Enjoy the season: There are few things I love more than wandering aimlessly around a city. Even if I had a car or a Vespa, or if I have a fully-loaded public transit card (in addition to Cleo), my first choice for getting around is always walking. Better still when I can just walk with no destination in mind. I've gotten to know Stockholm so well this way, and I've noticed so much more, too. More than you can notice if you're hurrying somewhere, buried in your phone, or navigating tricky intersections from the saddle of a bicycle. While I walk all year long, there's something special about it to me now, when I can crunch through the snow and appreciate (even more!) Stockholm's colors against the often colorless sky, and see its decorations and visit its Christmas markets.

But enjoying the season can just as easily be done inside, too. It's cold and dark out: light a few extra candles, bake some cookies and snuggle on the couch (this is the time of year I indulge in a yearly re-reading of the Anne of Green Gables series). Or meet friends in a cozy cafe and have lots of spiced rum and hot toddies and glögg (or hot chocolate...with a drop of something from the bar)—might as well, no?

Karlsbergssjön / Karlbergskanalen, Kungsholmen  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  |

+ Say "no" (sometimes): Contrary to the last item, though, don't always say yes to everything. It's easy to overextend yourself, especially around the holidays (and when you're new to a city and feel the need to experience all your "first's" as soon as possible), and that's when colds and flues and wheezing coughs hit. Take it easy...sometimes.

+ Raise your temperature: Nothing will make you feel better about the cold and darkness if you actually always feel cold. Get the right underthings and outerthings so that every moment spent outside isn't done so in misery. It'll help you enjoy this time of year (and get some much necessary activity in) if you're comfortable. For all my previous winters here I never had a proper, Scandinavian-worthy coat. I had long wool coats that served to a certain temperature, and shorter puffy ski-type jackets that worked if the wind wasn't blowing, but finally after my trip to NYC (and it's non-25% sales tax), I have a long, Swedish-winter-suitable coat and it's made such a difference.

And of course I can't mention warmth without suggesting the healing powers of a few hours spent in a spa and indulging in a sauna and steam.

+ Scrub away the blahs: With the cold weather outside and heaters running full speed inside, and the desire for a hot-as-can-be shower, your skin takes a beating this time of year. And when it feels bumpy and scaly, you (or at least I) feel a bit yucky in spirit, too. Get (or make) some nice scrub, preferably in a warm scent (vanilla, honey, chocolate, etc.) and give yourself a good once (or twice) over in the shower every week so you feel comfortable in your own skin (maybe that's where the saying came from?).

+ Challenge yourself: When I first began knitting again as an adult it was most definitely because I wanted to stop working at a computer all day–first in the office and than pottering around online at home after dinner. I wanted to create something tangible, too (as my work is all idea based). But now that I think about it, I also began in late fall—I think I also wanted to give myself something new to learn to keep me busy and engaged as the season sloped down towards darkness. (Another homegrown theory: maybe that's why we make New Year's resolutions?)

Karlsbergssjön / Karlbergskanalen, Vasastan  |  Surviving the onset of a Scandinavian winter's darkness on afeathery*nest  |

+ Count down to spring: If you don't already have a home filled with greenery and flowering plants, get some. And while you're out, grab something you can grow from a bulb. Watching the little wavy brown scraggles take root and slowly, slowly grow a stalk and then bloom will help you mark time until spring comes. Plus, there's something so satisfying about watching a root come to life and burst into color and scent.

Anything else you do to keep sane and happy this time of year?
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One year ago: The last stitch 
Two years ago: Winter oil concoction &
Embracing a gray Sunday &
Joining the EU

Monday, January 12, 2015

2014: The year that was

Sankt Eriksbron connecting Vasastan and Fridhemsplan in Kungsholmen  |  2014: The year that was on afeathery*nest  |
It's always a bit of slog to write the yearly recap, but as soon as I edge towards "eh, I'm not going to do it this year", I read the previous years (2013, 2012) and then am so glad I have them, so, here we go with 2014's:
1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make any for next year?
Last year I changed the "rules" on this question and instead of a resolution, I picked a word that described how I wanted the year to manifest (and by manifest I don't mean just wishing and crossing my fingers that it'll turn out that way, but actively trying to make it so). I chose "adventure", which I think it's clear, has manifested.

As for this year, 2015's word shall be "daring".

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not anyone close, but a few babies were born to people that are adjacent to close.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No—I'm still thankful that everyone I care about it is here.

5. What countries did you visit? Cities?
Hammarby Sjöstad  |  2014: The year that was on afeathery*nest  |
6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
  • Greater ease with speaking the Swedish that I've learned (which requires greater guts, too)
  • And in what appears to be a yearly (or at least once-repeated) desire: an apartment where we'll be able to settle in for more than a few months
  • Even more patience
  • Stimulating, challenging work, the kind that makes you excited to sit down at your desk and get started
  • And in a repeat from 2012, still hoping for a dog and a washer/dryer this year
7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory?
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
  • Leaving my home country for one of R's
  • Not completely falling apart (or at least not for long) when confronted with the shock of everything being so very "new" in my new home country
9. What was your biggest failure?
  • Not practicing Swedish enough ( all, at least not verbally)
  • And of course another repeat from previous years: not always feeling like I've been the best _____ (insert familial/friend relationship there). Although, I feel this less than I did last year! (Woo!)
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nope (whew).

11. What were the best things you bought?
12. Where did most of your money go?
Travel. Rent/moving/shipping costs.

Norr Mälarstrand  |  2014: The year that was on afeathery*nest  |

13. What made you happy/got you excited?
14. Are you happier or sadder than last year? Thinner or fatter? Richer or poorer?
Happier. Fatter. Poorer.
(See? Thin, rich people aren't the only ones who are happy!)

15. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Speaking Swedish.

16. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Zoning out to Netflix.

17. How did you spend Christmas?
With R and my in-laws in Stockholm. There were a few long walks, many feasts, one night of Monopoly (yes I gave in and played—TWICE over the holidays. I told R that gets me out of it until at least next year), and an appearance by Jultomte.

18. What was your favorite TV program?
  • Suits
  • White Collar
  • Homeland 
  • Downton Abbey 
  • Scandal
  • Madame Secretary
  • How to Get Away with Murder
  • Revenge
  • Skavlan
19. What were your favorite books of the year?
20. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
Turned 31 in Sevilla. R took me to breakfast at "our" café, then to the baths at AIRE, followed by the most incredible helado. In the evening we went to a flamenco show and finally ended the day with a dinner at a Moroccan restaurant.

21. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A little less "we'll have to wait and see", although, it did keep things interesting.

22. What kept you sane?
  • Long, long walks (and bicycle rides)
  • Knitting (11.5 projects this year)
  • Reading (35 books this year)
  • Fika'ing 
23. Recount a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014
As a character (Elsa?) from Frozen said (and Idina Menzel sang, which is how I even know about this): "Let it go".

If you made it all the way down (and thanks!)!

One year ago: 2013: The year that was
Two years ago 2012: The year that was

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Galvanizing spirits and getting things done

Gustav Vasa Kyrka, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Galvanizing spirits and getting things done on afeathery*nest  |

Lately I've been trying to get back into my old routines—after the holidays (and all the indulgences and altered habits that come with it), I find myself feeling a bit...compressed. In every sense of the word, as I haven't been making enough time for stretching—physically, mentally or emotionally. And with the sun's similarly compressed loops these days, and respecting the routines of everyone else in the household, I've spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling over our bed waiting for the day to begin.

Before I was up with the sun (which doesn't mean much at the moment as it rises just before 9AM), but in any case, I was getting more things done—studies, work, reading, exercising, writing in this space, etc., and the fact that I hadn't been recently began to grate on my nerves.

After a stern talking to (heartfelt, from me to me), I've been slowly sliding back into my usual paces: marking off blocks of time in Google Calendar to tackle a specific thing, handwriting each day's to-do list in a moleskine, making more of an effort to stay on top of all the really great Swedish resources I have access to to learn the language (like the state's special radio program, Klartext, that condenses the day's news into 10 minutes of conversational, i.e., easier-to-understand, Swedish), adding strength training back into my daily life to complement my ever-present walks, being more proactive about seeking out interesting projects, and other things that help me feel like I'm doing something meaningful with my time, something to make me smarter, stronger, kinder.

Part of the nudge back to my normal state has been realizing that if I'm ever so careful, I can successfully creep out of bed, edge the bedroom door open (mostly) silently, and sit myself at the kitchen table with my laptop, notebooks and silky-smooth pen, something warm to drink, and a lit candle, without disturbing anyone's sleep.

And the other part was reminding myself that while bicycle rides and exploring my new hometown and indulging in all manner of yummy Swedish food in this city is wonderful (and should always be a part of my life), it shouldn't actually be the entire sum.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to grasp that all it took was one stealth sprint (okay, tiptoe) across the apartment to shut myself into the glassed-off kitchen and a little determination to be awake that many hours before the sun rises and I have my old, much-cherished and calming early-morning pottering and pondering time, as well as my previously-always-present initiative, enterprise, motivation (and other assorted inspirational poster words) back. It feels really, really good.

Now I'm ready for you, 2015.

One year ago: Week 2
Two years ago: An unburdening & Dolphin dives

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A wintry sunset walk

When I was in elementary school we had a post-lunch period called "walk-and-talk"—all the kids were herded out to the blacktop and you basically walked...and talked. Around and around the perimeter with your friends (or those that were your friends that particular day) to chat, gossip, and scope out what the cool kids were up to in their little group away from everyone else.

I was thinking about that last week when just before we rang (yawned) in the New Year, things had quieted down enough between holidays for a friend to meet me for a long overdue and much indulged-in talk...while we walked.

We met near the bridge connecting the city and Kungsholmen and ducked down a staircase to Kungsholms strand, the walkway that runs alongside Karlsbergssjön (a lake leading out to the sea) and up around the edge of the island.

We hadn't seen each other for a good bit, so there were many things to catch up on, but often we just walked in silence. With the sky blazing every shade of orange and rose and blue, every single one of which was reflected off of the carpet of white laid over both the land and the sea, words were sometimes too much.

It was enough to crunch along in the snow in companionable stillness and know that we were both inhaling the same crisp air into our slightly over-extended bodies, thanks to days of celebrations, and feeling it scrub away the apartment air clinging to our skin and tickling just under our hats and hoods to blow a few strands of our long hair around. Our eyes brightened, our skin tingled, and just as a touch too much of the cold was seeping into our boots we came upon the bakery I had scoped out before we met.

Bullar & Bröd, perched half a block in from the northwestern-most tip of Kungsholmen, had candles winking at us from the window and the scent of cinnamon and cardamom wafting out to meet us as we heaved open the door. A coffee with liberal glugs of milk and a Sarah Bernhardt (also known as a chocolatebiskvier, a Swedish chocolate biscuit) for me and a black coffee, half a sandwich and a kannelbulle (a portly cinnamon bun, hence the half sandwich), for her. We set ourselves up before the line of candles on the wooden counter banked against the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows and settled in for our fika.

I remember when we moved here and I was wondering about making new friends—never did I expect I'd make such a good one so fast, and one with such a beautiful family (whom I love spending time with), too. In those first few weeks after we arrived she sent me messages every day just to see how my new life in Stockholm was going so far. What a beautiful thing to have someone so kind in my life—especially someone that enjoys a walk by the water as much as I do.

One year ago: 2014: the beginning & Week 1
Two years ago: Carafes, castles, clans & The places you'll go & Postcard from Honduras

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The end of the year festivities

Isbladsviken Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

Like magic, just as we were putting the final touches on Christmas Eve dinner, flurries began to dance down from the sky—thick and insistent, they laid a fine blanket of pure white all over the city. We peeked out from behind candle-lined windows before opening the door to shiver happily as we watched the snow come down.

After two brief dalliances with snow earlier this season, our Christmas bounty ended up staying for the entire week after the holiday, spoiling us with its gleaming brightness under days and days of sunshine.

Snowy Stockholm streets  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
But first, there was Christmas Eve, which we began with a walk through the nearly completely emptied-out city before returning home to a typical Swedish dinner in all its smörgåsbord glory. With the addition of R's traditional lasagne, though, it became a dual-nationality feast. And then since I was inspired to contribute something—especially after realizing that Scandinavian countries have a rice porridge dish that's eaten this time of year which translated nicely to kheer from the Indian tradition, our feast became a representation of three different cuisines.

Unfortunately, my dessert didn't go over quite so well, though. My poor brother-in-law visiting from Sicily took a bite and after having already being burned by a chocolate-covered marzipan (which he thought was a chocolate truffle, as he hates marzipan), looked up at me with the saddest face and said, "Is this rice?" and then laid his spoon woefully back in his still-full glass bowl.

(But it wasn't too much of a shame, as I had a nice week of creamy rice pudding breakfasts and after-lunch desserts for myself.)

Christmas Eve on Biblioteksgatan Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
Swedish Christmas Decorations  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

Before we finished all of the desserts and started pulling packages out from under the tree, my mother-in-law stepped out "to get milk" for the next morning's breakfast and a few moments after she left, there was a knock at the door and Jultomten (Santa Claus) was waiting outside with a bag full of presents.

My first Christmas in Sweden a few years ago I thought s/he appeared solely on my behalf so I'd have a traditional Swedish Christmas, but as this was my third Christmas in Stockholm, and there was no one in the house under 30, I've realized that his appearance isn't just for me, but to keep the spirit alive for everyone—something I find so dear.

Isbladsviken Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
Isbladsviken Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |
The next morning we all slept in and before sitting back at the table to indulge in a Christmas Day dinner of leftovers, R, his brother, and I took a bus across town out to Djurgården for a walk along the canal leading out to Isbladsviken and the archipelago. It was frosty out and the sky was an incredible blue while everything else was white. Such a change from the view we had in November when we took the same walk.

After dinner I begrudgingly sat down to play Monopoly—the board game I detest most in the world (mostly because I always lose frighteningly fast), but as I'm always the only one that feels that way, at least once a year I have to join in (and of course I was already bankrupt by the end of Hour 1).

Helin & Voltaire, Djurgården Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

After that, and before New Year's, R and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary. Five years and two months ago he arrived at JFK with a one-way ticket and a fiancé visa to marry me, and somehow we're living in a completely different country and already celebrating five years of marriage. We spent it as we always prefer to spend holidays and special occasions—quietly, without too much fuss, and with a long walk.

As we did for our first anniversary, we chose to have lunch at "our place", Helin & Voltaire. Once we'd finished our sandwiches and salads, I popped back up to the counter to choose something nutty and scrumptious for dessert. As I walked back with our coffee and a cookie, I saw R brushing off the bench where we were sitting. He said, "the seat is dirty, I was just brushing my side off, you should do it on yours, too".

So I set down the plate and cups and started swiping away at the bench coverings and that's how I noticed an envelope peeking out from under. R had his little-boy grin in place while I quickly ripped the envelope open and out fell two pieces of paper—a flight itinerary and hotel booking. He had fully planned and booked a 5-day trip to a city I've long been fascinated with (right up there with the last two I finally visited: Sevilla and Granada/the Alhambra). Later this month we'll be hopping on a flight to explore a new city together—the nature of which which also means we'll be indulging in one of our favorite past times (can you guess where we're going?).

(And in case you're wondering, my gift to him wasn't nearly as significant, so he's two up on me this year as his Christmas gift was just as thoughtful and surprising!).

Hoar Frost and Icy Stockholm  |  The end of the year festivities on afeathery*nest  |

Finally, just as we'd gotten used to normal-sized meals and somewhat normal days (and the beauty of hoar frosted trees), New Year's Eve rolled around. R and I have both always said our most favorite New Year's (as two people who never really enjoyed the hoopla) was before we were married.

We'd met in Stockholm for Christmas and then flew down to the west coast of Sicily to spend a night at an agriturismo, then rented a car and drove across the island to his side for a few days together before I flew back to New York. Our farmhouse-turned-bed-and-breakfast was in a tiny little town on the waterfront and after we'd checked in we wandered down to its one market to fill a basket with cheese, olives, sun-dried tomato, salami, baguettes and other little fixings, as well as a bottle of wine and a bar of very dark chocolate, to have a New Year's Eve picnic in our quaint room overlooking a citrus grove.

By 8PM I was already asleep and R was watching something on T.V. At midnight he awakened me for a kiss and a "Buon Anno", and then I was out again. But come 6AM we were both up, wrapped in our winter coats and picking our way along the seashells on the beach before a hearty breakfast in front of a fireplace in a stone-walled wine vault. For me (us), there is absolutely no better way to say hello to a new year.

This year though, as we're home with lots of family, we did a version of a way. We shared the last meal of the year with my in-laws—a seafood-filled feast: oysters, smoked salmon, sashimi tuna two ways, lobsters, and a fish soup—followed by a teensy nap before the midnight show. In New York barges pull out to the middle of the East or Hudson River loaded up with fireworks. Here in Stockholm, the neighbors in the other buildings surrounding our courtyard chipped in to buy professional-grade fireworks to set off at midnight. All we had to do was open the balcony door and join in the cheers—no crazy crowds in the street or jostling for a space at a window or on a rooftop. We were so close we even saw the flicker of the match's flame as it lit each fuse. The dark sky quickly filled with star bursts, spiraling lights and purple, red, green, and blue shimmers, and we were soon hoarse from our screams of glee.

By 12:30AM though, we were in bed.

And now, after all these lovely, sunny, snow-filled days, January 1st has decided to slink its way in—all drab greenish grays and limp browns. The weather warmed up to 6C (~40F) and all the pretty holiday sparkle is melting away, but I have a feeling Stockholm won't let us down and another dusting will come our way soon.

Hope you've all had a lovely holiday and Happy New Year!

One year ago: Christmas traditions, Red-eyed revelry
Two years ago: A bout of the sniffles, Honduran holiday, Merry Christmas from Honduras