Monday, August 31, 2015

Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August

Puerperium Cardigan by Kelly Brooker  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
I'm not sure how, but despite the recent amazing, non-conducive-to-knitting-with-wool weather we've had, I've made some headway on a few more knitted goodies for our soon'ish-to-arrive newest family member.

Then again, it's hard not to feel a little spurring on to widen his / her handmade wardrobe given the daily nudges and pokes I've started to feel.

Baby Uggs by Autumn Street  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

First up: another wrap sweater, this with a snowflake I duplicate stitched onto its lower hemline. I hadn't planned to, but after finishing I realized something was missing (plus I had a teensy bit of navy yarn left).

Another set of matching booties were in order, too.

Then in an attempt to make more headway on my remaining stash of aqua yarn, I knit up a hat to match the original wrap sweater and booties I finished earlier this year. Continuing the apparent snowflake mania, I duplicate stitched dots (well, vees) on one side and two snowflakes on the other.

Duplicate Stitch Baby Hat by Lion Brand Yarn  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Duplicate Stitch Baby Hat by Lion Brand Yarn  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Lastly, finally giving myself permission to break into my locally-bought yarn stash: a boatneck sweater. I had intended it to be solid slate blue, but after running out of one of my two total blue skeins before I reached the neckline (and mid-way point), I had to improvise by digging back into my stash for camel-colored yarn to top off the remaining bit of the front of the sleeve and then around and down the back of the sleeve.

Quick and Easy Newborn Sweater by Jill  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Quick and Easy Newborn Sweater by Jill  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Quick and Easy Newborn Sweater by Jill  |  Snowflakes and itty bitty snowballs in August on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
As a finishing touch I tried French Knots for the first time to create those little nubbins ("snowballs") along the neckline which serve double duty—they're cute and they keep the wintry theme of this post alive.

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One year ago: It's elementary & Another go at it
Two years ago: Reveling in the regression & Not so fast & My American boy

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden

Gamla Stan in Stockholm  |  Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Soon after we realized that I was pregnant, I began to notice a rather frequent occurrence: R and I began disagreeing about what I can and cannot do and eat while pregnant. After a few of these "disagreements" happened one after the other, it finally dawned on me why.

I grew up in the United States.

He, in Italy (with a Swedish mom).

Turns out that despite science allegedly being the basis of pregnancy guidelines, three different countries interpreted that science in three (mostly) different ways.

Sweden is the most liberal by far, while Italy is the most conservative, and the United States fits somewhere in between. To illustrate, here are a few questions I've either Googled and asked friends and family about, or just come across by chance, with each country's response:

Gamla Stan in Stockholm  |  Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Can I exercise?
  • America: It's better for you and the baby if you do. Do whatever you did before, but modified.
  • Sweden: Of course. You're pregnant, not handicapped. 
  • Italy: Yes, but take it very, very easy.

Can I eat spicy food?
  • America: Sure, but of course refrain if you get heartburn.
  • Sweden: Sure, but of course refrain if you get heartburn.
  • Italy: It's better if you avoid it completely, as it can cause heartburn.

Can I eat soft cheeses?
  • America: Nope—unless they're fully cooked.
  • Sweden: Nope—unless they're fully cooked.
  • Italy: Nope.

Can I eat sushi?
  • America: Very, very carefully and only the low-mercury kind.
  • Sweden: Sure, but only low-mercury fish. 
  • Italy: ABSOLUTELY NOT. ARE YOU CRAZY?

Can I eat shellfish?
  • America: Sure, as long as it's cooked.
  • Sweden: Sure, as long as it's cooked. 
  • Italy: Absolutely not, even when cooked.

Can I eat deli meats (or, any type of smoked or cured meat or fish)?

  • America: It's best to avoid completely, unless cooked (like on a pizza or in a baked dish), but don't touch salami.
  • Sweden: Yes, if frozen for 72 hours or cooked (but never salami).
  • Italy: No way.

Can I eat red meat (i.e., steak)?
  • America: If cooked completely. Though if eating high quality, local, organic meat, cooking until all the meat is hot (not necessarily well done or medium well) is completely fine. 
  • Sweden: If cooked until all of the meat is hot (not necessarily well done or medium well). 
  • Italy: Well done, only.

Can I eat fresh vegetables?*
  • America: Absolutely, as much as possible.
  • Sweden: Absolutely, as much as possible. 
  • Italy: Only if thoroughly cooked—as in, steamed, braised, baked, boiled, etc..

Can I touch the earth (i.e., garden or put my bare feet onto soil)?*
  • America: Why is this a question?
  • Sweden: No, seriously, who's asking this?
  • Italy: No—parasites and bacteria on the ground could leach into your skin.

Can I go into a sauna?
  • America: If you're very, very careful.
  • Sweden: Yes, if you're used to it and don't stay longer than 10 minutes at a time. (Did you know our pregnant neighbors in Finland do it every day and used to give birth there?)
  • Italy: Are you insane?! ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Can I drink wine or beer?
  • America: A glass or two a week are okay.
  • Sweden: ABSOLUTELY NOT.
  • Italy: ABSOLUTELY. You'd be crazy to try to get through 40 weeks of pregnancy without a glass of wine a day.

*Note, these may be Sicilian peculiarities, and not true of the rest of Italy.


Stockholm's subway, Statshuset, Riddarholmen  |  Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

While I was ready to insist on having things my way (meaning: following Swedish rules for everything, except drinking, in which case I'd be pro-Italian—which wouldn't actually be a big deal since I have had zero desire for wine so far and despite never really drinking beer until moving to Sweden, turns out Sweden sells some exceptionally tasty alcohol-free beer that we've been buying for me), I didn't—at least not for long.

Given how long our journey was to get to this point and because I knew deep down (deep deep down, beyond my feminist indignation) that this was a decision we both have a stake in and thus a right to make together, I've mostly followed the American rules, as even R found some of the Italian ones a bit insane.

Meaning:
  • Not eating sushi (except for that one time immediately after we left our first midwife appointment and were told that I could eat it without worry).
  • Exercising after I survived my incapacitating first trimester, but not as frequently nor with as much effort as I used to, but only because of my low energy levels.
  • Eating all the spicy food I want.
  • Only eating soft cheeses that have been cooked (like, a grilled brie sandwich).
  • Not eating any deli meats.
  • Not eating any dishes made with shellfish.
  • Essentially avoiding steaks and the like as medium-cooked meat is just not worth it to me, but when we have had it at home there's only the faintest trace of pinkness on mine (so, somewhere between medium-rare and medium, something I did have to fight for and won...a little).
  • Eating all the fresh vegetables I want.
  • Putting my bare feet on the ground every chance I get.
  • Not going into a sauna (I fought hard for this one, but clearly to no avail).
  • Not actually drinking anything alcoholic yet except for a heavily diluted glass of Aperol and a few sips of wine and beer

Given the above, there may or may not have been a (however ineffective) threat made in R's general direction that the next time I'm pregnant he will have to follow the same guidelines as I am. In the name of solidarity and support, of course...not punishment.

+ + +

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



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One year ago: Urban natured in Stockholm & The much-celebrated arrival of fall
Two years ago: Shut eye & The Delilah & Egg custard & Arancini Taorminesi

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summering in the city

Strandvägen from Skeppsholmsbron, Stockholm  |  Summering in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
The last few weeks in Stockholm have been, in a word, stunning.

Perfect cloudless blue skies, hot sunshine all day long, zero humidity (as usual), not a drop of rain or sign of gray, and the slightest breeze rustling through all the lush greenery (one definite plus to the rainiest May in decades).

Hornbergs Strand in Kungsholmen, Stockholm  |  Summering in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Rålambshovsparken, Stockholm  |  Summering in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Gröna Lund from Per Anders Fögelstroms Terrassen, Stockholm  |  Summering in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

With zero excuse to stay inside I've taken to heading into the city after finishing work loaded up with a blanket, a tablet filled with books, a bag-o-knitting, and some fizzy water. Heading to one of the parks (my current favorite is Vasapark in Vasastan) or to Hammarby Sjöstad, I spread my blue blanket out in the sunhine, slowly lower myself down with my growing tummy facing directly into the sun, and read, knit or doze listening to kids playing nearby until my phone rings.

Hammarby Sjöstad, Stockholm  |  Summering in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Vasaparken in Stockholm  |  Summering in the city on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

R calls as he's leaving work and if he's up for it, he'll meet me in the park (sometimes stopping for a pizza on the way in for a picnic), or I'll start packing up and go out to hop a ride home with him.

Fingers crossed that we'll get a few more weeks (or at least days) of this before it's time to trade linen and sandals for wool and boots.

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One year ago: Into the woods & More lessons to learn
Two years ago: Summer woolens & The day to day & Cold-brewed coffee

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Up to my neck in nectarines

Djurgårdsbron in the summer  |  Up to my neck in nectarines on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
When we first moved to Europe, grocery shopping seemed so foreign and quaint to me, having grown accustomed to my beloved FreshDirect in NYC. Years ago I didn't think I'd be the type of person to order my groceries online (and R was completely shocked by the idea—at first), but when I moved to the Financial District there were no grocery stores. There were a few gourmet ones in Tribeca and a few bodega-style places closer by, but a proper one didn't actually arrive until my last year there.

So online shopping it was—as the idea of carting bags of groceries on the subway seemed foul to me. When I came across FreshDirect, which wasn't attached to a grocery store and had just started up operations the year I arrived, I decided to try them out.

And I loved everything about them—the online and offline user experience, the wonderful customer service, the huge selection of local products (flowers, honey, eggs, milk, meat, produce, etc.) and the fact that somehow the price was the same or better than a bricks-and-mortar shop.

I was a loyal follower up until our last week in Manhattan (and R, after having moved there and tried the goods, became a complete convert after one order despite his initial reluctance-slash-horror at the fact that I didn't "see" my groceries before purchasing them).

Stockholm in the summer + Swedish flag  |  Up to my neck in nectarines on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

But then we moved to Stockholm, and our first apartment was right across the street from two grocery stores and a few blocks away from another (my preferred one), so my new routine included stopping in every few days to pick up a few things on the way home from school on my bicycle. When we moved to Vasastan we were surrounded by grocery stores once again, so my Euro habits continued.

But now we're in Minneberg—where the closest grocery store is a 15 to 20-minute walk away. There is a smaller "corner store" down the street from us, but the selection is super limited and expensive. At first I rode my bicycle or walked the 20 minutes to the real grocery store earlier this spring, but that soon became cumbersome. First because I often purchased more than I could comfortably carry for an extended period of time, and then because my first trimester woes meant managing the many hills on my bicycle or on foot was not so comfortable.

R was always happy to stop off at the grocery store on his way home from work, as the storage options on the motorcycle made carrying bags home quite a bit easier, but as I loathe stopping off at the store after work myself, I hated to ask him.

(Plus I also like choosing our groceries.)

But now that winter isn't too far away, and along with it, a newborn baby, we finally looked into MatHem, Stockholm's answer to FreshDirect, and you know what? It's so good. The same idea as FreshDirect, although with a not as-pretty/user-friendly website.

Which I fell victim to with our first order.

Strandvägen & Nybrokäjen in Stockholm  |  Up to my neck in nectarines on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

I had meant to select 4 nectarines for our basket. Somehow the quantity came out to 4 kilograms instead. At first I thought the culprit was a Swedish mistranslation on my part, but it was definitely the site, as our second order resulted in something similar happening (though less overwhelming, as selecting 2 bok choy resulted in two packages of 3 each, versus two actual bok choy).

When our first order came I was home working, so R unpacked the bags. A few minutes later he asked me to come to the kitchen where he pointed to a paper bag full of nectarines and asked, "what happened here?".

I freaked out, of course. He said he'd put everything away, but leave those for me to handle. So back to my work I went and a few hours later I walked into the kitchen, tied back my hair and began my attack—one kilo of nectarines remained in tact on the kitchen counter, the second kilo went into the fridge, while the third and fourth kilos were washed, sliced, and stored in separate Pyrex containers in the freezer.

For the next few days I had nectarines at every meal (oh, did I mention that I'm the only one who eats nectarines in our house?), pulling from the fruit bowl. Meanwhile I turned the rest of the first kilo into a pie. Unfortunately in my attempt to get them cooked as soon as possible I pulled a package of frozen, gluten-free phyllo dough out of the freezer to use. It was the first time I had baked with it and didn't realize that the dough was quite...savory.

Berzelii Park, Stockholm in the summer  |  Up to my neck in nectarines on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


R ate half a slice, but it was up to me to finish the rest. I alleviated the oddness of the taste by eating it cold, topped with yogurt and cinnamon which helped, a bit.

The second kilo became an upside-down nectarine cake to much better reception than the pie, in fact it was finished in 2 days.

Phyllo pie disaster aside, I usually have bad luck in enticing R with my baked goods (apart from his birthday cake, which he insists on and which I know to never alter), as I usually get irritated with recipes and amend them, i.e., when I see a cup of sugar in a fruit cake (really?!) I usually bring that way down. Or I try to substitute things I don't prefer for things I do, which sometimes works out well, other times, less so.

(I really should know better than to mess with the science of baking, which is less forgiving than the art of cooking savory food, but I can't help myself).

But bolstered by his enjoyment of the cake, I made another one last night following the same basic recipe, with my own (sigh) adjustments, such as making a cashew/walnut topping, adjusting the sweetness, and other finicky things.

When I pulled it out of the oven I was worried that my newest rendition wouldn't pass muster but we had two slices each (whew!) and R was extremely emphatic in his approval.

Nectarine Pie + Upside-Down Cake   |  Up to my neck in nectarines on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Now I just hope I can remember what I did this time when it comes to baking the other 1.5 kilos of nectarines I still have in the freezer...

P.S. A food photographer, amateur or otherwise, I most definitely am NOT.
P.P.S. This isn't my first run-in with an excess of groceries.

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One year ago: Swedish differences, Vol. 3 & Into the woods & More lessons to learn
Two years ago: Rituals & Growing up Goan & Somewhere else this week

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The first trimester

The day I knew tulips  |  My Swedish pregnancy: the first trimester on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Early this spring, not being able to find a good bouquet of solid-colored tulips, I went with a mixed bouquet for the first time. Later that day, continuing the theme of trying new things, I realized that I was pregnant.

And so began one of the most happiest periods of my life, which also happened to be one of the oddest. The day that I felt nauseous for the first time I was ecstatic. When I said to R that I felt like throwing up it was accompanied by a smile and a little dance.

The next day I was no longer dancing—my nausea turned into nausea plus dizziness, searing headaches, and a level of exhaustion I didn't realize was possible. The last two and a half weeks of my first trimester were the worst. I spent days at a time not moving from my prostrate position on the couch (and being very thankful for the entire series of Friends being on Netflix).

During that fuzzy-headed period I slept on and off all day long and didn't dare to sit upright (the other reason for my lack of posting this spring). Gloomy days seemed gloomier. Visiting friends in seafood-heavy towns was challenging. And much as I enjoyed riding on the motorcycle with R, I knew it wouldn't last for very long (though as of today, I still am!).

But the morning my pregnancy app ticked over into the first day of my second trimester and revealed that I should soon be feeling much better, my body happily obliged. I'm always one for sticking to a schedule, but even I was surprised at how precisely my symptoms shifted in line with the baby's development.

Gamla Stan  |  My Swedish pregnancy: the first trimester on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Other than my new hobby of pressing buttons on the TV remote control when I wasn't sleeping, I was suddenly preoccupied with eating. My usual habit of a milky coffee or tea in the morning followed by a proper lunch in the afternoon and dinner in the evening no longer worked. I woke up hungry and the only appealing breakfast to be had was toast.

Now I'm not normally a toast person, but nothing was more delicious to me than two slices of toast, either with cream cheese (something else I never ate) and a passion fruit split on top of it, or with peanut butter and jelly (more things that I never used to eat).

I actually never had any odd combination cravings, I just craved foods that I wasn't accustomed to eating, like the aforementioned toast with assorted toppings and loads of "exotic" fruit (mangoes and papayas, especially). I usually find that kind of fruit too sweet, but I had to have some every day. Also, and here's the really weird thing—although probably not so weird given all the hormonal turmoil going on—my intolerance of flour just disappeared.

I noticed it when one horribly stormy "spring" day we got caught in the rain on the way home from work and feeling achy and blue and blah, R went straight to the kitchen to make a pot of pasta for himself (I said I wasn't hungry) while I took a hot shower. Once dried and dressed in winter pajamas, I walked into the steamy, pasta-water scented kitchen and the only thing I could think of was delving into a bowl of his (non gluten-free) masterpiece.

So I did. And then I waited for the pangs in my tummy to begin—but they never came.

As soon as I realized that for whatever reason I don't seem to have the same unpleasant reaction to flour when pregnant as I do when I'm not, I've taken it upon myself to indulge in this phenomenon for as long as possible.

No longer does R have to boil two pots of water for his pasta and for mine, no longer do I always have to choose a chokladboll or nöttopp when I go out for a fika. 

Instead, I've been frequently visiting the bakery for kardemummalängd and bullar, excitedly ordering carrot cake whenever I see it at a café (for whatever reason Swedes like this very American-style cake and they make it really well!), and joyfully pampering myself with all manner of sandwiches, pasta dishes and the like every opportunity I get.

Stadshuset, Riddarholmen & Gamla Stan  |  My Swedish pregnancy: the first trimester on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Besides my newly-expanded food world, the other big news during my first trimester was our first visit to a doctor, or rather, a midwife, as all pre- and post-natal care falls into the hands of midwives in Sweden. And for healthy, non high-risk pregnancies, those hands are very hands off (something a paper in NYC wrote about not too long ago).

Sweden ranks at or near the top of all fetal / baby / mother health rankings, but when we first decided to move here a few years ago (and when we knew we'd wait to have children until then) I started researching and was immediately comforted by the idea of midwife-led care, but also  a little worried to see that despite so many positive outcomes, Americans generally feel abandoned during their pregnancy here.

The thinking in Sweden is that pregnancy is a natural process and women don't need to be treated like they're handicapped. Which is nice, but a little frustrating for those of us who grew up in other cultures and are aware of the much more frequent check-ups that occur elsewhere.

When I called to make our first appointment with the midwife I was scheduled for a "registration" meeting nearly 5 weeks later, during my 8th week of pregnancy. I knew from everything I had read that it would happen that way, but I still pulled the American card and asked if it would be possible to come in earlier (it's not).

We had decided to not say anything to anyone until after we met with the midwife—making for a very, very long two months. When we finally did see her she spent more than an hour with us (which from what I've heard, isn't quite the way it goes in the U.S.) and suddenly I didn't mind so much having had to wait so long for our first meeting.

(Although it could also have been such a lengthy chat since she welcomed my desire to do the entire appointment in Swedish.)

The registration appointment consisted of our her going through my medical history, our "road" to getting pregnant, the process of giving birth in Sweden, the timeline of check-ups and whatnot from then until I deliver, and asking about my lifestyle.

Before we left she asked if we had any other questions, to which I sheepishly said, "From the blood and urine samples you took to check my blood sugar and iron levels...could you 'see' that I'm pregnant?".

Södermalm  |  My Swedish pregnancy: the first trimester on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


She looked at me curiously and said, "don't you know?".

I told her, "Well I think so, based on my one positive pregnancy test and how I feel, but I'd really like a professional to confirm for me".

She laughed and said, "Do you feel pregnant?". I nodded. "Well then you are!"

That's the mentality here. That women know what they're going through.

Even so, I couldn't believe that we'd have to wait another 10 weeks for the one and only sonogram, done between Weeks 18-20, which would confirm without a doubt that I was pregnant. Since there was no possible way that R and I could manage for that long, we asked to do the the optional genetic testing scan at Week 12 (a more palatable month away) so we could see our little one and get proof that there was a more legitimate reason for why my pants stopped buttoning (which happened really early, by Week 6!).

When the day finally came I said to R that I hoped it would be like the movies, where the technician kindly says to you: "this is going to be cold", as they squirt goo onto your belly.

And of course it was exactly like that (in Swedish).

Up until that moment when the screen went from fuzzy static to BABY! we hadn't let ourselves fully believe that I was actually pregnant—we had waited so long and didn't want to be heartbroken if it was all a fluke. But as the sonogram image came into focus and we saw our little one for the first time, with his or her hand raised in a greeting (I swear!), we finally realized it was true—we were now a family of three.

+ + +

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



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One year ago: Apparently I jinxed myself & Hello, August & Weekend play-by-play
Two years ago: Rituals & Growing up Goan & Somewhere else this week