Monday, September 21, 2015

The first proper fall frolic

Strandvägen, Norra Djurgården in Stockholm  |  The first proper fall frolic on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Having a visitor in town that travels as you do makes showing them around infinitely more enjoyable. On the hunt for charming neighborhood strolls, coffee and pastry shops with local flair to drop into, and experiencing a bit of the surrounding lifestyle and culture, we spent my friend's weekend trip doing just that.

There was the trip out to Svartsö in Stockholm's archipelago, a lingered-over breakfast at Café Pascal, a walk through Norrmalm and Östermalm to visit NK, admire the pretty architecture and have lunch at Östermalms Saluhall, a loop around Gamla Stan to see the palace and watch the weekend processions and band- and horse-accompanied pomp, a wander around Södermalm and a visit to Fotografiska (those two just for her, while I spent the one rainy day of her visit resting at home), culminating in a gloriously sunny fall day on Djurgården.

Breakfast at Café Pascal in Stockholm  |  The first proper fall frolic on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
We took a bus out to Östermalm on her last full day in town and crossed the bridge over to Djurgården where we ducked through the beautiful azure and gold gate and took the northernmost route around the island, one I hadn't explored before. The pathways had us skirting the edges of Skansen (the open-air museum) and Rosendals Trädgård (the rose gardens) while we kept to the water's edge, passing charming little cottages, castles in the distance, and a view of Norra Djurgården, the land across Djurgården Bay. Soon we arrived at the bridge leading across the canal to the path where R and I had walked a few times last winter, most notably before our Christmas Eve feast.

With the sun shining brightly from a clear blue sky and the unmistakeable scent of fall in the air, it was really the most perfect of walks. A few ponies scattered about made it even more bucolic and Kinfolk-y, as did the many golden retrievers (my dog) and Bernese mountain dogs (her dog) that we passed on our way around.

Djurgården horses in Stockholm  |  The first proper fall frolic on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde on Djurgården in Stockholm   |  The first proper fall frolic on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
Once we'd rounded the southern edge of the island and up through the gardens at Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, the former home of a Swedish prince and now a museum, we began thinking about lunch. The original plan was to visit Oaxen Slip, a Nordic bistro with seating right on the waterfront, but for some inexplicable reason we walked up to find it closed, so we went with my backup plan, the always-pleasing (and open) Helin & Voltaire, whose appeal that won us over many years ago quickly did the same for her.

We plopped ourselves in the sunshine on the terrace with heaping plates of crisp bread and roasted fall vegetable salads, an autumnal "pie" with lamb and beets, and Sweden's take on a tuna salad on dark bread. Despite the abundance of our lunch and our quick satiation there was no way we could pass up on some treats from H&V's delicious dessert spread, so while I went with carrot cake (one of my favorites, especially since the cakes here are much more spiced than in the U.S.), she had some sort of hazelnut-y, fudgy chocolate wonder topped with pistachios and freshly-whipped cream.

Stadshuset City Hall in Stockholm   |  The first proper fall frolic on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
After that completely-worthwhile indulgence we decided to continue walking, crossing the bridge out of Djurgården, following the loop of Strandvägen to The Royal Theater, then ducking through a side street to come up by The Opera House on Strömgatan, which we followed around, passing Norrbro, Riksbron and Vasabron (three of the bridges leading from Norrmalm onto Gamla Stan) on our left.

Then we crossed Stadshusbron into Kungsholmen so she could see a smidgen of that island as we walked around Stadshuset (City Hall) and its lovely courtyard and waterfront gardens before finally heading home to put our feet up and commend ourselves on a perfectly-executed autumn day in this beautiful city.

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One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía
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Thursday, September 17, 2015

The first baby books on the bookshelf

Green Eggs & Ham, Goodnight Moon, A Wish from San Francisco  |  Getting ready for the next generation of readers on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

I've not mentioned it here, or to anyone apart from R and Johanna, but given how much I love books and how many hours I spent holed up in my childhood bedroom surrounded by stuffed animals while I read books cover to cover, I've been wondering how we'll handle the reading situation once our little one arrives.

Neither I nor Roberto plan on reading Swedish books to the baby—me, because my Swedish is not nearly good enough to understand, much less pronounce, the fantastical words used in children's fairytales, and R because Italian is the language of his heart and what he'll speak with our children (which is another reason for me, except of course swapping English for Italian).

Thanks to his/her Swedish grandmother, s/he won't miss out on anything, which makes me glad for many reasons, including because Swedish children's books are so beautiful—the illustrations, the quality of the paper, and the fine bindings basically create works of art.

(And some of the titles and topics create reasons for foreigners to laugh, such as "Alla de små döda djur", or, "All the small dead animals", about children realizing that the world is full of small dead animals that need burying. The illustrations in this one are particularly touching / amusing.)

But that still leaves a gap for us when it comes to reading books that resonate with us and our childhoods, none of which are readily available in our Swedish-speaking country.

We had already planned to pick up some Italian children's books on our next trip to Sicily, but English ones? Well, that's going to be a little more problematic since we don't have any upcoming trips planned pre-birth, although to be fair, I don't think we'll be doing any reading to the baby until well into next year, but still, that was on my mind.

And that's the beauty of caring friends, particularly those that know you really well and arrive for a visit to your new hometown in a foreign-language county with arms full of gifts, in her case: a trio of American children's books and a delicious assortment of chocolate from San Francisco.

Besides a classic Dr. Seuss and the must-have Goodnight Moon, she also brought a children's book on San Francisco. I so love that she combined the traditional with something personal and I can't wait to share them all with our little one someday soon.

(And, I'm so glad to have one point of pre-baby anxiety considerably reduced!)

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One year ago: View from Hammarbybacken
Two years ago: The art of imperfection & Good things lately & Escaped again

Thursday, September 10, 2015

One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island)

Skälvik pier cottage on Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Our second summer in Stockholm has turned out to be the summer of visitors. First there were friends from New York whom I and another New York transplant in Sweden did a "beach" week with in Båstad in June, then my mom in July, followed (briefly) by my brother at the end of last month, and finally, my friend from San Francisco, whom I last saw two years ago when I spent July 4th with her and her family in North Carolina, just left after a few autumnal September days in Stockholm.

We kicked off her trip with our (now traditional) "Welcome to Sweden" herring and korv extravaganza dinner and then, after multiple checking of weather reports, decided that the next day would be the best option for our hoped-for boat trip out to the archipelago.

I had previously narrowed down the possibilities to Svartsö (Black Island, but for some reason billed as "the greenest island in the archipelago") and Gällnö (known as "the genuine archipelago experience"). Each were about an hour and a half from Stockholm and I'd not been to either, so it would be something new for her and for me.

As both sounded charming, we decided on Svartsö since the boat schedule was more accommodating, allowing us to leave at midday and return by 5PM with a reasonable 2 hours on the island.

In theory it should have been a lovely day, despite the cloudy skies, but as we scrutinized Strandvägen's berth numbers for our boat and I finally saw the contraption that would take us out to the archipelago, I began to have my doubts.

After more than a year in Sweden I've had time to take quite a few boats out to the archipelago (Grinda, Sandhamn, around the Åland Islands, and Artieplag / Gustavsberg) and every single one of them were pleasant to be on. Not luxurious, but charming, clean, and the type that wouldn't embarrass someone hoping to show off their new hometown to a visiting friend.

As we walked down the gangway and plodded along the well-trod carpet trying to find a space amidst the suitcases, baby strollers, and leashed dogs, I no longer had doubts, but well-founded dismay. We squeezed ourselves into the last two available spots at the back of the boat, smushed against the window and made the best of it, opening up magazines and settling in for the ride.

The view beyond the glass was beautiful, though, and towards the end of the trip, after the seats near us were vacated by people disembarking at the port before ours and a couple and their baby sat down, we found out why the boat was so crowded. A large Swedish-Danish wedding was planned for that weekend on Svartsö and many people were heading over to start the festivities.

As we pulled into port we saw a small gathering of people waving Swedish and Danish flags and waiting to welcome the wedding guests with a hug and a cocktail. The revelers went off to the left, and we veered right after seeing signs pointing to a hotel and a garden cafe, both of which could be good options for lunch.

Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

We left the two or three small cottages at the pier behind us and promptly found ourselves surrounded by the sweet-smelling woods. Pine trees, moss-covered rocks, and birches lined our pathway as we set off briskly across the island. Soon we came across a flock of sheep puttering in their field and soon after that clusters of bicycles began to pass us carrying the wedding guests to the island's hotel.

A little bit after that I realized I was in need of a bathroom, and a moment after that, it began to rain. Luckily we had umbrellas with us, but the combination of not quite knowing when, if ever, we'd come across a shelter of some sort and the realization that we'd already been walking for almost half of our allotted island time rendered us a bit anxious. But then the ridiculousness of the situation won out over our disappointment and we ended up laughing our way further down the road.

We came to a crossroads with a sign pointing back the way we had come to the island's secondary port (note: that was the first signage we had seen since leaving the primary pier and hadn't seen anything previously signaling a turn off to the other pier) and a sign pointing to the left for the hotel and restaurant. Not quite knowing what to do, as the distance to the latter seemed to be quite far and we weren't sure if we'd make it back to either pier for the boat home, we stood there bewilderedly under our umbrellas.

A moment later a woman riding a four wheeler came from the direction of the hotel and I flagged her down. She shared the unsettling, yet by then, not surprising, news that the hotel and restaurant are no longer on their summer schedule, meaning that they're only open on the weekends (of course we were there on a week day), and that we wouldn't make it there and back before the boat came in any case. In addition, the closer pier was definitely the safer bet, but there was no bathroom there, just a little shelter.

Seeing my condition and that I was nervously hopping from foot to foot, the lady kindly offered to give me a ride the few hundred feet down the road to the local school, where she was heading for work, so I could use the bathroom there. I heaved myself up and we set off while my friend followed on foot. By the time I made my way out to the schoolhouse's porch, she had arrived and had her turn.

Before we took off for the pier our hero gave us one final piece of advice: pull the cord on the pier's semaphore so it flashes the white side towards the passing ferry boat, otherwise the captain won't pull over to pick us up.

Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

A few minutes after we found the lane leading to the secondary pier the rain stopped and the sun peeked out. We arrived at the pier with twenty minutes to spare before the boat was scheduled to pass by and after we pulled the semaphore cord and noted that an odd personage (who would have been at home amidst woodland creatures) was peering out at us from the tiny cottage at the foot of the pier (pictured at the very top), we plopped ourselves down and each reached into our handbags. My friend had stashed an apple she'd bought on the way to Strandvägen that morning in hers while I'd tucked a quickly-made just-in-case sandwich into mine before we left the apartment.

When the boat finally came by we charged on, put our bags down, ordered two beers (one alcohol free, naturally) and relaxed knowing we'd be back amidst civilization soon. While the meander through the woods was relaxing, enjoyable and grounding, as frolics in the forest tend to be, I could have done without all of the agitation, uncertainty, and less than stellar travel conditions. But we laughed about every single comical thing that befell us and agreed we'd end the day on a high note.

Which we did, as we went directly from the gangway upon arriving in Stockholm to the Hotel Diplomat's T/BAR across the street. We settled ourselves on the outdoor terrace below an overhead heater with the now-brightly-shining-sun pointed directly at us and had ourselves a few more drinks and nibblies and much more laughter before we headed home.


Svartsö in the Stockholm archipelago  |  One absurdity after the next on Svartsö (Black Island) on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Little lady gloves

After seeing her (long-lasting) glee upon opening the Snow White gloves I made for her birthday last year, when S's birthday rolled around this summer I knew I had to make another set.


Given how fast toddlers grow, I made these quite a bit bigger than last year's and went from using solid cream to incorporating her two favorite colors—lavender and pink.

They fit her just right (with a little wiggle room) and coincidentally match the jewelry my mom made as a birthday present for her. She's never met S, but given how much time we spend with her and the many stories and pictures we've shared, my mom feels like she has, and knew just the type of bauble to make that would thrill a little girl.

(My level of craftiness doesn't even begin to compare to my mom's, as she knits (full-on outfits, not just accessories like me), crochets, embroiders, cross-stiches, sews (including her own wedding dress, bedding, and many of the things my brother and I wore as children, and that I wore as an adult), reupholsters, and makes and sells Murano glass and Swarovski crystal jewelry, among other things. I've got a way to go before I catch up!)

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One year ago: After 9 years, 9 days in southern Spain
Two years ago: Bittersweet & Waltzing waterfront walks

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A wee reality check

Stockholm's Grand Hotel and Strandvägen  |  A wee reality check on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com

Apart from still needing to find a solid boy name, R and I are doing pretty well on the baby prep front: we've been reading about what's to come in a few months with labor and delivery and we've chosen a birthing center and booked an informational meeting and a parent preparation class there. We've picked out a stroller, crib and high chair (just need to actually order and have them delivered) and scoped out the changes we need to make to our insurance post birth. Plus, we're doing well on the baby clothes front and have been reading and talking through what we can do to help get us all on a breastfeeding / sleeping schedule sooner rather than later.

But when it comes to handling, feeding, entertaining and comforting an actual baby, we've had a bit of a reckoning over the last few weeks.

At the beginning of August R's cousin, his fiancée and their 9-month baby boy came over for a Turkish breakfast inspired brunch. Upon arrival the baby had fallen asleep, so he was tucked up for a nap while we began to eat. When he woke and was ready to play we passed him around the table (moving sharp and delicate objects out of his reach as he made his way along) and then watched him do his shuffle-crawl near us when he was tired of being held. A bit later when he was hungry, R and I offered to feed him.

Well, I offered, but then had to hand the baby off to R because I quickly learned that (1) long hair, mobile babies and baby food don't mix and (2) neither do the above mix with jewelry, so my feeding of him quickly turned into trying to extricate my hair and jewelry from his hands and his bowl.

But after two seconds in R's arms the baby was eating happily with zero distractions, as he was held and restrained by one of R's arms while the other was used to feed him, whereas I was fending off flailing-arms-flung food and removing my hair from his lunch and his grasp while simultaneously trying to feed him. R's also a quite a bit more mellow than I am, which I'm sure babies feel.

Turkish-breakfast inspired brunch  |  A wee reality check on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
(This isn't the first time R has bested me in baby calming, having already proved his bigger-arm / hand capabilities when our nephew was born.)

(Although I will say that I was a much neater feeder, so there's that.)

After our meal we gathered in the living room to play with the baby and watch him explore everything within his reach (including remote controls, socks and pillows) and to do a little cuddling with him when he wasn't busy scooching himself about. By the time our guests left a few hours later I collapsed onto the sofa, completely worn out by a sweet, well-behaved, low-key 9-month old.

Yet I had no idea what was in store for us a few weeks later, when my brother, sister-in-law and our nephew arrived in Stockholm for one night, thanks to an 18-hour layover on their way back to the U.S. after their summer vacation. I wish we'd had more time together so I could show them the city that's now home to me, but a lazy late afternoon and dinner together at home, however brief, was at least better than nothing, especially as I hadn't seen them since last November and R not since last Easter.

Despite frequent video chats with me, my year-and-a-half old nephew didn't seem to recognize me without a screen. He flung himself energetically out of the taxi (that's his M.O., he does everything full force and with aplomb) and then immediately hid himself behind his mama's knees when he saw me.

By the time everyone came inside and got settled he had warmed up a little towards us (helped along by borrowing some of my colored pencils and the fun of rolling our woven circular placemats along the floor) and by dinner he seemed on board with both R and I, and had even graced us both with his adorable, baby-toothed grin a few times.

A Swedish smörgåsbord   |  A wee reality check on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com
To give my brother and his family a taste of Sweden, we piled the table high with a variety of aquavit made in the Swedish archipelago plus Swedish beer, three kinds of herring, a smörgåstårta (shrimp sandwich "cake"), prinskorv (small Swedish sausages), gravadlax (cured salmon), boiled potatoes smothered with butter, and a cucumber salad.

They all loved everything (the baby especially enjoying the pleasant smushing abilities of the sausages and potatoes), just like my mom did upon her first in-Sweden taste of Swedish food earlier this summer. And they even managed to spare a little room for dessert (which was, perhaps not shockingly, a freshly-baked nectarine cake).

After dinner we sat around our U-shaped sofa as the baby careened around from cushion to cushion, laughing as he played variations of peek-a-boo with us and then tried to feed himself a bit of cake from his dad's plate. We ended up putting on The Lion King to wind the evening down, which was partly for the baby and partly (mostly) for me.

Not long after that we all went to bed and were up the next morning by 6:30AM, as they had to leave for the airport at 8. We gathered in the kitchen with coffee and cake and, once he had been convinced to freshen up and change into his travel clothes, a toddler hopping around the legs off the island and those of his godfather.

All too soon he was buckled into his carseat and they were gone. We came back upstairs, where in a now-familiar routine I once again collapsed on the couch, worn out after just one night and a short morning of trying to help (and not even that much, as had both his parents with him!) make sure a toddler was comfortable, happy and safe.

Winding Gamla Stan streets  |  A wee reality check on afeathery*nest  |  http://afeatherynest.com


Lessons learned from our two recent sessions with babies?

We're not quite as prepared as we thought.

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One year ago: A reset of sorts
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