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  |

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  |

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  |

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  |

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  |

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

An unexpected shower

An unexpected shower on afeathery*nest  |

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  |

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  |

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  |
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  |

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