Sunday, August 30, 2015

I've moved!

Delicious ambiguity has a new home at Please join me over there where you can continue to follow my escapades :) Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Spanish moss, sand dollars & shooting stars

Last week, we re-charged our batteries. It was a family affair: 15 people, 1 house, on an island together for a week. Bliss.

I'd honestly planned to blog from the beach, but when the time came to seat myself in front of this screen, I couldn't do it. Between bike rides and sand dollar hunts and pretending to read on the beach while really just chatting about nothing and watching the waves, I couldn't bring myself to post. These days spent together are far too few not to take full advantage of time, on which we're all constantly running low. But at the beach, time is on your side, even if the days fly by. 

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina was a first for us, at least all together. Our family has been on the Delaware beach train (a train I'll always love) for many years. But sometimes, it's nice to branch out and see what it is everyone's been talking about, what we're "missing." 

And it certainly was a different scene down south where the Spanish moss is plentiful; the beaches are as wide as football fields at noon and narrow down to a few meters by 5pm; and the ice cream shop closes at "tiiiin" instead of "ten." Although most places in our neighborhood, we discovered, closed closer to eight o'clock. Sometimes this made us stir-crazy, other times we relished in the nowhere-to-go feeling.

There were only a couple other groups on our strip of beach, meaning plenty of space to spread out and play games. Although the hard, tightly compacted sand makes for hard landings when the games get rough. 

My favorite time of day on the beach is always the late afternoon, when the sun's rays subside and the shadows lengthen. The wind picks up, and with it, the waves bulge higher, each one trying to out-do the last. At a certain point, I'd resign myself to another beach day's end and stroll home, skin salty and brown and dotted with sand. 

But we'd always get back down to the beach at night, long after dinner was over and card games had been played. We searched for turtle eggs to hatch so we could help the tiny creatures survive their perilous journey to the sea (of which we saw none). We also searched for shooting stars (of which we saw many). And one night, we got to see a fierce lightening storm far out in the ocean, shimmering reds and oranges between its frequent flashes of light. 

I don't know where we'll decide to go next year, but as long as there are a few beach chairs and umbrellas by the ocean, I think we'll be all set. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Out on the water in ATX

Austin may not be a coastal city, but there's still plenty to do on the water. Although land-locked, Austin is bisected by the Colorado River, which forms reservoirs, or lakes, along it's winding route to Matagorda Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. Conveniently for Austin residents, these lakes - Lake Austin, Lake Travis, and Lady Bird Lake - are all in close proximity to the city, providing several options of where to cool off during these dog days of August.

Austin's iconic Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin

I've been lucky enough - thanks to my 2 outstanding bros! - to get out on the water a few times since arriving down here, and I have to say it is pretty nice. The water is just cool enough to be refreshing, and there is a great mix of good waterskiing/wakeboarding spots as well as quiet coves to anchor out and swim. Or so I thought. On a Tuesday, one cove we found had just two other boats. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, and there were more than 50 boats lined up in the same cove, each with at least half a dozen sunbathers lounging on the decks, and more bobbing up and down on noodles in the water. I don't know which was worse: the puke that floated by me at one point in the afternoon or the tiny lake leeches I found on my feet after walking around in the more shallow, muddy areas of the cove. Otherwise, it was a dream, although the opposite of quiet. 

SUP-ing with Elaina on Lady Bird Lake

And then there's After Lake. Like Aprés Ski or After Beach, but After Lake involves docking at a pier-side restaurant - or often more a shack of sorts - and chowing down as you watch fellow watercraft whizz by, with or without a skier in tow. The best After Lake spot I've been to so far here in Austin is Ski Shores, where diners sit just on the edge of the dock as swans, fish and even turtles beg for leftover scraps. It's like a real-life aquarium! 

Considering I've been in Austin for 2 months today, I'd say I'm doing pretty well in the get-on-the-water department. Now if only I could say the same for my get-a-job mission...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Smokin' at Freedmen's

Last Friday, we joined friends for happy hour back in the 1800s. Or so it felt. A square, modest-looking place behind a 7-11 off of 24th Street in Austin. The student 'hood, based on it's proximity to UT. Prices may not have been lower, but the saloon-like ambiance certainly contrasted to the swanky, modern feel of many downtown establishments a few blocks south. And there was an offset smoker out back, industrial size:

As you can see, Freedmen's is serious about their BBQ. And rightfully so. In Austin, BBQ places are a dime a dozen - good BBQ isn't too hard to find. But melt-in-your-mouth BBQ? BBQ brisket thickly sliced, layered across homemade foccacia bread? The edges burnt just the right amount, the center succulent and tender? Not so common. I was literally in BBQ bliss. I wasn't even hungry! At $5, the Sammy sandwich was worth every happy-hour penny. 

And happy hour must involve drinks, of course. Of which Freedmen's does very well. I splurged on two of their artisan cocktails - the Smokin' Cactus and Plum something something. The perfect accompaniment to a meal in 90-degree heat. 

That's right - Freedmen's has no air conditioning*. Hence the time-warp. It doesn't sound like it would work, but somehow it does. Despite sweaty thighs stuck to brown leather chesterfield booths, I loved the transport to a slower era. The restaurant's activity seemed to adapt to a slower speed too, everyone lulled into a sweet, relaxed amble from the swelter. It took us probably six visits from our lovely waitress Tara before we actually ordered food. And, unlike the annoyance most restaurant staff would feel at such a pace, it was perfectly fine.

There's also a beer garden if you'd prefer a slight breeze. Or like that smoke from the smoker to add some more flavor to your experience. But there's not much of a need for that. I had zero expectations walking in to Freedmen's, and was more than satisfied as I sauntered out, for once not feeling that shock as a wave of heat engulfs my body. I was already acclimated! 

Thank you Freedmen's for a one-of-a-kind BBQ experience - I'll be back soon.

*Upon further investigation, it has come to light that this may be rather a matter of them having very weak air conditioners combined with all of the doors being open to the outdoors, creating the feeling of no air conditioning. To be confirmed upon my next visit there...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's true what they say

Everything really is bigger in Texas. Except for this poor little bat, that is, who was barely as long as the palm of my hand. His radar honing must have been off because he smacked straight into a window and fell to his fateful demise. 

Did you know that Austin is home to the largest urban population of bats in the world? They're Mexican free-tailed bats, and they migrate from central Mexico each spring to roost under the Congress Avenue Bridge right downtown. At sunset, about 1.5 million bats and their pups soar out from under the bridge on the hunt for insects to gorge on (of which there are plenty in these parts). This hairy guy, though, was on another path and for some reason ended up west of the city and never made it back to that bridge. 

Otherwise, though, things really are bigger down here. Just last night, I nearly stepped on a toad the size of my foot. Seriously. Lizards bask on every tree trunk. And giant cockroaches scurry away when light or movement threatens. No wonder they've been around for so long. 

Locals raise Texas flags the size of tennis courts, waving proudly in the breeze. Food portions/containers are often ridiculously large (try finding a small jar of salsa). And the cars are too - or trucks I should say - lumbering along (or sometimes slightly over) that double yellow line, taking up way more space than their cargo occupies. 

These and many more things about Texas will take some getting used to. In the meantime, I'll enjoy awing over these super-sizes - and hopefully there won't be anymore bat casualties in the process.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Paradise is a book shop

Books. They're just words printed on paper bound between a cover, right? If you've ever read a book, you know they're so much more than that. But what about the bookstores where these treasures are first discovered? There must be something to say for these special places that house endless spines piled, stacked, wedged along every open shelf, into every free corner. A leather armchair to lounge in, a ladder to reach high shelves, and a thousand titles to be leafed through in search of that perfect summer read.

backyard of The Annapolis Bookstore

At The Annapolis Bookstore, there is not a surface in sight without a stack of books to decorate it, each one with its own story - and history - to tell. Books sold at this charming establishment are in line with the shop's motto:

Used, new, rare, and always remarkable

Remarkable is the key word. Each book is remarkable in it's own right, waiting for a reader to happen upon it and fall in love, as every avid reader hopes to do with their next literary endeavor. At The Annapolis Bookstore, owners Janice Holmes and Mary Adams guide each person who passes through the door on their journey to find their perfect book, whatever that may be. Or for the solitare-seeking patron, they're happy for people to browse the rows for hours on their own quest.

An upright piano is nestled under the front window of the shop, its keys ready for any passerby so inclined to play. A cafe in the back serves organic coffee and sweet treats. And the backyard provides a quiet retreat, tucked away from the city happenings, complete with a miniature house made entirely of books

NS' and my participation in The Annapolis Bookstore's 24-hour read-a-thon

There is literally nowhere in the world quite like The Annapolis Bookstore. The books, the people, the ambiance - they're all so special and create a place that I hope can continue for many years to come. It's the You've Got Mail story, but this time instead of Meg Ryan battling (and falling in love with) Tom Hanks over big bully Fox bookstore luring her clients, there are real people whose lives are invested in giving the community a gathering place, a quiet place, a place of discussion and ideas, a place for the young and the old, a place which we should support for Annapolis and its people. 

Shop local is the catch-phrase of today, but it needs to be more than that. We must act on it. Instead of clicking that "Add to shopping bag" button, visit The Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Avenue. Leaf through their books. Interact with people. You never know what you'll discover when you venture out from behind your computer screen. 

PS - they'll be showing the film To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow evening in the garden to celebrate Harper Lee's 2nd book being published, so even more reason to get over there!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Annapolis to Austin: Our 5-day journey into the deep south

What does it mean to drive down a long, straight road all day long? A road that extends forever in the same direction, and when you get to the point you've been waiting to reach, it only continues, on and on, teasing you with its endlessness? To drive this road, this taunting road, in a 16' UHaul truck full of the things you've collected your whole life? It means focus. A lot of focus and perhaps a bit of insanity. But we did have some fun along the way.
NS, my mom, and I set out from my parent's driveway at 7:45am on Monday, June 1. It seemed like a good day to begin a journey. An anxious caravan - Prius following UHaul - meandering down the 2-lane country roads of southern Maryland. 

A traffic hiccup in Virginia caused slight delays, but we reached our destination for the night - Seabrook Island, South Carolina - just before 8pm, where we were welcomed into the house of dear friends with warm meals and beds for not one but two nights. The comfort of visiting loved ones to break up a long journey is like no other. We were so thankful for beach wanderings and ball throwing; swimming in the turquoise-colored sea; and gathering together around a table late into the evenings. It was bliss and our imminent departure came too soon.
But the south was calling, luring us in with its Spanish moss draping the trees and its warm temperatures enveloping our bodies. I love the south.

We chose a back-roads route through Georgia to break up the monotony - and danger - of Interstate 95. It was probably not the fastest way to go in the end, but we got to drive through some stunning countryside, where rolling fields close in on proud farmhouses perched beneath tall oaks and willows. It almost made being in the rumbling cabin of the truck peaceful.

Interstate 10 cuts across the US at the ankles, from one coast to the other, and we were dumped onto it in the Florida Panhandle, where the trees are green and life is slow. (Thank you, slow life.) 
The forest lakes we crossed over in Louisiana
In our search for accommodation that evening, we came upon a quaint, funky beach town called Grayton Beach*. There was very little there, but what was there was so perfectly wonderful and I decided that if we couldn't stay there that night (and even if we could), I would come back some day. And I will!

As it turned out, Grayton Beach was not in the cards for us on this particular night. We continued up the coast - thankfully having gained an extra hour crossing to the Central time zone - and settled for a hotel along the highway in Miramar Beach.

Our last full day of driving brought us through:
  • what little was left of the Panhandle
  • the squared-off tip of Alabama (pee break)
  • Mississippi (lunch at Diamondhead's Harbor House Steamer Yacht Club overlooking the St. Louis Bay)
  • Louisiana (gas refill/route- & meat-buying-advice from a local fueling his truck, open beer in hand)
  • and finally, the very start of Texas.
We passed only a handful of the 880 exits that span Texas along Interstate 10 before calling it quits for the night in Beaumont. After settling into a hotel, we found an authentic Cajun seafood and Texas steakhouse called Floyds. Floyds' sweet tea was sweet and its seafood gumbo was spicy. Most everything else was friiiiied.

One of many, many gas stops
Friday - glorious Friday - brought us to our destination by 1pm. Austin! We made it, finally, completely intact and a little bit worldlier in the ways of the south. I guess there's lots more of that to come now that we're Texas residents. Just have to find me some cowboy boots!

*Random fact: Grayton Beach's eastern neighbor is a town called Seaside, which is where The Truman Show was filmed. We didn't make it to Seaside this time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Re-adjusting to 'murica

It's been exactly 27 days since we've arrived back in the States, and I have to admit I'm still adjusting. It's been wonderful and hectic, as every vacation here has been for the past few years. But this time, the vacation is continuing into real life. (Although we're not quite there yet.)

Vacation mode along the Hudson in New York City

I may be back in my homeland, but I'm now here with a slightly altered perspective. It's undoubtedly the same beautiful place I've longed for, and I'm thankful for that - with the exception of a couple things. The most prominent one being traffic. Having not driven even once in more than a year, it was honestly a bit of a jolt being thrown into 4-lane, bumper-to-bumper traffic, lines of shiny cars stretching along the steaming pavement as far as the eye can see. Where is everyone going on this one road at exactly the same time? 

Luckily I haven't experienced a stand-still yet, but it's only a matter of time. And it's not just the number of automobiles - it's the way they drive, the most accurate description of which is aggressively. Man, are they aggressive. As I type this, I'm wincing a bit as I know I've lapsed into this dangerous category more than once in the last few weeks. (Note to self: give myself more time to get everywhere.)

Another adjustment for me has been grocery shopping. I guess any kind of shopping could fall into this category, but groceries is what I'm experiencing these days and it is crazy. The selection of bottled waters alone takes up aisle space greater than all the beverages in the biggest Swedish food market combined. Heaping baskets of fruit snacks in five new colorful flavors greet each consumer at the entryway, begging to be noticed and grabbed by the handful. I'm realizing that my go-to meals in Sweden aren't so go-to here. Try finding halloumi cheese in the US. It's no small feat, I can assure you.

I can say, though, that I'm loving the heat. I've missed this heat, even when it's sweltering and sweaty. And I'm loving all the people I've missed so very much: being a part of their lives again, being a quick phone call or drive away. 

Thanks for taking me back, America. Now let's see about starting a real life here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Saying goodbye to Stockholm

A chapter is coming to a close very shortly. Tomorrow actually. In about 8 hours. Our time here in Stockholm - at least this go-around - is finished. We're off! To a new place with new people and new experiences. But there's lots here in Stockholm I'll miss every day. 

our across-the-canal neighbor, Karlberg Castle

I'll miss being surrounded by such beauty - both in the city itself and the nature it encompasses - 14 islands and all the gorgeous waterways between them.

I'll miss being able to bike home across town at 2am, and feeling secure about it. Not to mention getting there - as in anywhere - in just 20 minutes.

I'll miss being in a country where there are official holidays to celebrate baked goods - cinnamon buns, Selma, waffles...

I'll miss the endless summer days, where it's light past midnight and again by 3am. Even if it's not as warm as I'd like, there's truly something magical about the light.

I'll miss afternoons spent at my sauna club - and jumping in the lake between sweat sessions, no matter what the season.

For that matter, I'll miss jumping in all the lakes of this country - and the enthusiasm every Swede shares in doing do. 

But more than any of these things, I'm going to miss all the incredible people I've met here. Swedes aren't know for their friendliness, but the people I've met during my 4.5 years in Stockholm - both Swedes and non-Swedes - are amazing people who have taught me so much. 

The last few days here have been filled by a blur of cleaning like I've never cleaned before and packing way too many things into way too small suitcases. Not the most idyllic way to spend the end of this era. Then again, it's probably best for my emotional self to keep busy so as not to dwell on things too much. And there's so much goodness waiting for us on the other side! 

Thank you Stockholm, for all these things and for so much more. We'll be back!

Monday, April 20, 2015

A walk through the wild side of Sweden

Last Saturday, I spent the night in a tiny fishing hut alongside this gorgeous lake just outside of Tiveden National Park in central Sweden.

Serenity is the word. Not a sound save for the birds and our ax as we cut down dead trees for firewood.

I so wanted to take a dip off the rickety dock after a day spent hiking through Tiveden's ancient forest - but given that the fishing hut was little more than a roof over our heads and the sun was setting fast, I decided against it; Swedish springs are more like an extension of its winters - but brighter - and it would be a long night if I couldn't warm up. 

Without jumping in, though, I had one of my best nights of sleep in awhile beneath bright stars beside a dying campfire. I stayed warm in my sleeping bag + 4 layers of clothing atop a mattress of evergreen branches. 

A few swigs of whiskey may also have helped. I'm usually averse to this amber spirit, but have a newly-gained appreciation of it after last weekend. That and pea soup, lukewarm and straight from the can. It's amazing how good food and drink taste when you're outside all day. 

Our band of 5 arrived a bit too late to snag the best hut in the park on our first night - last Friday - but found another good spot close enough. And just in time: the last of the day's light faded as our fire got going.

The next day, we explored the rugged terrain of Tiveden's forest - measuring about 3,300 acres - which served as hiding place for outlaws back in the Middle Ages. I can see why. Massive rocks carve out protected caverns, perfect for hiding out. And who wouldn't want to hide out in such a majestic forest? Bright green moss covers much of the forest floor, sliced by streams trickling by with the last of the year's melted snow. 

After a late night around the fire on Friday, we didn't start hiking until around midday on Saturday. Sometimes it's good to ease into it. We probably covered about 7 kilometers, up and down winding paths, along the edges of flat, gray lakes. 

In the late afternoon, we came to Tiveden's largest free-standing rock, Junker Jägares Stone, stretching 15 meters high. A thick, fuzzy layer of moss circled the bottom; a single, wispy tree grew at the top, waving down to us in the breeze.

Our evenings' sustenance was grilled sausages; our mornings' was grilled bacon and sandwiches with jalapeno cheese squeezed on from a tube. We filled in the rest with trail mix. Hiking isn't hiking without trail mix.

On Sunday morning, we woke up to high winds and a bright sun. The tall, slender trees creaked and swayed precariously all around us, threatening to fall down at any moment - and we came upon many that did on our hike back to the car. We hoped to spot some wild animals - as we walked against the wind, they wouldn't be as likely to pick up our scent - but all we found were frogs. Lots and lots of frogs.

Swedish forests are mystical places, and Tiveden is no exception. There is something special about spending whole days and nights outside, a fresh rawness that seeps into every cell in your body. I survived our weekend in the Swedish wilderness, and loved every minute of it - frogs, tubed cheese, and all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Let it be a dreary Friday

Spring has been cancelled. That's right - winter had so much fun this year, it's decided to continue it's run. For how long? Who knows, it's always a gamble. We can only be patient and hope for the best. 

I for one don't mind this dreary, foggy, wet, cold Friday. It's the kind of cold you can't escape, no matter how many layers you pull on - it gets right in to the bone. It's the kind of cold best watched through a window, next to a roaring fire, or some candles at least. A cup of tea in the morning, a glass of wine in the evening. And wool socks: they are key. 

Ulriksdal Castle this afternoon

I have a distinct memory of running home from school in 2nd grade (8 years old) on a Friday afternoon such as this one. It was the year I wore a specific outfit for each day of the week. Ariel from The Little Mermaid on Mondays, my sunflower shirt on Tuesdays. And my favourite outfit on Friday, complete with purple floral velvet leggings to celebrate the week's ending. 

On that gray Friday, I was so excited to get home and play - not having any homework to do until Sunday night - and as I made the sharp right turn to ascend the stairs to my front door, I slipped on the wet red brick and busted my knee. Lots of tears, and no more purple floral velvet leggings. But it was okay. It was Friday, and all the promises of the weekend awaited. I remember shaking it off and going to play in my room, cozily tucked up in my attic hideaway.

And that is sort of like today. No busted knees (so far). Just some laundry. An excursion even, to see what there is to see through the dense fog. And wool socks - extra thick ones.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Swedish Gone Wrong

At a recent house (or rather, apartment) party, I found myself standing by the door welcoming some new arrivals as they walked in, shedding their winter layers. As one does in small talk, I asked one guy how he knew the host and hostess, to which an answer came out that I didn't really hear. Instead of asking this guy to repeat himself, I just laughed, loudly and overtly, my go-to reaction when I'm not sure what to do. It usually works out.

But not this time.

The guy looked at me like I'd just asked him if I could take a bite off his ear.

Why is that funny? he asked me. I said I went to university with him.

Uhhhhh ..... b a c k a w a y s l o w l y a n d a v o i d s a i d p e r s o n f o r t h e r e s t o f t h e e v e n i n g

awkward door guard

Of course, the problem was my level of Swedish in this - and many other - situations. The hum and blare of a 70-person party doesn't help either. Still, I was disappointed by my level of Swedish. After 4.5 years, I'd hoped to be a Swedish-language master, nearly native. No such luck. Although I have my moments. And I do get complimented a lot for how well I speak this crazy Nordic language. But I still struggle with simple things. Like what did the guy say on the announcement on the metro? And what is that news broadcaster reporting? Aren't news broadcasters supposed to speak clearly? I'm sure they are speaking clearly, but it's still a struggle for me.

I was recently asked by someone how much Swedish I understand, and I answered 90%. That's on a good day. Other days it might only be 50%. I do have relationships with people that are entirely in Swedish - and it feels strange to speak English with them. But with other people, I can't seem to even get into the flow.

Either way, as someone who's terrible with new languages, I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far, even if it's taken me awhile to get there. But learning a language never really seems to be over. It's a life-long process, like so many other things, and that's a good thing since I've got some more learning to do.

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's raining Swedish celebs (sort of)

Can we take a minute to talk about my recent Swedish celebrity sitings? Two in the last month! I know these are minor celebrities in the big scheme of things, but that's besides the point - I spotted them! On my own! And was somewhat star-struck, which I wouldn't have expected for these Swedish celebs. But there's just something special about going through a normal, routine activity, and all of a sudden, you look up and recognize a face that you usually only see through your TV screen. 

Like last week: I was waiting in line at the post office to mail a package. The gentleman in front of me was collecting one, and asked if he could leave the extra packaging to be thrown away. It took me only a second to recognise this man:


His name is Johan Rheborg and in Sweden, he's famous for being one of four main characters on the Swedish TV series, Solsidan. On the show, Mr. Rheborg plays "Fredde", a middle-aged, quirky, very wealthy man with a severely receding hairline and a gorgeous wife. In real life, I'm sure this role has allotted Mr. Rheborg at least some degree of the wealth his character has; I'm not sure about the wife.
So what did I do? Like a true Swede, I played it cool (sort of), aka did my best not to appear that I was even ever-so-slightly looking. Everyone else in line behind me just went about being as normal as possible while Rheborg unpacked his things and stashed away what looked like a few bottles of specialty shampoo. (Which I'm sure no one else even noticed because they weren't looking.) I couldn't help not glancing over at least every few seconds. 

My other Swedish celebrity siting was a few weeks ago. NS and I were walking along a snowy sidewalk when I spotted this woman:


crossing the street ahead of us. Judging from this photo, she's hard to miss, but on said day, her hair was in a tight bun and she was bundled beneath bulky winter outerwear. Her name is Jessika Gedin and she hosts a Swedish program called Babel on which she interviews various authors about their books. I've not actually seen a full episode, and don't know many Swedes who have, but I was proud to have recognized her. Oddly enough, I saw her a second time the very next day passing outside my apartment. Stockholm really is a small city. 

In both cases, no words were exchanged, no autographs requested, no photos taken to document these chance meetings. It's just not the way celebrities are approached here. Whether a top idol or an aged star, Swedes will not do anything to intrude on their bubble .... that is, unless they've had a drink or two. Then all bets are off. 

I will say that, proof or no proof, I do feel a bit more ingrained in Swedish society now ... but will probably never be able to keep myself from glancing over at any celebrity I spot at least a few times.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Spanish- & Swedish-inspired tapas consulate

Last week, NS and I ate a delicious meal at the new(ish) restaurant, Matkonsulatet, down the street from us. This tiny restaurant serves tapas largely inspired by Barcelona - and Catalonia as a whole - with a touch of Sweden. It was incredible

here's the place - cozy, eh?

We started with a cocktail that Spaniards traditionally drink before eating tapas. How very authentic of us, no? Although I can't remember its name for the life of me. 

Moving on, we ordered what felt like half the menu - and it sort of was, as there are maybe a couple dozen tapas to choose from and we got at least 8 of them.... crispy, buttery slices of bread with a garlic tomato spread; thinly-sliced chorizo like you've never had chorizo before; roasted potatoes with aioli (of course!); salad with roasted pears, blue cheese and hazelnuts; cod fritters; and a selection of Spanish cheeses. 

And the dessert - oh my: chocolate cremoso with olive oil and sea salt. I don't know what cremoso even is, but I love it. The thickest, creamiest soft chocolate ice cream-like substance - and coated with olive oil. It sounds odd, but I swear it works. 

Would I recommend this place? Claro que si! Should you go there now? Indeed you should! Right now! I mean, remove your gaze from this very screen and find the closest mode of transportation to Kungsholms Strand 157. On second thoughts, the entire Matkonsulatet team is traveling to Barcelona for some culinary inspiration in a couple weeks, so maybe wise to visit this little gem once they're back?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Some reflections on turning 30

It’s funny to be at the age where you’re supposed to have it all figured out – and not being close.
The age I've always assumed was so serious and grown-up.
Where drinking coke at a party will prompt automatic assumptions that you're pregnant – or trying.
And for those parties you do feel like letting loose, feeling increasingly regretful the next morning... or the next two mornings.

My sister-in-law once said she felt like a real adult when she turned 30. I don't know if I'd say I do yet, but somehow, reaching this big number wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. I struggled more with turning 20 than I have with 30 if you can believe it.

It's likely I’ll never really get to that fabled point of true adulthood, of being put together and feeling confident in what I’m doing and where I’m going. Of knowing how to balance all the facets of my life, and feeling happy in each one. Does anyone ever get there? Or is it more about pretending we do? Fake it 'til you make it. But when do you make it?

Whether we’re 30 or 70, maybe it’s more about taking our life experiences and making the best of the ones that are happening now. As a yoga teacher once told me, the most important thing in life is the thing you’re doing right now. I try to live by those words as best I can, although it’s often a struggle. And I think for me, turning 30 is more about that than anything being a real adult might mean. Who knows what the future will bring? What's the use of living in the past? Living in the now is all we really can do anyway.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Planking my way through winter

It's a snowy Monday here in Stockers, and the beautiful winter wonderland I'm always dreaming about is right outside my window, falling as we speak. This is frigid February - a special month for me (my bday month!), and also this year, the start of a challenge: the plank challenge. 

These 30-day challenges seem to be the new work-out trend. There's an abs one, squat, chest, burpee, thigh... the list goes on. I guess it makes sense; 30 is a nice round (and manageable) number to start off each month. 

not exactly planking here, but close

So yesterday, I started with my first 20 seconds of planking. The thing is, in my current housewife status, I've been going to the gym - Friskis & Svettis (Fresh & Sweaty in English) - nearly every day. There's not much of an excuse for me not to. Plus, I can get there on foot in about 5 minutes. 

I've got the gym class schedule down flat, and know most of the instructors' names. I know whose classes are the toughest, and which ones I can be a bit lazy in. I've mastered the online booking system. In a city so crowded, it's often necessary to book classes a whole week ahead of time. Crazy, I know, but I can so I do.

Part of my work outs on most days is a plank, usually for about 80 seconds. I struggle through it, huffing and puffing, in hopes that it will be easier the next day. It never is. Now I'm back to 20 seconds - names problemas - but according to the challenge, will be hitting 240 seconds by the end of the month. Can you imagine doing a plank for 4 minutes?! I certainly can't. Baby steps. I'll be reporting back on my planking in a month, either with rock hard abs or ... more likely not. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 23, 2015

The trials and tribulations of a snow storm

Everyone knows blizzards are hazardous. Slick roads, icy sidewalks, the danger of icicles suddenly dropping on anything/one below - it can be treacherous. But I'd like to bring to light one of the lesser known perils of a snow storm: smeared mascara. 

On this specific occasion, earlier this week, it wouldn't have mattered except for that fact that I was handing out CV's to local cafes and restaurants, hoping to find a part-time source of income (at the moment, I'm a professional housewife/ aspiring writer). 

Who hands out their CV door-to-door anyway? Well, I do. Not many others based on the looks I received when I walked in. Or perhaps it was my raccoon eyes. 

Either way I don't know how Swedes do this: facing the elements and remaining put-together and not looking like a train wreck. Help! Anyone? 

I guess the lesson to be learned is don't hand out CV's during a blizzard. In case you were considering it. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Eating our way through Helsinki

Our weekend in Helsinki was an eating one. Whether we were hungry or not, eating was the primary activity of our 30-some hour visit - and it was wonderful.

We visited some of the city's main attractions, of course: the Lutheran Cathedral overlooking Senate Square, the Uspenski Cathedral, the newly renovated Saluhallen (open food market). We even took a ride on the Sky Wheel, which rose 40 meters above the harbor with views stretching far into the winter greyness. But all of these activities were killing time before our next meal. 

Helsinki's Lutheran Cathedral

Finns traditionally eat a delicious pastry called karjalanpiirakka for breakfast. It's made up of a thin rye crust with a thick rice porridge inside. Sometimes a mixture of hard-boiled eggs and butter is spread on top. I was skeptical of this seemingly random creation at first, but it took only one bite for me to change my mind. You must try it the next time you're in Finland - they're amazing. 

For lunch, we found a charming, cozy cafe - Armas Kitchen & Bar - in the basement of a mall on one of the main shopping avenues, and enjoyed their pulled pork and smoked salmon kebabs made from local, organic ingredients, with some very sour beer brewed in France (note to self: drink French champagne, not beer). 

Helsinki's finest department store, Stockmann

And our last meal in Helsinki was at the renowned Sea Horse restaurant, where we indulged in traditional Finnish cuisine - cabbage rolls, meatballs, schnitzel - at a table alongside one of Finland's most famous soap opera actresses. The most unusual dish on their menu was the Iced cranberries with caramel hot sauce dessert, which we ordered - and made sure to scoop up every last drop from the pitcher of caramel that came with it. 

Then it was time to get back on our ferry, Viking Lines' Mariella, for the 18-hour journey across the icy Baltic Sea and back to Stockholm. The Mariella was fully equipped with saunas and jacuzzis galore, an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet, duty free shopping, and a spacious dance floor in the "Fun Club." What more could we ask for? Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the dance floor - but we did get on stage for a round of karaoke. Let's just say our audience was not overly encouraging.

Helsinki is a beautiful city, even beneath grey skies, and we loved seeing it with our local guides Maija and Tommy. Thank you guys for a wonderful weekend - we'll be back!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mountains, mopeds and a (slightly) manic classroom

You know you've been in Vietnam for awhile when it's strange to use silverware again. Not a negative strange, but just a sudden - oh, back to this now. And with it, back to a reality I'd disappeared from for 3 weeks. No more chopsticks, no more rice, no more mosquito nets.

3 weeks doesn't sound like too long, but my experiences of those days were immeasurable. Everything I saw was new. Everyone I met was new. I'd never been immersed in this degree of new-ness before, to say the least. It was wonderful and terrifying all at once - and being on my own made it all the more so. 

I arrived in Hanoi on a warm, overcast day. The Vietnamese would tell me winter was coming, but it was the most summer I'd felt in a long while. Even without the sun, I was in heaven. But the weather was the least of my focus within the hazy chaos of this 6.5 million-person city. And almost that same number of mopeds, no joke. 

riding on the back like a pro

I explored the city on the back of my trusty translator Anh's moped, and was stunned we survived the excursion. Incessant beeping, hundreds of mopeds everywhere, whizzing around carrying anything and everything on their backs - a refrigerator, a family of 4, the carcass of a freshly slain hog. Somehow, it all works. For the most part, at least. It amazed me every day of my visit. For the locals, it was just another day in the life.

the view stepping out from my homestay

I spent just 2 nights in Hanoi before taking an 8-hour night bus to my volunteer placement in the mountainous north - a tiny place called Tha Village. Population: about 500. Although I doubt it's ever been counted. We arrived to the village at about 4am - me, my translator, and my host family's son, Little Son (naturally, being the younger of their 2 sons). After a nearly sleepless night, I had exactly 4 hours until my first class as an English teacher. No reason to delay these things I guess. 

Teaching for me was truly a challenge. The city kids I taught a few kilometers away sat at desks in classrooms with notebooks and had a vocabulary of, say, a few hundred English words. The village kids, who knew only a few dozen English words, squeezed in along narrow benches in a large open space with a high roof and cement wall structures built around parts of the room. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 15 - basically, whoever in the village felt like showing up. Some evenings, 50 students sat in front of me; other times, fewer than 10.

In the midst of the chaos of this village "classroom" (if it can be called that), whatever other activities that were happening at that time would be happening in the same space, just a couple feet away from our lessons. This included a dozen elders "stretching their bones" to a work-out video; a meeting of the governing members in the community; and women practicing a dance for an upcoming festival. Not to mention the several construction workers who were temporarily living in the space. I never knew what I'd be walking into on any given evening. 

That being said, the moments when I experienced a break-through with the kids, however small, were incredible. And seeing their enthusiasm to learn was heart-rending. 

During the days, some of the kids would wander into my homestay on their own to play games or sing songs, a few carrying a tiny sibling strapped to their backs. Fortunately, I had lots of Swedish candy to share with them as prizes. They loved it.

earning my keep at my homestay - rice laid out to dry

It's difficult to summarize such an experience. The trip was one of the hardest things I've ever done; but one in which I grew the most. I truly immersed myself in a completely foreign place with only my translator to communicate with. No English-speakers, no "same-boat" confidant. Just me. And it was tough. But I also saw everything through my own eyes, rather than being influenced by how others interpreted any given situation. I observed a lot as events that I did not understand unfolded around me. And I wrote - filled 2 journals in fact, first page to last. 

I met some wonderful people in Vietnam who truly welcomed me as one of their own. One such man, a Mr. Cat, told me when we said goodbye that I was family now and should come back anytime. He said (all through Anh's translation) that you never know what the future holds, so Vietnamese people appreciate each moment as it's happening - just like Mr. Cat and his family had with my visit. 

I am trying to carry this wisdom with me, back to what feels like another planet here in Stockholm. Thank you Mr. Cat, Anh, Tha Village, and Vietnam for the experience of a lifetime in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

late afternoon light in Tha Village