Friday, November 30

Day 335: Emergency Happy Kit

Quick! Name five things you keep stocked in your house to make you smile or feel good in a dire emergency...

My items would include:

1. Chocolate
2. My cat (can this count? I don't actually keep her "stocked" but she happens to be around all the time)
3. Olbas (A massage aromatherapy oil with eucalyptus, juniper and other nice ingredients - great for a   crick in the neck or back)
4. A brownie mix
5. My favorite herbal tea

Those were just the first five things that came to mind but there are so many others. But how many times have I discovered that I am out of my favorite tea, there is no brownie mix around for miles, the chocolate I really like is not made anymore and the cat is not interested in company? Too many to count I'm sure. I obviously need to start keeping certain things on my shopping list to ensure that I always have them on hand, an emergency happy kit if you will. 

Then I stop to think of the repercussions of such a thing. Plenty of people have emergency kits for earthquakes, hurricanes, snow storms or other natural disasters, but how many people actually have an emergency happy kit? A supply of favorite things collected together that can help take the edge off when we are feeling down and out or just blah. Hmm... I think I may be on to something. And now that I actually really think about it, I'm guessing that at least one toy or toy-like item should be in the kit. You know, a miniature lego cowboy that your nephew gave you, or a mechanical Easter chick that your mom sent even though she knows you are an adult now? See? Moms also know the importance of toys at any age. 

I would really love to hear what you would put in your emergency happy kits. In fact, I am so curious that I am going to make you an offer you cannot refuse. Anyone who leaves a comment, here on the blog or on Facebook, saying what they would include in their emergency happy kit, will be entered to win an emergency happy kit to be designed and shipped by me. Did you read correctly? Am I really doing a giveaway? Yes, indeed I am. Giveaways make me happy. Emergency Happy Kits make me happy. So I would be doubly happy to give away a kit especially designed to make someone happy in an emergency.
I hope you will participate! 

And don't forget to include your name if you comment anonymously!

Wednesday, November 28

Day 334: Snow Day

Well, so much for wishing for a day to stay home. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. That or be more specific about the details of your wish. Now I'm home sick and it's a beautiful winter wonderland outside and I have to stay indoors and enjoy it from afar. Yes, it snowed all night and it's sticking today. My husband and I were talking just last night about the phrase, "It's sticking," which is used to describe the snow remaining on the ground and not melting. Before he moved from Sweden to Texas he'd never heard that expression and the first time he heard it he thought it was the craziest thing. Obviously there were no sticks coming down from the sky, what could it possibly mean? I wonder if it's an expression used only in Texas, or the south. Regardless, I can definitely say, in southern or Texas speak, that "it's sticking" today in Stockholm.

Sitting here in my apartment I can picture how beautiful all of the trees and parks look, covered with a magical dusting of white snow to brighten things up. Having a layer of crisp puffy snow overnight everything always helps with the long dark winter days here. The days don't feel as dark and heavy even if the sun is not shining. But snow days in Sweden are nothing like snow days in Texas. Everything shuts down in Texas. Schools close for the day, roads are less traveled and some stores even shut down. Of course, it doesn't snow nearly as much there so there isn't the support system set up to handle the icy roads. Here life goes on as normal. It is someone's job to go around the city sprinkling gravel and sand on roads, sidewalks and the pathways through the parks to keep people from slipping as they walk from here to there.

The year we moved here my first experience with snow and icy conditions on the sidewalks was met with my rump on the ground several times. The special "snow" boots I bought in Texas were as slippery as ice skates but I was too proud to buy those special attachments to put on my shoes to help with slippery, icy conditions. Instead I put new boots on my wish list and for Christmas I received an awesome pair of boots that helped tremendously with the slippery conditions. Since then I've learned that you have to roll through your feet as you are walking over the snow and ice and that really helps to keep one from slipping or falling. Even so, you still won't find me walking around in high heels or skirts and short jackets in below zero temperatures. If you look around however there are plenty of women wearing such attire. Next to them you'll find me covered from head to toe in long pants, turtlenecks, scarves, hats, gloves and a long winter coat. But only on days colder than -15 Celsius will you catch me in the arctic duffle - better known as my sleeping bag coat.

Day 333: Today Has Been Cancelled

"Your attention, your attention please: Due to sleet, snow and unpleasant windy weather, today has been cancelled. Please return to your homes, change back into your pj's and go back to bed until tomorrow."

Wouldn't that be a wonderful announcement? I personally would have loved to hear something along those lines earlier today. But since the day is already nearly over, I'll just move on with it. Just recently I boasted that I was ready for winter. I may have fibbed. It is darn cold today and with the icy rain-wind whipping me and my poor umbrella around, I feel rather beat up and ready for bed. However, once I get my winter coat and boots out and dress more appropriately tomorrow I'll get back to you with an update. It could possibly be okay after all. Just not with my fall coat and attire.

Believe it or not it was not difficult to find happy today. After all, I had the final slice of pumpkin bread for breakfast this morning and I am enjoying a cozy cup of herbal tea with the last tea bag from the box, right now as I type this. There could have easily been no pumpkin bread or tea left but luck was on my side today. A couple of simple pleasures to get me through the beginning of winter.

Simple pleasures are the most direct connection between me and my happy place. Of course, I'm also of the mentality that when in doubt, a cup of herbal tea and a quiet corner work wonders. I usually like to also enjoy a kanelbulle (Swedish cinnamon bun) with my cup of tea but since I've recently managed to shake off the extra pounds that crept up on me during the last few years, I'll skip that for now. (And thank goodness we finally ate the remaining pumpkin pie last night!) Ha! Who am I fooling? Kanelbulle? Slice of pie? Not a terribly huge difference but I justify it somehow and so far the scale is still in my favor. Sheer luck? I'm not completely sure but I'll take it and run.

And according to the quote on my yogi tea bag tab, one good word has warmth for the winter. Hmmm... I hope I can find that one good word. Tea? Maybe? It certainly warmed my soul. 

Tuesday, November 27

Day 332: Happy List

What makes you happy? Truly happy? Obviously it can be different things for different people. But if you had to write up a list of the things that make you happy do you know what those things would be? I've often pondered over the various things that would make it to my list. So many things make me happy and after nearly an entire year of thinking about and finding happy everyday, I think my list is ready to materialize. Maybe you would like to make a happy list too?

Here's my first shot...

My Happy List:

1. Sunshine
2. Being alive
3. My husband
4. My family
5. My cat
6. Hiking in the mountains
7. Views from mountain tops
8. A good home cooked meal, shard with family and friends
9. Ice cream cones
10. Riding my bike down a tree-lined path
11. Freshly baked pumpkin bread
12. A steaming bowl of homemade soup
13. Taking a walk on a beautiful day
14. Sitting quietly at home doing absolutely nothing
15. Creative projects
16. Coffee with cream
17. Swedish kanelbullar (cinnamon buns)
18. Getting a letter in the mail
19. Giving gifts
20. Lying on the warm rocky cliffs at Tjörn (island on the west coast of Sweden)
21. Then going for a swim in the ice cold refreshing water
22. Picnics
23. Spending time outdoors in nature
24. Exploring
25. Hugs
26. Movies
27. Spending time with my Mom and Dad
28. Fresh flowers
29. Reading a great book
30. Adventures
31. Memorabilia from my childhood
32. Old photos of my Mom and Dad
33. Taking photos
34. Eating
35. Making a difference in someone's life
36. Traveling to new places
37. Taking vacations
38. Internet
39. Clean sheets
40. Cuddling
41. Presents
42. Celebrating
43. Chocolate
44. Sunsets

There. Forty-four things that make me happy for each year that I have been alive. My list is by no means exhaustive and I will definitely add to it over time. I think everyone should have a happy list to look at when they are feeling sad, lonely or just not their normal cheerful selves. If you choose to make  a happy list yourself, you are welcomed to borrow from mine if you'd like, or maybe you want to design your own from scratch. Add to your happy list as often as needed and don't forget to share it with someone you love!

Monday, November 26

Day 331: Christmas Cheer Slowly Spreading

It's hard to believe that November is nearly over. Seems the year just began a short time ago. Where does the time go? Sometimes an hour drags by for what seems like days and other times you blink your eyes and the minutes, hours, days vanish mysteriously in a cloudy mist. But again, here we are nearing the year's end. Do I feel a year older? Wiser? I guess I could say yes and no to both questions but ultimately it's been a good year. Happy has followed me, or rather I have followed it, around the curves of the months as winter melted into spring, spring blurred into a sort of summer and summer slid fast into fall, leaving me hankering for more warm days and dips into the shockingly cold waters of the Baltic and North seas.

Now, heading toward the end of November, thoughts of warm days and swimming are but distance memories and the familiar excitement of Christmas time is starting to brew. Everywhere I look I see Christmas cheer slowly spreading across the city. Squares and small neighborhood centers are setting up their Christmas trees and lights and all manner of holiday decorations are being splashed down the streets across store front windows. Pretty soon glowing paper stars will fill the windows of apartments and stores alike. It is definitely a merry time of year in Sweden. Just today there was even a hint of true winter in the air. Do I look forward to minus degree temperatures? If it means that there will be snow and lots of it, then definitely yes, I look forward to it. Otherwise I would be perfectly fine with temperatures hovering around and above freezing, with an emphasis on above.

In just a few short days it will be the first of December. Have you finished your Christmas and holiday shopping? I am quite close to being done, just a handful more things to get and then it's time to wrap. Wrapping gifts is one of my favorite things to do. I always have at least one eye peeled in search of creative ways to package gifts. Today at lunch time I picked up some fun wrapping paper and decorative tape as well as a couple of scoops of fragrant cardamom pods to replace the dry, nearly unscented ones in our dining table candle bowls.

What are the things you do to gear up for the holidays and get in the Christmas spirit?

A majestic tree towering above as students hurry to and from classes at one of the cities universities. 

Even Mother Nature is getting ready for the holidays with lots of vibrant green moss everywhere. 

 These lovely bowls were a gift from my husbands' sisters several years ago. They look lovely filled with cardamom pods and tea-lights, I think.

Sunday, November 25

Day 330: Tacos and Reminiscing

What stops us from going out on our bikes in the drizzly weather to eat tacos at the pink taco truck? Absolutely nothing. We just grab our rain jackets and head out anyway. Luckily there were only few minutes when I actually needed my rain jacket but it was still good to have with me. It's amazing that the weather has been so warm this time of year. It isn't swimming weather by any means but it is definitely nice enough out that we can be outside without feeling like we need to find the nearest cafe for a hot beverage and cozy chair to sit in while we warm our bones.

Homemade with love! 


Shoveling the final bites in... Notice no hat or gloves... ah!!!!

I remember how cold the first winter was when we moved to Sweden. We arrived at the beginning of December and shortly afterward it began to snow and it did not stop the entire winter. We had a white Christmas, a white January, a white February and a white March. It was a bit of a shock to my Texas core and I can remember planning out my strategies for getting to and from our apartment in the freezing cold. I am pretty sure that my commuting strategy, i.e. stepping into a store every few blocks, to warm up is how I came to be so acquainted with many of what I consider my favorite stores now. Many of them just happened to be along my route so if I found that my hands were starting to get numb or that I could no longer tolerate the tiny ice pellets beating again my face, into one of the toasty boutiques I would saunter and browse until I felt I could bear the outside again.

So having weather in late November in which we can ride our bikes without having to dress in tons of extra layers feels especially indulgent. Add to that, getting to stand outdoors while eating our refried bean tacos, topped with pico de gallo and avocado cream, and you have a truly special treat. Even with this warmer trend in temperatures, I am still looking forward to snow. Because believe it or not, having really cold temperatures and pretty white snow is much nicer than it just being cold and rainy. The snow brightens things up with the long dark days and makes it feel like we live in a winter wonderland. I'll take the warmth for now but if it starts snowing sometime soon I would be completely cool with it. No pun intended.

This photo was taking the evening we trudged out in the snow to get a Christmas tree for our temporary apartment. It was really the last day that made any sense for getting a tree since we would not be in town for Christmas. Unfortunately the Christmas tree lot was closed. Fortunately I found this stray branch hanging around. It became our "tree." Those white spots are snow reflecting the light of the flash, in case you didn't know. :-)

Below is a little synopsis of the winter months...

Warming up in December with a little glögg (spiced wine) at the Julmarknad (Christmas market).

January trip to IKEA in a snow storm... It was colder than it looks! 

February visit to Millesgården... the sculpture garden was inaccessible due to the snow level.

Walking on the frozen Baltic sea in March. Just a month later and I would not be standing but swimming in ice cold water.

 One final snow in April... providing snow that was damp enough to mold into snowmen.

Finally snow free in May!

It may or may not be a long wait until days like this in 2013 but I am ready for it, whether it is snow filled months until April or May or warmer days with little to no snow. Bring it on Mr. Frost!

Saturday, November 24

Day 329: The Comforts of Pumpkin

Last year right after Thanksgiving I came across a double-size can of Libby's pumpkin puree. So I bought it. The expiration date was good until 2013 and I figured buying it then would guarantee that I had pumpkin in the pantry come Thanksgiving 2012. I did save this extra large can for Thanksgiving this year but in addition to it, I have also bought two regular size cans to make pumpkin bread. This past summer a friend of mine from book club moved back to the US. In an effort to use up all of the dry goods she had in her pantry she made pumpkin bread for the last book club meeting she attended. I was completely inspired to make my own pumpkin bread so as soon as I came across a can of Libby's pumpkin I bought it. I am not even going to mention what I paid for it here, especially compared to what it would cost in the US. I'm just not going to go there but I will say that it is completely worth it to have pumpkin on hand for making emergency pumpkin bread.

So what did I do with the double-wide can of pumpkin that I'd been saving? With half of the can I made a lovely pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. It turned out to be probably the best pumpkin pie I have ever made and possibly the best pumpkin pie I have ever eaten. If you are interested to know the recipe it can be found here. I think the key to its goodness was using all brown sugar. I also used whipping cream instead of heavy cream that the recipe called for but I think they are about the same. All I can say is that my husband, normally not a huge pumpkin pie fan, was raving about it. It was so smooth and rich and creamy and the crust was just thin enough to not be overpowering but provide a flakey buttery crunch in contrast the the custardy goodness. I think I may have to have another pie later on.

This morning I used the remaining pumpkin and baked a loaf of pumpkin bread and a dozen pumpkin muffins, half of them with chocolate chips. The idea was to have muffins leftover to freeze for week day breakfasts but I'm not sure how many are actually going to be left by the time the weekend is over. Eating pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin pancakes and waffles as well as all things flavored with pumpkin is sort of one of those things that people in the US normally do during the fall. Sort of like how Swedish people eat Lussekatter (saffron buns) around Christmas time and semlor (almond paste-filled pastries topped with cream) during the weeks of Lent before Easter. I say normally however because my husband and I have a spiced pecan pumpkin and waffle mix that we have been saving and using sparingly throughout the past year. I might even be willing to admit that we made pumpkin pancaked at least one time during the summer. I know, it is nearly sacrilegious to even admit it let alone do it but it seriously could not be helped. Pumpkin breads and pancakes are one of those things that remind me of home and eating them gives me a small sense of the comfort of being back home.

 Best pumpkin bread ever.

Best pumpkin pie ever.

Friday, November 23

Day 328: Sleepy Head

This morning I woke up at three-thirty a.m., thanks to a visit from the cat. Apparently I was sleeping on my back. I didn't know that I slept on my back until these visits began recently. Here's how it happens: All of a sudden I find myself awake and realize there is something on my chest. Of course, it's kitty and she is sitting there purring and head butting me in the face every few seconds. Just often enough so that if I'm trying to ignore her and fall back to sleep, I am awakened again. And again and again. I would have sworn that I never sleep on my back but then there I was, on my back with a cat on my chest.

Her middle of the night visits usually don't bother me so much since I can generally go back to sleep fairly easily. This morning however she came visiting a couple of times and by the time the alarm went off I was feeling like a big piece of lead. I got up long enough to go to the bathroom and then snuggled back into the covers and fell fast asleep again. It was so easy and felt so cozy with my husband's warm body next to me. I was deep in a crazy dream, you know the ones that feel like reality? You wake up and think it actually happened, or is happening still? Well anyway, suddenly I felt my husband stir and then his voice in the distance was asking, "What time is it?"

I am pretty sure he asked a few times though it didn't make any sense at all to me. We had just arrived at the train station where we were to disembark. Surely he knew what time it was. He had our tickets! "I really need to know what time it is," brought me back to reality. I literally could not budge. I was so heavy with sleep and my dream of train stations and all of our stuff scattered around our sleeping car that I just could not pick up my head to look at the clock. My arm was also asleep so when I tried to move it, nothing was happening. Finally I could muster up the strength, it was almost seven a.m. He sprang out of bed and ran to the shower.

I took my sleep head downstairs to make the cat some coffee and get us a couple of cups of cat food. No, wait, the other way around. Anyway, the day started and eventually I woke up. I even rode my bike to work, stopping on my way by the early morning sale at Ahlens City, one of the big department stores here. I bought a couple of Christmas presents, and yes, I did get "one for me." I also picked up some Christmas cards and gift wrapping supplies. All for fifteen percent off! What a fun way to start the day!

Hope you have a happy weekend!

Look at this sweet little stjärngosse, or star boy.

My walkin' boots... hope you get to do some walkin' and enjoyin' the outdoors this weekend! Sending you all some love from the K is for Kärlek (love) manhole cover!

Thursday, November 22

Day 327: A Beautiful Place

"Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place." - Kurt Vonnegut

Thanksgiving is a good day to remember things like Kurt Vonnegut's quote above. I find that it is much easier as I get older to fall into the trap of feeling cynical and angry. I've lived that much longer to experience some of the unpleasant things that life can dish out and it gets more and more difficult to have what they call, "the beginner's mind," or an openness to life's possibilities even in the face of destruction and pain. There are all kinds of quotes out there to remind us not to take the bad things too seriously but I know myself that sometimes it is just easier to give in to them and be a big old grumpy bear. And we all know how much fun it is to be around that person.

My husband and I often joke about how we plan to be grumpy when we get older, claiming that by then we will have earned it and will deserve to be as grumpy and crotchety as we want. It sounds fair, right? We also joke about dressing ourselves however we want (in our most raggedy clothes) and doing (farting) and saying (yelling at random strangers) whatever we feel like. We joke about it now but the reality of that happening is really pretty scary, don't you think? How much more pleasant would the world be if, by the time I reach a ripe old age, if I happen to be lucky enough to reach one, I am not a grumpy person but a kind, gentle person who has seen both the hard and soft things in life but chooses to live on the softer side? I'll tell you, much more pleasant. 

So this Thanksgiving, I will try to be softer in my thinking and speaking and remember that the world truly is a beautiful place. I will remember the wonderful relationships I have with my family and friends. I will remember the incredible opportunities that I have had in my life thus far, and still have awaiting me down the road. I will remember the joys as well as the sorrows and be thankful for them all, for they have shaped me into the person that I am today. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Now let's all go get softer around the middle and eat some pie!

 Pumpkin pie made with love!

Wednesday, November 21

Day 326: Toys, Not Just For Kids Anymore

Toys are NOT just for kids. From the moment I became classified as an adult (or did I?) I decided that I would always remain a kid at heart. I mean, there really is no point in growing up for good. You can get older (and wiser) but maintaining the playfulness and spontaneity of being a kid should remain high on your list of priorities. If you were to take a walk around our apartment you would see evidence of our inner kids tucked inhere and there. Over the years I have collected the odd whimsical toy that I have then added to our art. In fact, sometimes when I buy a cute toy gift for a friend's kid or one of my nephews I often find myself wanting to keep it for myself. The 'ol "one for you, one for me" shopping model. Only in the case with toys I generally only buy "one for you." Notice I wrote generally.

On the rare occasion I actually buy a toy just for me. No "one for you" in that case, just "one for me." I know, selfish, right? I do apologize but sometimes the kid in me becomes overwhelmed with the moment and I only think of me. Granted, it doesn't happen very often because I truly do love to buy presents and I am almost always in search of that perfect gift for those on my gift list.

So as I was thinking about this topic while putzing around getting ready for work, I glanced around me and within a three hundred and sixty degree radius I saw several toys that I've either had since I was a kid, I've bought myself or someone has given me. Seeing these small treasures of joy around puts a smile on my face and one can never smile too much. Smiling does much more for me than frowning does and I try to find smiles as often as I can. Toys certainly help.

Here is a sampling of the joys, I mean toys, in my life:

I have had this one since I was a kid. You put water in it and blow to make the birdie whistle.

I have a thing for these collapsable figures. I also have a Donald Duck one from when I was a kid.

These were another grown-up purchase. Their feet are magnetic and they stand here and there on our trash can-dirty clothes hamper. :-)

This classic Brio car is my husbands but not from his childhood. He too likes toys.

My Aunt had these at her house and I saw them and fell in love with them. She had gotten them at Target but by that time they were no where to be found. She surprised me by mailing hers to me as a gift! Wasn't that the nicest thing? I love absolutely love them and they still sit on my desk.

Do you have any toys? What are your favorites?

Tuesday, November 20

Day 325: A New Day

It's a new day. I love new days that feel like a fresh start. The crisp fresh air outside gives me a sense of openness and possibilities and the sun shining brightly practically seals the deal. I was on my way to an appointment this morning and still cloudy with sleep. Everything was fuzzy and dim. My eyes still sensitive to the cold air, were streaming tears down my face as I walked quickly hoping I did not look as sleepy as I felt.

Then a mere thirty minutes later, the fog had lifted from my sleeping brain and the world outside looked shiny and new. Right outside the door of the building I practically walked into a large flatbed truck with the delivery workers standing there measuring up how to unload the gigantic Christmas tree tied down to it. The tree was lying there on its side, waiting patiently to be given its new role. Even lying there sideways this great tree looked majestic and beautiful. It made me anxious to get our own Christmas tree. I know, I know, it's not even Thanksgiving yet but being in a country that doesn't celebrate it, you can't blame me for getting excited when I see all of the Christmas and holidays decorations beginning to be displayed throughout the city.

In Sweden they start hanging all of the Christmas street light and square decorations a few weeks early. But nothing is lit until the first day of Advent. I love that. Watching the decorations gradually going up all around the city builds up my holiday excitement. When my husband grew up they didn't put up Christmas decorations and their Christmas tree until December twenty-third. When I grew up we aimed to put up our tree right after Thanksgiving. Well, in merging our two cultures, we have compromised and we put up a tree around December thirteenth, which is Saint Lucia Day.

But that's for another post. For now I will focus on this lovely new day with it's endless possibilities and the build up of holiday excitement and cheer. When will you put up your Christmas tree?

I love the way the sunlight looks a bit hazy coming through the trees.

Here's a different angle... doesn't this make you want to run out and get your tree immediately?

Monday, November 19

Day 324: A Tropical Winter in Sweden

I usually like to write first and post images at the end but with this particular picture I felt the visual effects were needed up front. For many of you this photo may not mean as much since you have, and are used to, central air conditioning and heating. However for those of you who live in places that have neither (California) or places that just have heating (Sweden) you will understand perfectly.

My husband sent me this picture via email not too long ago with a subject line, "Relate to this?" Well, besides the fact that the poor girl could be me, with her horn-rimmed glasses and dark hair, I could in fact relate quite well. Though I generally tend to get too warm when I'm sleeping, even in the winter. I may need to pitch a tent and start sleeping out on the balcony.

About a week or so ago it started getting colder so we pulled out our winter blanket and exchanged our summer one for it. I found myself actually feeling cold while I was sleeping at night and snuggling up under the covers felt wonderful. The winter picture above definitely applied to me. Only add a man and cat taking up most of the bed and it would be a perfect picture of our sleep sanctuary. Then my husband went to the hardware store. Do you know what this means? It means that those lovely cool, verging on cold, nights were over.

At the hardware store he bought a little key that would allow him to let the air out of our radiators. Apparently due to some renovations being done one our building, air had been trapped in the radiator lines and the hot water couldn't flow through and therefore heat our apartment, hence the nice "cool" sleeping conditions. That snuggly cozy winter blanket that I slept under, all cuddled up to my husband, started to feel like it was suffocating me. My sleep position began to more so resemble the summer night photo above.

Well, it isn't all bad news. The good news is that, with the wonderfully insulated double-pained windows we have, our apartment feels cozy and warm. Almost tropically warm. So what if I wake up in the middle of the night and have to throw a leg outside the covers to regulate my body temperature, right? I'll just sneak around the house and turn down all of the radiator thermostats so we can have more cuddling.

Sunday, November 18

Day 323: This Weather's for Ducks

What do a giant lovebirds' nest, a red picket-fenced path, a winter magnolia tree, a creeping ivy covered gate, ducks swimming and the last of the autumn leaves falling all have in common? Oh, just lovely things I saw while taking an afternoon walk with my husband and his parents. With most of the leaves gone from the trees, you can really see all of the birds' nests and this huge one looked like it was a mansion with at least three levels. A fancy bird's nest. Just a few branches away was a smaller nest that my husband said must be their summer house. Because, in case you didn't know, everyone in Sweden has a summer house. Even the birds apparently. It wasn't until after I snapped this photo that I noticed the nest was heart-shaped and as silly as it may sound, I'd like to believe it was built intentionally this way by two lovebirds. Anything is possible, right?

The weather wasn't necessarily inviting today. "Det duggar" as they say in Sweden, which means, it's drizzly. It's not exactly raining but as you walk through it you find yourself becoming damp. Not really the kind of weather that you want to go out in but again, when you are in Sweden, the weather doesn't stop you, you just put more clothing on, grab an umbrella, galoches, a knitted hat and a scarf and you are ready to go. You just take a deep breath and out you go into the wild beautiful world. Because, even in drizzly weather you get to witness so many beautiful picturesque things. If you forget your camera you can always take pictures with your mind. Luckily today I had my camera with me and I since we were just out for a Sunday afternoon stroll and in no hurry to get anywhere I stopped to take many photos. 

Below is a sampling of nature's beautiful offerings from today...

(Love)birds' nest.

A hidden path through the colony gardens.

The weather was so grey that it was nearly impossible to see the reddish-pink color of the magnolias... still holding on for dear life against winter's threat.

Just a pretty ivy covered gate...

This weather really IS for ducks.

The last of the autumn-hued trees... so pretty with the scattering of golden leaves along the ground...

Saturday, November 17

Day 322: Seeing Orange

Both the pros and the cons of studying art history are that one rarely just "sees" things anymore. It's all in seeing the details after one has sat and stared at paintings and sculptures for hours, while dissecting every little detail of the work of art. But seeing tiny details can be a blessing, if it means noticing a beautiful blooming flower that is nearly tucked away from view, or it can be a curse if it means noticing someone's plumber's crack or unkempt feet. Sometimes, when you have trained your mind to detect a certain style or color, it can be fun to notice all of the details, large or small.

Today I was out and about with my husband and his parents, who are visiting us this weekend from Gothenburg. We were walking down the sidewalk across the street from Kungsträdgården and I happened to look up and just up ahead of us I noticed the most amazing sculpted iron wall lamps. Twin lamps flanking the doorway of a beautiful historic building and I was so busy digging out my camera that I didn't even notice what the entrance was to.

As I neared the lamps, the orange bracelet on the dude to the right of the doorway caught my eye. Ha! Someone had tied what appeared to be a friendship bracelet on him. Of course I noticed the orange color. I pretty much notice any and everything orange. An entire crowd could be walking toward me wearing a variety of colors but my eye sees orange. It is like the oranges lift up a little higher than the other colors and almost float or hover above the rest. Not quite 3D but the orange definitely pops.

It's funny because during winter I often see hand-knitted scarves that people have draped around the sculptures in the parks (you know, they are cold) but I have never seen a friendship bracelet on a lamp like this. It warmed my heart that someone thought this guy needed some orange in his life. And it seems to really help him in holding up the lamp, don't you think?

I see something orange.

Friday, November 16

Day 321: A Wonderful Start

This morning, in addition to getting myself ready for work (I'm not really a morning person), I washed and dried a load of laundry AND made a batch of granola. Just in case you are wondering, no, I did not burn the granola but the laundry may have gone around in the dryer a few cycles too long. Pretty impressive I thought and especially considering how sleepy I felt. Kitty made one of her middle of the night visits, complete with loud purring and a strong insistence on getting petted. I woke up feeling like I could have started over and slept another entire night. But then I got some coffee down my neck and all was better. Everything is always better after a cup of coffee (or tea), don't you think?

After my marathon morning I was ready to pack up and get on my bike. My ride to work is always one of the highlights of my day and this day was no different. As I pedaled along my way I came across a couple of happy sightings. There are many parks located throughout the city and as winter approaches the parks and recreation people put out the cutest little birdhouses so that the birds who stick around for winter can find food during scarce times. The houses are these long, squat structures with a large open interior that is covered by a low-angled, a-framed roof. I should have stopped to take a photo but with all of my other morning activities I was running a bit late, if you can believe it. I'll see if I can get a photo later because these houses are definitely worth seeing.

I continued through the park and then turned down my final path to the big bridge. On days when I am running late I take what I call the "hill route" and ride over Västerbron, which is the large bridge that connects Södermalm, where I live, to Kungsholmen, where I work. As I pedaled along I passed by a very patient father who was waiting with the stroller while his little girl, very determinedly, walked away from him and over to a wall which she proceeded to climb. It obviously needed to be done right then and there. I could see it in her walk. It just couldn't wait. The cutest part however was that she was dressed in one of these insulated winter jumpsuits that all of the little kids here wear. Her's was red and she looked like a tiny little Michelin man. It was adorable watching her march, Michelin-like to the wall and start to climb. She discretely glanced back at her dad who just stood there with all the patience in the world, allowing her to do a bit more morning exploration before being carted off to dagis (Swedish word for daycare). An absolutely wonderful start to a Friday.

Hope you have a happy weekend!

Here's a photo of the outdoor market. These are probably some of the last trees left with autumn-hued leaves left on them...

Thursday, November 15

Day 320: Ovanligt Väder (Uncommon Weather)

The weather is making me feel turned around today. It feels and looks like an early spring day. Sunny and warm and a sense of lightness in the air. Of course, that's just wishful thinking on my part. And even though it feels like spring would be openly welcomed right about now, I actually look forward to snuggling up against the winter cold and I am hopeful for snow. With this crazy warm weather however I don't know if I should expect or even hope for snow but I'm going to anyway. If we have to go through with it(winter), then I say, "Bring it on and bring on the snow!"

But if the weather wants to stay this "warm" a while longer, I would be perfectly okay with that too. I stepped out at lunch time today to go for a little stroll and take in some vitamin D and I think because it was extra beautiful out, I "accidentally" took a longer lunch than normal. I just couldn't bear to go back inside yet. As I made my way back to the office with my take-out lunch from Govinda's vegetarian restaurant, I noticed around me that it wasn't just me who thought getting outside was a good idea. Lots of people were also out enjoying the sun. No one was rushing to get back to their offices or even to the restaurants for lunch. Completely opposite from the haste of the morning commute. Everyone walked with a sort of rambling, meandering gate, which made me slow down as well. Who needs to be in a hurry anyway?

As I made my way up the last bit of the mörderbacke (muderously steep hill) and turned to go up the short set of stairs that signal I am almost back at the office, I hesitated for a long moment and just stood there, facing the sun with my eyes closed. I came very near going inside and telling everyone that I was taking the rest of the day off but in the end, I gave in and went back in. But standing in the sunshine there, I thought about how important sunny days are to me. A sunny day really can make or break it for me. Today reminded me of the many years I lived in Sunny Los Angeles. It very seldom rains in Southern California and the seasons are so mild that it is nearly impossible to tell which time of year it is based on the temperature. I missed having true seasons but I really loved living in a place where there is blue sky and sunshine nearly every single day. Now I am getting to enjoy a completely different climate and though I prefer a warm climate to a cold climate, the experience of living in such a different place is really cool. (And I mean that literally as well!)

Just something to remind you of warm sunny days... now I only need some guacamole and chips...

Wednesday, November 14

Day 319: Brownies

Since the day my blog rolled past "Day 300," every time I begin a new post and type "Day 3--," it feels like I am typing the time of day instead of the number of day it is. It is as if the hours and minutes are ticking by loudly now and time has sped up. The days are rushing by faster than I can keep up with them. Like the cold air rushing against my face as I fly down the road on my bike, impossible to catch or even hang on to for a second, just slipping through my fingers. Funny how our impression of the passage of time can change so dramatically. When plan a trip I usually begin about three months out. The trip at that time seems far away, like a mountain far off in the distance on the long stretch of highway. It seems like you will never get there and then suddenly the mountain is looming upon you. I guess what I am saying is that the end to my one year project seems to be fast approaching and I find that I am feeling both excited and nervous. But more on that later.

What I wanted to talk about today is not the passage of time but rather Brownies. That's right, Brownies with a capital B. I love brownies (with a passion). I always have. I can remember when I was a kid, the warm chocolaty smell that would permeate the house when my mom was baking them. There really is nothing that can take their place. When I was old enough to have friends over to spend the night my mom would let us make Chef Boyardee cheese pizzas and then brownies for dessert. Do you remember those boxed mixes that contained ingredients for two cheese pizzas and you made the crust yourself? I thought it was the absolute best. And what a cool mom, right? Later as a young adult living on my own, baking brownies quickly became a monthly occurance. And funny enough, homemade pizza night always seemed to correspond. Funny how habits form early and stick with you.

Since my move to Sweden however I've sort of fallen off the brownie boat. Unfortunately there really is not a brownie culture in Sweden. I mean, you can find brownies here and there and I have even eaten very tasty ones at Cajsa Warg, which is an awesome food market and the closest thing to a whole foods grocery market I have found here. But it is not like in the US where you can find brownies at nearly any potluck social function. I probably could just try making my own from scratch, and the fact that I veer toward a boxed mix is somewhat contradictory to my well-known food snobbery but there are some things that just cannot be changed.

Over this past weekend I bought a Duncan Hines brownie mix at ICA Maxi and last night I baked them to take to my book club meeting. At first no one touched the brownies. But then as time passed someone would take one here and there. When it came time to leave there were five left. I greedily did not even ask if anyone wanted them. I quietly and casually put the lid on and slipped them in my bag to take home. Hey, it was brownies, I can't be held accountable. I will say however that karma came back to greet me at midnight last night when I couldn't sleep because of the (four) brownies I ate. It was worth it however and now I have two of the five here with me at work to eat later when my bewitching hour approaches.

Dear brownies, 
I love you.
Love, Grace Ann

Tuesday, November 13

Day 318: Daily Dose

Do you think a person would still get a tan if they sunbathed in the winter? I mean, I know it would be unbearably cold and there may even be a risk of getting frost-bitten but could a tan actually be achieved if one was willing to tough it out? Strange question, I know, but it oddly crossed my mind when I stepped outside at lunchtime to take in my daily dose of vitamin D. Why anyone in their right mind would even consider sunbathing in the winter cold is beyond me but there might be that desperate person, craving a bit of color in the height of the one season in which we, or at least I, seem to become more pale. I could understand it. I really could.

Having lived in Sweden now going on my third winter, I have learned my lesson about seeking out as much sunshine as possible. If the sun happens to be out on a particular day and I just so happened to have brought my own lunch to work, I still escape to the outdoors for a brief ten to fifteen minutes to taken in a bit of sunshine before heading back in to enjoy my lunch in the warm office. Or if it happens to be a weekend morning and the sun is shining gloriously, waiting to go out even an hour later could lead to regret and anguish, as by then the sun might be happily tucked away behind some clouds, never to come out again for the rest of the day. The moral of this story? Go on out and get your sunshine, get your dose of vitamin D, at the first glimpse of sun that you see. Sometimes the sun goes on vacation during the winter and very seldom does it give notice.

Today must have been my lucky day because I was able to take in a double dose. The sun was shining brilliantly this morning as I rode my bike to work. And even though I was all bundled up against the -3 Celsius temperature, it somehow felt warmer than I expected it would. Unfortunately I doubt if I will have any tan lines to show for it. This time of year my face is the only part of me exposed to the sun.

I look just like Kenny from South Park most of the winter. :-D

Monday, November 12

Day 317: A.M. Ride vs. P.M. Ride

a.m. ride:

After the shock of unseasonably cold weather last week, I welcomed the lovely, almost balmy 44 degree Fahrenheit temperature this morning. Of course, my experience of the morning temperature is never completely accurate as I am already good and warm from showering, blow drying my hair and running around the apartment getting ready for work. The first moment outdoors feels heavenly. And this morning was no different. There was even a bit of blue sky and sunshine this morning, which always makes things more cheery, especially for a Monday. As I rode around the curve by Stadshuset (cityhall), a rustling breeze scattered a bunch of crisp gold and burnt honey-colored leaves across my path. It felt so typical of fall.

I used to love fall in Texas when it was very nearly winter and there were still a great many leaves on the trees. There would come, several nights, big gusty winds that would rake the remaining leaves from the trees and for a week or two afterward, before the street sweepers came, there would be a sea of leaves to wade through as we walked down the street. One of my very favorite fall pastimes is walking along the street gutters and crunching the dry crisp leaves under my feet. I absolutely love the sound as my shoe crushes them into the pavement. Almost like eating potato chips, but a lot less calories.

p.m. ride:

The difference between my morning ride to work and my evening ride home can be described quite easily. Imagine yourself on your bike, riding through the longest walk-in freezer you've ever seen and then make it even colder, add hills and turn the lights out. And that is my evening commute and the Sweden winter in a nutshell. As I stepped outside this evening to head home after work the air met me, as soon as I opened the outside door, with a smack right across the face. My immediate reaction was, "What the heck was I thinking riding to work this morning?" The temperature difference after sitting quietly at my desk is quite jarring. By now however I know that it's just the initial part of the ride that is so cold. After about ten minutes I start to warm up and am glad once again to be on my bike instead of the subway or bus.

And that's the thing, no matter how cold it is outside, it nearly always beats being stuffed onto an overfull subway car or bus with a mixture of those heading out for the night, wearing a bottle of cologne or perfume, and others just back from the gym or so it seems. Give me fresh cold freeze-your-arse-off air any day. I may eat those words soon when the temperatures dip back down below freezing. But we'll re-approach this topic at that time. Even with it being so cold, and by the way my hands never did warm up, I still enjoyed my evening ride home. On one of my favorite parts of the ride where the bike path curves away from the streets and for a brief moment travels closely along the water, I met the most beautiful white swan. Unfortunately I was only able to take a photo with my mind but take my word for it, she was breathtaking. Things like that make suffering through the cold all the more worth it. And as I told my husband later, if you can't beat 'em (those tough, weather bearing Swedes), join 'em.

Sunday, November 11

Day 316: Delicately Balanced

I don't know how much longer I can contain my excitement for the Christmas holidays. I am trying really hard to be a good American and wait until after Thanksgiving but it is difficult. Especially when I am starting to see decorations and holiday-related items in all of the stores and we just recently delivered a whole slew of presents to our friends and family in the US. And just this minute I finished wrapping a gift for our niece who will be leaving on a big adventure this week. She will be passing through Stockholm on her way to her flight leaving from Stockholm's Arlanda airport so I asked if she thought she would have room in her bag for a small Christmas gift, since she will not be with the family for Christmas this year. Instead she will be enjoying the wonderful summer weather in Australia, with a stop over first in Thailand. Sounds like a fabulous adventure and we all look forward to Facebook updates and photos of her travels. So we will meet her and her friend tomorrow at the train station to give her big hugs goodbye and a small gift to open on Christmas day.

Thinking about our niece about to embark on this great adventure reminds me of the times in my life when I have had similar experiences. When I moved to California for a dance scholarship, when I traveled to France for a summer study abroad program and even as recent as our move almost three years ago to Sweden. I love the build up of anticipation and excitement that comes with the preparations of a big adventure, though the excitement for some of my own big adventures has also been fairly bittersweet. The excitement at the prospect of all of the new experiences I would have was delicately balanced with saying goodbyes to my family and friends. And even as difficult as the goodbyes have been, the adventures and experiences I've had have been wonderful and life changing.

My move to California over twenty years ago really helped shape who I've become as an adult and I don't regret one single moment. And though I miss my own family dearly, living in Sweden has afforded me the chance to become closer to my husband's family and that is truly a valuable thing. With all of the modern conveniences like Skype, internet telephones and airplane flights that are available to us today, living so far away from home is not nearly as difficult as it would have been years before. And I can easily say that traveling abroad to France, and subsequently Italy, Switzerland and Belgium, was as big a part of my education as graduating from college. Seeing other parts of the world and how others live, glimpsing history via historical buildings that have withstood time for centuries and just experiencing a different way of life are some of the most valuable things one can experience.

But one's adventures and experiences needn't be on a large scale. An adventure can be as simple as driving around your state or country, camping along the way and eating tuna out of the can or peanut butter sandwiches to save money. It can also be as simple as getting on your bicycle or into your car and just driving somewhere for the day where you've never been. Adventures hold a delicate balance of happiness in our lives. I can't wait to plan my own next adventure... though I have yet to determine when or where it will be. Where will your next adventure take you? Wherever it is... just remember... it is waiting for you...

West Texas Lajitas Adventure 2006

Road kill? Damsel in distress? Nope, just a crazy gal on an adventure!

Saturday, November 10

Day 315: No Nonsense Kind of Day

Today was a no nonsense kind of day. First thing this morning, I very determinedly tackled my closet and drawers with the task of moving the rest of my summer clothes out and winter clothes in. Not a small feat I can say after I worked on it for a couple of hours. I tried to do some "cleaning out" at the same time but I have such a difficult time getting rid of things that it didn't go as well as I had hoped. I only managed to toss one pair of shoes and one short-sleeved shirt into the clothing swap/goodwill bag.
One of my other shirts that I couldn't quite bear to part with, but was looking a bit long in the tooth, was demoted to a cleaning and painting shirt. It is always a good idea to have specific clothing designated for  messy tasks.  And likewise, it is never a good idea to paint in your good clothing. Unless you want those clothing items to automatically be demoted to work clothes.

My husband used to love to wear his nice clothing when he painted, used bleach, worked on his bike and generally anything that nearly assured paint flecks, bleach spots or mud and grease stains. I think I have almost cured him of that habit but sometimes he manages to sneak off in a good pair of pants and shirt to do something and comes back with his tail between his legs as he says in a little voice, "I got greasy on my pants." But such is life, right? I just have him take them off and I treat the spot with some heavy duty remover and usually, nine times out of ten it works.

But anyway, back to exchanging my summer clothes for my winter clothes. Part of me is sad knowing that I will not be able to go out in just a t-shirt and shorts for a while now but part of me is excited to pull out all of my favorite sweaters, hats and scarves. Then this afternoon we rode our bikes over to ICA Maxi, which is sort of like a Super Target, and they were starting to put out all of the Christmas things. Sweden doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving so it isn't like they are putting Christmas out ahead of another holiday so I felt happy to see it. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside when I see all of the Christmas and winter holiday decorations being put out around the city. The lights make things so cheery and festive. And it certainly helps ward off the cold, dark Swedish winter blues.

Just as a side note, my husband made pancakes this morning for breakfast. With the last little bit of batter that was left he fashioned this cute kitty cat. It sort of looks like a bear with a really long tail but I love it anyway. I ate the tail first, after I drowned it in maple syrup. Sorry kitty, but you were going to get eaten anyway. 

Friday, November 9

Day 314: Picture Perfect

A picture perfect beautiful day. That's what today was, if not just slightly too cold for my taste. Shortly after we had woken up this morning my husband announced that it was twenty-three degrees outside. Twenty-three people. And that's Fahrenheit degrees for those of you wondering. That is what I call brrrrrrrrrr!!! I decided to skip taking my bike this morning but later I felt like a big chicken, as I walked to the bus stop and watched the cyclists pass me by. It definitely felt cold when I stepped outside but the sun was shining and there was little to no wind. A simply gorgeous day.

At this time of year it is still light outside when I leave for work in the mornings, but completely pitch black when I'm on my way home. I'll blame my chickening out in riding my bike this morning on the fact that it definitely is colder when it's dark outside. And let's just face it, I'm not quite ready to feel the brisk (read: icy) arctic breeze on my face as I whip along at high speeds along the city's bike paths. I mean, we just returned home from vacation where we experienced highs in the upper seventies and lower eighties. Which was absolutely wonderful.

Besides, I have plenty of time to thicken my skin up again before it becomes bitingly, numbingly cold and I did ride to work three days this week and with jet lag. That counts for something, doesn't it? Plus, instead of my eyes "crying" all the way to work as they fought against the cold air rushing against my face, I got to enjoy truly appreciating all of the beauty around me.

Take a look:

First frost of the season. Harsh beauty.

It may be difficult to see but there are oversized glittery gold stars and balls in the tree's branches. Beginning to look like Christmas already! Seems early but with the cold weather it feels natural.

Still gorgeous fall colors here and there. Just beautiful in the sunshine.


Look at those golden maples... this truly is my favorite time of year!

Happy Weekend everyone!

Thursday, November 8

Day 313: We Can Craft That

What could make me happier than some authentic Mexican food and a tasty frozen margarita with salt from Matt's Rancho Martinez in Dallas, or another week of vacation to sleep and recover from my jet lag? Craft night, that's what.Tonight is our debut meeting and I am really excited to have a few hours set aside solely for my craft projects and hanging with the gals. No distractions of running to move laundry from the washer to the dryer, or kitty getting in the middle of things, just uninterrupted focus on my projects, with maybe a little giggling on the side and catching up while sipping wine.

I'd promise to show you photos later but unfortunately most if not all of my projects are going to be gifts for various people so I can't reveal what they are right now. Photos however will be taken for a future showing. Hopefully they all turn out how I plan. Sometimes projects are better than planned and other times well, it's best to just pretend they didn't happen, right?

I really love making things and be creative. I've been this way since I was a kid. Maybe it was my mother's influence but I think even without that I would have drifted toward the artsy realm. But as luck would have it, I had a crafty, artsy mom and I loved it. At different times throughout my adult life thus far we have enjoyed working on various projects together. It is a special bond that we have and I treasure it, though it's been a while since we've worked on a project together.

So how did this crafting group get started? It is actually an extension of my book club. There is another woman who also loves to craft and she always talks about her projects and the things she wants to make. She and I have talked about doing our crafts together before and one day we just started talking about it at book club and several other women chimed in that they too wanted to be involved. And "We Can Craft That" was born. Being with other women who are like-minded will be fun and inspiring. One woman said that she plans to fix her clothes and another said that she is going to get started on making bunting. I can't wait to see what everyone else has up their sleeve. At least I can report on their projects later on... so stay tuned!

Photo update:

Greta with her handmade necklaces made from vintage ties, wooden beads, and a little sewing magic!

I will definitely be making one of these! Beautiful work Greta!

Wednesday, November 7

Day 312: Something New

Everyone has something that they love to do but for some reason never get around to doing, or put more bluntly, they procrastinate doing it. For me it has been the ongoing procrastination of getting back into ceramics. But not anymore... I finally signed up for a class and tonight is my first one in nearly five years. In my excitement I called the studio to see if there was anything that I needed to bring with me tonight. I know... calling at the last minute is further evidence of my procrastination, but anyway. After some confusion on both my part and the teachers part, I came to the realization that I missed the first two classes. How did that happen? I remember noting in my mind after signing up that I would miss one class due to our trip last week but somehow I rearranged things in my mind and had the class all set to begin tonight instead of October 25th. Am I the biggest dork or what? I wish I could blame it on the jet lag but unfortunately my blunder occurred well before I stepped foot on any plane. Sigh.

It may be (comically) worth mentioning that the teacher could not find me in her roster at first because she had written me down as "Ann" instead of "Grace Ann" and, of course, I told her that my name was "Grace" in the beginning of our conversation, as it's usually easier for people to understand. As a result she had no idea who I was. Our back and forth was like Abbott and Costello in "Who's on First." Add the fact that I missed the first two classes and I speak broken Swedish and you have a skit ready for Saturday Night Live. Or even an alternate script for the book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris.

I really felt the weight of having Swedish as a second language as I spoke to my new teacher. I guess in all fairness I have been out of town and speaking primarily English for nearly two weeks. But then again I've lived here for almost three years now. You'd think I'd be fluent enough to withstand a measly couple of weeks away. Yeah... Well regardless, now things are all squared away and I am "välkomen" (welcome) to my class tonight. By the way, she said that all I needed to bring to class was an apron but I think I'll wear other clothes too. It might be cold and drafty otherwise. What do you think?

Here is a shot of my first pot. There is a little kink on the left rim but all in all I was pleased. I succeeded in making one additional piece but three other attempts didn't work out so well. Not too shabby for my first time at the wheel after over five years.

P.S. After all that I still forgot to bring my apron. But I did wear other clothes. :-D

Tuesday, November 6

Day 311: Banana Nut Muffin Treat

When I return from a vacation I usually come home to a fairly empty refrigerator. Fruits and vegetables tend to be scarce and in general it's slim pickins in the kitchen. We were really excited to see our kitty when we came home as well as do a bit of unpacking to admire the purchases we made in the US and because we were punch drunk tired we didn't think about food until we were well beyond having the amount of energy it would require to run to the store. Our friend who kitty and house sat for us while we were away left us the sweetest note welcoming us home and, as an added bonus, left us four incredibly delicious-looking banana nut muffins. Oh my goodness, are you serious? Of course I wanted to wolf one down right then but thinking ahead to the next morning and also considering all of the junk I ate while traveling I decided to hold off and save my share for today.

This also gave me something to look forward to for my first day back to work. Muffins for breakfast are a secret passion of mine. There was a time when I lived in LA when I made muffins at least once or twice a week. Back then I was really into baking all natural, if I wasn't using an all natural mix, and many of my recipes called for using honey, apple sauce or other fruits to sweeten them instead of sugar. Eating a muffin for breakfast is such a luxury for me. Oatmeal is always great and granola with yogurt and berries is fabulous but there is something extra special about taking a sip of strong dark roast coffee and then eating a bite of a muffin... and then another sip of coffee... and back to the muffin... and just hit repeat until they are both gone.

Nowadays I only drink half of cup of coffee per day and I prefer to have it in the morning while I am getting ready for work so I didn't take the time to sit and perform my muffin eating ritual today. Instead I rode my bike to work and took my muffins with me to enjoy as a special treat after riding up the mörderbacke (murderous hill, in Swedish). So I am sending out a big thank you to our friend for the tasty muffins! They really helped ease me back into work mode after such a lovely vacation. I ate one this morning for breakfast and had number two this afternoon as a pick-me-up. Simply delicious! I'll see if I can include the recipe later.

Don't you just want to reach out and take a nibble?

P.S. I didn't mention the election today but we did get the opportunity to participate in early voting while we were in Texas last week. It felt great and incredibly patriotic to cast our vote in person. While in Sweden we registered to vote from abroad and had our ballots to do so but when we realized we would be there during the early voting period we decided to vote in person. It was pretty cool!

A little blurry but you get the picture. It was also our anniversary! We reminisced about the fact that four years ago just after we got married we returned to Dallas from our honey moon on election day and went to vote together. It was my husband's first time to vote since becoming a US citizen. Afterward we had dinner with his sisters who were still in town visiting us after our wedding. This time  around we got to celebrate in the morning with my parents and then in the evening with some friends in Dallas. Nice memories surrounding election times. :-)