Monday, December 31

Day 366: Finding Happy in 365 Days, Plus One

All good things must come to an end. As I sit here looking around my desk, I notice many things that have made their way into my posts during the past year. Many things that have brought and continue to bring me happiness. In addition I see many new things that I've added to my collection of "Happy." This will probably come as no surprise but these additions are making my desk somewhat of a cluttered mess right now. There are Christmas gifts that I have not yet found a home for, waiting patiently to be shuffled off to their final destination, and then there are my newly glazed ceramic pieces, also sitting here and there but they do not seem as patient. Somehow they seem to be saying, "It's too crowded here, we need space!" I understand their dilemma and my aim is to find new homes for everything today.

But wait... sitting just in front of my keyboard is a pile of unusual and fun items. These too are waiting patiently for their new home. However they are to be the contents of my final Happy Package Giveaway, an assortment of things that I have been collecting over the past few months in preparation for this very moment. They have really become like friends to me, cheering me on when I felt that Happy was on the far reaches of my boarders and helping to reel me back in with their cheery playfulness. Soon they will be on their way to a new home to hopefully spread Happy and continue the work I have started this past year.

Today is actually a bonus day, as my project was to Find Happy in 365 Days. But with leap year, a small oversight on my part, I have been given an additional day to complete what was and is to be a one year project. And I am really grateful for this additional day. Happiness has been all around me today as my husband and I headed out to pick up ingredients for our celebratory, New Year's Eve dinner AND to do one of my favorite things in the world - go out for breakfast! First on our agenda was breakfast, of course. We headed over to KA's Cafe, which is a small cafe in our neighborhood on Swedenborgsgatan. We have passed by it many times. We've even looked at their menu and expressed wanting to try it but never did, until today. We both decided to go with the "Gröt Med Banan, Kanel, och Mjölk" (oatmeal with bananas, cinnamon and milk). I had a cappuccino to accompany mine and my husband had just a regular cup of coffee. Our breakfast came out steaming. They were huge bowls of hot and hearty porridge and we sat in a cozy corner in front of a window with a view of the street outside.

As I neared the bottom of my bowl, I sat casually starring out the window, day dreaming about our dinner menu. Suddenly my eye caught a reflection being cast off of the back of the car in front of me. Miraculously the sun had come out. I had just stuffed the last bite of oatmeal and banana into my mouth. As I was swallowing the last bit we hurried into our jackets and scarves and headed outside to get a dose of vitamin D and continue on our way. The rest of the day was also filled with some of my favorite things: a casual stroll outside in the sunshine, a bit of after Christmas sale shopping, and a visit to not one, but two of the indoor markets in Stockholm in search of fresh and tasty ingredients for our "party for two" this evening, three if you include Pina, which of course we do.

Here's our menu...

"Finding Happy in 365 Days" Celebration Dinner:


Gin & tonics with a twist of lime & chili spiced peanuts



Deconstructed meatball sandwiches & princess korv (vegetarian mini sausages)

Kale salad with mustard vinaigrette

Mini savory turnovers (shiitake and forest mushrooms with garlic and Västerbotten cheese & asparagus with garlic and Västerbotten cheese) topped with a creamy onion-scented bechamel sauce


Chocolate panna cotta with raspberry & red current gelee

Cheese plate with brillat savarin, manchego & something stinky that I can't remember

A few photos from my last blog day...

Breakfast at KA's Cafe.

An odd little fairy, aqua-woman I saw in the snow...

A hard balancing act...

The party has started!

Pina licking her chops after devouring her shrimp "cocktail."

The spread...

Skål! och välkommen till Sverige...

A tasty plate of food.

My brilliant, deconstructed meatball sandwich idea...

Tell me that doesn't look like a bite of Happiness right there...

Mysiga ljus (cozy candles)

And now... for the drawing!

All you have to do to be entered in the drawing is to leave a comment on today's post, here or on Facebook. I would love to hear any feedback that you would like to give me on this blog project and/or feedback on what you hope to read in my future blog. I will tally all comments on January 2, 2013 so you have from now until midnight, January 2nd to comment. Since this is my last post and it is also New Year's Eve I am giving everyone an extra day to both read and comment.

So you are probably wondering what is next for Finding Happy in 365 Days...

Due to the nature of my project, I will not be continuing with the same blog but will begin a brand new one that is currently in the works as I write this. I will be posting a link to my new blog on February 1,  2013 right here. However if you would like for me to send you an email with the link you can write to me at greasyham(at)gmail(dot)com.

It is not confirmed at this time but the working title for my new blog is, "On My Bike with Scissors and a Cast Iron Skillet."

Other titles in the running include:

Greasy Ham with a Side of Happy

Finding Sunshine

Finding My Paper Moon

Amazing Grace's

Coffee, Scissors and a Dose of Happy

I Love That!

Hemma Hos Grace (Swedish - means At Home with Grace)

Fåtöljen (Swedish - means The Arm Chair)

Feel free to vote on your favorite when you comment!

A few final words... THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH for all of your support and shared laughs over the past year. This project has been an amazing journey and if it weren't for all of you I am not sure I would have kept with it. I hope that all of you will continue to look for Happy each and every day of your life. I promise that if you do, miracles will happen.

I wish you all a fantastic 2013! May it be the best year yet and may they only get better from here!

My love to you all!!!

Grace Ann

Sunday, December 30

Day 365: A Nice Day for a Swim

It feels like today's Happy should be something profound or special, being that it is Day 365, but the truth is that today feels like every other day, perhaps wedged in between the happiest day and a fairly happy day. Today feels lagom, or just right, as they say in Swedish. There is an energy in the air of changes to come and yet at the same time I feel a deep satisfaction with the way things are right now. Yesterday I was out and about with a couple of my girlfriends to have a fika (coffee) and do a little window shopping. While we were relaxing and chatting at Skåningen Kaffebar, they invited me to go to the bastu, or sauna, with them today. 

This particular bastu is a private club and memberships, as well as visits, are by invitation only. I was lucky to be an invited guest, as I hesitantly accepted their offer. Why did I hesitate? Well, the bastu is situated on the rocky cliffs of one of the islands around Stockholm and in between sauna sessions one jumps, or rather plunges, into the freezing cold waters of lake Malaren. I mean, it is after all December in Sweden. The temperatures lately have been hovering just over freezing at about 2 Celsius. Normally at this time of year the bastu members cut a hole in the ice that covers the lake and everyone dips into the freezing water surrounded by ice. It was just my luck that today the temperatures were a balmy few degrees above freezing and the lake was ice free. A nice day for a swim, don't you think?

I am not particularly fond of extremely hot temperatures and, well, my relationship to the cold waters surrounding Sweden can generally be summed up in one Swedish word: badkruka. Badkruka, which literally translates to mean swimming pot, but in actuality describes someone who is a chicken when it comes to swimming, is a word that has commonly been used to describe me. I have been known to stand, hesitatingly on the edge of the water, afraid to get in but wanting to desperately. It isn't fun for anyone and especially my husband who loses patience with me rather quickly. And that was during the "warm" summer.

But today I was determined. I mean, what better way to end my year of Finding Happy than with repeated trips between an eighty degree Celsius sauna and two degree Celsius water? After I met my friends to head over to the sauna I said, still not ready to commit, "I don't know if I am going to be able to get in that cold water." They just said, "Ok, but you are going to want to get in. It feels really great." Right. Oh, did I mention that we would also be taking these dips into the freezing water completely nude? The first trip down to the water after spending just under fifteen minutes in the sauna I lived up to my badkruka status. I merely stepped down the ladder enough to get my feet completely submerged. "Holy icicles!" It was COLD! I practically jumped straight out. I shamefully put my crocs back on and said that I would get in the next time. 

Well, it took another attempt of submerging myself nearly up to my hips before I actually took the full plunge on the third trip down to the water. I have to admit that it did feel quite good after roasting in the sauna. And I guess I am willing to also admit that after a dip in the COLD water, returning to the sauna felt amazingly refreshing. I can definitely say that I am no longer a badkruka and I can definitely say that my Happy today was, in fact, found in something profound - a swim in lake Malaren in December!

Technically today would be the final day of my blog project but since 2012 was a leap year, I have one final day tomorrow, Day 366. Come back and visit tomorrow on my final day and don't miss the last Finding Happy in 365 Days Happy Package Giveaway! It is going to be fabulous!

Thanks Katie and Greta for an invigorating morning! 

Saturday, December 29

Day 364: A Sense of Strength

Typing "Day 364" seems so surreal to me. Surreal in the sense that an entire year has nearly passed by. Surreal in the sense that I have so far succeeded in what I set out to do, which was to find and blog about something happy or positive, every day, for one full year. It has been both joyful and tearful, both amazingly incredible and terribly trying, and it has been one of the most valuable things that I have committed to in my life. Just last night I was reflecting over dinner with my husband on how amazing it feels to have succeeded in, not only finding something happy or positive every single day for the past year, but in succeeding to post every single day despite the days I found it the most difficult to stick to it.

Just last night over dinner I was discussing some of the challenges I experienced during the past year. One evening, toward the beginning of my project, I had started writing my post and it was basically complete, I only needed to review and edit it a bit. However I completely forgot about it and went to bed. I had just turned by bedside lamp out when it hit me like flaming arrow in the bum. I jumped out of bed in a panic and ran to the computer, practically screaming as I went that I'd forgotten to complete my post. It was eleven p.m. Thankfully I still had time to complete it and post it before the stroke of midnight. That was a stressful evening but it taught me a valuable lesson too and that was to complete my work before I start to play.

Commitment is a powerful thing. Yes, it may have been challenging at times to blog every single day but I can guarantee that my sticking to my word, no matter what the circumstances and no matter how I was feeling each day, has given me a sense of strength that goes well beyond the strength that any physical training I've done has provided and this inner strength is something that I will be able to carry with me forever. With continued stretching and practice each day, this strength will be my companion for the rest of my life. My commitment to one tiny little year in the grand scheme of my life has shown me that anything is possible if I only set my mind to it.

I will say that it has taken tremendous discipline. And I will say that, though I learned a great deal of discipline from all of my many years of training as a dancer, discipline, if not used, begins to atrophy just like our physical muscles. We must use and train our physical as well as our mental muscles to keep them strong. It takes work and it takes sacrifice but the end result is completely worth the effort, I promise whole-heartedly.

Posing in my tap, cat costume when I was around 9 years old. 
Keep training your "muscles"... the pay off will be worth it in the end!

Friday, December 28

Day 363: Christmas Morning All Over Again

Before Christmas you may recall that I had completed my ceramics class and that we were allowed to select two pieces to be ready before Christmas. Maybe I didn't share that part. But anyway, I selected my two pieces and then found out that I wouldn't actually get mine back until after Christmas because they were not going to be ready to pick up until the Sunday before Christmas and we would be in Gothenburg by then. So I would have to wait until today to get my two pieces back, with the rest of my pieces being finished later after the beginning of the year.

When you take ceramics classes you eventually get used to waiting a rather long time to get your final product back so I was pretty cool about it all. I asked my husband if he wanted to walk over with me to pick up my pieces and he said yes so after a late breakfast we headed over. I knew from speaking to my teach on the phone yesterday that I, in fact, had more that two pieces to pick up. She said that a few of my other pieces were also ready so I was pretty excited.

As we walked over my husband asked me if I was nervous about my pieces. "No, not really," I said. He asked if I was excited, to which I replied the same. I explained that I had become accustomed to the waiting and that I knew from the experience I've had with ceramics to not hold high expectations. You never know how something is going to turn out until the final glaze firing. Any number of things can go wrong, from puddling glaze, to cracks in the pot, to sliding glaze, which leaves a raw surface where the glaze should have adhered. You think you created the absolute perfect bowl, only to be shattered when it comes back with a big crack after the first firing. You make a set of mugs that all turn out exactly like you wanted them to and then after the glaze firing one of them basically melted onto the kiln and had to be destroyed to pry it loose. You just never know.

So imagine my surprise when we arrived to the studio and I found that nearly every one of my fourteen pieces were ready. And not just that but most of them turned out quite beautifully. It was like Christmas morning all over again. My teacher had even displayed one of my pieces for her current class to view as an example of a certain glazing technique. You could say that I was pretty satisfied as my husband and I packed up my wares to leave. And as we walked out of the studio I held my head a little bit higher.

My favorites... three tiny houses. 

A small shallow bowl and a tiny bowl/cup that is an awkward size but the glaze turned out nicely.

This is the one my teacher displayed. Hard to see it completely but I wiped the glaze off of the lip of the candlestick part, leaving raw clay visible. It gave the piece a nice effect.

Two red candlestick holders. I am particularly pleased with these although the finish of the glaze turned out differently on one of them, in addition to the glaze sliding on one side of the same one. 

P. S. One commenter on yesterday's post asked how I would be celebrating the completion of my one year Finding Happy project. There have been a few ideas circulating but one way that I for sure plan to celebrate is by holding a final Happy Package Giveaway. All comments made on my blog on my final day, Day 366 (December 31st), whether here on my actual blog or through my Facebook feed, will be entered into a random drawing for the final Happy Package Giveaway. Coming to my project completion is pretty exciting on many levels, and as always, I am looking forward to sending the winner a package of happy-inducing gifts and goodies. I have been collecting for and preparing for this prize for a while now and I can say with complete confidence that it will definitely be the best giveaway yet. So don't miss out!

Thursday, December 27

Day 362: Everyday Luxury

"It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season - like all the other seasons - is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them." - Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal
How many times do I actually sit back and count up all of the miracles in my life? Every little tiny miracle? Probably not as often as I should, though I do feel that I fairly regularly express thanks for the many blessings that I have in my life. I have become so accustomed to viewing miracles as those extra extraordinary happenings that occur on occasion, but in actuality miracles happen every day. Perhaps they've just been taken for granted. 

If you think about the miracles mentioned in the quote above from Lemony Snicket's book, The Lump of Coal, it becomes easy to see that, indeed, everyday occurrences, such as eating a meal or snack, watching your favorite shows on TV, and getting to take a hot shower, among hundreds of other things, are miracles. In Sweden these "everyday miracles" are called vardags lyx, or everyday luxury. And we do have a bit of luxury every day, wouldn't you agree? 

A few of the "everyday" luxuries that I took note of today:
  • Getting to cuddle with my husband and cat long after the alarm went off
  • Taking a nice, long, hot shower
  • Drinking a leisurely cup of coffee while getting ready for work
  • Taking the subway to work and getting to sit down the whole way there
  • Eating pop tarts (that a dear friend sent to me as a Christmas gift) for breakfast  (Thank you D!)
  • Meeting my husband for lunch
  • My iPhone that I am able to use to look up the weather and directions on as well as check my email, read the news, or call a friend among many other things...
And those are just a few of the things that, when I think about it, really are miracles that occur every day. As I was having lunch with my husband today and telling him about my thoughts on everyday miracles, the idea came up to write a list every day of the small miracles that occur to help keep me focuses on what is truly important and avoid focusing on what I perceive as "missing" from my life. There are so many things and blessings to be thankful for that it seems to be a waste of energy to long for things that I do not have. Even if I don't write a physical list each day, I'd like to take a moment at the end of each day to pause and reflect on the miracles that I experienced that day. Taking the time to be mindful of my life instead of just watching it sail by.

What are your everyday luxuries? Take a moment today to be grateful for them... and to count your miracles.

The miracle of Tomte (Santa)...

Wednesday, December 26

Day 361: Blåtåget (The Blue Train)

Today is the day after the day after Christmas. I'm sitting here on a train, headed back to Stockholm. But not just any train, The Blue Train (Blåtåget), which is a train that was originally built back in the 60's. It was recently renovated and restored and current shuttles people from Stockholm and Uppsala to Gothenburg, with stops in a few other Swedish cities. My husband secretly tried to book us first class tickets round trip to Gothenburg but unfortunately they were mostly sold out and he managed to only get regular tickets for the leg of our trip home. He saved it as a surprise for today and I'm really glad that he did. He is really good with secrets and surprises. He doesn't even provide the slightest hint.

I am not so good with surprises however. I get so excited that I nearly burst with the desire to share the tiniest of hints and then sometimes I give the entire thing away in the process. When I was just a kid I "completely ruined" my mom's birthday by telling her every single gift we bought her. My dad and brother were not so impressed but I think my mom thought it was pretty cute and fun. Nowadays I find it is best if I keep my mouth shut tight until the surprise or gift is revealed naturally.

After we arrived at the train station I left my husband with the luggage while I ran around purchasing drinks and a small treat (you have to have at least one) to take on our trip, still unaware of the train surprise. When I finally made my way back to him with my purchases he said very evenly and coolly, "You are going to like this train. It is an old fashioned train from the 60's that has been restored and is now in operation again." He also explained that he especially purchased tickets for this train as opposed to the super fast SJ X2000 that we have normally taken in the past. At first I didn't understand but as we approached the train and he continued to explain that The Blue Train (Blåtåget), was run and operated separately from the other trains and they had limited trips each day, so you have to book tickets well in advance, it finally sunk in.

What a cool train! We were merely in second class seats but we had so much room you would have thought we were in first class. The train had a separate dining car where you could have a sit-down dinner and be waited on and everything. There was also a separate bar car where you could purchase assorted drinks and snacks and there was a full-size piano as well. It felt like we were straight out of an old James Bond film. We will definitely take this train again (and again). How fun and what a super neat surprise to bring our Christmas trip to a close.

Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and that you got lots of fun gifts and not so many bags of coal and switches. ;-)

Here are a few photos from The Blue Train...

The bar car.

Sitting in our seats looking straight ahead... the wall was complete with a mirror and framed art... How very cool!

Check out the fold-down table on the back of the chair in front of us... I could barely reach it there was so much space between us and the seats in front of us... nice for our legs to stretch out.

A view of the bar and piano car from outside.

Blå Tåget (The Blue Train).

Tuesday, December 25

Dag 360: Crunchy Snow

Merry American Christmas! Since Swedes celebrate on Christmas Eve, what does one do in Sweden on Christmas Day? As little as possible. We lazed around in bed and in our pajamas until around noon, which was really nice. Eventually we took showers and then rested some more because it was so "strenuous." A short while later we had fika with my husband's parents: coffee and a lovely mixture of homemade and store-bought cookies, chocolates, and clementines. Then before the sun made its trajectory toward the horizon, we went out for a long walk.

The temperature outside was much warmer than on Sunday, when we had our blanketing of snow just in time for a white Christmas, and it had already begun to melt in patches here and there. Overnight the patches of snow and slush froze again creating the most wonderful crunchy sound as we walked and crunched through it. It reminded me of the sound of crunching leaves in the later part of autumn, after the leaves have fallen and had time to dry to a nice crisp. The brittle crisp crunch of the leaves under foot makes me giddy like a kid.

Today's crunchy snow had the same effect. At one point I found myself seeking out the crunchy parts and walking off path just to hear the crunch. I don't know what it is about the sensation and sound of crunching leaves or snow under foot but I really love it. I guess it is the same sensation one gets when popping bubble wrap. It just makes you happy. When my cousin lived out of state at one time my aunt would mail him care packages that included some sheets of bubble wrap for him to pop. I can't imagine someone mailing me crunchy leaves, and especially not icy, brittle snow, just to relive the sounds but being outside with only the sounds of crunching leaves or snow around seems to work magic in soothing my soul.

Hope you had a magical Christmas Day filled with thankfulness and joy!

Ps. I hear Dallas, Texas is getting a white Christmas as I write this! Wonderful!

Monday, December 24

Day 359: A White Christmas

In Texas it isn't so common to have a white Christmas. In fact, there is only one Christmas during my lifetime thus far when there was snow in Texas on Christmas Day. I still remember it vividly. I was at my brother's house and his youngest son at the time was beside himself excited. We had barely woken up and we were throwing on clothes and bundling up to run outside before it was gone. After running through the yard having snowball fights, my youngest nephew and I decided to go for a walk. He was pretty little but I don't remember exactly how old he was. Let's just say he was young enough that the notion of yard boundaries wasn't fixed in his little mind yet. We passed by one of the neighbors yards that had a snow man as big as my nephew and he took off running toward it. You have to react quickly when they are that age and luckily I reached him before he reached the snowman. It was terribly cute but a bit difficult to explain to his young mind that we couldn't take the snow from their snowman. To him, all of the snow was his.

It is so rare to even get snow in Texas and to have it, what little there was and so fleeting at that, on Christmas Day was a special treat. My nephew and I made our own miniature snowman back at home, complete with eyes, nose, mouth, buttons down his front, a hat made of leaves, twigs for arms, and a real candy cane. What a fun morning and wonderful memory. Today here in Sweden the snow is too dry to even form into a snowball but it is equally fun to throw a handful on someone (my husband).

A couple of years ago we had a particularly cold and snowy winter here and while we were visiting my husbands parents one weekend we helped shovel snow from the driveway as well as the roof over the garage. There was so much snow that a huge mound was created on one side of the driveway. My husband was up on the roof of the garage and asked me to video tape him, as he wanted to show me something he used to do as a kid. He walked to the middle of the roof while he was telling me the story and then all of a sudden he jumped down into the snow pile. We laughed and laughed and he was nearly covered from head to toe in snow. After brushing him off as well as we could we hurried inside to drink something warm.

I often think about how much fun my nephews would have in all of the snow here in Sweden. There is plenty to go around for everyone to build their very own, life-size snowmen and plenty of hot chocolate to warm us up afterward.

Wishing you all a Merry White Christmas Eve from Sweden!

Sunday, December 23

Day 358: Cinnamon, Spice, and Everything Nice

'Twas the night before Christmas (eve) and all through the house, every creature was cooking like mad! Beet salad, celery root "ham", fake Christmas ham, orange sauce with fried Camembert cheese, caramels (that turned into rock hard toffee), a pause to cook a slightly complicated dinner in light of all of the other cooking going on, and then it was back to the madness. Later in the evening final accents and bows were being placed on gifts while outside the city was being quietly covered in a soft blanket of snow. All in hopes that Tomte (Santa) would soon be there.

Every year, despite my efforts to prepare ahead of time, there are always a hundred things left to do before the Christmas celebrating can begin. And every year I say to myself, "Next year I'll have all of this done in advance so we can relax and enjoy sitting in front of the tree with a mug of something warm and soul-quenching." Ah, if only, right? But in all honesty it wouldn't be Christmas without the positive stress to spur me on and help me sleep (through the nights leading up to Christmas) like a rock.

There is nothing so cozy and nice as falling sound to sleep nearly the moment my head touches the pillow. I snuggle into the covers, do my last minute scratching and adjusting, and find my serious sleep position. Then, like magic, I am out like a light. It is as if someone literally pushes my off button and I go directly into recharge mode. This morning was extra nice too because when I woke up I was completely headache free. Such a relief after waking up several days in a row with one. For those of you who suffer from headaches, you will understand and agree immediately how wonderful it is to wake up in the morning without that ice pick stabbing you in the eye or the back of your head. Not to sound so dramatic but it really does feel like that. So waking up and feeling refreshed and rested with no ice pick intruding on my day was especially nice.

'Twas the night before Christmas (eve) and all was well... Wishing you and yours a magical day filled with joy, wonder, and hot buttered spiced apple cider (and perfect caramels... they say three's a charm... Hopefully next time they'll turn out perfectly).

Pictured below: Cinnamon sticks and star anise are two lovely accompaniments to homemade hot buttered spiced apple cider (with spiced rum!). The heart-shaped gingerbread cookies were an excellent accent to our steaming mugs of goodness.

Saturday, December 22

Dator 357: Winter Positivity, Last Minute Shopping, And An Excellent Fika

Positive things about a really cold winter:

If you have a headache, the cold outside air is like a lovely, natural "ice pack" all over your head.

Instead of rain, you get pretty, fluffy, white snow.

It makes getting cozy indoors with hot chocolate or warm glögg (Swedish spiced wine) really nice.

Chances of having a white Christmas are excellent.

Romantic evenings with candles and a glass of wine feel even more romantic.

Bundling up in cute sweaters, scarves, knitted caps and boots! (These are also things that toward the end of winter, are the very things you can't wait to shed. Go figure).

And so it goes with winter in Sweden. Right now we are in Gothenburg, which is on the west coast and the exact opposite side of Sweden from Stockholm. We are here to celebrate Christmas with my husbands family. I really miss celebrating with my family in Texas but it is nice getting to spend the holiday here with my Swedish family in Gothenburg.

Today has been a fun sort of hectic day out and about in the city with all the millions of other people out doing last minute shopping. I forgot that it is just two days until Christmas here, as Swedes celebrate on the twenty-fourth. My husband graciously volunteered to join me and my mother-in-law for a brief trip into the city to visit his sisters where they work, do a minimal amount of browsing and last minute shopping ourselves, and finally stop by our favorite cafe for a "fika" (Swedish coffee break).

After our fika I was let loose in the city to pick up a couple of gifts and visit a booth at the mall that I usually visit each year. The woman working the booth is a ceramicist who makes the most adorable little angel and tomtar (Santas) figurines. Amazingly I did not get anything this year, though I really wanted to. Instead I headed over to System Bolaget (the liquor store) to buy a bottle of wine and spiced rum, which by some miracle they actually had. I thought I may have to get plain rum. Stay tuned tomorrow to see what happens with this rum.

Now we are off again for an evening of fun with my husband's sisters and their husbands. We are heading out to a Mexican restaurant here called Puta Madre. Funny enough, the phrase can be insulting but it is also popularly used in Spain to say something is incredibly cool. I hope Puta Madre is incredibly cool, and that they have excellent margaritas and food. I'll be sure to report back tomorrow... Until then...

... Tjingeling! (See you later in Swedish) :-)

Look at that lovely spread... Lattes, chocolate muffin, gingerbread muffin and a slice of apple cardamom cake. Fint!
as they say in Swedish, which means nice.

Friday, December 21

Day 356: Hazelnuts

For those of you who've followed along since the beginning, the story I'm about to tell will ring a bell. As you know it's Christmas time and all of the fun little things we do at this time of year are in full force. Things like making, baking, and eating gingerbread cookies, decorating oranges with whole cloves and red ribbons, and having a beautiful red wooden bowl full of whole hazelnuts to eat while sitting in front of the Christmas tree or watching TV. Have you guessed where I'm going with this yet? I suppose I'm not being completely obvious so I'll give you a small hint. What do you get when you crack open a hazelnut and discover not one but two whole nuts inside the single shell? That my friends is called a filipin.

Well, just a few days ago we were sitting on the couch. Carl was cracking hazelnuts open faster than we could eat them and them suddenly he said, "Oh! Look here what I have!" He had a filipin! So we set a date and time and kept chomping down nuts. I tried my hardest to ingrain the time in my head, as part of the rules of the game are that you must remember the date and time without writing it down. This makes it more challenging and especially when you are getting up there in years and can't remember things so well any more (me). So just to refresh your memory, once you've set a date and time, when that date and time roll around, the first person to say, "filipin" wins that game.

Today was the day but I could not for the life of me remember the time. I thought it was nine a.m. but I wasn't sure. So I waited until lunch time and I called my husband. As soon as he answered I simply said, "filipin!" And he said, "Nope, not now, you just forfeited that one." Darn. Really? I asked if he was sure and he said yes but after some discussion we realized the time I thought was actually correct, but he thought it was p.m. and I thought it was a.m. So in the end we called it a draw. We have another game in play right now and I definitely remember the time and date for this one. So look out Mr. Ekstrom, I'm coming to whisper "filipin' in your ear very soon!

Thursday, December 20

Day 355: May the Good Wolf Win

"An old Cherokee told his grandson, 'My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.'

The boy thought about it and asked, 'Grandfather, which wolf wins?'

The old man quietly replied, 'The one you feed.'"
- Author unknown

This quote/proverb seems to perfectly sum up the hoped for outcome of my project, which is to basically have the Good wolf win. I realize that the Good wolf is up against a powerful enemy and she may not always be in the winning position but, if in the end the points stack up on her side, then I'll be happy. Putting it this way may seem to imply that I have no control over which wolf gets fed, but sometimes if feels that way. We can't always be strong. We have to be able to allow ourselves those times to be and feel weak, to struggle and feed the Evil wolf so that hopefully later we can come back strong and know the true joy of succeeding against the Evil wolf.

I have discovered on my journey that some days just stink and you have to let them fume. On those days you have to just go have a cup of tea and sit by yourself in a quiet corner to regroup. Maybe eat a comforting, gigantic chocolate brownie, or three, or just put on your pj's and go to bed early and wait for the new day to bring a fresh start.

I have learned that we all have crosses to bear in our lives. We all have different crosses but they are the same heaviness and we all walk a little shorter as we bear them on our shoulders through life. Sometimes miracles happen or our perspectives change and our crosses become blessings that we come to appreciate. I don't know that my cross will ever not feel like a sad burden but I hope and pray that it will lighten with time and I will truly see and appreciate all of the blessings in my life.

Life is like a roller coaster. There will always be ups and downs. What if, instead of seeing the downs and dips as something bad, we started to see them as exciting, like the dips on a roller coaster? How much more exciting would life be if we chose to see those times in our lives as exciting turns and dips instead of sad or difficult times. Life is full of possibilities and we should embrace each one with the child-like excitement of riding a roller coaster.

And when it comes to Evil wolves versus Good wolves, I know is sometimes difficult to avoid feeding the Evil wolf but hopefully we can all get to the point one day where he only gets small morsels and not full meals. Continue to feed the Good wolf as often as you can. It takes about the same amount of effort and it feels a thousand times better in the end.

If you haven't riden a roller coaster lately, visit your local theme park and remind yourself of the excitement of speeding downhill at eighty miles an hour. Or you can take a rain check and just get a laugh out of my photos below...

At Six Flags in Arrlington, Texas... I'm the one on the front screaming like a wild banshee and my husband, then boyfriend, is on the left, laughing his head off at me. He couldn't believe the guttural screaming coming out of me. I couldn't either to be honest. 

I can't believe I am sharing this photo... it has got to be one of the worst of me in human history. It was taken several months after my bangs "experiment" so this was after they had grown out some. I had been wearing a knitted cap because it was chilly but had to take it off for the roller coaster ride. You can see my husband peeking around me on the right.

Wednesday, December 19

Day 354: (Christmas) Meatball Sandwiches

It isn't often that I get to have lunch with my husband during the week so I have to relish those times that I do. And not only did we get to have lunch together but he brought lunch with him in the form of meatball sandwiches. These are not your average meatball sandwiches but something much much more. First of all, they are made with Christmas meatballs and beet salad and as if that weren't enough, they lovingly adorn a thick slice of vört bröd (bread) and let me just say that if you could put heaven in a sandwich, this would be it.

The meatballs are actually vegetarian but what makes them uniquely Christmas meatballs are the spices that go into them, specifically ground cloves and cumin. The cloves add a spicy richness that is just so delicious you can't really describe it, you just have to taste it. Finely diced apples, pickles, and pickled beets are mixed with cottage cheese, creme fraisch, salt and white pepper to create the beet salad. Then comes the best part, the bread, which is also something special and unique to Sweden. It is dark brown goodness, made with a molasses-type dark syrup and spices and sometimes raisins are added. So, to assemble take a slice of bread, spread a bit of butter on first, then spread the beet salad evenly over the entire surface of the bread (this step is very important), and finally take the meatballs, which we like to halve, and place cut side down over the salad.

I promise you that you cannot find a better sandwich around, except maybe a turkey and dressing sandwich with gravy and cranberry sauce, but that's another whole time of year. I suppose you have to enjoy things seasonally and that may be why this Christmas sandwich is so yummy to me. I'd never eat it, say, in June or even October. It is definite a holiday treat reserved for this time of year. I will admit that we made these exact meatballs during another time of year (not saying when!) but we did not eat them with the same accompaniments.

Take a look below and tell me they don't look divine...

The lovely lunch my husband made for us... I bought these sandwich bags at Paper Source and I think they are so cute. They are lined with a water resistant cloth for easy cleaning. That soda in the far distance is called julmust. It tastes like medicine to me but my husband loves it. 
Another Swedish holiday treat!

One is made in my husband's style and one in my style... can you guess which is which?
(Sorry for the blurry image... I didn't get another shot so this is it)

Tuesday, December 18

Day 353: Christmas When I Was A Kid In Texas

I can remember running straight to the living room the moment my eyes popped open on Christmas morning. I don't know how I managed to sleep through the night when I was a kid with all of the excitement abuzz but I must have finally fallen asleep because there I was, wiping the sleep out of my eyes as I stumbled out of bed and made a b-line to my Christmas stocking. Checking out my Santa gifts was first on my mind and once those had been adequately adored and appraised, I moved on to check out the contents of my stocking. My stocking stuffers were often my favorite things and one had to look through them carefully so as to not miss any small, delicious jewels.

Santa was always so good to us. The last Christmas I vividly remember as a kid was the time I got a taper recorder. You know, one of those cassette tape recorders that had a microphone that you plugged in? I still have some of the tapes that I made that Christmas and they are so absolutely wonderful. They are filled with phrases such as, "When you do things, can you do them good?" .... and "If you can tell me what ten times one hundred is, I'll give you a dollar." Apparently I was rich. I don't think those are exact quotes but they are pretty darn close. In part of this particular tape I even described all of the gifts I got for Christmas, which included a volleyball from Mamaw, a Quiz Kid from my aunt and uncle, a blue handkerchief from my Mom and Dad, some Mardi Gras beads from my cousin and I'm sure other things that I can't recall just now.

Those tapes are more valuable to me than the gifts I received and I will treasure them for many years to come. Unfortunately (and fortunately) they are safely stored at my parents house so I can't pull one out to verify my stories for you but even if I am not one hundred percent correct on the details, I can guarantee that it is very close. The best part of the tapes however is my Texas accent. It was so strong, true, and authentic. I lost the bulk of it when I moved to California in my early twenties and even though I moved back to Texas and lived there for seven years, that lovely southern drawl never truly came back, except for saying "y'all". I still say y'all to this day. Even here in Sweden.

Remembering Christmases past is fun. What are some of your favorite Christmas moments?

My family celebrating Christmas at my aunt and uncle's house in Houston.

Those are tap shoes on my feet. Apparently I was a dancing elf :-)

Monday, December 17

Day 352: Old Friends

When you are unpacking and putting out your holiday decorations, does it ever feel like you are getting reacquainted with old friends? It always does for me. Every year as I am unpacking our Christmas decorations, there is a bubbling excitement as I unwrap each ornament and decoration. There are always those decorations that I remember well and can't wait to get out. And then there are always several more that I've forgotten all about and when I come across them it feels like I'm saying hello to a friend I haven't seen in, well, a year. The friendships become instantly rekindled and all is well again.

I love decorating for the holidays. All of the sparkling lights, the glowing candles and the colorful and whimsical little tomte gubbar (little Santas) sitting about make our home feel so warm, cozy and inviting. If I could have my way I would start decorating as soon as the darkness starts to envelop Sweden in November and leave everything out until Valentine's day. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit but I really do love having all of our old friends sitting out around us. It feels festive and yet comfy like  sitting on the couch in my favorite winter pajamas with a hot cocoa to warm my soul.

What are your favorite things about Christmas? Do you feel a giddy excitement as you decorate your home for the holidays? Another thing I want to do this year that I've never done before is to make my own homemade caramels. I came across a recipe that seems fairly simple (I hope I am not being overly confident) and straight forward and doesn't seem like it will take the entire evening. My husband disagrees and in all fairness he is probably right, though I am going to do it anyway. I'll let you know how it went tomorrow!

Here are some of my old friends...  and one new friend...

Toys... I love these little collapsible figures. I had a Donald Duck one when I was a kid and he is still somewhere around here. 

My husband has had these adorable figurines since he was a kid. I just love them... don't you?

Bönderna, or the farmers... I caught kitty licking the cracker on day. We'll see how long it lasts...

I don't remember where this guy came from. My brother may have made him? I stole him from my parents house. Don't judge me, you know you've stolen things from your parents too.

We have the taller, skinnier version of this little guy too. They make a cute pair.

Tomtegubbe... I have love this little guy since the day my husband gave him to me. Isn't he fun?

Lilla flicka (small girl) from Denmark... our newest friend... a gift from one of my husband's sisters.

Sunday, December 16

Day 351: Beginning To Smell A Lot Like Christmas

After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, and apple juice we were ready to hit the ground running today. For some reason my husband and I were both early birds this morning and we were up and about by six thirty a.m. I like to lie in bed after I wake up to read emails and check Facebook as I am waking up and suddenly I noticed that my mom (who lives in Texas) was still awake. She had just posted a comment on one of my nephew's pages for his birthday so I thought I'd give her a call. It was a special treat for me to chat with her in the morning because usually by the time I crawl out of bed on weekend mornings all of my friends and family back home are tucked cozily into their beds and fast asleep and I have to wait nearly the whole day before I can call them. I prefer chatting on the phone in the mornings, as I am usually fresh and full of energy as opposed to the afternoons when I am just getting into the thick of things or just arriving home from a long day at work, so it was really nice to get to chat with her so early.

Once my phone visit was over I returned to bed where my husband and I continued our lazy morning ritual, reading on our iPads and seeing what was happening in the world. Not too long afterward my tummy started yelling that it was time to eat. I started making homemade biscuits not too long ago after I came across this fabulous recipe that uses a handful of ingredients and a cast iron skillet and it turns out some of the best drop biscuits you've ever put in your mouth. So, yes, biscuits were to be the star of the breakfast table this morning. We lit our Advent candles, since today marks the third Advent Sunday before Christmas and we had the most luxurious breakfast with candlelight and miniature jars of red raspberry and cherry jam. It doesn't get much better than this.

Breakfast completed, it was on to the more fun Christmas-related activities. Number one on our list was to get a julgran (Christmas tree) and then make vegetarian Christmas meatballs and decorate oranges and clementines with red ribbons and whole cloves. I just love Christmas time and all of the little rituals associated with it that bring people together. Our tree is sitting just outside our apartment door, melting off the layer of snow in accumulated, from standing out in Mariatorget waiting to be selected and taken home. And my husband has started making the meatballs while I complete my blog post for today. With the lingering scent of fresh baked gingerbread cookies still in the air from yesterday and now the lovely smell of onions and spices being sautéed for the meatballs, it truly is beginning to smell a lot like Christmas around here. My nose is calling me to the kitchen!

Happy third Advent and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

A hearty breakfast of homemade drop biscuits and scrambled eggs... yum!

Who's that sexy dude with the tree?

Making our way down the magical Christmas tree path...

Oh look! It's my strong husband carrying that kungsgran (King's tree)... note the beautifully chipped and trimmed trunk and the giant lit Christmas tree in the square, just to the right in the background...

Saturday, December 15

Day 350: Positively Absolutely

It is unbelievable to me that today is day 350 of 365, plus one for leap year, making that a total of 366 days of Finding Happy. Instead of holding a drawing and giveaway to celebrate this day I decide to buy myself a couple of treats while I was out Christmas shopping today. So I kept to the tradition of "one for you, one for me," which worked out nicely. But on a serious note, I have to say that I impressed myself for having the discipline and determination to keep with my project, even in the face of vacations and extended visits from friends and family. Funny enough, on those days Finding Happy wasn't so difficult but finding time to sit down and write a thoughtful post about it was. And I have greatly appreciated all of the support and encouragement from all of you.

One thing that I would like to touch on lightly during the next couple of weeks, and which is sort of the  main reason behind my blog project, is the process I have gone through in dealing with the struggle of not being able to become pregnant. Living in a country where I am literally surrounded each day with pregnant women and new mothers is quite challenging when I have wanted more than anything in the world to have a child of my own. Praying about it and asking God why it hasn't happened for us helps to a point but even the strongest of us start to doubt and question why some people get to be parents and others of us do not.

I have been angry, immensely sad, at peace and then angry, immensely sad, and at peace again and again with our situation. My husband and I have had numerous conversations about it, and I have to add that he has been my biggest support and my biggest source of refuge and peace during our struggle of coming to terms with our infertility. In the beginning I prayed to become pregnant, but slowly I began to pray to feel at peace no matter what happened. And I truly do hope for peace. I realize that not every woman gets to have children and that there are many worse fates than not being able to have a child.

I try each day to focus on the blessings in my life and the small things that make me happy. I really don't know how or why I came up with the idea for this project except to say that perhaps it was not my idea at all but was God's answer to my prayers. As I sat at my computer last January 1st and contemplated writing a list of resolutions, the thought of a one year happy project merely popped into my head. I'd written blogs before to chronicle trips that we've taken and it was always so much fun for me. I thought maybe if I started a blog where I was committed to finding something happy or positive about my day, every day for a year, it would help me get out of my head. It would help me to focus on the things that are truly important and force me, so to speak, to dwell in a happier place each day.

Eventually I got into a groove with my project and blogging and now as I am approaching the end of the road, I am beginning to contemplate my next direction. I definitely plan to continue along the same type of path but I don't know that I am up for committing to another year of blogging daily. I would love any feedback that any of you would like to offer.

Today my happy was found in a very common place, in the warm embrace of my wonderful husband. Hugs are positively absolutely the very best and I am so lucky and blessed to have such a wonderful man as my soulmate and life partner.

Thank you all for listening to my stories and giving me your love and support!

Seeing these beautiful snow-covered Christmas trees today in the square near our apartment was a treat as well. And it may be difficult to make out but there is a father pulling his son on a sled down the path through the trees. Seeing a scene like this makes me smile from the inside out.

Friday, December 14

Day 349: Saving Graces During Winter

Having a pair of cozy, wool house slippers is one of my favorite saving graces during winter in Sweden. On colder evenings, or early mornings, when I just cannot shake the chill of the crisp winter air, no matter how many cups of hot tea or hot chocolate I have had, I simply slide my feet into my woollies and in just a few minutes I start to feel toasty and warm. Of course, another hot chocolate doesn't hurt either.

When I lived in Los Angeles many moons ago one of my friends had a pair of wool slippers with a hard, rubber sole on the bottom. You're probably thinking, "Wool slippers are not an LA necessity," but you'd be wrong and here is why. First of all, because the temperatures are so mild in comparison to other parts of the world (Sweden), the seals around windows and door frames are not necessarily "air tight" and, hence, the cooler evening air sneaks in through the cracks and crevasses, making it feel especially chilly inside. Second of all, earthquake preparedness. Having a pair of hard, rubber-bottomed shoes into which you can quickly slide your toesies is a must in the event that an earthquake forces you out of your home or dwelling.

So as you can imagine, I soon began to feel the need to have a pair myself. So as a wonderful surprise my friend and her mother gave me a pair one Christmas. They were a beautiful olive green and I loved them to their death. That pair was incredibly well loved and has sense been twice replaced, though my first "replacement pair" now live at my place of employment in Stockholm so I that I can warm my toesies at the office as well.

I think you'll agree, however, that my home pair are the coziest, coolest pair ever and you all probably want to run out and get a pair for yourselves. I absolutely love the whimsical red and white zig-zag design on the inside. Just the fact that they are not plain Jane and all one color inside and out makes me so happy I could do a little dance.

Do you have any winter musts? I also have a lovely grey fleece robe with white polka dots that helps to stave off the cold, along with my favorite PJ pants that are grey with black stars on them.

Slightly worn but well loved...

These have traveled from Maine to California to Texas to Sweden... and still going strong(ish)...

This girl was happy that the sun came out today!

Happy Friday Everyone and have a great weekend!